Archive for November 2009

David Isenberg’s FCC Fiber Panel

David Isenberg has convened those concerned with infrastructure at meetings called Freedom To Connect for many years. This year, he’s Senior Advisor to the FCC’s National Broadband Taskforce and instead of Freedom to Connect, he convened a group of eminent speakers for a panel called Workshop: Future Fiber Architectures and Local Deployment Choices.

While much FCC policy has been inward looking, refusing to treat the world as a laboratory in which alternate polcies are tested, some failing and some succeeding. Both failures and successes provide useful lessons.

Two representatives of successes were present, Herman Wagter of citynet.nl in Amsterdam and Johan Henæs Norwegian equipment maker INS Communications.

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Montana Aims to Serve Native Americans

The state of Montana asked applications to answer some questions of its own in addition to the federal grant application process, and only 14 responded.

Of the fourteen, Montana recommends first (in the letter obtained from the Baller Herbst Law Group website) Bresnan Communications, which has been working with the state since 2005. The Purchase, N.Y.-based organization filed a redacted application for $70 million. It is not clear how many people will be served by this project, but the state says that it serves all seven of Montana’s Indian Reservations and that all seven tribal councils support it.

For the other 13 projects in the state, governor Brian Schweitzer (D) refused to make any decisions. I think this was a bad idea, unless Schweitzer feels that all available cash will be consumed by the Bresnan Communications project.

A New Music Interlude

Melissa and I attended the 22nd Annual Premieres Concert by the Stony Brook Contemporary Music Players at Merkin Hall on November 12, 2009. We were there to see a piece by my friend Douglas Boyce. His piece, Displacements, was a lighthearted deconstructionist piece highlighting the chances that make every performance of a piece different. The players walked around the stage and the music was entirely unpredictable and unexpected in unusual ways. It took advantage of a 12 speaker system to project sound from different directions.

Boyce’s piece was preceded by Margaret Schedel’s Muted Mahogany, in which a number of vibraphone players were directed by a joystick-controlled sound. The piece reminded me of science fiction and it reminded Melissa of the wind at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It also used the 12 speaker system nicely.

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The State of Mississippi Endorses DigitalBridge

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) endorsed just a few projects (letter available from the Baller Herbst Law GrouP), including the state’s own sustainable adoption project.

Surprisingly, the state endorsed some DigitalBridge Communications projects. The Ashburn, Va.-based firm filed 64 applications across several midwestern and sourthern states.

I am particularly impressed that Barbour chose not to endorse the largest project in his state, a $250 million project filed by the Mississippi Valley State University. However, it is a historically black college or university (HBCU) and it serves one of the poorest areas of this nation. The project appears to have asked for too much money, but perhaps in the next round, a smaller but similar project will go forward.

Michigan Recommends 21 Projects

While Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (D) recommended 21 projects, one stood out for me: Merit Network’s middle mile project.

Merit Network is the innovative group behind opencalea and other open source projects that have been helpful to ISPs and small businesses. Merit’s $42 million project, $18 million grant, $18 million loan, and the rest contributed (partly in kind), consists of almost one thousand mile of 72-strand fiber. Merit is working with several local partners in different areas of the state. Merit’s application came with 70 letters of support and Merit notes that it has a history of bringing diverse organizations together. I strongly support Merit’s application, one of the projects the governor recommended.

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Massachusetts Courageously Chooses Only Three

Masachusetts governor Deval Patrick (D), in a letter I find only on the Baller Herbst website, recommended three projects: an infrastructure project in Western Massachusetts, an educational project in and around Boston, and OpenCape, which I wrote up earlier in depth.

Given the large number of potential applications, I applaud the state for choosing to recommend only three. I think it takes a lot of courage for a bureaucrat or a politician to recommend a limited amount of spending on their state.

However, the three projects could still use a lot of cash: $146 million in grants and $184 million in loans. On the other hand, the high proportion of loans in this mix should count in their favor.

Kansas Recommends Many Projects

Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson (D, formerly R) recommended most of the projects that go through his state. Parkinson obtained the seat when Kathleen Sibelius, who had worked hard for Obama, especially during the primaries, resigned to become secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, a job that became very important when swine flu hit the U.S.

Parkinson, who says he plans to step down in 2010, appears to have recommended most of the applications in the state of Kansas, including several multistate applications. Kansas is one of the few states to recommend EchoStar’s nationwide satellite deployment. The governor also recommended a large and costly cellular deployment. Several of the projects appear to overlap each other.

The state even recommended a project from Connected Nation, the telcos’ non-profit.

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Maine Makes The Tough Decisions

Maine governor John Baldacci (D) did an excellent job on his letter (available on Baller Herbst here) to the NTIA regarding stimulus fund applications. His office is recommending projects costing only $42 million, a very reasonable amount of money compared to most other states’ recommendations. He even recommended that the NTIA not fund some projects and clearly described how the state lacked data to judge some other projects.

All of this is excellent work, work that some governors have chosen not to undertake.

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The ILECs Challenge the Stimulus

As the ILECs start challenging stimulus applications, I’m hearing that applicants will not get a chance to dispute the ILECs’ complaints. This would be bad. The allocation process is already underfunded. Fierce Telecom has more.

Florida Blasts State Review Process in Letter

In the letter to the NTIA (obtained from the Baller Herbst website), the special assistant to the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist (R), made seven timely and specific complaints about the review process. Most important were that the states did not receive the full applications — a problem I was not aware of of — and that states were asked to review all the applications that covered many or all states.

A staff that had been expecting to review 12 applications ended up having to look at 120, and the letter complains about the resulting dilution of review resources, a legitimate complaint. For the multistate appplications especially, NTIA could have helped by sharing their own reviewers’ scores of those applications, but did not do so.

As for specific applications in Florida, I will withhold comment because I worked on one of them and am therefore biased strongly in its favor.

In summary, I think the state of Florida did excellent work and also did well in speaking out.