Posts filed under 'Telecom'

Toll Road hearings… after the fact

The Indiana Finance Authority and the Indiana Department of Transportation are holding public hearings in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties on the lease of the Indiana Toll Road and the rate increases associated with the lease.

Unfortunately, these hearings are taking place after the Governor has already signed the legislation into law.

St. Joseph County residents are understandably peeved that they are only now being asked to provide their input.

Actually, the hearings are required by state law, and I doubt they would be occuring at all if they were not statutory mandates.

For local coverage of the hearings and public sentiment, check out the stories below:

After fact, state sets Toll Road hearings - South Bend Tribune
Lease critics in a late stand - South Bend Tribune
Hearing Allows Many to Vent About Toll Road Lease - WSBT-TV (with video)
People Speak Out At Toll Road Rate Hearing - WSBT-TV (with video)
Major Moves faces lawsuit - WNDU-TV (with video) - with a focus on the threated lawsuit against the deal
Lease could end up in court - FOX28-TV - more on the possible lawsuit

Finally, the South Bend Tribune editorial, Too little time, too little thought, offers a critique on the Legislature’s handling of the Toll Road lease as well as HB 1279, the telecommunications bill (roll call).

Update: The South Bend Tribune story on this afternoon’s hearing contains some strong opinions from local residents:

… the“Toll Road lease scheme is destined to be seen as the greatest example of malfeasance and betrayal of the public trust ever perpetrated on the citizens of this state.”

…the “criminal actions” of Daniels and his “political running dogs” are motivated solely by “self-aggrandizement and greed” and are in “direct contravention of the will of the people and the welfare of the state.”

1 comment March 23rd, 2006

What “Broadband” means for Indiana

broadbandWhenever a major telecommunications bill is introduced in the Legislature, too many people tend to tune it out because they feel the issue is just “too complicated.”

This year, Senator Brandt Hershman (R-Wheatfield) has filed SB 245, probably the most far-reaching telecommunications bill Indiana has seen. I will discuss that bill more specifically at a later time, but you can read a good overview on the fiscal impact statement here (pdf).

In the meantime, the article “Let There Be Wi-Fi” in the latest Washington Monthly provides an excellent primer on broadband issues that anyone can understand.

The thrust of the article is that broadband should be thought of as the 21st century equivalent of electricity:

Most people know broadband as an alternative to their old, slow dial-up Internet connection… But broadband is about much more than checking your email or browsing on EBay. In the near future, telephone, television, radio and the web all will be delivered to your home via a single broadband connection.

Calling American broadband “the slowest, most expensive and least reliable in the developed world,” the article points out that the US has fallen to 16th in the world in broadband penetration, while citizens of countries like Japan and South Korea have access to speeds ten times as fast as what is available in the US, and for half the price.

Even the US definition of Broadband – 200kbps – is 500 times slower than the new Japanese standards.

What does this mean for Indiana?

It means we will lose out on business opportunities to develop new commercial applications, products, and services designed for this communication. It means doctors in our hospitals will not have access to world-class diagnostic tools. It means our students will be learning obsolete technology. It means Indiana businesses that want to remain competitive in the global economy will have to pack up and move elsewhere.

In the 1880’s, when electricity was first available, it was marketed by private utilities as a luxury for the rich, big industry and major urban areas. Smaller towns who could not attract utility investment faced serious threats to their viability:

…communities were left with the choice of forming a government-owned utility or being left in the dark. Even big cities like Detroit built municipal power systems to cut prices and extend service. In response, private utility companies responded with a massive propaganda and misinformation campaign that attacked advocates of municipal power as “un-American,” “Bolshevik,” and “an unholy alliance of radicals.”

Indiana needs to set an aggressive broadband policy that guarantees universal access to high-speed data transmission. As with the Rural Electric Cooperatives that were formed for universal electrification, our policy should encourage every avenue of access for Hoosiers - including municipal broadband systems.

electrification

The article cites the small Indiana town of Scottsburg’s Citizen’s Communication Corp. as an example of how we can successfully accomplish this goal:

When three major employers in Scottsburg, Ind. (pop. 6,040), threatened to leave town because they didn’t have the communications infrastructure needed to deal with their customers and suppliers, the town’s mayor, Bill Graham, went to the major cable and telephone companies for help.

They told him that extending high-speed broadband services to Scottsburg wasn’t profitable enough.

So the city decided to build a municipal wireless “cloud” using transmitters placed on water and electric towers that reach more than 90 percent of the surrounding county’s 23,000 residents. “Scottsburg didn’t wake up one morning and say, we want to be in the broadband business,” Graham told PBS. “Scottsburg had business and industry that was going to leave our community because what we had was not fast enough.” Scottsburg’s investment worked—the employers stayed.

Broadband is the new essential public utility. Access to broadband can bring prosperity to our communities, and those without access will certainly suffer for it.

“Just as with the roads of old,” Dianah Neff, Philadelphia’s chief information technology officer, recently told BusinessWeek, “if broadband bypasses you, you become a ghost town.”

12 comments January 9th, 2006

RegFlex Final Meeting Makes No Recommendations

The final meeting of the year for the Regulatory Flexibility Committee was held yesterday. The stated purpose of the meeting was to “consider recommending proposed legislation concerning telecommunications reform.” However, no recommendation ended up being made.

At the previous meeting, Co-Chairman Representative Jack Lutz suggested that the committee should endorse a specific legislative proposal for consideration in the upcoming legislative session. It became apparent at Tuesday’s meeting, however, that there was little consensus on the issue.

I enjoyed the caliber of discussion at our final meeting. It helped that it was held in a conference room in the Government Center, rather than in one of the Statehouse committee rooms. In a conference setting all of the members were able to engage in a discussion sitting across from each other at a table.

regflex

For truly meaningful dialogue on our technological infrastructure, though, I would like to see committee members (and the rest of the General Assembly, for that matter) receive more education on everything from the basics of broadband, to the latest standards in technology - like WiMax, which has the potential to revolutionize the industry.

Indiana Interconnect is a collaborative effort between business, government, education and technology leaders to “evaluate and improve Indiana’s advanced telecommunications infrastructure and level of technology adoption.” They have more information on our state’s telecommunications infrastructure, including a detailed final report (that is about two years old now).

The adoption of new technologies is spreading quickly across the country. As a state, we need to be at the experimental forefront of telecommunications innovation – not trying to stifle innovation.

Of course, the citizenry needs to be an active participant in these discussions. As it was stated at F2C:

Too often the discussion of telecommunications policy turns on phrases like “overregulation,” and “investment incentives.” These are critical issues, to be sure, but like the term “last mile,” such phrases frame the issues in network-centric terms. As more and more intelligence migrates to the edge of the network, users of the network need to be part of the policy debate. Let’s put the user back into the picture.

Please let me know if you have ideas you would like to contribute.

Add comment October 19th, 2005

RegFlex: Telecom Reform Session

reglexMonday’s meeting of the Regulatory Flexibility Committee was something of a disappointment. The topic on the agenda was “Telecommunications Reform,” but we only heard testimony from representatives of industry-funded think tanks.

The final presentation of the day was the most interesting. I do not have their names because they were not on the agenda, but representatives from Fairnet Wireless discussed their implementation of a wireless broadband network in the rural areas between Valparaiso and Lafayette.

Carrol County Rural Electric Cooperative partnered with Fairnet several years ago to provide broadband internet service where the big phone companies will not invest.

fairnetFor a relatively small capital investment, they established affordable wireless coverage over 7500 square miles to 1200 customers at speeds of 1.5MB download/512kB upload.

Frankly, at my home here in the city of South Bend, I do not have access to those broadband speeds on a landline – let alone on a wireless network. That someone living in rural Delphi has better options than someone in South Bend speaks to the sad state of telecom in Indiana and the country at large.

Telecommunications reform is a complicated issue. While it may not receive as much attention as Daylight Saving Time or BMV branch closures, it is far more important to Indiana and the nation in the long run.

Access to information is the critical infrastructure need of this century. We can not continue to fall behind other states and the rest of the world.

It is important to have all sides of the issue at the table when the Legislature considers formulating new policy.

2 comments October 5th, 2005


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