|To: Frank A. Coluccio who wrote (46721)||4/7/2019 1:32:07 PM|
|They are still at it:|
The Anti-Competitive Forces That Foil Speedy, Affordable Broadband
Municipal broadband and multiple ISP options are great ideas—unless you’re a giant telecommunications company with an entrenched monopoly
From Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Santa Monica, California, hundreds of communities in the U.S. have been able to provide consumers and businesses with affordable broadband over locally owned and controlled fiber and coaxial networks.
But San Francisco, the epicenter of the digital revolution, can’t match the success of these smaller municipalities, many with far fewer resources and civic wealth. San Francisco is not alone. While publicly owned fiber networks work well in smaller towns, not a single big U.S. city has been able to replicate the success of cities elsewhere in the world. Stockholm, Seoul, Tokyo, and Amsterdam all have fast, affordable broadband, riding on networks that are either publicly owned, controlled, or shared as the result of government intervention.
San Francisco, of course, is a highly connected city?—?for its digital elites. For others, not so much. According to a report prepared by the city in 2016, some 100,000 San Franciscans have no access to internet connectivity at home, while an additional 50,000 residents are stuck with archaic dial-up connections. Even the elites, however, typically have little choice for high-speed broadband internet access. “It’s simply criminal,” says former San Francisco mayor Mark Farrell, who led a failed effort to build a locally owned broadband network designed to break this logjam.
Farrell kicked off the project while on the city’s Board of Supervisors: <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/362073247/San-Francisco-municipal-fiber-network-CTC-Report-10-11-17" data-href="https://www.scribd.com/document/362073247/San-Francisco-municipal-fiber-network-CTC-Report-10-11-17" class="markup--anchor markup--p-anchor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" style="background-color: transparent; color: inherit; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.54); background-repeat: repeat-x; background-image: url("data:image/svg+xml;utf8,"); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);">He commissioned a study, set up a fancy web page, and appointed a blue-ribbon advisory panel to assist him. The city accepted the report of an outside consultant, laying out a road map with multiple paths to municipal fiber. In October 2017, a member of the panel, broadband maven Susan Crawford, announced to the world that “San Francisco [has become] the first major city in America to pledge to connect all of its homes and businesses to a fiber-optic network.” But by April 2018, the project was dead.
What happened in just six months? Farrell had been appointed interim mayor, held stakeholder meetings and an “industry day,” and sent out a Request for Qualifications to possible city concessionaires in a public-private partnership scheme to build the system. But city officials blanched when they saw the price tag?—?approximately $1.8 billion.
Meanwhile, according to Farrell and others involved with the process, there was a full-on lobbying push by the incumbent telecom and cable operators to keep out new competition. “All of those companies [the incumbent ISPs] had a presence in City Hall and spent significant resources to block the project,” Farrell says.
Why can’t a wealthy and digitally-savvy city such as San Francisco provide affordable broadband for its more than 800,000 inhabitants, when other cities in the U.S. and around the world can? The answers aren’t simple, but San Francisco’s failure mirrors the feeble state of broadband in the United States:
1. Competition is sparseDespite the rosy promises made at the time of the 1996 deregulation of telecommunications, there are fewer competitors today than there were in 2000, and successful new entrants are few and far between. Many households have only one or two broadband providers available to them, and those wanting something faster than last-century DSL are often stuck with no choice other than the monopoly cable provider.
2. The incumbent players have political cloutEntrenched ISPs lobby hard to block new competitors from entering the broadband market and use campaign donations to sway state legislators against municipal broadband.
3. ISPs hog the polesIncumbent telcos and cable companies often enlist the utilities that own the poles and conduit in order to prevent would-be market entrants from sharing those structures. Without the use of the infrastructure, it can be too costly for a new competitor to enter the market. In San Francisco, AT&T and PG&E own nearly all of the telephone poles and usable conduit and are loath to share them with upstarts like Sonic, the largest independent ISP in San Francisco. “Digging a trench can cost hundreds of dollars a foot. It’s simply not competitive for us to do that,” says Sonic CEO Dane Jasper.
The 1996 Telecom Act deregulation was supposed to create a competitive market, but the opposite, market consolidation, has been the long-term result. In rural areas, there has simply been no commercial business case to build high-speed broadband. In urban areas, competition has been suppressed by the large cable and broadband providers sitting at the top of the food chain.
Big players such as AT&T routinely issue press releases touting new deployments. But on closer examination, many of those touch only a few homes or businesses in an entire census tract, thus inflating the actual scope of the deployment, says Joanne Hovis, the president of CTC Technology & Energy, the company that prepared the broadband report for San Francisco. “The FCC’s data is very flawed,” she says.
What’s more, roughly half of the new fiber deployments cited recently by the FCC were mandated as a condition for approval of AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV, says Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. And deployments have slowed because the major players have already cherry-picked the neighborhoods that offer the best prospects for high-paying customers, he says.
All in all, says Falcon, there’s a major disconnect between reality and the success of broadband deployments painted by the FCC and the major ISPs. “If what you want is a choice of slow, outdated internet, then the United States market looks great,” he says.
Going localThis market failure has driven cities and locales large and small to think about building their own fiber networks. Whatever the exact mechanism, it means either that the city or city electric utility builds the network and gets into the retail broadband business, as happened in Chattanooga, or that the city builds or sponsors a wholesale-only network on which many competing providers can ride.
The project proposed by San Francisco mayor Farrell was of the wholesale variety, where the concessionaire would run a fiber network that would be shared by a number of retail providers who then provide service to their end users.
These sorts of sharing arrangements have worked in other parts of the world?—?in Stockholm and Amsterdam, for example. In Japan and Korea, the governments largely subsidized such networks. In the U.K., the regulator simply ordered British Telecom (BT) to create a wholesale division, and make fiber and other facilities available on the same terms and conditions as BT retail received.
Accurate broadband pricing information is hard to come by. Comcast’s prices change from day to day and from customer to customer. Even so, most reliable studies demonstrate that muni fiber is less expensive for consumers. Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, for example, found that “most community-owned FTTH networks charged less and offered prices that were clear and unchanging, whereas private ISPs typically charged initial low promotional or ‘teaser’ rates that later sharply rose, usually after 12 months.”
<a href="https://epb.com/home-store/internet?utm_source=reachlocal&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=semepbfiberopticsb2c#pricing" data-href="https://epb.com/home-store/internet?utm_source=reachlocal&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=semepbfiberopticsb2c#pricing" class="markup--anchor markup--p-anchor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" style="background-color: transparent; color: inherit; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.54); background-repeat: repeat-x; background-image: url("data:image/svg+xml;utf8,"); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);">In Chattanooga, an entry-level consumer pays $58 a month for 300 Mbps service, and speeds of up to 10 Gbps are available.
The Hidden Story of San Francisco’s FailureWhen Mark Farrell took his seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 2010, he quickly learned that the city’s digital infrastructure was woefully inadequate. “It blew my mind to discover that we were still using Lotus Notes,” he said recently, referring to the obsolete remnant of computing’s client-server era.
But there was worse to come. With plenty of Silicon Valley cred on his resume, Farrell figured his plan to bring affordable, locally owned broadband to the city would have strong support from the tech industry. It didn’t.
In fact, angel investor Ron Conway, one of San Francisco techdom’s best-connected figures, contributed $15,000 to two supervisors who then argued against the proposal, according to reporting by <a href="https://48hills.org/2015/02/investigation-san-franciscos-big-money-campaign-loophole/" data-href="https://48hills.org/2015/02/investigation-san-franciscos-big-money-campaign-loophole/" class="markup--anchor markup--p-anchor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" style="background-color: transparent; color: inherit; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.54); background-repeat: repeat-x; background-image: url("data:image/svg+xml;utf8,"); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);">48 Hills and the <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/AT-T-helped-out-SF-supervisor-s-festival-12300264.php" data-href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/AT-T-helped-out-SF-supervisor-s-festival-12300264.php" class="markup--anchor markup--p-anchor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" style="background-color: transparent; color: inherit; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.54); background-repeat: repeat-x; background-image: url("data:image/svg+xml;utf8,"); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);">San Francisco Chronicle. SF.citi, a tech-heavy industry group, that included Conway and two AT&T executives on its board, lobbied hard against Farrell. And Comcast lobbyist Scott Adams made 16 visits to City Hall between late 2014 and 2017 to discuss matters relating to broadband deployment, according to records at San Francisco’s Ethics Commission.
“They came up with every excuse in the book; from large costs to the fact that their companies could provide that low-income access,” Farrell says. “If it had come to a vote we would have won.” But it never did come to a vote, and once Farrell left office, the project was quietly shelved.
The money spent by incumbent ISPs to defeat affordable broadband in San Francisco was relatively modest, and it pales in comparison to the much large sums directed at state legislators around the country.
State Senator Scott Weiner, (D-San Francisco), wrote a statute restoring Net Neutrality to California<a href="https://48hills.org/2015/02/investigation-san-franciscos-big-money-campaign-loophole/" data-href="https://48hills.org/2015/02/investigation-san-franciscos-big-money-campaign-loophole/" class="markup--anchor markup--p-anchor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" style="background-color: transparent; color: inherit; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.54); background-repeat: repeat-x; background-image: url("data:image/svg+xml;utf8,"); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);">, but <a href="https://48hills.org/2015/02/investigation-san-franciscos-big-money-campaign-loophole/" data-href="https://48hills.org/2015/02/investigation-san-franciscos-big-money-campaign-loophole/" class="markup--anchor markup--p-anchor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" style="background-color: transparent; color: inherit; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.54); background-repeat: repeat-x; background-image: url("data:image/svg+xml;utf8,"); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);">his bill was gutted by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, who chairs the Assembly Conveyance and Communications Committee. Santiago received over $66,000 from communications carriers in the several years before this vote, while other Committee members voting for the amendments received from $23,000 to $102,000 each. (The meat of the bill was restored by a subsequent vote.)
When Time Warner Cable and Embarq (now CenturyLink) couldn’t provide affordable, high-speed broadband, the residents of Wilson, a small town in North Carolina, decided to do it themselves. In 2006, Wilson built a municipally owned fiber-to-the-home network that offers television, telephone, and broadband services at relatively low cost.
In response, Time Warner cut rates and boosted speeds a bit?—?but that’s not all. The cable giant, along with allies AT&T and CenturyLink, poured more than $1 million into the campaign coffers of North Carolina politicians, <a href="http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/nc-killing-competition.pdf" data-href="http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/nc-killing-competition.pdf" class="markup--anchor markup--p-anchor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" style="background-color: transparent; color: inherit; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.54); background-repeat: repeat-x; background-image: url("data:image/svg+xml;utf8,"); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);">according to a report by Common Cause and the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR). In 2011, the lobbying effort paid off: The state legislature passed a bill making it nearly impossible for other communities to build their own broadband networks.
Eight years later, there are still at least 20 states that have banned municipal broadband, according to Chris Mitchell, director of the ILSR’s community broadband initiative. And there are few, if any, signs that the big ISPs are loosening their hold, particularly in the most lucrative urban markets. “If the incumbents will fight that hard to block municipal broadband in a small North Carolina town, think how hard they’ll fight in a city like San Francisco,” says Hovis.
Not surprisingly, AT&T sees it differently: “Private sector deployment of broadband is proven to be the most efficient solution to deliver high-speed internet service to residential and business customers,” says AT&T spokesman Ben Golombek. The broadband market, he says, “is very competitive.” (Comcast did not respond to a request for comment.)
Dig they mustBroadband is a digital technology, of course, but the process of delivering it to a community is decidedly analog. Fiber cables need to be strung from telephone poles or buried under the street. In neighborhoods where utilities are above ground and the owners of the poles don’t object, bringing fiber to homes and businesses isn’t terribly expensive. But digging a trench is costly, difficult, and time-consuming.
And that’s turned into a huge roadblock for the deployment of fiber networks. Blocked from using some of the city’s telephone poles by rivals and not allowed to use modern methods of laying cable under the street, Sonic’s plans to connect San Franciscans to a fiber network have been slowed, says CEO Jasper. “Anything that raises the cost of deployment slows deployment,” he says.
According to Jasper, digging a conventional trench for fiber costs anywhere from $50 a foot to $500 a foot. But modern construction methods known as microtrenching and horizontal drilling cost the provider just $15 to $35 a foot. Although these methods have been proven to work in other cities, San Francisco doesn’t allow them. Even so, Sonic has managed to put fiber service in reach of roughly one-third of all the homes in the city, though its customer base is much smaller.
One partial solution to the high cost of deployment is so-called “dig-once” policies that require open-access conduit be installed any time a street is opened for water, sewer, or other repairs. San Francisco has such a policy on paper, and even the current FCC has toyed with the idea. But in San Francisco, at least, the project ordinance was never adequately funded.
San Francisco has made a bit of headway on Farrell’s dreams of a connected city. The city has assisted in connecting 1,424 units of low-income housing to a free fiber network and expects to connect an additional 765 units this year, according to Brian Roberts, a senior analyst in San Francisco’s Department of Technology.
But that’s barely a ripple in a city of this size. Until the FCC and other agencies push for more competition, and state legislatures shake off the influence of the giant ISPs and cable companies, the United States will be stuck with second-rate connectivity.
San Francisco-based journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. Chris Witteman was telecom counsel for the California Public Utilities Commission for over 17 years and still consults with the commission as a retired annuitant.
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|To: Frank A. Coluccio who wrote (46721)||5/16/2019 12:38:29 AM|
|From: Elroy Jetson|
|Huawei added to the "Entity List" .|
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security said Donald Trump added Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to its “Entity List” because Huawei “is engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interest.”
It prevents Qualcomm, Google or anyone from selling any US product or licensing any IP property to Huawei and its affiliates unless they first obtain a U.S. government license for that specific sale.
Huawei is a large telecommunications equipment maker which has significant backing from the Chinese military. The Justice Department has also accused it of violating Iran sanctions, among other things.
“This is a very, very big deal in terms of the entire relationship between China and the United States and ramping up this trade war,” said Doug Jacobson, a Washington attorney specializing in export law.
The move came right after Trump declared a “national emergency” and signed an executive order that expands the government’s powers to protect communications networks.
Last year, Emperor Xi personally requested that Trump remove ZTE from the "Entity List". Trump said he would do it as a personal favor to Xi, and after several weeks of discussions, the U.S. government allowed the company to survive with new limitations. But Trump can change that as well.
Companies can escape the entity list if they satisfy the Bureau of Industry and Security that it has stopped the activities that ran afoul of the U.S. government. With the company’s chief financial officer facing possible extradition to the United States on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, the company will likely have to pay civil and criminal penalties before getting off the list.
Kevin Wolf, a former assistant secretary of commerce for export administration, said taken together, the two actions are a significant tightening of the vise.
“This is going after a Chinese state champion,” said Wolf, a partner at Akin Gump. “I suspect it will add greatly to the tensions.”
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|From: Elroy Jetson||6/21/2019 4:21:42 PM|
|Huawei has announced plans to replace the "Android" operating system on their phones with North Korea's Linux based "Red Star OS ver 4.0"|
The agreement was completed during Xi Kingpin's recent meeting with North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un.
Although Red Star is currently Korean-only, Huawei hopes to complete the new Mandarin-version by 2021.
The Red Star start-up screen and desktop on a North Korean draggable-computer
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|To: ftth who wrote (46759)||6/28/2019 3:02:17 PM|
|From: Elroy Jetson|
|US offers Huawei a win-win joint-venture with Qualcomm|
A joint-venture between Qualcomm and Huawei, with Huawei holding a 60% majority share, will allow Huawei to produce and sell telcom equipement in the United States and allied nations.
The new joint-venture includes a standard technology-transfer agreement, commonly found in all Chinese business agreements, where-in Huawei will grant its majority partner, Qualcomm, ownership of all of Huawei's patents associated with any telecom equipment sold.
A spokesman for Emperor Pooh-Xi told reporters, "The fact that American technology companies are now adopting China's government-mandated business-model, acknowledges China's innovative method of transferring technology is far more efficient than laboriously developing it at great cost and effort."
Telecom industry analysts say the standard technology-transfer requirement is a small price for Huawei to pay in order to gain the opportunity to sell telecom equipment in the burgeoning American and affiliated markets through their American majority-partner Qualcomm.
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|To: Peter Ecclesine who wrote (46757)||6/29/2019 6:53:51 AM|
|What Happened to Facebook's Grand Plan to Wire the World?|
Five years ago Mark Zuckerberg debuted a bold, humanitarian vision of global internet. It didn’t go as planned—forcing Facebook to reckon with the limits of its own ambition.
ELMAT: You can't connect the unconnected with Wi-Fi. You can't connect the unconnected without spectrum
Author: Jessi Hempel BY Jessi Hempel
In August 2013, Mark Zuckerberg tapped out a 10-page white paper on his iPhone and shared it on Facebook. It was intended as a call to action for the tech industry: Facebook was going to help get people online. Everyone should be entitled to free basic internet service, Zuckerberg argued. Data was, like food or water, a human right. Universal basic internet service is possible, he wrote, but “it isn’t going to happen by itself.” Wiring the world required powerful players—institutions like Facebook. For this plan to be feasible, getting data to people had to become a hundred times cheaper.
Zuckerberg said this should be possible within five to 10 years.
It was an audacious proposal for the founder of a social software company to make. But the Zuckerberg of 2013 had not yet been humbled by any significant failure. In a few months, the service he’d launched between classes at Harvard would turn 10. A few months after that, he would be turning 30. It was a moment for taking stock, for reflecting on the immense responsibility that he felt came with the outsize success of his youth, and for doing something with his accumulated power that mattered.
A few days later, Facebook unveiled what that something would be: Internet.org. Launched with six partners, it was a collection of initiatives intended to get people hooked on the net. Its projects fell into two groups. For people who were within range of the internet but not connected, the company would strike business deals with phone carriers to make a small number of stripped-down web services (including Facebook) available for free through an app. For those who lived beyond the web’s reach—an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the world’s population—Zuckerberg would recruit engineers to work on innovative networking technologies like lasers and drones.
The work was presented as a humanitarian effort. Its name ended in “dot-org,” appropriating the suffix nonprofits use to signal their do-gooder status on the web. Zuckerberg wrote that he wasn’t expecting Facebook to earn a profit from “serv[ing]the next few billion people,” suggesting he was motivated by a moral imperative, not a financial one. The company released a promotional video featuring John F. Kennedy’s voice reading excerpts from a 1963 speech imploring the students of American University to remember that “we all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” Andrew Carnegie believed in libraries. Bill Gates believed in health care. Zuckerberg believed in the internet.
Zuckerberg was sincere in his swashbuckling belief that Facebook was among a small number of players that had the money, know-how, and global reach to fast-forward history, jump-starting the economic lives of the 5 billion people who do not yet surf the web. He believed peer-to-peer communications would be responsible for redistributing global power, making it possible for any individual to access and share information. “The story of the next century is the transition from an industrial, resource-based economy to a knowledge economy,” he said in an interview with WIRED at the time. “If you know something, then you can share that, and then the whole world gets richer.” The result would be that a kid in India—he loved this hypothetical about this kid in India—could potentially go online and learn all of math.
For three years, Zuckerberg included Internet.org in his top priorities, pouring resources, publicity, and a good deal of his own time into the project. He traveled to India and Africa to promote the initiative and spoke about it at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona two years in a row. He appeared before the UN General Assembly to push the idea that internet access was a human right. He amassed a team of engineers in his Connectivity Lab to work on internet-distribution projects, which had radically different production cycles than the software to which he was accustomed.
But from the start, critics were skeptical of Zuckerberg’s intentions. The company’s peers, like Google and Microsoft, never signed on as partners, preferring instead to pursue their own strategies for getting people online. Skeptics questioned the hubris of an American boy-billionaire who believed the world needed his help and posited that existing businesses and governments are better positioned to spread connectivity. They criticized Facebook’s app for allowing free access only to a Facebook-sanctioned set of services. At one point, 67 human rights groups signed an open letter to Zuckerberg that accused Facebook of “building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services.”
At first, Zuckerberg defended his efforts in public speeches, op-eds, and impassioned videos that he published on his own platform. I had a front-row seat for these events, as I spent most of 2015 reporting an article on Facebook’s connectivity efforts that took me to South Africa, London, Spain, New York, and Southern California to observe the company’s efforts to advance its version of universal connectivity.
My story was published in January 2016, a month before India banned Facebook’s app altogether. Shortly after that, Facebook stopped talking about Internet.org. While bits of news about the company’s drone project or new connectivity efforts still emerge, Facebook hasn’t updated the press releases on the Internet.org website in a year. That led me to wonder, what exactly happened to Internet.org?
The second time Mark Zuckerberg traveled to Barcelona to headline the Mobile World Congress, in the spring of 2015, I conducted the keynote interview. He arrived on a Sunday afternoon and was whisked to a dinner that he hosted for a group of telecom operators. We didn’t meet up until the next day, just minutes before we were to walk onstage. Zuckerberg, dressed in jeans, black Nikes, and a gray T-shirt, appeared confident. His face still had the youthful plumpness it has since lost.
The annual telecom trade show routinely draws tens of thousands of people, including the chiefs of all the big telecom operators. Attendees had begun lining up to hear him in the morning, and as I peered out from the wings just before our midday appearance, all 8,000 seats were filled; people watched from overflow rooms throughout the conference hall. I remember the cacophony of clicking camera flashes as Zuckerberg joined me onstage.
Zuckerberg spent only a few minutes touting the promise of drones and lasers in connecting people to the internet. This technology was exciting, he told the crowd, but distant. It would be years before a solar-powered plane hovered 60,000 feet in the air, beaming the internet to the disconnected. One year earlier, in Zuckerberg’s first Mobile World Congress appearance, he’d introduced a plan to get loads of people online seemingly overnight: Facebook wanted to partner with telecom operators to offer them a free app that had access to a few services like Wikipedia and health information. Oh, and Facebook. Zuckerberg believed this would be great for operators because they’d be able to get new customers. The app would be a gateway drug for people who’d never tried the internet before, and they’d subsequently decide to pay operators for more data. Zuckerberg had returned to Barcelona to promote this idea.
He was greeted by a skeptical, and at times hostile, audience of telecom operators who were vexed by his proposal. They were already concerned that people were communicating through services like WhatsApp and Facebook instead of the more lucrative text-messaging services they offered. They'd spent the money to lay down fiber and build an actual network, and people were now opting not to pay them for minutes. In effect, before Internet.org was even a gleam in Zuckerberg’s eye, Facebook had already undermined their core business. They were reluctant to partner with the social network to get even more people online, and specifically, on Facebook. Denis O’Brien, chairman of the international wireless provider Digicel Group, told the Wall Street Journal that Zuckerberg was like “the guy who comes to your party and drinks your champagne, and kisses your girls, and doesn't bring anything."
So far, operators had signed on in just six countries: Zambia, Tanzania, India, Ghana, Kenya, and Colombia. Zuckerberg invited three telecom executives to join him onstage to describe how things were going. One, from Paraguay, suggested his company had seen an uptick in subscribers during its Facebook trial. But even onstage at the invitation of Zuckerberg, they were reserved. “It all comes down to data,” said Jon Fredrik Baksaas, then CEO of Telenor Group. “It is challenging not to give the keys of your house to your competitor." That is to say, he was worried that Facebook’s messaging capabilities would siphon off his company's customers.
Human rights activists worried about Internet.org for different reasons. While the app allowed numerous services, they were concerned that Facebook was the ultimate arbiter of which ones were included. Facebook had much to gain by centralizing the web onto one platform: Facebook. Critics charged that, in its haste to get services to people using the least amount of data possible, Facebook was compromising their security.
Not long after Mobile World Congress, in that May 2015 letter signed by 67 human rights groups, activists accused the company of promoting and attempting to build a two-tiered internet, saying: “These new users could get stuck on a separate and unequal path to Internet connectivity, which will serve to widen—not narrow—the digital divide.”
The growing backlash caught Zuckerberg by surprise. He was accustomed to people resisting changes the company made to Facebook, but eventually they always came around. Users hadn’t liked Facebook’s News Feed at first, but they came to embrace it. With Internet.org, though, the more he tried to explain Facebook’s motives, the more the criticism mounted. The opposition was particularly significant in India, where a group of activists were pushing regulators to ban its app. They said it violated net neutrality, the idea that internet providers should treat all online services equally, by making some services available for free.
In the spring of 2015, Zuckerberg published an op-ed, this time in the Hindustan Times and not on Facebook, in which he tried to explain that his initiative didn’t run counter to net neutrality. He argued that a limited internet was better than no internet; if people couldn't afford to pay for connectivity, “it is always better to have some access and voice than none at all.” But Indian activists only grew louder in their declaration that Facebook just didn’t get it.
One evening a few weeks later, Zuckerberg called in some employees after hours to record a video in which he made a case for Internet.org. The lights were off behind him, a row of desks sat empty as he spoke. He framed the debate over whether to allow Internet.org to operate in India as a moral choice: “We have to ask ourselves, what kind of community do we want to be?” he said, in the video, which he published on his profile and on the Internet.org Facebook page. “Are we a community that values people and improving people’s lives above all else? Or are we a community that puts the intellectual purity of technology above people’s needs?”
In the months that followed, Facebook changed the app’s name from Internet.org to Free Basics in an attempt to mitigate the impression that Facebook was trying to take over the web. To counter the argument that Facebook was deciding what services people could access, the company opened up the app to more services. It also improved security and privacy measures for users.
While the company continued to sign on partners in new markets, like Bolivia and South Africa, in India the debate grew more heated. The company sent messages to developers throughout India to encourage them to advocate for Free Basics. Facebook-sponsored billboards asked Indians to support “a better future” for unconnected Indians—meaning a future with Free Basics. Advertisements for Facebook were plastered inside Indian newspapers. That year, Facebook spent roughly $45 million in Indian advertising to spread word about its Free Basics campaign, according to the Indian media. In an op-ed that Zuckerberg wrote for the Times of India, he asked: “Who could possibly be against this?”
In February 2016, India’s telecom regulator blocked Facebook’s Free Basics service as part of a ruling to support net neutrality.
Later that month, I joined Zuckerberg in Barcelona for his third appearance at the Mobile World Congress. Again, he wore dark jeans and black Nikes, and just before we left the green room, he pulled on a fresh gray T-shirt. He followed me onstage with confidence, but as soon as we sat down, his microphone malfunctioned, producing high-pitched feedback when he spoke. At first we tried to soldier through the interview, but the distraction grew too great and we both began to perspire.
Our voices dropped in and out like a bad cell connection. We stopped to ask for new equipment, which improved the situation only slightly. Inches away from me, Zuckerberg seemed perturbed, but in the recording I later watched, he appeared to maintain his composure as he announced a new Internet.org project. This one had nothing to do with Free Basics. Dubbed the Telecom Infra Project, it would bring together 30 companies to help improve the underlying architecture of the networks that provide internet access.
I asked Zuckerberg what he’d learned so far from the Internet.org efforts. He intimated that he’d learned that people didn’t take him at face value. "I didn't start Facebook to become a company initially, but having a for-profit company is a good way to accomplish certain things,” he said.
To wit: Zuckerberg still thought of himself as a humanitarian and a philanthropist, uniquely positioned because of his capital and his influence to bring the internet to those who couldn't get access to it quickly in other ways. The global corporation that was threatening local businesses and sucking the air out of entire industries while minting millionaires in sunny Menlo Park? That was just the means to an end. From my interviews that year, both onstage and privately, it was clear to me that Zuckerberg was sincere in this belief, even if others didn’t buy into it.
Recently I wrote to a South African guy named James Devine. He works for a nonprofit called Project Isizwe, which makes Wi-Fi more available in his home country. In 2015, I'd visited him to check out a partnership he’d forged with Facebook. We met in Polokwane, in the impoverished Northeast, and then traced red dirt roads through the countryside until we got to a tiny village. There, above a chicken stand in the town center, was a WiFi hot spot. People could sit beneath it and access a small amount of free bandwidth—enough for a few minutes of playing games or streaming music—to surf the open web, or they could use the services within the Free Basics app as long as they wanted for free. As part of a trial, Facebook was paying for hot spots like this one in several villages, and Isizwe tended to their upkeep.
I asked Devine if he was still working with Facebook. “Things kind of died down after the satellite blew up,” he wrote, referring to the SpaceX satellite that blew up over Africa in September 2016. Facebook had contracted SpaceX to deliver the first Internet.org satellite into space; it was supposed to deliver wireless connectivity to large portions of sub-Saharan Africa. “All the current projects with them that we’ve been involved with have now come to an end.” It’s just one of a slew of projects Facebook has attempted in the five years since it launched the work.
While the larger world fixated on the connectivity experiments of Free Basics, the company sank resources into other partnerships and experiments to build devices (like lasers and autonomous planes) that could distribute the internet cheaply. These projects involved the type of deep technical know-how that a company with a healthy research arm, like Facebook, was designed to take on. Facebook funneled these projects through its Connectivity Lab, which is committed to initiatives intended for the distant future.
While they required Facebook to invest in unfamiliar areas of science and engineering—building an airplane is a different art form than, say, building a messaging app—these projects are in Zuckerberg’s wheelhouse. He read up on how the technologies operated and then either acquired or recruited the technical talent to realize them. Once, when I visited Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, Zuckerberg had Hamid Hemmati’s textbook on lasers on his desk. He’d had his assistant reach out to schedule a call with Hemmati, who’d spent most of his career at NASA. “He was super surprised to hear from me,” Zuckerberg told me at the time. “He thought that it was fake.” Within a month, Zuckerberg had convinced Hemmati to leave NASA to open a Facebook laboratory in Woodland Hills, California.
These technical projects have a lot more in common with the types of connectivity efforts embarked on by Facebook’s peers. Alphabet shut down its drone program, Project Titan, last year, but it continues to develop Project Loon, which is housed in X—Alphabet’s so-called moonshot factory—and aspires to beam the internet from high-altitude balloons. Microsoft has attempted to deploy unused television airwaves to get more people online. Within Google and Microsoft, these projects don’t front as philanthropy; they’re ambitious technical challenges undertaken as research for the company’s future business.
The occasional Connectivity Lab updates Facebook offers suggest that it is distancing these efforts from its Internet.org work. Aquila, the name for Facebook’s plane-size drone, has now had two publicized test flights, and on the second one it even stuck the landing. (The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation after the first flight crashed in the summer of 2016.) It has also partnered with Airbus to lobby the FCC for the spectrum it will need to beam the internet from the sky. The company has also added new projects to the mix. Another Connectivity Lab project involves building better maps to help plan where networks need to improve. Facebook no longer talks about these projects publicly as part of Internet.org. Blog posts are shared on Facebook’s coding blog, and the posts don’t reference Internet.org at all. Instead, they’re tagged “connectivity.” Internet.org doesn’t include these updates in its press section.
Engineering projects like Aquila, an internet-providing drone, were more firmly in Zuckerberg's wheelhouse.
Meanwhile, the project that has done the most to help cement connectivity has been separated from Internet.org entirely. Although Zuckerberg introduced the Telecom Infra Project as an Internet.org project in 2016, including its logo alongside logos for Free Basics and the Connectivity Lab in his post, there are no references to TIP on the Internet.org site.
The way Facebook has handled this telecom project suggests it is learning from past missteps. The effort is modeled on Facebook’s Open Compute Project, which developed technology to make data centers more efficient and then made that technology available to other tech companies. Under the leadership of Jay Parikh, the infrastructure chief who also helmed Open Compute, Facebook will join with partners to pay for and develop new technology that companies can use to improve their infrastructure; telco partners will be expected to pay for deployment. These upgrades range from improved base stations to a new radio wave technology that will make the internet faster in densely populated places. Telcos are embracing this approach, according to Quartz. So far, Facebook has attracted more than 500 partners.
The Telecom Infra Project has its own website (which pointedly downplays Facebook’s central role), its own board of directors that includes just one Facebook executive, and it has hosted two autumn summits so far. Last November, Yael Maguire, who directs Facebook’s connectivity programs, opened up the second day of the summit by explaining “why Facebook cares so much about connectivity.” He explained that Facebook is a social networking company, focused on bringing people together in the digital world, and it depends on physical networks to do that. “Every step of progress around the world allows us to create a better and closer experience where people can come closer together,” he explained.
In other words, healthy networks make for a better Facebook. That in turn is good for Facebook’s bottom line. This is what Zuckerberg wasn’t saying directly in any of his earlier public addresses.
For all of Facebook’s early experiments, carriers have finally come around to Facebook’s model. Facebook says it is working with 86 partners to offer the Free Basics app in 60 countries. These carriers have found Facebook’s formula to be helpful in their attempts to attract and retain new customers. So far this year, Free Basics has launched in Cameroon for the first time and added additional carriers in Colombia and Peru.
In the five years since Zuckerberg introduced Internet.org, 600 million people have come online. In the company’s April 25 earnings call, Zuckerberg said the company’s Internet.org and connectivity efforts (he differentiated the two) have brought 100 million of these people to the internet. Facebook commissions annual research on the number of connected people. This year’s report, which was not published on the Internet.org web site, suggests the costs of accessing the net have fallen, while the rate at which people are coming online for the first time has grown particularly fast in developing countries.
But while this looks like success, Zuckerberg never anticipated the consequences of universal connectivity that are now emerging. Small countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and the Philippines are reporting outbreaks of violence and political strife that local activists blame partly on Facebook. These countries are facing many of the same challenges—hate speech, false information, and political movements that complain of bias—that we are confronting in the United States, where Congress recently called Zuckerberg to Washington to testify. But often, the developing world lacks the institutions and government regulators to help educate and protect individuals. What’s more, Facebook has been slower to introduce the moderating tools that might help curtail hate speech and misinformation in the developing world.
In March, the United Nations called out Facebook for its role in inciting the violence in Myanmar that has led to a humanitarian crisis. Military strikes since last August have spurred roughly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh to escape what some members of the UN consider a genocide. The officials said hateful Facebook posts have helped amplify the ethnic tensions. Yanghee Lee, the UN official charged with investigating events in the country, said, “I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it was originally intended.
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