Wednesday, February 4, 2009


A BITE AT A TIME: There’s a move afoot in the legislature to put regulation of communication under a brand new “Communications Commission” set up as a sort of Public Utilities Commission for high speed internet “broadband” connections.

And while on the face of it it might sound like a good idea Honolulu activist extraordinaire Scott Foster sent out a warning today that all might not be what it seems and that leaving the details to legislators who don’t “get it” the way the broadband corporations like Time Warner and Hawaiian TelCom do may not be in the public interest.

As many know when dealing with these behemoths it’s a good idea to count your fingers every time you move them on and off your keyboard and remote. And with the “only in Hawai`i” combo Department of Commerce AND Consumer Affairs (DCCA)- and the well known revloving door of employment of the regulators- we can be pretty sure the bills were written with the former’s interests rather than the latter’s in mind

Writing as “Communications Director” for the non-profit “Advocates For Consumer Rights” Forster cites just one of the devilish details that have been implanted in the bills by the corporate lobbyists- one that could strip almost 98% of the bandwidth from future public access channels.

Foster writes:

(T)he term "video streams" is misused as an alternative to the term "analog channel" already mandated for Public, Education or Government (PEG) cable television access use. One analog channel can accommodate three high definition (HD) digital channels, and 30 or more "video streams."

Up until 1999, in Decision & Order (D&O) 154, 10% of Oceanic Time Warner's channel capacity was mandated for "Public, Education and Government" (PEG) access, which amounted to 8 channels. D&O 261 (2000) reduced that to 5 channels. In SB895, the channels have been reduced to "3 or more", but what's most troubling is that the channels can be defined as "video streams" -- with no text-book definition regarding the bandwidth. 8 channels x 30 streams = 240 streams, minus the 3 PEG streams = 237 streams lost. Sound complicated? Yes, very -- unless you’re our monopoly cable provider Oceanic-Time-Warner or the bankrupt Hawaiian Tel. They understand all of this very well. Also troubling is the fact that the state has never required Oceanic-Time-Warner to provide a "Public Access Channel " as defined by Hawai`i Law...

"This is indeed about the future, not the present and in our opinion, there is not one single event that is as important to Hawaii's economic future as this pending franchise agreement now before the DCCA." <> Well the chickens have finally come home to roost and as we predicted, somebody’s made off with most of our eggs.

If "video streams" are what we think they are -- or are not -- in this pending legislation, then the public will have gone from being owed 240 video streams to only 3. What happens to the other (potential) 237 "video streams "? Another gift to the monopoly cable provider Time-Warner and the bankrupt Hawaiian Tel? Buyer (legislature) beware! Broadband = money and lots of it.

But even more alarming may be the recent announcement from Time Warner giving the finger to the “net neutrality” movement by setting in place plans to “upgrade” their service- the second worst in the country in terms of speed - .but not for everyone, just those who want to pay an exorbitant rate, leaving the rest of us with low grade “turtle service” and so, for all intents and purposes, blocked service to certain on-line services

Foster pulls no punches in pointing out how the bills before the legislature are subject to corporate lobbying of the all powerful cable and phone companies.

(C)an it be only a coincidence that our monopoly Time-Warner Cable ("AOL" was quietly dropped some time back) today announced that they "will begin offering subscribers of its popular Road Runner service higher download speeds later this year as part of $140 million of upgrades it is making to its system"? The company also said it will "boost its top Internet connection speed to up to 20 megabits per second from the 15 megabits currently. The company wants to address customer needs of businesses, online gamers and people who watch video on their computers at faster speeds."

The announcement included this astounding statement by Oceanic President Nate Smith: "There seems to be a mania now about getting faster and faster and faster." A mania? Smith also said, "We think we can get more customers [victims?] at every level." Oceanic's current prices range from $25 a month for their turtle speed "Road Runner Lite" (1.5-megabit-per-second download) to a whopping $70 a month for their 15 megabits download speed. Smith also said, "The rollout would be completed in stages, with completion by the middle of next year." Too little too late and for too much we say.

Seems like the subject of “‘net neutrality” is one that no one at DDCA- or the legislature for that matter- has ever heard of although it’s one that the U.S. congress has been tackling for quite some time, trying to make sure that “classes” of internet users don’t develop and that all content is equally available to all users.

Wikipedia describes the ‘net neutrility concerpt this way

Internet neutrality is a principle proposed for residential broadband networks and potentially for all networks. A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.

As to where it national legislation now stands an article from Google says

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its telecommunications bill, H.R. 5252, in May, without adequate net neutrality protections. Now the fight has moved to U.S. Senate. On June 28, the Senate Commerce Committee passed its own telecom bill, S. 2686. While an amendment to the bill that would have added meaningful net neutrality safeguards failed 11-11, this tie vote marks a significant political victory and gives the effort new momentum. The debate now shifts to the full Senate, where advocates will be working to get strong net neutrality language is any bill that the Senate considers.

SB895 and SB1680 was heard today Feb. 4 at 1:15 pm in Senate conference room 016.

HB492, HB1077 and HB984 will be heard on Thursday, 02-05-09 8:00 am in House conference room 312.

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