[PLUG-TALK] Cable modems: rent or buy?

Russell Senior russell at personaltelco.net
Wed Mar 2 22:40:57 PST 2011

>>>>> "Michael" == Michael M Moore <moore.michael.m at gmail.com> writes:

Michael> [...]  Of course, that doesn't stop the City of Portland from
Michael> continuing to spend taxpayer dollars on fancy smartphone apps
Michael> that can only be enjoyed by those who can afford smartphones,
Michael> or continuing to refer residents to websites to access
Michael> information, submit applications, etc., etc., even though a
Michael> significant portion of residents can't afford Internet
Michael> access.

Russell> The City of Portland is not spending taxpayer money on fancy
Russell> smartphone apps.  They *are* working on making more public
Russell> data available so that others can write smartphone apps.

Michael> Good to hear.  They should make it clearer.  For instance,
Michael> Jonathan Maus [1] posted a little ditty about how much he
Michael> loves the new Public Art iPhone app, "developed in a
Michael> collaboration between Adams' office, the City of Portland,
Michael> the Regional Arts and Culture Council and local app developer
Michael> Matt Blair."  To me, that makes it sound like the city is
Michael> spending money, as does this from the app's [2] website:

Michael> "Created in collaboration with the Regional Arts & Culture
Michael> Council, the City of Portland.s Bureau of Technology
Michael> Services and the staff of Mayor Sam Adams. See the About page
Michael> for more information."

I think you will find that "in collaboration with" in this case means
that the Mayor or someone on his staff said encouraging things and
tried to make sure there weren't unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to
getting access to the data, and that this is the app writers thanking
them publicly for the help.

Google CivicApps or look here:


The City says all sorts of encouraging things about Personal Telco
too, because they see us doing things that improve with quality of
life in Portland.  But you know how much tangible help the City has
given us?  How many resources they have devoted to helping us
accomplish our mission?  Pretty close to zero.  Yeah, they have given
us some things that they were basically giving/throwing away anyway.
But, when we have something we'd like help with and ask, we get a
whole lot of "oh, yeah, we can't help you with that".

Michael> And it's not that I think the city, county, state, etc.,
Michael> shouldn't make data accessible online or encourage
Michael> development of shiny smartphone apps.  But I do think
Michael> government has some obligation to provide more robust and
Michael> widespread online access if they are going to turn to online
Michael> means of civic engagement.  

How do you propose they do that?  

It costs about $500 million to build fiber to every building in
Portland.  Personally, that sounds totally doable to me, only 1/10th
of what the new Columbia River Bridge is estimated to cost.

People ask "where are you going to get the money?" and I say, "the
same place the incumbents get it, from the users!"  Communications
consumers in Portland pay a few hundred million dollars a year for
television, phone and internet.  The money is there.

I think users of the network should pay for it, through user-fees, in
the same way that water users paid for the Bull Run reservoirs, the
30-mile pipeline and the rest of the water system, which delivers an
outstanding product at low cost.  I would totally be willing to turn
what is now a rent check that will never end into a mortgage payment
that I can pay off in 5 or 10 years and then own outright, and reap
the rewards of greater competition for services over that network, and
greater abundance and anti-scarcity.

Michael> Increasingly, more and more agencies are soliciting feedback
Michael> and engagement online primarily.  Metro, for instance, has
Michael> launched [3] Opt In to help them solicit community feedback.
Michael> There are no equivalent public meetings.  Likewise, the
Michael> Oregon [4] Health System Transformation Team has been
Michael> soliciting online feedback for their work on reshaping health
Michael> care.  Their meetings are public (if you can get to Salem),
Michael> but there's no opportunity for public testimony or feedback
Michael> in person.  You have to provide it online.


  "The Oregon Health Policy Board holds a public meeting at least once
   a month. The board frequently includes one or more public comment
   periods during board meetings, at which time members of the public
   may offer oral and written testimony."

That sounds like you have off-line options!

Russell> As it happens, I am on a work group right now helping to
Russell> develop a Broadband Strategic Plan for the City.  They aren't
Russell> paying me anything.

Michael> I hope something comes of it.

Me too.  But it's going to take ordinary people pushing for it.
Contact City Council.  Tell them you think my idea is fantastic,
obviously correct, and totally doable.  Demand to be rescued from
perpetual slavery.  My observation is that the bureaucrats in this
case are gungho, but the politicians are too weak-kneed to grab the
bull by the horns and solve the problem.  When Republican Lafayette
Louisiana put something like this on the ballot, it won 2 to 1.  They
get 50Mbps symmetric bandwidth for $57.95/month.  10Mbps symmetric for
under $30.


Russell> The City does refer people to websites, because that reduces
Russell> their costs and reduces the burden on taxpayers for a given
Russell> level of service.  Everything I've heard indicates that they
Russell> recognize that city services need to remain accessible in
Russell> multiple forms, not just online.  In many ways, access
Russell> remains restricted to old-technology.  You have to physically
Russell> show up to participate in public meetings.  I seem to recall
Russell> that bids must be submitted in hardcopy.

Michael> I think that's true when it comes to city services, at least
Michael> so far.  It's becoming less and less true when it comes to
Michael> civic engagement.  [...]

City staff still have phone numbers and mailing addresses.

Michael> During last week's weather "emergency"
Michael> (our most recent collective breakdown over the slightest
Michael> possibility that it might snow up to an entire inch in the
Michael> valley), I was listening to OPB (you know, "public" radio)
Michael> all morning as they gave the odd bit of information about
Michael> some closures and kept saying "Check our website for more
Michael> lists of school and municipal closures" and so on.  It used
Michael> to be a function of media -- especially the ostensibly
Michael> "public" media -- to use the public airwaves to inform the
Michael> citizenry.  Nowadays if you want the whole story you have to
Michael> go online.

OPB gets no money from the state anymore.  Their state fundedness got
zero'd out several years ago.  They aren't a reflection of the
government, but of a self-perpetuating board only marginally connected
to the people to whom they broadcast, via the occasional pledge drive.

Russell> Also, anybody in the City *has* access via places like the
Russell> Multnomah County Library.  It isn't always the most
Russell> convenient, but it's there.

Michael> Yes, during the Library's hours.  The last time I used the
Michael> library's computers they were still running IE6 and I would
Michael> get warnings from gmail about how my browser wasn't supported
Michael> anymore.  The last time I used the wifi at my local library I
Michael> couldn't get portlandonline.com to load, despite repeated
Michael> attempts.

I guess I'd recommend complaining about that.

Russell Senior, President
russell at personaltelco.net

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