The Connected Nation Blog: Not the Horse's Mouth

Friday, July 25, 2008

Not the Horse's Mouth

It appears that Art Brodsky with Public Knowledge is once again trying his best to manufacture some "gotchya" on Connected Nation. Earlier this year, Brodsky sought out the few voices in Kentucky that have opposed ConnectKentucky since its inception and who will go to great lengths to protect their own business model from a contrived fear of "private sector broadband."

What is unfortunate for everyone – most notably consumers – is that Brodsky continues to hide under the guise of a "consumer advocate," while he sits in his office concocting conspiracy theories and not just misrepresenting the truth – but altogether distorting the truth into complete fabrications. It is an utter disservice, and quite frankly an embarrassment, to the real consumer advocates who actually work on behalf of the consumer.

Meanwhile, letters to the FCC are streaming in from local officials around Kentucky who want to tell their stories about how ConnectKentucky brought together the people and the tools to fill the broadband gaps. Strange that Brodsky didn't mention all those letters. Since it might be helpful for consumers and policymakers to see some of these letters that have been filed, their links are listed here:

But the real kicker is the fact that Brodsky obviously didn't even read the Connected Nation filing that he refers to. If he had, surely he wouldn't have knowingly reported complete inaccuracies such as his claim that Connected Nation does not explain how it gathers network data. Or his claim that Connected Nation has no verification process for identifying gaps in the data. Or his claim that "the information stays in private hands, not public ones for all to use." Anyone who has read Connected Nation's filing would have seen that it clearly sets forth – in 56 pages of great detail – the methods and specific processes that Connected Nation uses to 1) gather network data by working in the field with providers and local officials, 2) verify the data through systemized and continuous communication with thousands of local leaders and consumers, and 3) make the broadband data transparent to the public through an interactive, fully searchable and zoomable, web-based map that all consumers, policymakers, economic developers and anyone else can check and use. And thousands of individuals do this on a regular basis. They not only check the data, but just as importantly, they use the data to:
  • Generate a list of broadband providers serving a particular address
  • Determine where within a neighborhood broadband does and does not exist
  • Overlay demographic and infrastructure data such as household density or proposed roads to understand what broadband network is most viable for a particular area

The list goes on and on.

As soon as Brodsky claims that Connected Nation doesn't explain its techniques, he then states, "Of course, the federal government could use the same techniques, and perhaps improve upon them." Yes, the federal government could use some of the same techniques. The FCC could put people on the ground in every local community in America to gather data that doesn't otherwise exist by climbing towers, gathering GPS coordinates for equipment, conducting engineering assessments for cities and counties, translating the data into GIS format, promoting map verification in every community and responding to every consumer call and email to understand how to modify the map daily so that it is accurate to the household level, constantly customizing local maps for city and county officials with overlays of consumer adoption data, demographic data, infrastructure data, and so on.

On the other hand, there are some Connected Nation techniques that the federal government cannot use or improve upon because the federal government is limited by FOIA laws that restrict the level of data which the government can release to the public. And this restriction means that Connected Nation can and does release much more granular data than the federal government is able to publish under law.

Of course, all of these techniques represent only the mapping portion of Connected Nation's work. The rest of Connected Nation's programs are built on the accuracy and granularity of these maps.

And speaking of Connected Nation's programs, it's odd that Brodsky never mentions some of Connected Nation's celebrated programs such as No Child Left Offline and Computers 4 Kids. These programs use public funds and private sector donations to distribute computers to low-income and foster children.

So when Brodsky questions the "semi-sacred status of the 'public-private partnership,'" perhaps he should ask the thousands of children who have received computers what they think of "public-private partnerships." Since Brodsky apparently didn't feel the need to interview these kids, here is a link to one of their testimonies:

Finally, although it is unclear as to what Brodsky is attempting to demonstrate through his listing of Connected Nation board members, we appreciate the recognition of our diverse and high caliber board. In addition to these board members, Brodsky may want to investigate the make-up of the state steering committees for Connected Nation's state programs. These committees include representation from multiple state agencies, public universities, economic development organizations, along with private sector companies which include broadband providers as well as other businesses. The requirement for inclusion on the steering committees is a contribution to the state program, which is usually met with in-kind donations of support such as donated computers, software and printers that go directly to children.

And because Brodsky goes on to argue that he can't figure out "how much of the 'private' part of the equation and how much of the 'public' is represented," we will gladly point him to the Connected Nation filing on the record that he must have missed – the letter from Connected Nation CEO Brian Mefford to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on July 11. In this letter, which corrects a number of misstatements by the APPA, Connected Nation's structure of 80% public funding and 20% private sector funding is clearly set forth. What is most puzzling is how Brodsky attempts to use this "private sector funding" point against Connected Nation, when it is this very structure that encourages the private sector to bear a portion of the cost for technology literacy programs, computer distribution programs and local research. These private contributions are the reasons that states – and by extension, consumers – pay significantly less to build these programs and services than they would otherwise. The conspiracy theory on "private sector influence" that Brodsky has cooked up is such an obvious effort to divert attention from the real work of Connected Nation that it's really very laughable. Is he next planning to go after all the other hundreds of nonprofit organizations around the country who work to obtain both public and private foundational and corporate funding to serve America's people?

The hard evidence on all of these points is not hard to find. Unfortunately for Brodsky, it is everywhere, and it's not Connected Nation saying it. Rather, it is found in the testimonies of state and local government officials, community leaders, children who now have computers, and of course, consumers who now have broadband.

Laura Taylor
Chief Analyst
Connected Nation