Proposed Illinois broadband act falls short

Proposed Illinois broadband act falls short

Last week, I was sent an announcement of pending Illinois broadband legislation (20 ILCS 3921/10), which was announced on Jan. 25. Here’s its synopsis:

Creates the Universal Access to Broadband Services Act. Requires the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) to create and maintain a map of broadband infrastructure in the state. Sets forth that all publicly held broadband infrastructure shall be available for lease on a non-discriminatory basis to any public, private or non-profit entity.
Requires CMS in cooperation with the Broadband Deployment Council to establish terms, conditions, procedures and pricing for lease of the publicly held broadband infrastructure taking into consideration sliding fee schedules based on the income and financial resources available to end users and the existence of other community benefits.

When you read the actual law, the synopsis conveniently leaves out an important catch phrase:

The Department of Central Management Services shall create a map of all “publicly held broadband infrastructure” in the state.
This is defined as all properties, facilities, towers, equipment, hardware, software and other intellectual property necessary to provide broadband services that are owned by, leased by, controlled by, paid for in whole or in part by or accessible to the Illinois Century Network, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, public universities or colleges, community colleges or any other state agency.

“Paid for in whole or in part” means that if you accept state funding for a project within a municipality, you could be in for a nightmare where you just locked your infrastructure into a new tier of management and control. The full law can be found here.
Would this law be good for Illinois?
When you read through this proposed act, it becomes apparent that the intent is to create a broadband initiative without spending what’s really needed. The key phrase in it is “…necessary to provide broadband services that are owned by, leased by, controlled by, paid for in whole or in part by or accessible to the Illinois Century Network, the Illinois Department of Transportation…”
Another way to look at it is that “paid for in whole or in part by” means that any money received from the state on any project (no matter what the percentage) creates a binding commitment of that resource or that piece of infrastructure (whatever it may be) to the state broadband infrastructure. This might not be acceptable to local municipalities.
For example, say you get 5 percent on a project for putting in street lights. The state can now utilize all those street lights to put up small wireless antennae for distribution. Who gets the revenues from the tenants on those antennae? Is there revenue sharing? Who sets the leasing rates? What if the municipality doesn’t agree?
According to the structure of this act, this applies to every municipality whether they are home rule or not: “Any home rule municipality, non-home rule municipality, township or county may apply for and receive funds to undertake broadband projects including the use of publicly held broadband infrastructure.”
This is a quick way to commandeer a lot of resources that weren’t totally paid for by the state but can now be referred to as part of the state’s “broadband infrastructure”. There are some problems with that in terms of having safeguards for usage, applications and management.
This is almost the same approach the state is looking at for road and bridge building where there are several billion dollars of work to do and the amount suggested to do it is substantially less. Some have said we’re in for a tax increase because it’s not apparent who’s going to pick up the shortfall. This issue is another question mark that needs to be thoroughly discussed in a future column.
Mapping? Networking infrastructure reliability?
While having a map of the network infrastructure is good, having easy access to it isn’t. One of the biggest issues on network infrastructure is that you don’t want the entire map of communication resources available to anyone who can Google “Illinois total network infrastructure” from their home PC.
In today’s terrorist environment, you can’t let a map of the state’s communications network be available online or in any easily accessible mode. Though nothing is mentioned to make it available, I can see someone demanding that it be available to anyone who wants to review it.
Sound crazy or bizarre? From many reasons ranging from security issues to competitive analysis, having a map of all facilities and what carrier owns what piece of network just isn’t a good idea. One of the most “proprietary” pieces of information that the traditional phone companies had was their network routing information.
Major customers didn’t even get routing information on their facilities. This was very closely guarded and was from a network security standpoint a good practice. Will all carriers share this information? I would think there would be a lot of arguments.
Another concern I see with having what amounts to a patchwork of networks interconnected by proclamation and partial funding is that it’s unclear who sets and maintains a real network standard of reliability and redundancy. How is it enforced?
This isn’t a trivial thing, but to those who have never built anything bigger than a 32-device LAN or put in a couple wireless routers, it’s not a big issue. Right? Wrong. Does CMS have enough people to do the job or would this be farmed out to someone like AT&T? With whom would you have a better comfort level?
One of benefits of having a monopoly is that it’s easy to set and maintain a uniform set of standards to ensure reliability and redundancy across the network. Though the concept of putting in many small regional or area networks sounds appealing, the reality is that you have to interconnect to everything else and be backward compatible.
With the mix of systems and manufacturers of equipment, how do you maintain a constant reliability level that’s acceptable to those with mission-critical applications? From a troubleshooting standpoint, who has the cadre of technicians and engineers that can work on all this?
That’s a valid argument the incumbent carriers have when they go on the defense. If you have never worked in network design and engineering for a carrier, you don’t have the sensitivity to this issue and you don’t have the depth of expertise to mount a compelling argument.
Divesting the Bell system was thought to be a good idea at the time. Since 1984, we have seen the Bell companies get back together almost in a “revestiture” of their divestiture. Do you think they learned something from being split apart and something about the value of being back together?
What’s wrong with universal service access?
Will it really be universal? What if a carrier comes in and says it needs all the spare capacity? After they secure it, others are still at the mercy of what they charge. Who should have priority in securing spare capacity?
Another way around “real” universal access is that the carrier can apply to use the “open to the public” infrastructure to get to a specific area and have its own “closed” access within that area at its own entry price.
There isn’t enough specific language in the proposed act to safeguard against abuses. There also isn’t a guarantee for reliability to strike a comfort level to those who understand network reliability and redundancy. The bottom line? Though this act is a nice gesture, it needs a lot more clarification of responsibilities and the clear setting of reliability standards in order to pass.
Carlinism: Network infrastructures are like icebergs. You only see 5 percent of the issues and responsibilities on the surface.

James Carlini is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. He is also president of Carlini & Associates. Carlini can be reached at or 773-370-1888. Copyright 2006 Jim Carlini.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.