Tech Policy

Articles about political and policy issues related to technology.

Comments on Twelve Years of Commission Service

On March 27, 2014, I received a Distinguished Service Award from the City of Austin for twelve years of service on the Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission. Here is the video, followed by my prepared text.

Thank you for this recognition. I see this as a recognition not just for my personal efforts, but also for the accomplishments of the many groups I've had the good fortune to work with over the past ten years.

I'd like to share this recognition with: all my fellow Community Tech and Telecom Commissioners, past and present; City Council and its Emerging Technology Committee members; Rondella Hawkins and her staff in the office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs; the city's CTM and PIO departments; and the many groups who work so hard on behalf the community, such as Austin Free-Net, Channel Austin, Big Gig Austin, and Open Austin.

Dear Senator Franken, Please Oppose PIPA

Dear Senator Franken,

I am not your constituent, but since I receive periodic fundraising appeals from you, I thought I might impose on you with a request: Please withdraw your sponsorship of S968, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

You've been in the forefront of protecting online networks through initiatives such as net.neutrality. That's why it troubles me deeply to see you supporting PIPA.

I know you are probably hearing a lot about the First Amendment implications of allowing bureaucrats to shutdown Internet resources without due process. I'd like to raise another issue.

Implementing PIPA would break some of the fundamental mechanisms of the Internet. The future of the DNS (the directory service that maps to host address is one that is secured end-to-end, to protect users (and publishers) against against forgery or spoofing. This is incompatible with the sort of filtering and delisting that is required by this legislation.

That's one reason why you see so many well known Internet engineers signing onto a letter protesting this legislation.

I hope that as a media person you would be in a particularly good position to help find the balance between protecting the property rights and free speech rights of the content producers. I hope that as a smart person, you would recognize the importance of listening to the subject matter experts, such as distinguished Internet engineers.

Thanks for your past advocacy for Internet users and content producers. I hope you will choose to help them on this issue as well.

Quick Impressions on FCC Open Internet Order

Last week, the FCC issued their new Open Internet rules. This process has been underway for over a year, and many people hoped it would lead to a strong framework for network neutrality.

We have a name for those kinds of people: optimistic fools.

Okay, that's harsh. And the optimism wasn't completely unfounded. The current President and Chair of the FCC both came into office saying they wanted to do network neutrality. Once there, however, that aspiration met the harsh reality of a regulatory apparatus captured by the communication providers.

The result isn't what anybody advocating network neutrality hoped for. But that doesn't mean that it's all bad.

The Good Bits

Big Gig Austin -- The Public Campaign to Bring Google Fiber Network to Austin

I wrote previously that the City of Austin is working on a response to the Google "Fiber for Communities" request for information (RFI). I've met with City Council and city staff members, and everybody is enthused about the opportunity.

That's great -- but it's not enough.

If Austin is going to convince Google to build here, it's going to take a strong community response. In fact, there is a whole section of questions for the City to document the community response to the initiative.

The "Big Gig Austin" initiative has been created by a number of supporters, who want to work in support of the Google RFI. We've got about one month to document how incredibly badly Austin wants this network to be built here.

The official rollout of the project will be happening in the next few days. In the meantime, we've created a couple of resources.

24-Hour Twitter Campaign

If, in the next 24 hours, if we can get 200 people to follow @BigGigAustin, I'll ask the City to put us in a press release. I know there have been discussions about sending out a press release about the Google fiber project. If we can get that kind of following so quickly, I'll ask the City to cite us in their press release as an example of how Austin is rallying behind this project.

So let's make the news. Follow @BigGigAustin and tweet your friends to join.

City Asks Your Support on Google Network Response

On Wednesday, the Austin City Council Committee for Emerging Technology and Telecommunications discussed the Google Fiber for Communities initiative. All three members (Councilmembers Laura Morrison, Randi Shade, Chris Riley) enthusiastically supported the project. They asked City staff to begin working on our response, and they promised to bring a motion for support before the full City Council. The councilmembers also directed city staff to work closely with the community, to get their support and assistance.

Today, I got the following email from Rondella Hawkins, the Manager of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs for the City of Austin. That's the department that is coordinating the City of Austin response. She is asking citizens to act in support of the RFI.

So to everybody who has been asking what you can do to bring the Google fiber network to Austin ... here you go!


As you probably already know, the City is submitting an application to Google’s RFI to build FTTH fiber network here in Austin with a fast-approaching deadline of March 26th!!! We all know that Austin is the perfect test community for Google’s fiber network pilot.

You can help support Austin by completing Google's separate on-line application for residents and community groups. This in addition to the City's application.

Please note that you will need a Google email account (

Here is link:

Don’t forget to spread the word to others! The city will launch a publicized campaign but I wanted to get the word out.


Rondella M. Hawkins
Manager of the Office of Telecommunications & Regulatory Affairs

The Untold Story of the Google Gigabit Network Project

Have you heard the one about Google wanting to come to your hometown to build a gigabit fiber network?

Google says they want to do this as an experiment. They want to trial new methods for building networks. They want to see what emerges where high-bandwidth networks are available.

That's what they say. Don't you believe it for a second.

Yes, this is indeed a trial, but what Google is trialing here isn't technology so much as policy.

The incumbent broadband providers have told the regulators that they are hobbled by old infrstructure, and can't afford to deploy new technologies such as "fiber to the home" and DOCSIS 3.0. The incumbent providers are saying that bandwidth is scarce and consumers are eating too much, so networks must be monitored and metered and managed. They are saying they cannot open their broadband networks to competitors and remain economically viable.

Google is calling bullshit on them.

DTV Transition Coverage Today

We got some really good coverage of the DTV Transition issue today.

The news has been reporting the Nielsen statistic that Austin is currently the fourth least prepared city in the nation. That's the bad news, here is the good news: the report two weeks prior had us listed as third, and the local rate of improvement is outpacing the national average. So there's hope that with the added attention we can close the gap during these final days of the transition.

Many news outlets reported on the DTV Walk-In Centers that were announced by the city.

I talked to several local news outlets today.

News 8 Austin was on location all morning, do live reports every half hour. Thanks to Heidi and her crew for rolling out so early and giving the issue so much coverage. Here is her story: City aims to help as DTV transition deadline looms

Jenny Hoff of KXAN channel 36 came by and did a live report noontime. Here is her piece: One stop shop for DTV

Finally, Jeff Beckham of Austinist did his part to keep the local hipster population informed: City Stepping In To Help With DTV Transition

Thanks everybody for the good coverage today.

Bandwidth Cap Red Herrings

Time-Warner Austin has announced that later this year, it will implement a tiered set of bandwidth caps for its broadband customers. That's been a controversial and hotly debated proposal. I see some things frequently mentioned in the debate that I think are distracting, not helpful.

First, I see people frequently trying to draw a parallel between broadband tiers and cell phone usage plans. This makes sense only on a superficial level. Yes, in both cases you buy a certain amount and pay extra when you go over.

This analog does not hold up under scrutiny. The usage patterns of cell phones are pretty stable. There continues to be some migration away from landline service and towards online (VOIP) services, but for most of us our cell phone usage a year from now won't be that much different from what we do today.

This is completely untrue for broadband usage. New, innovative services are being created as we speak. Our broadband usage patterns may be radically different a year from now than they are today. Broadband caps lock in current usage patterns, which is detrimental to innovation.

The DTV Delay: It's Not About Slackers

You may have heard that the transition to digital television (DTV) is being postponed to June. A lot of people are upset about the delay, and attribute it to people failing to ignore the warnings and not getting their act together. That's wrong. The delay is needed not because people failed to act, but because they did exactly what they were told to do. The problem is that when they did the system broke.

The GAO reported way back in September that the coupon program was likely to break under stress. If, at that time, the Bush administration or Commerce Department had taken proper action, they could have corrected the problem. They did not, instead leaving the mess for the next administration to clean up.

Today is DTV Day in Wilmington, NC

You may have heard that the nation is switching to digital television in February of next year. For one city, the switch has come early. As a first-in-the-nation pilot project, Wilmington, NC switches to DTV today.

Actually, DTV has been there (and here) all along. What's changed is that the analog program transmission stops today in Wilmington, and stops in February for the rest of the nation. When that happens you must have a DTV receiver to get over-the-air television programming.

The Wilmington experiment represents almost a best case scenario, so I don't anticipate too many problems. It's been the focus of intense local publicity, so everybody there is aware of it. I've found at outreach events that people in Austin are aware of the coming change, but are still confused as to what to do.

An AP news article today says:

Sales of the store's $59.99 converter boxes have been brisk, [Radio Shack employee Larry Pakowski] said.

"I can't give you a specific number, but I can tell you traffic has been pretty steady," he said.

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