Broadband access from Brooklyn to Havana

 
 
Dear Friends,

Last week, the President outlined his vision to bring high-speed broadband to all Americans and help communities across the United States meaningfully compete and innovate in a 21st century global economy. The US was a pioneer in building the Internet, yet today, 45 Million Americans don't have access to next generation broadband. This reality is even more stark when one considers that only half of rural communities in America have high-speed Internet. And, as we see everywhere from Indian Country, to the Southern Bayou, to the Hills of Appalachia, connectivity deserts are doubly-disadvantaging already marginalized constituencies across the US. Even in areas where broadband access exists, tens of millions of Americans only have one or two all-too-expensive choices (complete with subpar customer service, regular outages, and other innovation-stifling shortcomings).

To be clear, the President’s proposal to invest in community broadband networks, and his concomitant commitment to empower local communities to make their own decisions about how best to provide broadband to local residents, is a great idea whose time has come. For many communities, locally-owned and operated broadband networks would enable them to better meet their needs -- providing faster speeds for lower prices in more locations than current business models.

Likewise, local connectivity and network ownership would have a powerful impact abroad -- from North Korea to Syria to places like Cuba, where less than five percent have Internet access and an hour of connectivity costs 1/4th of the average Cuban’s monthly salary. The AP reported just this week that Cuban youth are already setting up local mesh networks to connect with each other. We should actively foster those fledgling efforts, as I recommended in my op-ed in The Hill just two weeks ago.

Whether in underserved communities stateside or overseas, these examples demonstrate why it’s so important that we’re developing Nobis with our partners at Loomio and DemocracyOS. Nobis is a platform for the exchange of ideas -- combining the deliberation and collaborative decision-making capabilities of Loomio with the voting and accountability features of DemocracyOS -- and running on the Commotion Wireless distributed communications system. It's also why I signed a letter with 78 statesmen, policy experts, and prominent Cuban-Americans calling on the President to work with Congress to continue to build on the recent Cuba policy shift.

21st century civil society, whether at home or abroad, can only thrive within a connected and participatory environment. The FCC and Congress should work to ensure that everyone can participate in a free and open Internet -- a goal that will be greatly helped if we foster meaningful competition and maximize the diversity of options and business models available to all.

Sincerely,
Sascha Meinrath
Director, X-Lab
Founder, Open Technology Institute

P.S. - If you saw the news about the mystery drone that crash-landed at the White House, here's a flasbhack to July of 2013 when we helped kick off "Drone U" to dig into how the proliferation of aerial robotic vehicles can affect society in diverse areas, including privacy and warfare.

Director of @xlabrocks @saschameinrath asks why we pay 10X for half internet speeds that @Romanians enjoy bit.ly/13p0G8a
X-Lab Fellows Updates
X-Lab partners Loomio and DemocracyOS were featured in Vice: “The Future of Protest Looks a Lot Like the Past

X-Lab Fellow James Losey's contributed to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society's Internet Monitor 2014 on "How Activism and the Internet Can Change Policy"


Announcements & Events

Sascha joined 78 statesmen, policy experts and Cuban-Americans calling on the President to work with Congress to continue to build on the recent policy shift on Cuba. Read it here.

Sascha joined the Board of Directors at Freedom to Connect Foundation.

Sascha gave Keynote speeches both at the annual COMSNETS conference in Bangalore, India, and the Mobile India event.

I am pleased to welcome Georgeta Dragoiu and Luis Miranda as X-Lab Strategic Advisors:
Georgeta Dragoiu, a communications and political strategist, is Managing Director of MDC Strategies where she advises private, non-profit and government leaders.
Luis Miranda, a former communications advisor to President Barack Obama, is Managing Director of MDC Strategies where he advises corporate and non-profit clients on how to better frame and advance their public policy priorities.

Investing in Community Broadband

A Local Solution to a Federal Issue: “By elevating this issue to the national stage, Obama is opening the door for community-driven solutions to address the digital divide. [...] And as the president acknowledged, it’s ultimately up to the cities and local communities themselves to decide whether and how they want to invest in high-speed broadband networks. [Slate, The Trickiest Part of Obama’s Nationwide Broadband Initiative, 1/21/15 ]

Obama Wants You to Have Cheap, Fast Internet, But Many Cities Aren’t Allowed to Provide It: “On Tuesday evening during the State of the Union address, President Obama pledged "to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks." Obama is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to challenge a wave of state laws blocking the construction of municipal broadband networks, which are high-speed Internet services run by local communities.” [ProPublica, Obama Wants You To Have Cheap, Fast Internet, But Many Cities Aren’t Allowed to Provide It, 1/23/15].

Senate Bill Would Allow Cities to Build High-Speed Internet Without Getting Sued. “Cities that want to build super-fast community internet networks received a big political boost Thursday when three influential senators introduced legislation that would preempt state laws that prohibit local governments from building their own networks. The Community Broadband Act, which was introduced by Sen. Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, along with two colleagues, is just the latest development in an accelerating national movement to empower cities that want to upgrade their networks. [Motherboard, Senate Bill Would Let Cities Build High-Speed Internet Without Getting Sued, 1/22/15].

 

Protecting Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality: Protecting Competition and Innovation: “Sascha Meinrath, Director, X-Lab and Founder, Open Technology Institute, urged that Net Neutrality principles of common carriage, open architecture, open protocols, end-to-end architectures and privacy be protected around the world [...] entrepreneurs must keep an eye on this unfolding debate because it will affect the future of digital innovation and prevent big players from wiping out emerging startups. [Your Story, 10 Tips for Mobile Innovators and App Developers, 1/12/15]

Congress Strips Away Essential Protections from Net Neutrality. In a January 21 op-ed, experts at the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation explained that the GOP legislation would "strip the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of crucial legal authority that protects consumers and small businesses on the internet," by limiting the FCC's ability to "adapt to evolving consumer harms." They also explained that the narrowly-written legislation would "eliminate the FCC's ability to help cities build broadband" [The Hill, GOP Bill Will Undermine Future Consumer Protection Efforts And Prevent Broadband Development]
 

Internet Access for the Cuban People

New Policy puts Onus on Cuban Government. “Cuba is in a unique position to leapfrog the rest of the world and pioneer new forms of digital enfranchisement -- empowering communities and constituencies through the use of open communications and decision-making resources that are second-to-none on the planet.” [The Hill, New Policy puts Onus on Cuba, 1/9/15]

Cubans Independently Build Own Community Intranet. “Cut off from the Internet, young Cubans have quietly linked thousands of computers into a hidden network that stretches miles across Havana, letting them chat with friends, play games and download hit movies in a mini-replica of the online world that most can't access. ” [AP, Cuban Youth Build Secret Computer Network Despite Wi-Fi Ban, 1/26/15].