Thursday, February 16, 2006

Babble On

It’s so tiring when people flap their yaps about things they know absolutely nothing about. Like when people who don't have children give you advice on how you should be raising yours. Or those Olympic program viewers making commentary about how Mark Grimmette should have kept his head down during the luge. I am not immune to such nonsensical babbling. I’ll admit I have very strong opinions about why Whitney Houston should deep-six Bobby Brown.

So when Sir Bill Gates weighs in on regulatory regimes or local franchising I am not completely surprised. I’m just trying to figure out when, if ever, Bill had any involvement in a local franchise. I mean, has he even seen one? Does he even know what one looks like? Or is it that Microsoft’s on again, off again love affair with AT&T (excuse me “at&t”) got a special Valentine’s Day boost?

Only two years ago, AT&T threatened to switch to Linux because of Windows unreliability. And surely the AT&T/TCI failure had to give Bill pause after he had sunk $5 billion into the broadband partnership. But now all is cozy-rosey as Gates and AT&T chairman Ed Whitacre hungrily eye the potential of having 149 countries in their communications grip with AT&T’s global IP network and Microsoft’s Connected Services Framework. They no doubt are frothing at the mouth at the prospect of cleaning up in this country. The thought of it all makes me feel so wonderfully satisfied.

But none of it takes into account that in order to give me my “smart” living room I still need to have a cable (somebody’s cable) snaking up my driveway and snaking down my street. Right now, down my street, there’s a long black cable coming out of a box running over the curb and up the gutter for a length of about 100 yards. Guess they forgot to bury that sucker and it’s just screaming for somebody to trip over it. Verizon is the most likely culprit since they came digging through here about three weeks ago. And could somebody come back through the neighborhood and get rid of the orange and blue paint markers all over our sidewalks and streets? We paid good money to have our house painted this summer and now I have a big red spot on the utility box that I am going to have to repaint. It makes it look like we got tagged by FEMA and I think my property values are slipping.

Gates and Whitacre have found a friend in Gene Kimmelman of Consumer’s Union. At Wednesday’s hearing Gene said:

“I get to agree with so many industries that I’ve had a problem with in the past.”

He went on to slam local government:

“Unfortunately their view of stewardship is getting maximum revenue for the cities but not taking care of community needs.”

Kimmelman’s ultimate goals are admirable. “Affordable broadband for citizens everywhere.” And I agree when he says “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t serve everyone in the community.”

Maybe Kimmelman didn’t get the memo from Mark Cooper of Consumer Federation of America. As Cooper pointed out to USA Today in May 2005: "My heart doesn't bleed for them," Cooper says of the Bells and their complaints about franchising rules. "They don't have a public-interest bone in their body."

And while it is lovely to think about affordable broadband that serves everyone in the community, USA Today reported the following:

“SBC noted that less than 5% of Lightspeed's deployment would be in "low-value" neighborhoods — places where people spend less than $110 a month. SBC's message: It would focus on high-income neighborhoods, at least initially, to turn a profit faster.”

Pray tell, who will make sure SBC (now at&t), Verizon, et al, do a complete build out without redlining? Will it be Senator Stevens? Or FCC Chairman Kevin Martin? Or perhaps Public Knowledge can get more grant money from Ford and MacArthur to supervise all those national franchises they advocate (with net neutrality of course!)

On the ground where it really counts, it is now and will always be local government that makes sure consumers get a fair shake...those nasty people who create barriers to local entry! I am working with a community right now that seems to have been red-lined by the cable operator. The administrator and I are going to take a neighborhood by neighborhood tour, I even plan to bang on a few doors and talk to the residents. If we discover that redlining has indeed taken place (in this community mainly because of economic status) trust me on this concept, it will be fixed.

Senator Stevens claimed on Monday in a MultiChannel News article that local government was committing extortion, he said there was even one community that demanded a football field in exchange for the franchise agreement. I called Senator Stevens office and spoke with his very nice press secretary, Aaron, and he could not tell me what community it happened in, but he did promise he would get back to me. I even asked the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) listserv which of them had been the culprit, but sure enough, we can’t find this mythical place of Mr. Stevens gargantuan imagination.

Which takes me back to the yapping. You got a lot of people who know nothing about what they’re talking about, being lead around by the nose by a select few who know exactly what they’re talking about, and most of the babble is either fantasy or outright lies. As somebody said, everyone is entitled to their own opinions but no one is entitled to their own facts. A simple notion that seems not to exist up on Capitol Hill.

MultiChannel News, February 14, 2005, October 5, 2004

Microsoft Press Release, June 6, 2005

USA Today, May 22, 2005

MultiChannel News, February 13, 2006

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