Federal Communications Commission

Fortune Cookies

August 18th, 2009 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

One of the many challenges of creating a National Broadband Plan is dinner: it's hard to get it when you're working late into the evening to meet Congress's Feb. 17, 2010 deadline to reboot broadband deployment and usage in the U.S.  So maybe there was some kind of karmic reward in two fortune cookies that staff cracked open at the end of our team's break for Chinese one night.

John Horrigan, a data guy we stole from the Pew Internet Project, pulled out a fortune that read "Statistics are no substitute for judgment."

Steve Rosenberg, a former McKinsey analyst who is helping on modeling and mapping, opened one that said "No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking."

Both fortunes-unusual topics in my many years of opening such cookies--bode well, I think, for the National Broadband Plan.

It's true that gathering data will be key to developing a solid plan, and we're doing that as we hold weeks of staff workshops, solicit new comments on targeted subjects, and then in the fall, travel to field hearings.  Plus, there's the new local broadband data that came pouring into the FCC this spring, which we are scrubbing, slicing and dicing and soon hope to have at our fingertips.

But data means nothing if we don't exercise good judgment about what it all means. I'm confident we have assembled a great team who can cut to the chase and develop options and recommendations that are likely to produce what Congress wanted: universal, robust broadband for all Americans and a broadband platform that will enable innovators, entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profits and all levels of governments to find new solutions to our nation's problems.  And I'm confident that the FCC, Congress, and others in government will exercise good judgment when they determine how to implement those recommendations.

But that will require sustained thinking, and our broadband team is leading an assault of sustained thinking by the entire FCC on the stubborn problem of bringing broadband to unserved and underserved areas, increasing the number of Americans using broadband, and maximizing how broadband can be used to help address significant national issues.  Expect the unexpected. Nothing is pre-baked but the fortune cookies.

22 Responses to “Fortune Cookies”

  1. darkblue_b says:

    Here at the California Chapter of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation, we are "putting on our thinking caps" about this ...

  2. Rollie Cole says:

    I second the call to help "structure" comments by asking specific questions. Please do so, while also allowing more general comments. For instance, how about asking individuals to fill in the blanks on the following: "I use the broadband connection I have to improve my life in the following ways: ______" Or, for the UNserved, "If I had broadband, I would use it to improve my life in the following ways:_______"

  3. Guest says:

    "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it."

    Your assault of sustained thinkers is up against quite a challenge. Best of luck to you.

  4. Jim Tobias says:

    John Horrigan plants that fortune all the time, because he's got both statistics and judgement. And the FCC is lucky to have him. He's a one-man broadband data improvement program. If you haven't read the Pew Internet and American Life reports, go and learn.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment here. I hope you will develop a rich taxonomy and bunches of detailed articles so we will have something to sink our fierce public teeth into.

  5. Brett Glass, WISP says:

    Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the workshops on the 12th and 13th of this month! I am now back in Laramie, Wyoming, where I am fielding a sudden huge rush of orders for wireless Internet service due to the throngs of college students who are returning to the University of Wyoming for the fall semester. Interestingly, though, the biggest rush of new service orders is from landlords. A surplus of new housing units, started prior to the economic downturn and financed at very low interest rates, has caused landlords to compete for tenants, and one way they are competing is to vie to offer the best "free" Internet access in their buildings. (It's really not free, of course, but is included in the rent.) We provide customized "anti-hogging" software to prevent any one tenant from consuming all of the bandwidth (a good example of reasonable network management), so that all of the residents get a fair share.

    The amount of bandwidth we can provide to landlords for the buck is, of course, determined by our own net bandwidth costs -- which, in turn, is one of the reasons why resolution of the "special access" problem is so important.

    We are also encountering another issue. The area surrounding the University of Wyoming campus is full of trees: beautiful, old Plains Cottonwoods. Unfortunately, the thick foliage makes it difficult for us to serve residents whose houses are in the thick of Laramie's "tree area." 2.4 GHz signals penetrate these trees so poorly that access is limited to a radius of a few blocks, and 5.8 GHz is blocked almost completely. 900 MHz signals penetrate a bit better, but are still often weakened sufficiently to be lost in the buzz of consumer Part 15 devices such as cordless phones and baby monitors. What's more, the Union Pacific Railroad -- which runs through Laramie -- uses very powerful 900 MHz frequency hopping radios for down-the-track signaling, raising the noise levels even more. (To get an idea of how bad the noise is, see

    To effectively serve citizens in areas with significant foliage, wireless ISPs need low frequency spectrum which is unpolluted by consumer devices and is subject to spectrum etiquettes so that it can be shared gracefully. (Spectrum etiquettes, such as IEEE 802.11y, become particularly important as frequency decreases, because the signals carry farther.) The 700 MHz "D" block is a prime candidate, because the auction demonstrated that the market for exclusively licensed spectrum will not tolerate the notion of sharing -- to the point where the auction's reserve price was not even met! However, WISPs -- who have volunteered their services during 9/11 and Katrina -- have a proven track record of willingness to work with public safety.

    How would this work? Ideally, the spectrum would be nonexclusively licensed to bona fide wireless broadband providers, who would, in return, provide free access to public safety agencies. Spectrum etiquettes, built into every device that operated on the band, would ensure that public safety traffic which was marked as urgent would receive priority. The same spectrum etiquettes would ensure that the providers, large and small, shared the spectrum fairly and did not "step on" one another's traffic, providing better quality of service than can be provided on the Part 15 bands. Thus, the band would fulfill the dual purpose of facilitating broadband deployment and aiding public safety agencies.

    Also, a 9 dB increase in allowable EIRP (power) levels for WISPs using ISM spectrum would help things considerably, across the board and particularly on 900 MHz.

  6. jasonspalace says:

    i wish we could use block D for national broadband internet. it would rain internet all usa =)

  7. Grimp says:

    >>"It's true that gathering data will be key to developing a solid plan, and we're doing that as we >>hold weeks of staff workshops, solicit new comments on targeted subjects, and then in the fall, >>travel to field hearings."

    If data gathering is as important as you say, then you shouldn't let Connected Nation be the one to do the broadband mapping. We need an industry-independent body to gather data and evaluate it in the public interest.

    For reference:

  8. Lew McD says:

    A large group of "underserved" folks are the last mile people who lack anything but basic phone service and are situated just beyond the 2-3 mile limits standard technology can push broadband. And being in rural areas, their political subdivision, which might speak on their behalf, is typically focused on the county seat, not the far corners of the county.

    If care is not taken, these people (of which I am one - no surprise there) will fall between the cracks of any broadband plan. If we are serious about distance education and economic development in rural America, we must find a way to extend services into these areas.

  9. Guest says:

    This is a fascinating process. Are the blogs and comments posted in response going to be placed in the formal record of the docket created for the National Broadband Plan NOI?

  10. Suzanne Goucher says:

    Dear Blair,

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Dave Burstein notes above, "One idea discussed at the workshops was taking advantage of public safety's need for towers and backhaul in remote areas by sharing that with wireless broadband providers. I'm not an expert on wireless, but I'm confident that would be an enormous saving of public money." Agreed - And at the same time, the FCC should be looking at filling the gaps in digital TV service in rural areas by permitting and funding municipal-owned translators. Once the tower for wireless broadband goes up, it can be used for public safety, as well as to fill gaps in DTV and cel-phone coverage (another big problem in rural states like Maine). Some advance thinking and planning needs to be done around multi-use towers. We have bills pending in Congress (S.899 and H.R.2903) but it would make eminent sense to wrap all these uses together. The Commission should be looking long-term and big-picture about these issues. Everybody's enamored of broadband but we have thousands of people in Maine alone who no longer get the TV service in digital that they got in the analog world, which is a huge public-safety concern in and of itself. How can broadcasters become a part of this conversation? Thanks - Suzanne Goucher, Maine Association of Broadcasters

  11. Jill says:

    I'm also a member of the underserved last mile folks. There are several options 3 miles up the road but here we sit with dial-up and the expensive satellite. We are not even in the group that has cable television. Is there any reason we should think we won't fall through the cracks again?

  12. Guest says:

    I hope they develop some overarching principles for the plan, including one that addresses inclusion of people with disabilities

  13. Craig Chatterton says:

    There is an approach that can provide "near" broadband speeds (up to 1.5Mbps up/down) to a variety of rural areas that are otherwise unserved. However, it is not widely scalable, and requires significant effort. The approach is to set up a T1 circuit to one location and then share the service and cost among a group of neighboring residents (~5-10) via wireless repeaters. The result will be considerably faster and more reliable than dial-up or satellite services. In fact, it may outperform many DSL and Cable services.

    Several caveats: 1) T1s are available almost anywhere in the USA; however, they are not cheap. In Northern California T1s run $350-$400/month. T1s to remote locations may be more expensive due to additional line boosters, but distance is not a limiting factor.

    2) The shared residents need to be close enough together to connect via wireless repeaters. This requires line-of-site and distances up to ~1 mile. A star configuration is best, but some chaining works fine. Alternatively, some local connections can be made via coax or cat-5 cable runs.

    3) The bandwidth is shared. So, although there are many times when residents may realize the available bandwidth, performance will be lower if several people are downloading files at the same time. Limiting the bandwidth to ~500Kbps at each residence is often a good idea. Nonetheless, a shared 1.5Mbps pipe will far outperform dial-up or satellite in most situations.

    It's a scrappy solution, but it works.

  14. Fact Checker says:

    "FCC launches first-ever blog, called "Blogband," to chronicle events of the National Broadband Plan. Check it out: "

    Hey, just for clarity sake - This isnt the first-ever blog - This isnt the first-ever blog about broadband - This isnt the first-ever government blog - This isnt even the FCC's first blog - Powell bungled at attempt to have a blog. He posted a whole one or two times. See

    Well, so much for that.

  15. Guest says:

    This is interesting!

  16. Bill Dollar says:

    Hey, FCC, why are these workshops loaded full of industry types, and shills who claim to be neutral but actually take money from the big cable and telecom companies? Where are the consumer and public interest voices?

    The Workshop FAQ page states, "the Commission is reaching outside the usual contingent of communications lobbyists and lawyers for the formal participants who will be invited to speak during the workshops. Instead, staff is choosing technical experts, business strategists, economic experts and others as presenters who can provide the FCC with the best information possible without the taint of advocacy."

    But the panelists are the exact opposite of this. They basically thus far have consisted of interested companies, a few academics, and a handful of speakers from "think-tanks" like ITIF, Empiris, And Phoenix Center -- all who take money from the Bells and Cable companies. The least you could do is require all speakers to disclose their financial ties to industry. Same goes for the U.S. Women's CC, U.S. Hispanic CC, NCBM and SBEC panelists speaking this afternoon -- they all take money from the big incumbents.

  17. Guest says:


  18. Bill Dollar says:

    Hey, moderator, why hasn't my comment been posted yet? It contained nothing that violated this Web site's terms of service?

  19. Dave Burstein says:

    Blair and folk: Good to see another place people can bring ideas to the process, even if they don't buy ink by the barrel or have million dollar lobbying budgets. Let me put three modest proposals on the table for reaching the folks without broadband, in both the stimulus and the plan.

    The government should put first the least expensive ways to get great broadband to the American people. This seemingly innocuous proposal would eliminate the vast majority of submissions that are about to be funded, because there are far cheaper ways to provide good service in many cases.

    One idea discussed at the workshops was taking advantage of public safety's need for towers and backhaul in remote areas by sharing that with wireless broadband providers. I'm not an expert on wireless, but I'm confident that would be an enormous saving of public money.

    I personally believe fiber is best, but I reported to the workshops last week that nearly half the "unserved" could be reached at 50 megabits for between $200 and $500. About 4M of the 5-10 million homes that are "unserved" can get cable TV but not data. A fraction of the available $7.2B would be enough to offer 50 meg to several million.

    It would require resolving the brutal pricing of rural bandwidth by special access rules, but senior officials tell me the record is in place to do that quickly. Bandwidth, we heard at the workshops, often costs between $100 and $200/megabit in many rural areas while it costs $5-15 in most of the country because the rural areas often have monopoly-like pricing.

    Dave Burstein Editor, DSL Prime

  20. Robb Topolski says:

    This is going to be an unorganized mess of comments unless we're given something specific to comment on. Perhaps someone could briefly recap each of the Broadband Workshops and invite comments and further discussion to take place in the comments. Then you will have a much more organized record.


  21. gr8nash says:

    I am an IT professional by trade. I also have lived in rural areas with NO broadband choices my whole life. In recent years as i have climbed higher in my career i have increasingly seen how no access to company resources truly limits my effectiveness as an employee. Please build up Americas infrastructure for the long haul. The irony i see is that as companies like mine outsource parts of my job to India as consultants. India consultants don't seem to have any problem with broadband crossing the ocean, however i cant connect 20 miles west of my company. Many of us in the rural community believe that the change your talking about is genuine, PLEASE dont disappoint.

  22. Geoff G. says:

    But data means nothing if we don't exercise good judgment about what it all means.

    This is all well and good, but before we even get to the point of exercising good judgment, we absolutely must have good data.

    And this is what the broadband industry has been actively preventing the government from collecting. Many markets that the FCC has considered \competitive\ are, in reality, anything but.

    Meanwhile, the FCC has been complicit in undermining competitive DSL service and has done nothing to oppose toothless buildout plans that allow providers to \cherry pick\ high paying neighborhoods while leaving everyone else underserved, or sabotage of municipal broadband that threatens to undercut telco and cableco profits.

    So, please forgive us if consumers do not trust the FCC to adequately exercise its \judgment\, especially in the absence of hard data. If you want to rebuild trust in the FCC as an institution, you can start by getting an honest assessment of where broadband deployment in the US stands now and how this country measures up against others. Then and only then can we start thinking about how to improve things.

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