Monday, August 13, 2007

A Little Panicky in Seattle

There's an odor of panic out the world of American broadband advocates and it even extends even to places like Seattle (home of Microsoft)--where a broadband panel has been making achingly slow progress toward creating a fiber plan.

An impatient Seattle Times columnist, Brier Dudley, announces that he's changing his tune on municipal broadband. He had held out for the city to build a fiber network itself. But he's getting a little panicky. He's worried about two things: weak-kneed politicians and malevolent incumbents. A fatal combination.

Dudley worries that the politicians haven't been able to pass a net neutrality bill and they don't even seem to realize that universal service ought to be national policy—as is universal phone service. And he's noticed that incumbent AT&T (yes, our AT&T) recently decided to censor a Lollapalooza web broadcast containing lyrics that attacked George Bush's political policies by Seattle homeboys Pearl Jam. (Didn't hear about that? Still thinking that maybe the "broadband monopolists" wouldn't dare censor the internet? Let MTV disabuse you.) But the offense that pushed Dudley over the line was having a friend that used too much bandwidth and had his Comcast broadband terminated. Apparently cable company Comcast didn't like the number of movies he was downloading. But it wasn't willing to tell him, or the reporter, how much was too much.

So, apparently people are starting to get a little panicky about the state of US broadband, even—or especially—in tech meccas like Seattle. And they are beginning to be willing to do previously unpalatable things to get out from under a regime that does little to rein in monopoly power and a set of monopolists constitutionally unable to stop abusing their position.

Dudley hopes that:
If Seattle isn't led astray by its broadband partners, it could build an island of neutrality that would attract Internet companies and set a precedent for universal service.
That's a big "IF." Dudley needs to not give up on public provision and purely local ownership. Making the broadband provider directly responsible to the public is the only reliable path toward freedom... and reasonable, powerful, service...in US broadband.

Seattle needs to follow Lafayette's precedent. The "Lafayette solution" is the last, best, hope for a free internet in the US.

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