Connecting Local Institutions

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) is here, and it’s a big disappointment. While adding to the body of evidence that Internet access competition is poor to nonexistent in America, they still manage to praise do-nothing incumbents for offering any service at all, at the same time they’re keeping us 5th place in “connected nations” status, and 22nd place in broadband subscription rate worldwide. The FCC’s refusal to stand strong on open line-sharing policies not only received well deserved mockery by their counterparts in the UK, but they also continue to leave America behind the world technology development curve for the foreseeable future, for no evident reason. They have all the information they need to know that open line-access sharing is the proven way to increase competition.

Now that we know our own FCC isn’t going to help us out of the broadband mess in America, that their past policies helped to create, we have to figure out a way to help ourselves out. One small helpful aspect of the National Broadband Plan is an admonition to Congress that they support schemes to run high-speed fiber to anchor institutions like schools, hospitals, and libraries nationwide. These institutions can then act like central office hubs for neighborhood networks, sharing their fast connections with the entire community, and gaining maintenance fee help from the connected community. The FCC describes no specific action, but hopefully it will inspire Congress to stop the parliamentary games and electioneering, and actually get something done this year. Barring federal aid, local organizations like NELA-ISC can help these institutions install and maintain these networks, in return for open access to distribute connections to neighboring members.

As it turns out, provisions in the Broadband portion of the 2009 Recovery Act already have some of the same goals. Applications taken by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) for round two of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) are now closed, yet no “Anchor Institution” registrants in the North East Los Angeles region can be found in the BroadbandMatch database.

To be fair, I just found out about these grant resources recently myself — not nearly in time to get any grant application paperwork together. Is it possible that the Recovery Act administrators have not taken any steps to inform our local institutions of their eligibility, at the same time rich incumbents like Qwest are already begging them for more funding? I fear that is exactly what happened. To be honest, the number of applicants to these programs, and to experiments like Google Fiber for Communities, make the odds of being selected seem quite low. With the massive amount of lobbying in Washington D.C., it never feels like small communities like ours will be heard through all the noise.

Regardless of how big the challenge seems right now, we know we have to work together to be heard. I will be talking to the ERNC April 6th, 2010, about local resources and fostering greater cross-institution collaboration. In addition to our excellent Land Use Committee, I will recommend and volunteer myself for the formation of a local Technology Infrastructure Committee. I will be looking for all interested Eagle Rock Stakeholders to join this committee, to share any personal technical expertise with the community at large. Depending on the success of this effort, I may end up encouraging similar committees to be formed in all the Neighborhood Councils within the Northeast Los Angeles region.

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