Monday, August 22, 2005

Google WiFi may be coming to a neighborhood near you. According to a recent press reports the world's leading search engine may change its game to offer broadband access nationwide. One catch, they would have to build a broadband network massive enough to rival even the country's biggest Internet service providers.

Big Broadband Shudders at Google's Plans for Free Wifi

They plan to map the elusive final mile, however, using municipal WiFi systems, a move that could leapfrog lumbering cable and DSL providers into American homes.

Google's plans could tie into municipal efforts to expand Wi-Fi. Dozens of municipalities of all sizes are looking to install citywide Wi-Fi access as a way to get broadband to more people. To learn more about a municipal broadband service near you visit Free Press.

Business 2.0 reports that Google is already building the fiber backbone for such a system: "For the past year, it has quietly been shopping for miles and miles of 'dark,' or unused, fiber-optic cable across the country from wholesalers such as New York’s AboveNet. It's also acquiring superfast connections from Cogent Communications and WilTel, among others, between East Coast cities including Atlanta, Miami, and New York."

That's a lot of fiber, especially for an Internet company that has no experience or means to maintain hardware stretched over thousands of miles.

Essentially, Google is several smart engineers and marketing people sitting on massive warehouse of web servers. Transitioning from that to an ISP with nationally distributed hardware and customer service infrastructure will require billions of dollars in startup -- and a complete overhaul of corporate culture.

Google has made bold moves in the past, but none has so significantly changed their way of doing business -- with an emphasis shift from clicks to mortar.

They can save some related costs, however, with WiFi into homes and businesses. And according to a report in Investor's Business Daily, that's exactly what they're doing: "Its latest project: security software for accessing the Internet wirelessly via the popular Wi-Fi standard. The new software works with Google's limited free Wi-Fi service."

A source inside Google says they're looking more intently at, first, building localized networks in major metropolitan areas. They have already created a hot spot service that is limited to parts of the San Francisco Bay Area but have proposed a free service for the whole city.

"All you would need would be a Wi-Fi-equipped laptop and, boom, you're on the Internet for free," Greg Sterling, an analyst with the research firm Kelsey Group, told the Investor's Daily. "Think about the brand Microsoft has built being on every desktop, and Google doing the same by providing free Internet access. It could become a next-generation service provider."

With Google in the market, the broadband dynamic could change once more. The cable/telecom duopoly would become more vulnerable with each passing week.

Either way, high-speed Internet service is gearing up to become corporate battle royale. Get off the sidelines and stake your claim to affordable and ubiquitous broadband.

SEPT 19 REPORT: Google Plans National Optical Fiber Network

Google is reviewing bids from tech vendors to build a nationwide optical DWDM network, which means that the cash-flush web giant could soon have a communications network that few can rival. The vendors who have seen Google’s fiber network RFP say that the nature of the network can really only mean that Google ultimately hopes to push massive amounts of voice, video and data close to the end user. The perennial problem is that close is not enough — to reach the end user, Google has to have access to the last mile. WiFi would be the answer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Verizon's Back Yard Sermon

Glass Houses
I delivered this speech across the street from Verizon Communications headquarters near Times Square. The event was part of Andrew Rasiej's campaign for New York City Public Advocate. It was a joy to stand beside Andrew, in the shadow of Verizon's glass and steel monolith, and sling a couple of stones:

Thank you . . .

High-speed Internet service is no longer a luxury. As it becomes a necessity for all Americans, control of this vital service has fallen into the hands of fewer and
fewer corporations.

This consolidation of broadband power is not through the natural ebb and flow of the free market, but through political influence-peddling by corporations who seek to monopolize the multibillion-dollar industry.

Today, we stand before the headquarters of one of the biggest influence-peddlers of them all.

According to the
Center for Public Integrity, Verizon Communications, Inc. has spent more than $12 million on political candidates and party committees since 1998. Add to this the more than $82 million Verizon spent on political lobbyists.

For New Yorkers, Verizon’s million-dollar shopping spree means fewer choices, higher costs and slower speeds.

It’s the same across the country. Over the past two years, this company has
bought up politicians in statehouses, Congress and the FCC to support Verizon-friendly policies that eliminate ISP competitors, squashes local broadband alternatives and bar towns and cities across the country from providing citizens their own high-speed Internet services.

In the past three years, American broadband prices have not declined and speeds have not increased. That’s unheard of in a technology market unless it’s monopoly controlled.

Over the same time, America has
dropped to 16th in the world in broadband penetration, falling behind countries such as South Korea, Canada and Japan – nations that have drafted national broadband policies, which involve strong public-private sector initiatives, open access and healthy competition.

Broadband Reality Check” – a report just released by Free Press, The Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America and available at – reveals that the cost of broadband in other countries has dropped dramatically while speeds have increased. On a per megabit basis, U.S. consumers pay 10 to 25 times more than broadband users in Japan.

The fallout of Internet price gouging is a growing digital divide in cities like New York and across the country. Today, 200 million Americans are without high-speed Internet services. More than five million of those without broadband are New Yorkers.

The growing digital divide is the direct result of Verizon-purchased policies that stifle competition in the name of deregulation. But there’s no deregulation going on. Instead, the future of communications is being regulated on behalf of telecom and cable giants like Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and SBC.

These are policies that we’re
bought and paid for by companies that have only one interest in mind.

You see, Verizon is not in the business of “working for you” as their ads claim.

Verizon is in the business of
selling out customers to line their pockets.

And it’s beginning to show.

The rising cost of broadband combined with spotty services for urban and rural communities has resulted in declining
customer faith in broadband companies like Verizon and Comcast. These companies, now rate at the bottom of this year’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index. The problem for frustrated customers is they have few other choices for broadband. For New Yorkers wanting DSL, indeed, it’s Verizon or the highway.

Verizon buys up politicians to loosen oversight and deregulate the broadband industry, costs escalate, the digital divide widens and customer service declines.

That’s why hundreds of communities, towns, and neighborhoods across the country are
building their own broadband networks, scrapping the shoddy service and high prices of the telecom and cable companies.

These “Community Internet” projects are being developed from Philadelphia to Portland, San Francisco to Chicago. They're good for local economies. They’re already up and running in small towns like Scottsburg, Indiana and Chaska, Minnesota.

But why not in New York?

Fortunately, we have a committed community leader in
Andrew Rasiej -- a man who is determined to provide New Yorkers with a broadband alternative.

Andrew’s plan for citywide wireless service recognizes that New Yorkers need more broadband choices. He understands that we need to break down price gouging monopolies and build up a low-cost wireless Internet system for all New Yorkers.

Rasiej's plan for
WiFi New York is based on the experiences of Philadelphia and other municipalities that developed unique public private partnerships that bridge the digital divide. A similar network here in New York would provide basic broadband service for $20 a month, with discounts for low-income residents and students.

The only way this situation is going to change is with leaders who understand that technology is critical to communities and enact policies that get everyone connected in the Information Age.

It's time New Yorkers had the courage to stand up against Big Telecom and fight for our right to get connected. Supporting community internet projects like WiFi New York is one way we can win.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Death of a Politician

We're on Top
Frank Rich's column in the Sunday New York Times is burning up the blogosphere. It's a concise and powerful statement of what many of us -- on both the right and left -- have known for some time: The war has become a quagmire of Bush's creation; the president (by failing to acknowledge his mistakes) has lost all moral authority.

The country is turning against Bush and the political fallout is beginning to spread. An Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults found approval of Bush's handling of Iraq, which had been hovering in the low- to mid-40s most of the year, dipped to 38 percent in early August. More than 55 percent said they disapproved of his overall performance as president.

Rich's strength is in distilling the American cultural landscape into a written certainty:
Nothing that happens on the ground in Iraq can turn around the fate of this war in America . . . What lies ahead now in Iraq instead is not victory, which Mr. Bush has never clearly defined anyway, but an exit (or triage) strategy that may echo Johnson's March 1968 plan for retreat from Vietnam . . .
The sputtering of the right's message machine is itself a testament to Rich's dead aim. The right blogosphere can only point fingers, wave the flag and blame the messenger. Their A-list of on-air bloviators can turn up their spittle and volume but none can challenge Rich on the facts. At last, history is catching up with histrionics.

They know as well as any political observer that the president's second term is on life support. No combination of spin from O'Reilly, Coulter, Hannity or Limbaugh can put Bush II back together again. Americans are already looking elsewhere for leaders who can re-assess our fight against terrorism and restore faith in our intentions. This message of popular discontent with Bush is piercing the mainstream media "filter" and seeping through the cracks in the right establishment.

With mid-term elections looming, the president could become a liability for Republicans seeking office in '06.

I had been thinking about the predicament LBJ faced in 1968 -- the escalation of an un-winnable war in Vietnam -- which forced him not to seek nor accept the nomination for re-election. LBJ understood what GWB cannot -- that there comes a time when a leader has to put the best interests of the country before politics, remove himself from the political process and own up to his own failures.

Bush, however, is entirely a political creation. You separate the politics from his DNA and he evaporates like a Texas mirage. There's no man behind the façade -- no human capacity to make a decision that isn't calculated to benefit those few who propped him up as a leader. Admitting his mistakes, would be political suicide. If you kill the politician, you're left with a hollow shell.

Bush has no option but to ride his ship of state to the bottom. But how many more of us -- Americans, Iraqis and others -- is he going to sacrifice before his dismal turn at the wheel is up?

Rich's indictment is helping right what's been wrong with the White House for too long. His column is going viral (according to technorati and the Times' own email counter) adding weight to the evidence -- real, anecdotal and editorial -- that's tipping history's ballast against a politician who isn't man enough to face the facts.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Broadband Through a Rose-Tinted Lens

We're on Top

New report disputes FCC claim that
U.S. "leads the world" in broadband,
calls for universal and affordable access

Despite the rosy picture painted by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, access to affordable, high-speed Internet in America lags far behind the rest of the digital world. A new report released today at Free Press shows that Martin's glowing appraisal of broadband in America glossed over the serious problem of our ever-widening digital divide.

In a "wildly optimistic" July 7 Wall Street Journal editorial, Chairman Martin claims, "the dramatic growth in broadband services . . . proves that we are well on our way to accomplishing the president’s goal of universal, affordable access to broadband by 2007.”

By overstating broadband availability, Martin is trying to erect a façade of success that maintain the status quo -- a broadband service sector dominated by predatory cable and telecom giants -- at the expense of American consumers.

If the president’s goal of universal, affordable high-speed Internet access is to be achieved in two years, policymakers in Washington must change course. And Chairman Martin tops the list of those in need of a reality check.

The new report authored by Free Press research fellow S. Derek Turner, depicts a more accurate state of the broadband union:

  • The FCC overstates broadband penetration rates. The FCC report considers a ZIP code covered by broadband service if just one person subscribes. No consideration is given to price, speed or availability of that connection throughout the area.

  • The FCC misrepresents exactly how many connections are “high-speed.” The FCC defines “high-speed” as 200 kilobits per second, barely enough to receive low-quality streaming video and far below what other countries consider to be a high-speed connection.

  • The United States remains 16th in the world in broadband penetration per capita. The United States also ranks 16th in terms of broadband growth rates, suggesting our world ranking won’t improve any time soon.

  • Despite FCC claims, digital divide persists and is growing wider. Nearly 60 percent of households with incomes over $150,000 annually have broadband access, compared to just 10 percent of households with incomes below $25,000. In addition, broadband penetration in urban and suburban in areas is double that of rural areas.

  • Reports of a broadband “price war” are bogus. Analysis of “low-priced” introductory offers by companies like SBC and Comcast reveal them to be little more than bait-and-switch gimmicks. On a per megabit basis, U.S. consumers pay 10 to 25 times more than broadband users in Japan.

  • The FCC ignores the lack of competition in the broadband market. Cable and DSL providers control almost 98 percent of the residential and small-business broadband market. Yet the FCC recently eliminated “open access” requirements for DSL that represented the only true competition in the broadband market.

FCC is trying to put the best face on these problems it can. Its new chairman, like his predecessor Michael Powell, seems all too eager to please powerful media giants -- such as Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and SBC -- who routinely strong arm regulators to pass policies that eliminate local choices and competition for Internet services. It's an insider's game of corporate and political influence peddling that leaves consumers paying more for less.

As my colleagues Craig Aaron and Ben Scott wrote at last month:

Powell may be gone, but the FCC still doesn’t get it. Their answer to anti-competitive practices -- which have left two-thirds of American households without broadband connections -- is to reward the cable and telephone industry dinosaurs with sweetheart policies that make a mockery of the free market and undercut any serious commitment to solving our technology woes.

The Free Press report exposes the Chairman's misleading rhetoric for what it is: an attempt to hand over control of last mile of the Internet -- and the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual service revenues that go with it -- to an oligopoly of media companies.

But fudging the facts won’t provide high-speed Internet access to those who need it most. With 200 million Americans still without broadband access, the FCC needs to open up more broadcast spectrum to wireless internet applications and remove restrictions from public entities that seek to offer broadband services to their citizens.

If the FCC is content to let cable and phone companies control the broadband market, then consumers need more options. Wireless broadband, which is less expensive and doesn’t depend on DSL or cable modems, offers one best way to close the digital divide.

Another prospect is broadband over power lines, still under development in a number of pilot locations.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Novak Walks the Walk

Camera Shy
Robert Novak can flee from the cameras, but where can he hide? Many, in and out of the blogosphere, report that the embattled right-wing columnist has few options left.

In an appearance on CNN's Inside Politics on Thursday, Novak stormed off the set after cursing Democratic strategist James Carville.

It's clear that Carville had little to do with Novak's departure. The Democratic strategist had described Novak's as trying to "show these right-wingers that he's got backbone, you know. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching you. Show 'em you're tough."

Novak responded, "I think that's bullshit, and I hate that," and exited stage right.

Bloggers from left to right, however, judge the Carville prodding as typical partisan banter for a show of this sort. Other factors must have caused this cable pundit to come unhinged.

Host Ed Henry had planned to end the segment by asking Novak about his role in the Plame leak investigation. "Hopefully, we'll be able to ask him about that in the future," Henry explained to his viewing audience after Novak's exit.

Jay Rosen of Press Think speculates:

Novak "was in an impossible position every time he went on the air to talk politics. If he met his duty to himself (by not speaking up while the Plame case was open) then he could not meet his duty to his peers and his profession. . . Novak knew that dodging his colleague Ed Henry was no longer going to work. He solved a problem for himself, and for CNN with his theatre of phony rage.

Indeed, Novak, as someone who claims to be a journalist, had painted himself into a corner. But he has been taking heat from other quarters as well.

On Thursday, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania publicly blasted Novak for "falsely and maliciously" libeling staffer Bettilou Taylor after Novak wrote a column that critiqued Specter's performance during a Senate hearing.

The hard right's disdain for Specter is well known – making Novak's ascerbic column less than unusual -- but the GOP's anti-Novak club doesn't end with the Senator. The columnist is being pilloried by right establishment figures including strategists within the White House sausage factory. According to a source in the DC press corps, Bush's communications office sees Novak as a walking time bomb set to explode when least convenient to their boss. They would much rather see Novak disappear quietly beneath the toxic sludge of the Potomac.

If this is true, it would appear that the right have begun to eat their own -- and that Novak is now among the hunted.

And only yesterday the Plame-Rove-Novak case was slipping towards the back pages. Thanks to Novak, it's now burning up the blogosphere -- a fire that threatens to jump lines to the mainstream.

For its part CNN called his behavior "inexcusable and unacceptable" and asked Novak "to take some time off."

SIDEBAR: Jon Stewart puts it all in perspective. B&C gives a historical rundown of famous on-air meltdowns but forgets to mention personal favorite Brigitte Quinn.

Sony Fakes It, Again

Sony can't seem to handle the truth. Instead of offering legitimate fare the media giant is paying off broadcasters and fabricating reviews to tart up their media products and push them on an unsuspecting public.

Late last month, Sony agreed to pay $10 million for payola improprieties after they were found to have funneled millions to radio broadcasters who bumped Sony artists to the top of playlists. If you were surprised that your local station exhumed Celine Dion from pop obscurity in 2003 -- following five years without a hit -- wonder no further. Sony had bribed radio stations with money and prizes in exchange for frequent airplay of two tracks from Dion's latest.

And the hits keep on coming. This week, Sony agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the studio of citing a fake movie critic in ads for several films.

Solid Gold
In 2001, Sony's faux reviewer of choice, a David Manning of the Ridgefield Press, heaped praise atop their cinematic stinkers, including Hollow Man, which he declared had "the summer's best special effects!" The Animal starring Saturday Night Live castaway Rob Schneider was "another winner" as seen through Manning's benevolent lens. More than 700 viewers at Yahoo!'s news group graded this "winner" with a less favorable C+. Manning was one of very few critics to reserve kind words for 2000's Vertical Limit, a movie that I saw in theaters (true confession) and liked. In an ad for A Knight's Tale, Manning was quoted calling actor Heath Ledger ''this year's hottest new star!''

The Ridgefield Press, a small weekly newspaper in Connecticut, has never had a movie critic named David Manning. No matter for Sony. The company's brilliant legal team attempted to cloak Sony's misleading practices in the First Amendment, citing the media giant's Constitutional right to lie to consumers. A California court of appeal threw out this feeble defense, ruling that faux reviews counted as commercial speech and were, therefore, not protected by the Amendment.

Indeed. It's called "truth in advertising" and it's enshrined in the Federal Trade Commission Act, which states:

  • advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
  • advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
  • advertisements cannot be unfair.

In the fallout since the Manning farce came to light in 2001, the fictional critic has launched his own blog where you can read reviews.

Posters over at the Onion's "AV Club" eulogized Manning today, speculating what the ghost of this fake critic would have to say about more recent Hollywood flops.

Duped audiences who paid for Manning's top picks during their original theater runs can now file a claim for a $5 per ticket reimbursement, according to the lawyer who brought the suit against the studio.

Bush Losing the War against Time

Bush is losing the war of public opinion, according to a new poll by Ipsos, an international polling firm. The timing couldn't be worse for the White House. With mid-term elections looming, the president could become a liability for Republicans seeking office in '06. If opinion continues to plummet -- as more Americans see Iraq for the quagmire it's become -- Bush Republicans' prospects for 2008 are also at risk. A McCain who distances himself from this administration may prove the GOP antidote to Bushitis.

Snippets from the Ipsos poll (1,000 adults conducted Aug. 1-3):

1. Approval of Bush's handling of Iraq, which had been hovering in the low- to mid-40s most of the year, dipped to 38 percent.

2. Bush's overall job approval was at 42 percent, with 55 percent disapproving.

3. The portion of people who consider Bush honest has dropped slightly from January, with 48 percent saying he's honest and 50 percent saying he's not. The drop in the number of people who see Bush as honest was strongest among middle-aged Americans as well as suburban women, a key voting group in the 2004 election.

4. The portion of people who view his confidence as arrogance has increased from 49 percent in January to 56 percent now.

5. Six in 10 said they think the country is headed down the wrong track, despite some encouraging economic news in recent weeks.

The wheels of history continue to pull this administration under.