Michael Horne
The Roundup

Broadband News – Thanks for Nothing

By - Nov 29th, 2004 12:00 pm
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Our telecommunications giant, SBC, was in the headlines last week with the apparently salutary news that 88 Avis Rent A Car System locations nationwide would be equipped with the SBC FreedomLink Wi-Fi service by early 2005. The firm would also extend FreedomLink to 600 Barnes and Noble bookstores.

SBC Wi-Fi, the firm tells us, is one “of the nation’s largest Wi-Fi networks with the service available in more than 5,000 hot spots, growing to an estimated 20,000 by the end of 2006.”

Access to the Wi-Fi zones requires a $19.95 per month membership in SBC DSL, with a minimum commitment of $100.

Doesn’t this make you feel just wonderful about the advances that have permitted this country to become the most technologically-advanced and “wired” nation in the world?

A shining nation on a hill, where bookstore loafers and airport-bound auto renters by the millions can, as SBC tells us, “conduct business and stay connected between their flights and the road?”

Where “mobile professionals [can] use laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to wirelessly connect to the Internet and corporate networks at speeds 50 to 100 times as fast as a dial-up connection?”

Don’t believe it for a minute!

For one thing, the “50 to 100 times as fast” connections, are actually eighty times slower than those of Hong Kong.

The United States of America is not leading the march toward broadband internet service; in fact, we are falling perilously behind other nations, despite SBCs rosy scenarios for bookstores and car rental agencies, and twenty bucks a month from the well-to-do and business traveler.

When experts rate communities for their broadband internet access, the United States of America is not even on the map – and guess what’s to blame?

Charles H. Ferguson, a nonresident Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution put it this way in testimony before the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation of the United States Senate on April 28, 2004:

“… the United States, which invented the Internet and pioneered the commercial Internet revolution ten years ago, is performing exceptionally poorly in broadband deployment, and more generally in local telecommunications services.”

Ferguson points out that while the United States has one third of the world’s computers, it has only 14 percent of the world’s DSL lines.

The US, at the end of last year, had 4.8 DSL lines per 100 telephones, versus 5.1 in China, 9.6 in France, 10.9 in Canada, 12.3 in Israel, 14.4 in Japan and 21.4 for Taiwan.

World broadband deployment grows 78 per cent a year and in the United States, the growth is only 35 per cent a year, which is the same as going backward.

Looked at somewhat differently, most components of digital information technology – semiconductors, personal computers, software, fiber optics and the like, expand their performance-per-dollar at a rate ranging from 40 to 75 per cent per year.

The exception? United States telecommunications services, “ranging from voice telephone service to broadband service have displayed low or in some cases even zero or negative rates of improvement over the last decade.”

And who provides these telecommunications services? Around these parts, it is SBC – and therein lies a cautionary tale.

Ferguson makes his case quite plainly: “the dominant providers of local telecommunications have blocked true competition and the development of a modern, open-architecture industry. This is rational on their part: competition and technical progress in broadband services would undercut local telephone companies’ traditional voice and data businesses, and threatens the video distribution monopolies of the cable industry.

“Yet Federal policy, particularly under the Bush Administration, has been ineffective or even counterproductive. As a result, the industry remains insufficiently competitive.”

Ferguson points out that only two-thirds of users have any choice in broadband services, “and even then they face at best a duopoly of one telephone company [SBC in Milwaukee] and one cable provider [Time Warner in Milwaukee.]

The solution?

Well, there is an elegantly-simple solution, which would be to create open-architecture systems such as the one in Wellington New Zealand that has led an admirer to say, “this is one of the most advanced places in the world, right up there with Stockholm and Tokyo.”

The Wellington CityLink program was instituted by the city’s council. According to Neil de Wit, the managing director of CityLink, “Only a handful of other cities have local governments that have been proactive about getting real outputs from their Internet strategies. … City Link is a result of innovative Wellington City Council’s visionary thinking.”

But you can’t see any visionary thinking here in Milwaukee. As much as the City of Milwaukee’s infrastructure is particularly – perhaps ideally suited – for a massive information pipeline – (more on that, later) – “we are way behind in broadband availability, and the incumbent telcos [telecommunications companies] don’t want us to build it; in fact they have pushed through legislation against it,” says Randy Gschwind, the City’s chief information officer.

During the Norquist administration, Gschwind hooked up the city’s first two free Wi-Fi zones in Red Arrow Park and Cathedral Square, using existing infrastructure. It was the nation’s second, municipally-sponsored, Wi-Fi zone; a baby step toward the Wellington model.

According to a Wall Street Journal article from November 23rd, such free or low-cost wireless internet access is “a phenomenon that has raised the ire of large telephone and cable companies, who see their lucrative broadband businesses eroding,” leading the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a Verizon-lobbied bill forbidding any “’political subdivision’” from offering such networks.

This is not an insurmountable problem for Gschwind. “The result [of Wisconsin legislation] is that we still have two things we can use to incent the buildout of broadband – political clout and City assets – and then get someone else to build it. This facility does not have to be City owned or operated, but it does need to be open and attractive to ALL providers.

“The longer we wait, the behinder we get.”

Next Week: Milwaukee’s surprise 19th century asset, and how it could help propel this community into immediate broadband supremacy.

Genesis for R. Crumb

The annual cartoon edition of the New Yorker Magazine is on the shelves now. The distinction of cover artist for this important issue belongs to R. Crumb, the legendary; the masterful.

Now comes word from our correspondent (and milwaukeeworld.com cartoonist) Tea Krulos, that Crumb has a new project ahead – one that could occupy him for several years.

The job? It is Crumb’s assignment to produce an illustrated Book of Genesis – the first chapter of a certain best-seller called “The Bible.”

Krulos said he got the word by telephone in a conversation with Denis Kitchen, the former Milwaukeean and also legendary, yet active, figure in the underground comic market. Kitchen arranged the deal, he said, and it is being announced here for the first time, from what we can tell.

Krulos has been doing an excellent job of communicating with legendary cartoonists. His Riverwurst #5 has been released and includes an interview with the retired Bill Sanders, one of the old Milwaukee Journal’s finest editorial cartoonists. Sanders is still drawing, and his takes on George W. Bush as an Admiral (and, to be fair, as a Snake Oil salesman) are not particularly flattering and probably should be investigated.

Fire Damages Brady Street Club

Club 728, at that address on East Brady Street, was damaged by a Thanksgiving fire which began in the basement storage area, according to reports. A walk past the building, recently and expensively restored, shows that many of the French doors there were partially compromised when officials ventilated the place. Although plywood covers many of the panes of glass on the building, it has not sealed off the distinctly carbonized smell of the air within.

Dominic DiSalvo, of the restaurant, and others, repaired to nearby Libby’s Lounge after the fire and were said to be devastated by the blaze. Things had finally been picking up at the establishment, and December is usually a good month for business. Lately, an audience had found the Monday open mike there, headed by Alex Pekoe and Chris Ortiz.

The management had held a fundraiser for Firefighters a few weeks previously, and showed videos of the celebration on the club television. Sure enough, you could see Brad DeBraska among others there. The restaurant was also raffling off a house for charity, which is quite a novel promotion. (Dominic DiSalvo is in the mortgage business.)

DeBraska even had lunch in the restaurant Wednesday afternoon, prior to donating turkeys to a food pantry on behalf of the Milwaukee Police Association, the union that he heads.

DeBraska teamed up with Ald. Ashanti Hamilton to donate over 60 fresh turkeys to the St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry at All Saints Catholic Church, 4060 N. 26th Street on Wednesday, just hours before Thanksgiving.

The turkeys were purchased at cost from the Pick ‘N Save Metro Market and were delivered to the food pantry in a paddy wagon, which had been parked in the church’s lot prior to DeBraska’s arrival.

“What are they doing here?” a woman asked me. “Handing out tickets?”

“No, M’am, they are handing out turkeys. And they’re fresh, not frozen, so you don’t have to wait until Friday for them to thaw.”

Inside the church, a number of people waited for a chance to be a lucky winner of one of the turkeys. Many went away empty-handed

Bay View Finds Compass

The “premier” issue of the Bay View Compass, neighborhood newspaper that is “free for all,” has hit the pavement in the South Side neighborhood, and in a few other places that are certifiably hip.

The paper is a descendant of the Riverwest Currents, and shares Vince Bushell as its publisher. Katherine Keller is the editor of the new publication, and she introduces herself on Page 2 under the heading, “Write On, Bay V.”

Milwaukeeworld took the time to read Ms. Keller’s welcoming essay, which we found to be nearly perfectly existential.

Of course, Ms. Keller would have been better served if her proofreaders (Stephanie Harling and/or Charlie Sweet) had taken a shot at her missive before it was shipped to the printer’s.

Let us quote from Ms. Keller’s column, exactly as it appeared in the newspaper:

“When I was a child, I remember a day when I read in the paper’s social section that Mr. And Mrs. David Keller and children dined at Mr. And Mrs. Ed Schmidt’s the previous Sunday. I was astonished. That was my family. The Schmidts, our hosts, lived across the street from us. Ed was my mother’s first cousin. These Schmidts and these Kellers conved Mrs. David Keller and children dined at Mr. And Mrs. Ed SchmidtÕs the preve street from us. Ed was my motherÕs first cousin. These Schmidts and these Kellers conved Mrs. David Keller and children dined at Mr. and Mrs. Ed SchmidtÍs the previous Sunday. I was astonished. That was my family. The Schmidts, our hosts, lived across t street from us. Ed was my motherÍs first cousin. These Schmidts and these Kellers conved Mrs. David Keller and street from us. Ed was my motherês first cousin. These Schmidts and these Kellers conved Mrs. David Keller and children dined at Mr. and Mrs. Ed Schmidtês the previous Sunday. I was astonished. That was my family. The Schmidts, our hosts, lived across ttbors’ names. People avoided eye contact.”

What an epic tale, set in a fractured, wobbly past. The childhood glee at seeing one’s name in the society pages apparently unhinged Ms. Keller. [We’ve been there.] Avoiding eye contact was probably the smartest thing to do, after what Mrs. David Keller found herself “conved” into.

Õ !

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