So How's That Time Warner Bandwidth Cap Working Out?

Reposting a recent blog entry of mine from the Public Knowledge blog. As Time Warner expands out its usage cap pilot from Beaumont, TX to somewhat more populated and user-intensive communities, users are starting to notice and complain. Hopefully, with the FCC getting the ball rolling on the National Broadband Plan mandated by the broadband stimulus package, we will start to probe into the whole bandwidth cap issue a little more deeply.

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Why NTIA Should Tell NARUC “Thanks, But We Can Manage the Stimulus Spending Just Fine.”

OK, I get that when you are a trade association you push for your members. But this is silly.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has sent a letter to the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) and the USDA Rural Utility Service (RUS) explaining how the only, possible conceivable way for them to spend the $7.2 Billion they must spend under the Broadband Stimulus package is to send all the applications to NARUC’s members to evaluate. This way, the poor little overworked NTIA and RUS won’t have to worry their pretty little heads about anything. You can read NARUC’s press release here.

The appeal to administrative convenience is a convention one. And, like most conventional wisdom on the stimulus package — utterly wrong. For a start, Congress actually realized this would take resources. So NTIA can use up to 3% of the money for Administrative costs associated with running the program. The idea that poor little NTIA, forced to focus on the DTV transition and coupon program (which happens in June) can’t possibly manage to process all these applications is rather ridiculous in light of the fact that NTIA can spend Over $150 million on administrative costs. I think you can hire a bunch of real sharp, real experienced grant evaluators for that. Bluntly, such folks will do a heck of a lot better job of evaluating grant proposals than NARUC, as I explain below . . . .

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Understanding What The Broadband Stimulus Does, and What It Doesn't Try To do.

Not unsurprisingly, we have considerable debate on the merits of the broadband stimulus package, even leaving aside the network neutrality provisions. They range from this NYT article suggesting that building out in rural is a waste and won’t create jobs to Yochai Benkler’s more optimistic piece to my own previous enthusiastic support (here and here). Along the way, we find plenty of folks with a “yes, but –” because it does not address urban builds or competition or network neutrality or other issues in a way they consider satisfactory, and this weakness, from their perspective, makes the whole bill a worthless boondoggle and a multi-billion gift to the incumbents to boot.

I find the claims of those pushing tax credits or opposing the network neutrality conditions that grants will not create any jobs or result in any new broadband uptake, and that conditions on grants will prevent anyone from building these systems, simply not credible. I can only conclude those pushing this line either don’t get outside Washington DC and New York City much or have their own agendas. Otherwise, they should check out my friend Wally Bowen at MAIN and how he and projects like him are creating jobs for network operators and bringing economic opportunity for their communities. But even setting aside such extremes, it should come as no surprise that we see a variety of opinions on what the broadband stimulus does or should do because:

1) We have a set of complex problems;

2) Everyone has a different perspective on the nature of the problem(s).

This makes assessing the cost/benefit difficult, and makes getting the prospect of any consensus of opinion phenomenally unlikely. What constitutes proof for me that this bill (even after the Senate changes) looks to do a lot of good and is therefore worth the cost won’t persuade others who disagree with me on the fundamental nature of what we need to fix.

In the hope of persuading folks, however, I lay out my arguments below on why I think the broadband stimulus is well designed to handle one piece of the very difficult puzzle of deploying a ubiquitous nationwide broadband system that all citizens will use so they can partake of the rich opportunity for civic engagement, economic development, educational opportunities, and new services such as telemedicine (even if they don’t realize they need this yet). Along the way, the stimulus bill gives another nudge (but hardly solves) the question of how to keep the internet open to innovation and “as diverse as human thought.”

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Set a Fire Under Obama — and Abolish the Filibuster

The stimulus bill has been larded with tax cuts which will have virtually no impact on aggregate demand, and infrastructural spending which does have demonstrated immediate positive effect on aggregate demand has been trimmed back, to placate Republicans by a pusillanimous Obama administration. And despite the Obama administration’s determination to have a kumbaya moment with right-wing Republicans, not a single House Republican voted for the scaled-back stimulus package. This is a recipe for another Great Depression.

Obama supporters point out that he needs 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a Republican filibuster, and will only have 59 once Franken is seated (God alone knoweth when that will happen, and perhaps only 58 if Lieberman channels Vikdun Quisling again). Since Obama is essentially conservative, as reflected in all his economic appointments, and unlikely to challenge the status quo without substantial progressive pressure, it is incumbent on progressives to apply that pressure and to lean on Senate Democrats to smack the Republicans down hard by abolishing the anti-democratic filibuster rule.

Contrary to popular misconception, filibuster was neither a constitutional provision nor part of the original Senate rules. A simple majority could close debate from the adoption of the constitution until a rules change during the recodification of Senate rules under Vice President Aaron Burr’s supervision in 1806. There is debate among historians whether the rule allowing unlimited debate in the Senate was an unintentional error or was introduced by Burr in anticipation of conflict with President Jefferson’s administration. In any case, it overturned the original procedure used by the Senate.

The filibuster was not used until debates over the National Bank in the 1830s and its repeated use in that period culminated in an attempt by Henry Clay to restore the Senate’s ability to close debate by simple majority vote, which failed only narrowly. Republican Senate obstructionism to President Wilson’s war policies led to a threat by the Democratic majority to restore simple majority vote to close debate and this action was averted only by adoption of Rule 22, which permitted the Senate to vote cloture by a three-fifths majority. This is the rule under which the Senate currently operates.

The history of the filibuster has not been particularly distinguished, being primarily the refuge of southern racists to thwart civil rights legislation and right-wing Republicans to attack the New Deal, the Great Society, and progressive judicial appointments under Democratic Presidents.

Obama’s “bipartisanship” is nothing more than Clinton’s “triangulation” dressed up as “change we can believe in.” Progressives know very well that “bipartisanship” only ends up with Republican-crafted policies being implemented by Democrats, because it is always the Democrats who have to yield to intransigent Republicans. If FDR had tried to win a Republican majority for Social Security, there would be no Social Security today. The same goes for the Voting Rights Act and Medicare under LBJ. If LBJ had tried Obama’s nonsensical approach to dealing with right-wing Republicans, there would be no President Obama today.

Progressives need to set a fire under Obama to cease caving in to failed Republican policies. It’s time to remind him that the Republicans are the party of Hoover, Reagan and Bush — the authors of the failed policies that have twice brought us to economic collapse in a century — and that the Democrats are the party of FDR and LBJ.

And a major step forward would be to prevent further Republican obstructionism by abolishing the filibuster rule in the Senate and restoring the cloture by simple majority rule that the founders adopted.

Unless, of course, we want 20% unemployment by this time next year.

Very Good News On Broadband Stimulus — I Get My Herring!

After Blair Levin’s warning to the world (and the financial markets in particular) that the stimulus package will not try to solve the broadband problems in this country and that people needed to stop dreaming in the tens or even hundreds of billions for broadband, no one should be surprised at today’s announcement that the Administration/House proposal budgets $6 Billion for broadband primarily in the form of grants. (Obey press release on full package here.)

Thank God!

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