Senator Durbin Live at RedState

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[Editor's Note: As with the post earlier today, please keep your comments and questions topical to the issue of National Broadband Strategy. We'll be deleting non-topic comments and questions. Thanks, Erick.]

Good evening, I'm Dick Durbin and I'd like to thank RedState and Erick Erickson for the opportunity to be here tonight. I’d also like to thank the many participants who have already commented on this effort.

As you may know, the Senate is currently in session and I may be called to the floor. I wanted to kick things off and get this discussion started. If I am forced to go to the floor, my staff Dena, Russ, and Dave will be following along and will be contributing comments.

I’m excited to be here tonight live blogging about this important issue. Already, there have been a significant number of posts about the specifics of what should be included in a national broadband strategy. In addition, there has been a spirited debate about whether it’s even appropriate to think about this policy area in such a manner. Serious questions have been raised regarding the roles of the private market and the public sector in the area of broadband.

These types of questions are exactly the reason I’m participating in this forum on RedState tonight. When designing federal policy, it is important to discuss details with informed observers and experts, and I’m looking forward to hearing their views tonight. In addition, I think it is just as important to discuss these concepts with those who might challenge your opinions and force you to rethink your positions. What we’re engaged in tonight is an experiment designed to facilitate these types of exchanges between citizens and lawmakers.

[UPDATE by Erick at 7:25 p.m.] Unfortunately, Senator Durbin was called to the Senate floor. He'll try to come back this evening if there is time. Meanwhile, his staff is monitoring the suggestions and questions, so please feel free to chime in on the topic. Thanks again to Senator Durbin.

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Senator Durbin Live at RedState 36 Comments (0 topical, 36 editorial, 0 hidden) Post a comment »

We've had a great discussion so far today and I'm glad that you're engaging with us directly tonight. I hope other lawmakers view this experiment as a new way to draft legislation.

Senator Durbin,

The Internet became a mass-market phenomenon during the Clinton Administration. Both the White House and the FCC explicitly rejected the idea of excessive regulation. For example, neither one supported "open access" on broadband service in the late 1990s. Why are Democrats walking away from this successful, bipartisan approach?

Senator, I'm interested in your perspective on broadband -- do you view it as something that could be described as a necessity, or just something nice to have that we should make more affordable?

Why? How is it comparable to roads and water? If it's not, how is it a necessity?

As a correlation, my family hails from the ultra-rich region around Lafayette, LA. Somehow, the locals have managed to go all broadband all by their lonesome. Why is Federal involvement needed?

We are all heroes, you and Boo and I. Hamsters and rangers everywhere, rejoice!

Thanks for the question about this issue. While access to broadband is not exactly the same as roads, water, and other pieces of infrastructure, the trend is moving in that direction. Consider the following: residents are beginning to demand broadband; the presence of high speed internet is a key factor in the attractiveness of communities; broadband access aids industry and job creation; and it affects the overall competitiveness of our country.

I'm glad you raise the Lafayette example. I think these cases of local communities building their own networks is one of the many solutions to increasing broadband access. I have some concerns about states that have moved to preempt the ability of communities to build their own broadband networks.

with organizations Within those states who have preemptively moved to prevent such events as the Lafayette example to change the laws those states have enacted in furtherance of that goal?

Why do we need the Federal government to step in in its usual, hamhanded manner to control the matter?

"It's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die, and then dies...
...But if the man does know he's going to die and dies anyway. Dies, dies willing, knowing he can stop it, then...
Well, isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?"
Karen Eiffel, Stranger Than Fiction

My understanding is that open access was petty much the rule of the land in the late '90s and the FCC didn't decide one way or the other during that time period. That being said, there's no denying that the last several years have seen expansion of new broadband speeds and access.

What I'm interested in is finding the mix of policies and market incentives that would increase competition and hasten this trend.

When replying to a comment, please use the "Reply To This" link at the bottom of the comment. It makes the conversation easier to follow, for all involved.

We are all heroes, you and Boo and I. Hamsters and rangers everywhere, rejoice!

and as a result of that, I'm interested in your perspective on what the must significant problem is with broadband as it is deployed today in the US. We've addressed several issues in our prior discussion:

1) Availability of broadband beyond the major cities - today's discussion was split between those who believe governmental assistance is needed to broaden coverage into rural and other unserved markets and those who believe that the free market must dictate where and when broadband spreads.
2) Competition for the broadband market - to encourage lower costs and better penetration, can (or should?) the government intervene to broaden the competitive environment?
3) Net neutrality and whether legislation is needed - is a "neutrality" bill needed? Or, based upon free-market principles, should the telcos and ISPs be able to dictate what traffic travels where? This seems to be a source of contention here as well.

Or are there other problems that you believe are more pressing?

Thank you for your participation and willingness to set foot into the conservative morass... ;-)

...when they see me they'll say, "There goes Loren Wallace,
the greatest thing to ever climb into a race car."

Those are all important issues, and let me toss out another. We need to make sure that states don't pre-empt communities from exploring their own system for providing universal coverage.

For instance, in Utah, a consortium of towns came together to put together their own high speed network. It was started by local government responding to local demand. That never could have happened if the states had moved to prevent this kind of activity.

by Washington concerns me a lot more than what might happen at the state level. Good for Utah. They remained free to implement their own solution and in so doing created a model that the other forty-nine can choose to copy - or not. Solutions implemented by Federal edict discourage such innovation.

Which ones? How have they done it?
If they haven't done so, or even tried (and I am rather certain that the online commuity would know weeks before DC if any state did make such an attempt), then why should we worry about it?
Why should the government act preemptively to prevent any states from actively preemptively to prevent groups like those Utah towns from doing just what said Utah towns did?

"It's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die, and then dies...
...But if the man does know he's going to die and dies anyway. Dies, dies willing, knowing he can stop it, then...
Well, isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?"
Karen Eiffel, Stranger Than Fiction

What was the reason many state legislatures have passed bills giving the big Telcos a Statewide franchise and at the same time forbidding cities from implementing their own WiFi broadband or other implementations.

Why did they do this?

Because the ATT and Verizons of the world sent teams of lobbyist to every state and paid off the state guys and gals to give them a statewide franchise so they dont have to build out their new Fiber Optic nets to EVERY home in the city - as the Cableco's were required to do.

They are Rent Seekers and want to Cherry pick the new construction in high end areas so they can charge high monthlies.

That is why we should do all we can to thwart the Telcos and every step of the way. We need to open up the nets to all comers period. Remove the wires and fibers from their control ....and if they do not comply, remove the wires and fibers from their ownership..if necessary. He who controls ACCESS via wire ownership controls all...currently anyway...but that can change.

Let REAL Competition be on the basis of PRODUCT and SERVICE...not being controlled by sheer ACCESS. We are not here to compete for the best wiring system. Dont care how it gets to me...just that it offers many services.

Put simply, I'm not comfortable with this sort of heavy handed command and control approach. There's a reason companies are sticking to high income areas: they can afford to pay a price that makes it worthwhile to build. This isn't a negative; it's ensuring that access is properly distributed based upon the needs and willingness to pay of the market and the people. Requiring companies to expand infrastructure to areas where they wouldn't be able to make money would be completely unreasonable.

CongressCritter™: Never have so few felt like they were owed so much by so many for so little.

Earlier you stated that communities need to build broadband to "compete" with each other. If that is truly the case then I figure we ought to let local communities make this decision instead of creating perverse incentives through federal intervention.

I saw Provo create their own broadband network- and I must say I am not impressed with the results.

Pretty much the same people who were using Broadband before are using it now. Provo's municipal infrastructure just seems to have duplicated already existing private infrastructure.

Now of course, the city counsel claims that having city-wide broadband will pay off in the future.

I'm sure that it will- but that's the point, it doesn't pay to build this infrastructure right now. That's why private companies have not done it. At the point in the future when it will pay off, private companies will build it.

Most worrisome to me is that technology changes. Sure maybe it appears right now that broadband is the future and it will "pay off" in ten to twenty years to build this infrastructure- but who knows what new discoveries the future will bring.

I can just see the government building all this broadband infrastructure and then having it all become obsolete.

Even worse, the subsidy of broadband will then slow the expansion of the new, better technology.

These things are reasons why we should always be skeptical of government intervention. It always has negative side-effects, which often can not be predicted.

In a few exceptions, the benefits of government's centralization outweighs this inefficiency. (Examples being the military, or the Post Office pre-20th century).

I simply see this as an issue that does not cause enough problems to justify the damage that government involvement will create.

Sen. Durbin We just read the FCC rules for the new 700 mhz and they are inadequate. They DO NOT accomplish the one goal both the FCC and Congress set for the auction – creation of a third broadband service provider that can compete with cable and telephone companies which control 96% of residential broadband lines in the U.S.

That could have only been accomplished through adoption of the two other open access conditions; one that would have required the licensee to permit other service providers to connect to the network at wholesale rates, and another that would have required the licensee to make important network interfaces available to those providers.

Since we Repubs are noted for our love of competition...then lets open up the spectrum to open competition.

The congress should look into opening up this spectrum to all comers using all or any devices that are not locked. There are thousands of new devices, new services, new entrants and new owners to be generated IF it was open to all.

We urge you to provide some more oversight if necessary. We dont usually like that...but if it takes another option to truly OPEN it up, then so be it.

Having only two or three providers locking us into only approved devices and systmes is NOT a good way to to.

Thanks for joining in.

This is just the kind of post that I was hoping to see here tonight. While there are certainly differences between the two parties on the issue of regulation in general, I believe there is a lot of middle ground when it comes to policies that support competition, entrepreneurship, and innovation. These are results that increase consumer choice and lower prices.

On this auction, I believe we're seeing a growing call for rules that deliver these types of results. I wonder what specific structures would be most useful in designing a spectrum that works for these goals?

Again I plead ignorance on the Technology, but I don't understand why the government needs to impose policies that create competition and entrepeneurship isn't the Beauty of the Market that it creates these things on its own.

But contrary to the beliefs of some free market religionists, the market is not always self-correcting, and the answer to every problem is not "less regulation, let the market work." There are many circumstances where natural market forces will bring about precisely the opposite result. The natural tendency of successful businesses to leverage their power to stifle competition can and does result in harm to the consumer. Left to its own devices, this is one case where the market simply will not fix itself without regulation.

When these times are however in a True Market things work a lot better than when the government imposes its will upon the market.

You said many times the Market is not self correcting however you failed to mention any of those times.

Two government granted monopolies. The cable company and the telephone company.
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

That's the reult of government regulation.
More government regulation is not the answer to failures of government regulation.

That's how we got where we are...

"It's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die, and then dies...
...But if the man does know he's going to die and dies anyway. Dies, dies willing, knowing he can stop it, then...
Well, isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?"
Karen Eiffel, Stranger Than Fiction

if there are only two companies and that is something the government created that is no market.

To elaborate, if the government is involved at all, it should only be to make sure things are OPENED UP, not on what goes on once its opened up...

The government is not set up to see to it that ATT survives or Verizon survives. Seems they are pushing to be the next "buggy whip" manufacturers

They have both held back the US telecom industry for years. The US is so far behind it is becoming an embarrassment.

Recently the Norwegians opened their new 40 Gigb internet connection where they download a DVD movie in TWO SECONDS.

And what do we have here. squat. And this "squat" is high priced and only comes from ONE company in any one market. One Telco and One Cableco in our city.

Senator Durbin,

You've been quoted recently as a supporter of re-instituting the "fairness doctrine" which many of us think is out dated and would be used as a tool to silence "the other side" rather than promote free speech.

I believe the best the government can do is to create the best business environment for broadband entrepreneurs through less regulation, lower taxes, and cutting government spending. on

What safeguards would you put in place in your broadband access legislation to keep the government from instituting any similar controls on free speech in the future by getting directly involved in expanding broadband access?

Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you. Washington Elected Elite

Yes, this is a terrific question and a huge concern to some of us. I hope this is answered when the Senator returns from the Floor.

As posted before, Thank you for participating in this type of discussion. I would agree that through debate issues can be discussed and bring light to ideas and thoughts which might not other wise be considered.

That said I would like to ask again if the government becomes involved in a more significant role with broadband - what safe gaurds could you see being set in place to prevent some type of "fairness doctrine" which may limit free speech on the internet.

Similarly, I would suggest that the Federal (and state governments for that matter) continue to encourage business and freedom of expression of ideas by not putting taxes on it (which is its current policy).

In short, Senator, see a place for the government to build infrastructure like roads and bridges - but not place toll booths (economic or social) as it may.

Again thank you for your time.

Senator, in an old job I sadly had to know way too much about cable competition. I remember a very interesting study that showed that when the barrier to compete in the cable market was removed (the local cable franchise), there was a measurable, significant drop in the price for broadband (in excess of 1mbs).

So I'm wondering if any broadband strategy should get rid of the local cable franchise, which would provide an incentive to competition through the removal of a significant regulatory hurdle?

I'm being called to the Senate floor, but will leave my trusty staff here for a few minutes. I'll stop back in if I can, but let me thank you all for these thoughtful comments on broadband. And thank you for your comity. You've made me feel welcome and I'm sure that wasn't as easy as you made it look.

I know there are cynics and skeptics on both sides who wonder what this conversation is about. Well, broadband isn't a partisan issue and we shouldn't have to treat it as one. This conversation is about listening to people who have a stake in this. You have raised some provocative issues, and I thank you for participating.

...a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right...

---Thomas Paine---

In my industry, oil and gas extraction, federal tax credits have remarkably successful in getting private industry to take on projects that they otherwise would avoid due to perceived risk or uncertain return on investment.

One example is the tax credit for unconventional gas of the 1990's. Widely derided as "corporate welfare", it has been successful beyond anyone's imagination. As a result of the technological advances which this program fostered, 40% of America's natural gas supply will come from unconventional sources by 2010.

It seems that there could be an analogous opportunity in broadband. It could be a winner for both the public and private sector. What do you think?

It's such a fine line between stupid and clever. - David St. Hubbins

Thanks for joining us Senator Durbin.

Is it possible that funds could be shifted away from Rural Electrification or other government bureacracies to help fund an effort in broadband or are there ways under consideration to make such an effort pay for itself?

Along those lines, can we include a sunset date on whatever agency is created so that we don't add to the long term tax burden of the country?

It is a pleasure to see you here, sincerely. Your comments give us balance, and that is always a good thing.

Project Director
LJF Management Group

Thank you for coming here Senator.

I do think a policy that prevents a competitor, or local government from erecting hurdles to competition would be very helpful as Erik pointed out earlier with the Franchise question.

Wubbies World, MSgt, USAF (Retired):
public static void main(String[] args) {
System.out.println("An argument is a sequence of statements aimed at demonstrating the truth of an assertion.); }

Senator Dick Durbin has proposed a three point plan in order to remedy the issue of broadband speed and availability in the United States. These are:

1) I believe that broadband must be universal and affordable

2) I feel we must preserve an online environment for innovation

3) I want to ensure that this technology allows more voices to be heard

FreedomWorks thanks Senator Durbin for introducing the issue of broadband technology into the blogging community. We have been working on this issue for twenty years in a number of states.

Like the Senator, FreedomWorks supports affordable broadband service, with a premium on innovation. However, we do not support the governmental regulation implicit in the first point of his plan. The innovation and free online environment that the Senator praises in his second point will not be possible without an industry free from excessive regulation or government mandates.

Many states have eased regulations on telecommunications and have seen economic windfalls. In rural towns such as Keller, TX, cable prices fell by 25 percent as a direct result of deregulation.

Broadband technology requires innovation. Innovation cannot exist with a government stranglehold on the industry.

Based upon these views, FreedomWorks would like to ask the following of Sen. Durbin.
In January, a spokesman for Amazon, which is pushing net neutrality, said that in today's Internet model, content is pulled into the network by consumers. Therefore, he said, its consumers’ responsibility to pay the costs. Do you agree?

You’ve spoken about the need for net neutrality to stop discrimination based on content. Is there any instance of this online today?

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