November 10, 2009

100 Day Countdown to National Broadband Policy Looms

100 day countdown for new national broadband policy framework – what’s it mean to Cleveland and AnyTown, USA?

The sand is slipping through the hour glass and today the magic counter on slipped to 99 days. On February 17th, 2010 Julius Genachowski and Blair Levin of the FCC will send up to Congress what may well be the single most important infrastructure policy framework since the 1956 legislation on building the nation’s interstate highway under the President Eisenhower. Funny thing, unless you happen to be an ‘insider’ you’re not likely to even know that the FCC is working on this massive and potentially transformational infrastructure policy. Even more important, the FCC and broadband evangelists are having a hard time getting air time (ironically) to explain “so-what”. Let me try to outline why folks in Cleveland and AnyTown, USA should care and engage.

The preview of the conclusion is simple. The hopes of Clevelanders for a vibrant future for themselves, their children, neighbors, and friends are intimately and inextricably linked to the systemic transformation of our traditional economy. That journey involves new collaborative leadership, thoughtful and consensus-based investments in our regional leading-edge advantages, and a blueprint for a globally competitive 21st century infrastructure. A huge part of that 21st century infrastructure is ultra broadband. The truth is, most anyone anywhere can substitute Cleveland for their home town and the story about tomorrow has a similar calculus. For reasons that folks living in the rustbelt know better than others, the inability to shift core industry and infrastructure comes at a high price. Communities and their leaders all around the country should educate themselves about broadband and practice civic engagement. Five years from now, it will simply be too late. We’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t have a fairytale ending.

Back in 1956, under the President’s call for a national interstate and defense highway system, some $25billion for construction of 41,000 miles of highway was appropriated over 20 years. Today, the stakes and the need for leadership for public investments in core national infrastructure are as important as was the bold action to shape policy to build our nation’s 20th century transportation infrastructure. The ‘hook’ is no longer the Cold War and defense and the need to be agile in our response to an invasion of our boundaries by a hostile foreign army. We are in a globally competitive environment for attracting business, developing and retaining talent, and developing leading edge economic engines for the 21st century. As is appropriate, there is plenty of concern and significant energy and brainpower being deployed to respond to what most everyone now understands as a great leveling of the economic, education, and innovation around the globe over the past 20 years. Indeed, many of our legacy industries that defined our greatness in another era are now part of our risk portfolio moving forward. No one knows that better than the communities like Cleveland in the rustbelt of America. The next 99 days may be the most important precursors to whether the United States will remain globally competitive over the next 99 years. Hyperbole aside, there is, in my view, not another public policy agenda as important as what the FCC and the other agencies in the federal government are positioned to do over broadband infrastructure.

All around the world, the stature of cities and knowledge regions are being defined by a dynamic and messy combination of research, talent, culture, entrepreneurship, amenities, services, and public policy. In Australia, the national government just announced a $43 billion (Australian) dollar national broadband policy as a “major piece of infrastructure contributing to economic growth and prosperity (Sydney Morning Herald Nov 6, 2009). As Chiehyu Lili and James Losey from the New America Foundation point out ( the story is the same in cities and countries around the world. The single most important new public investment portfolio is ultra broadband. The framework being developed by the FCC is a high stakes undertaking. Many otherwise intelligent consumers of broadband services in Cleveland and around the country live with the twin fallacy of continuing American primary in the global digital economy (after all, we invented the Internet) and that somehow, public investment in broadband is un-American, or something like that. Anyone who has travelled to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, northern Europe, indeed most any OECD country and spoken with friends and/or colleagues knows that ultra broadband connectivity (on the order of 100 to 1000 times more broadband than we currently typically experience) is now the DNA of their everyday experiences. Health services, education and training, energy and traffic management, public safety and yes, their generic data, voice, and video services are all enabled over what are generally (all though not exclusively), public investment or co-investment in this next generation infrastructure. The single most comprehensive survey of the international environment comes from the Berkman Center at Harvard ( More importantly, take a look at Yochai Benkler’s response to the feedback on the original submission (

Clevelanders and every other American are exceptional only in only one sense and that is that we do not have a national broadband policy. Indeed, our policy until this FCC led by Julius Genachowski is that we did not need a policy. Beyond bravado and obfuscation the simple reason we are not globally competitive and we pay more for less is that there are very powerful and extremely well-funded companies whose narrow interests are best served when we have no public policy. One last word before trying to attend to the ‘what difference will this make’ to Clevelanders. The naked truth in the broadband debate is obvious to everyone. No one (and here I mean to include the hundreds of lobbyists being paid millions of dollars in total) has any illusions as to what the stakes are in this policy arena. Decision makers at the highest levels of Government are inundated with what they and everyone around them know is poppycock and b-movie scripts about why we do not need to make a change in our no broadband policy policy.

The broadband debate in Washington has remained, by and large, a policy wonk and ‘inside the beltway’ conversation. Too bad. I mean, really too bad. It’s not like the healthcare debate, where most folks have an opinion and care about the outcome. The broadband debate could be all about a focused set of new models to help deliver more cost effective, preventive wellness education and health care. It’s not like the debate over safety in our neighborhoods where we try and care about the outcome of community policing, parks, and lighting. The broadband debate could be all about our common interest in safer neighborhoods and more efficient and collaborative public safety responses to incidents made possible by broadband. It’s not like the debate on ‘no child left behind’ and our continuing concern and hope that we can close the so-called ‘achievement gap’ so that our children might have a future as good as, if not better than our own. The broadband debate could be all about extending structured and informal learning, at home, in the community library, between generations, through pathways of self discovery and exploration of the global village enabled by the Internet. When the price of gas at the pump goes up above $4.00 a gallon we certainly care about our energy policy. Home heating fuel prices are a major concern for folks in the Midwest and Northeast. Many folks know whether it’s an ‘inconvenient truth”, or not, that there is a global and local awareness about Carbon emissions and the need to develop a forward looking policy on energy conservation. The broadband policy could be informed in significant measure on new alternative energy strategies and their relationship to economic development. Or incentives for alternative energy consumption tied to broadband adoption and new models of working.

Broadband is the enabler of opportunity in the 21st century. Breakthrough discoveries in our universities based on new models of global collaboration are enabled over ultra broadband that connect researchers and their labs around the globe. Remote surgeries, health-related consultations, and daily interactive wellness programs are made possible by the roll out of next generation internet connectivity. Education disadvantage for underserved urban and rural America are reduced as ubiquitous internet connectivity becomes an attainable set of expectations that they, along with middle class suburbanites can enjoy. Public and neighborhood safety should be every American’s entitlement and made possible by smart public policy investment in public broadband infrastructure.

Public investment in infrastructure makes sense under three basic
conditions;(1) new market creation and incubation of new markets , (2) evidence of market failures (where profits are not attainable), and (3) when such investments serve the broad public interest and are related to other public policy goals. Incumbent market players as well as new private sector entrants into the marketplace have an enormously important role to play in helping all of us, young and old, inner city residents or rural community families, healthy and frail, to understand and create value in using this powerful and potentially transformational infrastructure. In the 1956 debate over the build out inter-state highway system the public investment was made in the name of national public policy. An enormous and robust private sector set of services grew up to take advantage and provide much value on that public investment. Clevelanders and residents of Northeast Ohio understand how important our transportation and transportation logistics industry is to our region and to the nation. The same is true on the long over-due public investment in a national broadband policy. Over the next twenty years, every American should have an ultra broadband enabled home, neighborhood, city to call their own. The future of the quality of life in our communities and in our country’s global competitiveness rests on getting this broadband policy right.

In my next blog entry I will outline an exciting set of new initiatives underway among more than 40 public sector anchor institutions in NEOhio to deliver a working model and set of pilot projects to support ultra broadband infrastructure to the front door of our inner-city neighborhoods.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
November 10, 2009

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September 10, 2009

Time for Higher Education To Step Up on National Broadband Strategy

Blair Levin is a man on a mission with a major Tylenol three headache. Levin's day job these days is Executive Director of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative for the USA. He has less than 160 days to deliver a national framework. The challenges are considerable. The broadband czar is not hiding his angst.

We are looking for creative solutions from everyone – government, think tanks, spectrum license holders, wireline providers, cable systems – that will help deliver the synergies of broadband to the entire nation. ... we need everyone to be, shall we say, “constructively worried”. So let’s be creative and find a solution together so that five years from now we don’t have to worry about the ramifications of our failure to plan ahead.

More recently, he added, "It is striking how the parties [in broadband comments] have stayed within the same framework in looking at a problem that is evolving; seeing things only in the light of long-established patterns that are tied to preferred policy outcomes, not analysis."

I have had limited direct exposure to the inner workings of this effort but I have a wide range of trusted colleagues who are actively and tirelessly working to constructively engage and position the Omnibus Broadband Initiative for advancing the birthing of national broadband policy for the United States.

Given the historic opportunity, in view of the national need, because this is so important to the future, it is high time for higher education to become actively and constructively engaged in the national broadband policy making effort. The futurists in academe have offered their crystal balls to the FCC panels. Higher education, and in particular our research and education networks, have much, much more to offer. In turn, we have much to gain from active and constructive engagement with Levin. Hyperbole aside, this may be the single most important moment in the Internet's short history to reposition the future of the era which I think future historians will rightly call the Broadband Epoch. I have no doubt that our research and education networks will be around 25 years from now. I think we should be recasting the question and ask 'how relevant will our research and education networks be' if we continue to think, build, and operate a national and regional set of shadow network infrastructures as in 'our interest' somehow separate from the 'national interest'.

The time has come to offer leadership and commitment to contribute to the designing and ultimately build out an integrated national broadband fabric. We should begin by placing our coveted publicly-funded research and education networks on the table as the foundation of a national public broadband infrastructure. We should offer up the billion plus dollar State and Federally funded investments in the more than 30 regional optical networks in 37 states, reaching more than 55,000 community institutions. We should offer up our two national backbone services in Internet2 and NLR with investments totaling well in excess of another quarter of a billion dollars over the past decade. The infrastructure assets entrusted to and built by higher education over the past twenty years are the single most important catalytic resource available to the nation in the pursuit of a national public broadband strategy.

Ed Lazowska from the University of Washington in Seattle outlines the tradition of innovation and the contribution of higher education to our nascent and current broadband state as a nation in a submission to the Department of Commerce (in the context of NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunity Program).

Colleges and universities are innovation incubators. They brought us ARPANET in the 1970’s, the Internet in the 1980’s, the graphical World Wide Web browser in the 1990’s, and Google and Facebook in the current decade. These and other transformative innovations from America’s colleges and universities have generated countless millions of jobs and countless billions of dollars in economic growth, making America the world leader in information technology. We would not be here today, were it not for these engines of innovation.

College and university applications drive advances in networking. These institutions are the heart of demanding, advanced scientific applications. The data-driven experiments, simulations, and analyses of science today require high-speed broadband to move data from remote instruments to the lab and to share massive data sets among scientists globally. Why does this matter? Because these scientists will help us model climate change, discover genetic markers for inherited diseases, and explore the potential of low carbon and renewable energy sources. Colleges and universities are also the source of innovation in America’s health care system, providing cutting-edge health research, medical education, clinical care, and rural telemedicine. The bandwidth demands of today’s advanced scientific applications – tens of gigabits per second – foreshadow similar bandwidth needs in homes and businesses in the future.

Colleges and universities have a four-decade proven track record in deploying, managing, operating, and continually upgrading advanced networks. With seed money from NSF in the 1980’s and 1990’s, CSNET, NSFNET, and Internet2....provided neutral territory for open, non-proprietary, unclassified advances, fostering close partnerships with and among industry and government and across all sectors ranging from education to health care....

Two lines of questioning emerge. Why and how could the Higher Education network infrastructure become the basis of a national public broadband framework. Second, why and how would Higher Education leverage these stewarded infrastructure assets in support of the research and education mission of their respective organizations and the national imperative for research and development a global competitiveness.

First, the debate in Washington on the future of broadband is bounded by the view from 'inside the beltway'. Make no mistake about it, as intelligent, objective, and visionary as the FCC and the architects of the Omnibus Broadband Planners may well be, policy making is the extension of politics and interests by other means (to bastardize von Clausewtiz's well known idiom about war). As Levin notes in his comments quoted above, much of the policy debate and thought leadership is bounded by what "is" and the inherited sense of "self interest" which leads to a pervasive condition of incremental and bounded policy making. The future vision of the policy possibilities are extensions of and highly constrained to what we see in our rear view mirrors. Those charged with policy development end up being self-hostaged to their perception of the limits of the policy options as articulated by the delimited set of self-interested parties.

Second, America's research and education networks offer an existent proof point of a very different vision of the future of broadband. Ours is an integrated, national, regional, and local set of inter-connected advanced network infrastructures built to advance a public services set of needs and requirements. Today, a wide range of education research, learning, teaching, and outreach activity is supported on the only truly globally competitive broadband infrastructure in the country. It is globally competitive not because of the size of the bandwidth pipes. It is competitive because the range of educational research and development services, educational learning technologies, educational teaching innovation, and the abundance of Net-based education experimentation is world class.

Third, the public services platform can be and should be extended as part of an integrated effort to extend to a vibrant and transformative set of network-based activities ready for take off in the health and wellness eco-system. Our national broadband policy should aspire to leverage network-enabled health and wellness technologies and services to create efficiencies and to service the nation's diverse and multi-faceted health and wellness agenda for the 21st century. If health care and wellness follow the higher education network deployment architecture we will have a world-class infrastructure not because of the size of the pipes (or the number of lambda waves we light up). We will be competitive because health research activities, consumer and public health education technologies, health and wellness advocacy and a wide range of health economic efficiencies will make our integrated public services platform second to none in the world.

A national broadband policy which does not begin and remain constrained with the assumption of an incumbent-only provider set of policy options can include not only education and health care but also our national interest in energy management both across the grid and within communities and neighborhoods across the country. An integrated public services grid can and should include a strategy for not only network-based and home-attached utility readers to support the objectives of efficiency on the energy grids. Energy management can and should extend through a smart-home sensor network to enable household energy management. If energy management, designed as end-to-end energy management follow the higher education network deployment model we will have a world-class infrastructure not because of the number of smart grids or the size and speed of our grids. We will be competitive because energy research in both the commercial and university labs will be integrated with consumer and public energy management education technologies in home, integrated education programs, and a wide range of energy management sensor-based technologies that will make our integrated energy management the most innovative and consequential to Americans from coast to coast to coast.

There are additional public sector services, such as public and neighborhood safety, environmental and home health, smart and connected public and private real estate, and transportation grids that together with education, health, and energy form the basis for an integrated and public national broadband future. Our broadband future becomes informed by a national consensus to build, manage, and operate a smart, green, and connected infrastructure to service the needs of communities both urban and rural, aged and young, rich and impoverished, new immigrant or well established families. The architecting of a public services network can leverage and scale on the foundation of the research and education networks that touch tens of thousands of communities across the country. The new 21st century community emerges as an integrated, dynamic eco-system whose DNA is knowledge and innovation in support of and delivering against articulated community needs.

The broadband policy debate about our future must extend beyond the rear view mirror image of current 'triple play' services offering. Architecting next generation ultra broadband connectivity is a necessary but insufficient condition for a globally competitive America. Becoming globally competitive is not a debate about whether incumbent providers do or do not provide broadband services to America's underserved. Serving America's needs today and tomorrow is intertwined with advancing and sustaining an open and inherently generative platform that continues to enable innovation and unconstrained experimentation. The threads interwoven with the platform will hopefully be an integrated approach to providing broadband services for education, health care, energy management, public safety and so on. The broadband technical requirements are an extension of, not a substitute for, our common vision of a smart, green, and connected future.

Some might well ask, why should the research and education networks place their assets into national play? How does an integrated public sector platform advance the dynamic and important network-based research activities that are the raison d'etre of our networks? R&E networks is one of relatively few things in the national and globally competitive broadband space that we can proud of. Why screw it up and let our relative advantage devolve into a dumbed down version of, fill in the blank's, commercial provider service? There are probably a dozen other expressions of cynicism, horror, and disbelief. At the very moment that the R&E community is driving towards a new 100 Gig national backbone standard, why at this very moment would we want to 'give it away'.

First, our networks are public networks. They have been funded with public tax dollars and entrusted to higher education. By and large, we have been good stewards of that investment and created leveragable value. Second, we need not 'give it away' our access to commodity, research and development, and experimental use of the networks. The governance authority for provisioning tiered public access from institutions, consumers (outside their institutional relationships), and commercial users is both attainable and can and will lead to win-win-win scenarios. Third, the University's sphere of influence and interests continue to bleed well beyond the confines of the University's physical plant footprint. Fourth, our long term health and well being is intimately and perhaps inextricably linked to the well being and health of the communities around us. And fifth, and finally, it is in on our selfish and narrow interests to be part of, rather than separate and apart from, the single most important set of investments in broadband in our generation.

To be sure, it is possible that our siloed approach to securing broadband network funding from NSF, NIH, DOE, and so forth might have some short term legs. However, there is growing evidence that, at least under this administration, there is an effort to orchestrate, coordinate, and leverage major policy objectives, especially in the infrastructure arena. Working together, we should be able to make the case that it may well be within the institutional self interest of the federal funding agencies to also join and lock arms in trying to work with one another, as well as the FCC, Commerce, and the White House on an integrated approach to public sector investments in broadband. Making an effort to align Federal and State agency interests, higher education research interests, and the interests of the provider and managers of the higher education network infrastructure is as difficult as it is important if we are to keep an eye on the challenge facing Blair Levin and the nation as a whole.

Finally, a word about the incumbent carriers and the presumed insurmountable interests of the telecommunications industry. Advancing the cause of a next generation ultra broadband public services platform is not antithetical to the interests and position of the incumbent providers. The notion of binary choices between the incumbent provider or a public services platform is a framing that is simply false. Many off the record conversations with leaders within the telecommunications industry suggest that the 'either/or' framing is simply 'more of the same political posturing'. Indeed, there is overwhelming evidence that the telecom industry will continue to pursue the "Janus" approach of breathing fire on anything smacking of public sector investments in the public policy 'dialog' while, turning around, presenting a willingness and interest to advance collaborative approaches to public and private investments to reach new communities and to enable new services. Embracing that ambiguity is an art form, especially when it is underwritten with very substantial financial resources and long standing political influence. An integrated public services platform will create new dynamics in the marketplace. As long as there remains a commitment to an open and neutral network platform, there will be competition, innovation, and service options to the consuming public. That's generally thought to be a good thing.

It is quite reasonable to assume that there will not be consensus on every last detail of an advanced, ultra broadband future for the United States. There is, however, plenty of evidence that there is significant consensus on many of the goals, including a portfolio of approaches to investment, adoption, use, and accountability. The time for higher education and in particular the higher education regional optical networks and the national backbone providers to engage in the effort to design a comprehensive broadband strategy is now. We should do so because we have much to offer. We should do so because we have much to gain.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH
September 12, 2009

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