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Bill Moyers: Why U.S. Internet Access is Slow, Costly and Unfair

Americans are getting bilked for second class internet access.

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JOEY DUREL in Net @ Risk: I think this is a tremendous opportunity for small business and to attract business here.

RICK KARR in Net @ Risk: So what the city decided to do was build its own fiber network through its municipal power and water company, Lafayette Utility Systems or L.U.S.

BILL MOYERS: How did they get away with it in Lafayette when as you say they didn't in North Carolina?

SUSAN CRAWFORD: Persistence of a mayor who very much focused on this and said, "We're going to get this done." And there wasn't a statute at that point at the state level making it illegal. Municipalities have a lot of assets at their disposal. They control the rights of way, the access to their streets and their poles that people need in order to build these networks. They can condition access to those rights of way on a particular network being built. Stockholm did this. They say, "Look, you can come in and build a fiber network as long as it's a wholesale, nondiscriminatory really fast fiber network connecting our hospitals and schools and police departments. And then you have to let anybody else connect to it." Not that hard, you just draft an R.F.P., request for proposals, and the city can do that using its control over its rights of way.

Cities often also have access to this long term low rate financing. They can put their good name behind a bond issue and make sure that it gets paid back by the subscriptions to the network over time. It's a great investment for the city, and that's what Lafayette found out.

BILL MOYERS: So how is the consumer in Lafayette situated differently from me here in Manhattan with one cable service?

SUSAN CRAWFORD: In comparison to where you are in Manhattan where there's no government intervention at all, in Lafayette the municipality is acting as a steward, standing up for you. It is in fact government's role to stand up against the ethic that might makes right. In most of America there is no government factor keeping these bullies from charging us whatever they want.

BILL MOYERS: You describe something in your book that we've talked about often at this table. Quote, "The constant easy, friendly flow between government and industry in the communications world centered around Washington D.C." Describe that world.

SUSAN CRAWFORD: It's a warm pond of familiarity. Everybody knows everybody else. They're all very nice people, you'd like to have a drink with them. They go from a job inside the regulator to a job in industry to a job on the hill, one easy flow, nice people. Outsiders have no impact on this particular world.

And it would be-- I talked to a cable representative not long ago about the need to change this regulatory state of affairs. And she looked at me and said, "But that would be so disruptive." And she's right, it would be disruptive.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you know, the F.C.C. was supposed to be the cop on the beat of the communications world. But for example Michael Powell, who served as F.C.C. chairman for four years in the mid-2000s, is now the cable and telecom industry's top D.C. lobbyist.

Meredith Attwell Baker who was one of the F.C.C. commissioners who approved Comcast's merger with NBCUniversal, left the agency four months later to join Comcast as a highly paid lobbyist. That move infuriated media groups.

SUSAN CRAWFORD: But that warm pond of familiarity in Washington sees this as absolutely normal behavior. Just yesterday the former chief of staff of the F.C.C. left to be the general counsel of a regulated company. It happens all the time. And so in order to change this you'd have to make regulation of this area not be carried out by such a focused agency. Right now, the F.C.C.'s asymmetry of information is striking. They only talk to the industry. The community is all so close. In order to break that up you'd have to make sure you had a broad based agency seeing lots of different industries.

 
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