Infrastructure

Let’s Stop Treating The Internet Like A Utility

By Kish Rajan

What do the iPhone, the “Internet of Things” and solar panels all have in common? They’re all fantastic technologies that make our lives better, and none of them were invented by utility companies.

They could have been. People consider phone companies to be utilities. Same with electric companies. But thanks to decades of heavy regulations, these sectors have had little to no incentive to innovate due to outdated laws and regulations that stifle rather than encourage investment and competition.

Those disrupters have been able to move quickly and build innovative new companies, thanks to the internet, which has arguably been the single largest engine for growth in this country since the auto industry.

It’s safe to say that the internet does not behave like a utility, but too often, it is treated as one. Until a few weeks ago, the same committee in the California Assembly that dealt with utilities also handled internet issues. The Utilities and Commerce Committee handled everything from ride-sharing issues to the transition to renewable energy. Last session it was overwhelmed by 140 bills.

Kudos to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon for spearheading a new alignment for that committee. It is now two different groups: the Communications and Conveyance Committee and the Utility and Energy Committee.

This new division more closely reflects the reality of the internet. It’s not a utility – it’s a technology.

It’s an important distinction.

The internet is often lumped in with utilities when it really shouldn’t be. Take the California Public Utilities Commission, for example. The PUC has oversight of California’s utilities – including the internet. Four years ago the Legislature concluded that the PUC was holding back the development of internet phone service. It moved oversight of that industry to the Legislature, and since then it has flourished.

Last year we were supportive of Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s efforts to disband the PUC (though his bill might have been a step too far). That bill ultimately failed, but it had the right idea. There are utilities and then there is technology, and the two shouldn’t be regulated in the same way.

That’s not to say that the Legislature should take a completely hands-off approach to the internet. We need regulations, but they need to be smart regulations that promote innovation, investment and competition.

Regulations should suit the demands of our technology-reliant world. They should promote broader access to fast internet, help close the shrinking digital divide and make sure our emergency systems are operating at the highest level of security and reliability.

The more we think about the internet as a utility, the more we’ll slow progress. And that’s not what anyone wants.

Kish Rajan is chief evangelist at CALinnovates and former director of Gov. Jerry Brown’s GOBiz initiative. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Originally published in the Sacramento Bee 

 

New Report Shows Californians Are More Connected Than Ever

California’s communications industry is currently in a period of astonishing growth, with the promise of an even brighter future to come. You might even call it a broadband boom. A recent study by Dr. David W. Sosa bears this out. Sosa is a principal at the Analysis Group, an economics consulting firm. His research shows that Californians are embracing the wireless lifestyle.

From 2008 through 2015, California’s total wireless subscriptions jumped by 9.5 million, or 29 percent. At the same time, broadband voice residential connections increased by 220 percent, or 4.9 million users. Meanwhile, legacy wireline users dropped by 36 percent. California’s embrace of broadband and wireless is helping keep the state at the center of the growing technology industry.

To read more about this topic, click here to read a recent op-ed by CALinnovates Chief Evangelist Kish Rajan.

Goodbye Payphones, Hello Progress

by Kish Rajan

If Clark Kent wanted to turn into Superman in California today, he’d struggle to find a phone booth. Across the entire state there are only 27,000 payphones left, down 70% from 2007.

It’s no big surprise that the payphone is going the way of the dodo bird. According to the Pew Research Center 92% of American adults own cellphones. If you’re desperate to make a call and find yourself with a dead battery, chances are good you’re going to ask a friendly stranger to borrow their cell phone before you’re going to search out a payphone.

Late last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that acknowledges the demise of the payphone. SB 1055 puts an end to the Payphone Services Committee and the Payphone Service Providers Committee Fund which was being used to, among other things, “fund programs to … educate consumers on matters related to payphones.”

Let that sink in for a second. As a state, until a few weeks ago, we were still spending money to educate people about payphones — something the vast majority of citizens don’t want or need.

That’s pretty emblematic of how the legislature works when it comes to telecom. There are lots of outdated laws and committees and funds on the books but change comes incredibly slowly.

That’s why the death of the payphone committee is a small but symbolic step.

California should turn its attention to fixing other policies that keep outdated technology tethered to our streets and our homes even when we as a population have moved on.

Read the full post on Fox and Hounds here.

The Demise of Google Fiber Shows There Are No Easy Answers in Telecom

By Mike Montgomery

When Google rolled out its fiber business in 2012, it was an appealingly easy solution for a difficult situation. Like a fairy godmother solving all of our problems with a sweep of her wand, Google was going to bring blazing fast 1 gigabit speed to homes across the country and, for as little as $70 per month, people were going to get access to Autobahn speeds previously only dreamed of on our American Superhighway.

With its fat wallet of cash, Google seemed well-positioned to do the expensive work of buying failed municipal broadband networks as well as building some of their own new networks, tearing up roads and sidewalks and laying its fiber in select neighborhoods. Kansas City, where Google piloted the fiber program, suddenly seemed poised to become the next internet startup hotspot.

But now it turns out the task was too much even for Google. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is “rethinking” its fiber rollout plans in the face of mounting costs.  Confronted with the reality of today’s regulatory environment, the company appears to now be leapfrogging the morass entirely, jumping ahead to advanced wireless technologies – which could deliver speeds up to 10 gigabits per second – viewed by many as the broadband “game changer” for connectivity and speed.

Google Fiber is a well-intentioned idea. We need more people to have better internet access so they can get the most out of the growing digital economy. Work is increasingly being done over the internet as companies move to cloud technology. Even applying for a job now usually requires internet access. Watching TV, shopping, and connecting with loved ones are all things increasingly being done online. Those who don’t have access or are operating from networks in need of modernization are at a severe disadvantage in today’s digital world.

But as Google is discovering, laying new miles of fiber is far from easy.

Read the full article here.

In Tech-Driven Economy, FCC Needs to Step Up

By: Mike Montgomery

It’s clear that technology is a key driver of prosperity in today’s modernizing economy. Trillions of dollars in economic activity flow through the networks which make up the internet, making America’s digital economy the envy of the world. Networks are redefining the services people consume and the income people derive. For example, according to a Pew survey, 72 percent of Americans have used a sharing or on-demand service.

That’s why the Federal Communications Commission has never been more important. From last year’s Net Neutrality rules to current proceedings about set-top boxes, internet privacy and business services, FCC rules are shaping the future of the internet – and the broader economy that it fuels. Whether you agree or disagree with these regulations, everyone agrees they will have a profound impact.

That is why it’s so disconcerting to see the FCC disconnected from the economic impact of its decisions. In a report he published in July, the FCC’s very own former chief economist, Gerald Faulhaber, Ph.D., raised alarms about the agency’s dangerous turn away from economic analysis in its decision making.

In the report, Dr. Faulhaber asks: Why do the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau all conduct stringent cost-benefit analyses on their decisions while the FCC does not?

The FCC has simply become too important to the economy for it to fail to explore the economic impact of its decisions. For example, numerous economists warned the FCC that its decision to impose so-called Title II regulations on internet service providers, which treats today’s advanced broadband access in the same way as telephone services from generations ago, will have a negative impact on investment and innovation while not solving the issue we all want addressed: how to ensure that internet traffic is treated fairly across networks, regardless of where it comes from. Yet, when issuing its Open Internet Order, the FCC conducted no economic analysis of the impact its proposed rules would have on consumers, innovation or investment.

How is that possible?

The problems continue. The FCC is currently facing a major backlash from Congress, Hollywood and many innovators for its proposed new technology standards for set-top boxes.

Read the full article here.

Hope For Startups: US Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Design Patent Dispute

By: Tim Sparapani

The annual tech startup and innovation festival held annually in Austin, Texas known as South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) has recently ended. While all the big tech companies were there strutting their stuff along with all the companies that are trying to reimagine themselves as tech companies, the real stars of the show are the start-ups. Tens of thousands of people attend annually to find or become the next big thing, which his why I applaud the US Supreme Court for giving those strivers and innovators a win this week by deciding to hear the design patent appeal in the five year old battle between Apple and Samsung.

More about the big guys in a minute and their fight, which I’ve written about before here: http://www.wirelessweek.com/article/2016/02/us-supreme-court-should-clarify-law-design-patents. But before we get there let’s talk about what’s at stake in the case for startups and why it is so important that the Supreme Court is revisiting the lower court’s mistaken ruling.

Turns out the big things all started out as small things and they all needed a lot of luck and lots of care and feeding to grow and prosper. Most especially, they needed to not have extraordinary and unnecessary barriers put in their place. Startups are like salmon swimming upstream to spawn. The odds are already long that they will reach their goal. Any additional barrier put in their way, like a dam blocking a river, can exhaust the startup and rob it of its vitality thereby preventing it from reaching its goal. The absolute last thing that a tech startup needs is to have to – after coming up with a great idea to take to the market, struggling to raise capital, forging a team and bringing a product to the market – fight unnecessarily with an incumbent about the design of their product. But, unless the US Supreme Court steps in and reverses the lower court’s decision, that’s likely to be an all too common scenario for startups. As soon as the next exciting startups get some momentum going they are likely to face a new breed of patent trolls that could halt their progress entirely by waving about an alleged infringement of a design patent.

The long festering dispute between Apple and Samsung focuses on whether Samsung infringed design patents covering elements within Apple’s iPhone. In simplest terms, a design patent historically has been intended to protect and incentivize designers and inventors creative and innovative work. The US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals unwisely ruled in these big kids’ dispute that, despite the fact that tens of thousands of patents are jammed into every smartphone, an alleged infringement of just one design for one of many elements of the device itself can lead to extraordinary damage awards against the infringer.

Read the full article here.

Truth about our crumbling infrastructure is the tweets

By: Kish Rajan

Sometimes, it takes a tweet to speak the truth: Bay Area residents must recognize our crumbling infrastructure.

Last week, commuters complaining about delays were surprised when Taylor Huckaby, a social media manager for @SFBart, did the politically unthinkable. When faced with hundreds of tweets, he was frank and honest about the financial and structural challenges facing the public transit agency, and the Bay Area’s infrastructure at large.

Such is political discussion in 2016: Honesty is surprising and highlights something we’d rather ignore. Few comprehend that our public infrastructure is woefully outdated and ignored.

In 2000, the total population of the Bay Area was just a little more than 6.7 million people. In 2010, it had risen to around 7.2 million, despite the Great Recession. And in 2014, that number jumped to around 7.6 million, representing nearly a million more people in the nine-county region in about 14 years.

And while the tax base expanded, there hasn’t been a corresponding improvement in infrastructure development. When Chronicle City Hall reporter Heather Knight visited San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, housing the San Francisco Police Department, the San Francisco County Jail, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and the district attorney’s office, she was shocked at what she saw. The hall, with peeling paint, stained ceilings and evidence of rats, sat mere blocks from startups working in renovated lofts — and offering free lunch.

Read the full article here.

Utilities panel has too much on its plate

By: Kish Rajan

Assemblyman Mike Gatto is taking a bold step with his proposed constitutional amendment to obliterate the California Public Utilities Commission. Such a drastic action may not pass into law, but it kick-starts a critical conversation about the agency’s future.

Gatto cites concerns about the PUC’s handling of a string of problems related to energy utilities, including the San Onofre nuclear plant shutdown and the San Bruno gas line explosion. The commission is also deeply engaged in overseeing California’s massive shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

If regulating the energy industry wasn’t enough of a chore, utilities are not the only sector under the PUC’s purview. The commission has divisions overseeing railroads, light rail and transit; taxis and ride-share services; and water and sewer systems.

And its jurisdiction over telecommunications is largely overlooked. As the center of the innovation economy, California relies heavily upon strong telecommunications infrastructure. But the commission is failing to keep pace with the fast-changing industry, holding back critical investments to providing more and better technology to more Californians, particularly low-income citizens on the other side of the digital divide.

According to the Milken Institute, San Jose and San Francisco are the best-performing cities in the nation for job growth, wage gains and technological advancement. While that is laudable, what is the PUC’s plan to extend that prosperity beyond the Bay Area and into every region across California?

The pathway to greater prosperity is through innovation and investment. That is driven by consumer demand supported by forward-looking thinking, rather than outdated regulatory mandates.

U.S. Supreme Court Should Clarify the Law of Design Patents

By: Tim Sparapani

It’s been 120 years since the US Supreme Court last heard a case regarding design patents. Now it has the opportunity to do so again, and it should, because technology has advanced yet the interpretation of laws protecting innovations has become ill fitting and out of date.

Samsung recently agreed to pay $548 million in damages to Apple following several appeals regarding claims that Samsung infringed on some of Apple’s design patents. Samsung has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and address the issues it raises that extend well beyond smartphones.

This legal clash of tech titans over whether Samsung infringed Apple’s design patents spawned extended debate over what is protected by a design patent and may lead – if the dispute is reviewed and precedent set – to a more solid framework for design patent protections and dispute resolution clarity in future cases.

For more than five years, these companies slugged it out concerning the limitations of design patents, how to determine whether patented designs were infringed, and the proper remedies.  The case is notable, not just because of the size and importance of these companies, but also because of the precedents that this case sets for our digital age when hardware and software are merging together in novel and unforeseen ways.

Rarely are cases so well teed up for the Supreme Court to offer crucial guidance in an area of law that has become so muddled.  Given the extensive motions, trials, remands and appeals between Apple and Samsung this case seems primed for Supreme Court review because the legal issues have been highly refined allowing the Court to issue narrow decisions on legal grounds that nevertheless have broad impact.

Read the full article here. 

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