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City-Owned Fiber Networks Are a Terrible Idea

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Fiber optic cableWhen the Minnesota city of Monticello established a municipal fiber network in 2009, the business leaders who pushed the plan projected that it would make money. Instead, the network—dubbed FiberNet—faced acute financial woes from day one, losing millions in its first years of operation and even suspending payments to bondholders in 2012. By 2014 officials had given up on the service ever being in the black, with one councilmember telling the Monticello Times, "I don't believe, at this juncture, that FiberNet will ever be a profitable entity. Just like the Monticello Community Center, baseball, soccer fields, bike paths, parks..."

Since then the government has kept FiberNet afloat by raiding funds from the city's only profitable business (a liquor store) and from the street light budget. But the service is still operating at a loss, running a $100,000 operational deficit in the last half of 2016 alone. Today the network costs $5,549 per household, or $16,875 per subscriber.

That makes it the most expensive project per capita in a new study from the University of Pennsylvania, which examined the 20 city-owned broadband networks around the country whose profitability could be gauged. (Most municipal fiber networks are run through local electrical ulitlities who only report aggregated financial data on the whole of their operations.)

Given how badly most of the networks examined in the study have failed, one can see why these utilities aren't more transparent about their costs. Eleven of the 20 are operating at a loss, and all but two will fail to pay back the costs their installation by the time the projects become obsolete.

The Taxpayer Protection Alliance Foundation has put together an interactive map of more than 200 municipal networks, color-coded for their level of indebtedness. Fourteen of these services have failed completely, while another 50 remain mired in over $1 million in debt. About half the projects on the map are colored gray, because their indebtedness levels are unclear. (In those cases, requests for public documents are in progess.)

Sometimes, as with Monticello, these networks are a wholly local initiative. But often they are spurred on by investments from the federal government. In 2009 the Obama administration established the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program, allotting $4.7 billion in grants to 277 state and local projects as part of the president's promise to bring "true broadband to every community in America."

Predictably, much of this money was squandered on needless projects, undocumented expenditures, and simple graft. A New York Times investigation found that a contractor for one of the grants ended up using federal funds to route fiber through its employees' neighborhood. $594 million of the program's funds were ultimately suspended.

Yet the dream of a city-owned broadband network won't die. In 2017, bills enabling or encouraging municipal governments to establish their own fiber networks were introduced in a several Southern states, and last year 26 communities in Colorado voted to opt out of a state-level ban on municipal broadband investment. Several of those Colorado towns are now mulling proposals for their own networks. They should take a close look at Monticello's experience before they take the plunge.

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francisga
18 hours ago
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I have municipal fiber from LUS Fiber in Lafayette, LA, which is "grey" (debt status unknown) in this map. I love it. It's way better than any option I ever had in Virginia or DC or any other offering in Louisiana. The Reason Foundation wrote a very critical financial study of LUS Fiber in 2013 http://reason.org/files/municipal_broadband_lafayette.pdf

LUS Responded: http://www.lusfiber.com/docs/LUSFiberResponse-TitchArticle.pdf

It's now 2017. LUS is still around and still cash-flow positive (a fact both parties admitted) and still not taxpayer funded, but probably still behind its projections and still paying off debt. I consider it a modest success financially, but as a customer I am ecstatic.

I must still grant the following points in general to anti-muni fiber people:

1) Fiber service is not really a utility, because people still (IMO irrationally!) buy phone and cable packages. I never buy these, and increasingly "cord-cutters" are not buying them either, just internet. This might be helped by having muni fiber networks but no muni ISPs: munis would sell capacity/infrastructure to ISPs, who would sell services to customers. It might also be helped by time: what millennial would buy land phone and cable service?

2) Government-run, taxpayer-funded anything is usually incompetently run. I bet if we looked at muni-owned utilities in general we would find similar stories as with muni fiber. I don't have an answer for this except to keep the muni networks as small as possible and to contract out as much maintenance as possible. There should be more neighborhood or home-association fiber networks, too.
Lafayette, LA, USA
kazriko
16 hours ago
I agree with municipal ownership of the fiber infrastructure being one interesting compromise. With the ability to link it to any ISP it would be a decent free market compromise against full municipal for the cities who want to accelerate the timetable for fiber broadband. Installing the fiber under the roads is the hardest part of deploying for a private group, but the city itself has less red tape to go through to get this done. Most govts simply aren't up to the task of keeping a huge ISP running though, so that's where the companies could come in. On the HOA fiber networks, that could work, make it a cost of building the subdivision. But if they don't contract out the ISP and maintenance there, they could run into the same issues as government, the people running it probably won't really be competent at running an isp. I've heard of this happening with HOA fiber networks where after a few years they just turn into crud.
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Pokémon Go developers start virtually “blinding” unauthorized accounts

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Enlarge / If Niantic detects your bot account, common Pokémon like this Pidgey are all you'll be able to see in the game.

Pokémon Go developer Niantic appears to have opened up a new front in its ongoing war against third-party tools and trackers that use bot accounts to reveal where in-game Pokémon are hiding in the real world. Players are reporting that detected and flagged accounts are being limited so they can only see common Pokémon—not the most coveted, rarer beasts.

Pokemon Go Hub reported on the new security measure earlier this week, showing screenshots where two different accounts in the same exact location showed different Pokémon on their "nearby" lists. The site estimates that tens to hundreds of thousands of accounts may have been blinded in this way, based on reports from inside the Pokémon Go hacking community.

That said, reports suggest the enforcement has been somewhat sporadic, with "some botters claiming zero accounts blinded, and others reporting complete annihilation of their account farm," according to Pokémon Go Hub. And while bot-makers can create free new accounts to try to get around the blinding, The Silph Road subreddit reports that many new accounts seem to be blinded quickly and automatically, signaling a change from the more manual ban waves Niantic has issued to bot makers periodically. Some suspect Niantic is making use of machine-learning algorithms to detect bots quickly while limiting false-positive punishments on legitimate accounts (the company was publicly searching for a Machine Learning Engineer last year).

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francisga
2 days ago
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Lafayette, LA, USA
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Who?

2 Comments and 6 Shares
Gonna feel even dumber when I realize that all this time he's been talking into a bluetooth thingy and we're not actually friends.
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francisga
2 days ago
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Lafayette, LA, USA
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2 public comments
skorgu
2 days ago
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me_irl
alt_text_bot
2 days ago
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Gonna feel even dumber when I realize that all this time he's been talking into a bluetooth thingy and we're not actually friends.

"What makes Bach so successful among the Japanese?"

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Uwe Siemon-Netto, "J. S. Bach in Japan" (First Things, June 2000). What an amazing article! Here are a few teasers ...
Twenty-five years ago when there was still a Communist East Germany, I interviewed several boys from Leipzig’s Thomanerchor, the choir once led by Johann Sebastian Bach. Many of those children came from atheistic homes. “Is it possible to sing Bach without faith?” I asked them. “Probably not,” they replied, “but we do have faith. Bach has worked as a missionary among all of us.” During a recent journey to Japan I discovered that 250 years after his death Bach is now playing a key role in evangelizing that country, one of the most secularized nations in the developed world....

... “In their frenetic pursuit of production, speculation, and consumption,” Repp said, “the older Japanese have provided their offspring exclusively with materialistic values. But the youngsters are yearning for something more. The result is an enormous gap between the generations; they are no longer able to communicate with one another.”

... ”What people need in this situation is hope in the Christian sense of the word, but hope is an alien idea here,” says the renowned organist Masaaki Suzuki, founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan. He is the driving force behind the “Bach boom” sweeping Japan during its current period of spiritual impoverishment. “Our language does not even have an appropriate word for hope,” Suzuki says. “We either use ibo, meaning desire, or nozomi, which describes something unattainable.” After every one of the Bach Collegium’s performances Suzuki is crowded on the podium by non-Christian members of the audience who wish to talk to him about topics that are normally taboo in Japanese society—death, for example. “And then they inevitably ask me to explain to them what ‘hope’ means to Christians.” ...

Japan’s Bach boom does, however, have one baffling aspect: how is it possible that melodies and rhythms from eighteenth-century Germany should please people of an entirely alien culture thousands of miles to the east? Tokyo musicologists have come up with an astonishing answer: Bach’s appeal to today’s Japanese is directly linked to a Spaniard’s first attempt to evangelize their ancestors 450 years ago.

... Believers were crucified, burned at the stake, tortured to death, or hanged upside-down over cesspools to intensify their suffering. Few Japanese were aware of this sinister aspect of their history until last year, when the Tobu art gallery in Tokyo commemorated the 450th anniversary of Francis Xaviér’s arrival with a massive exhibition spread over three floors.

The enormous crowds filing through this show were horrified by the cruelties its images portrayed. But there was one thing they did not learn at the Tobu Gallery: Western music managed to survive the persecution. The Jesuits had introduced Gregorian chant to Japan and built organs from bamboo pipes.... By the time Christianity was totally outlawed in Japan in the early seventeenth century, elements of Gregorian chant had infiltrated Japan’s traditional folk music. That influence remained strong enough to help Johann Sebastian Bach’s music sweep across the island nation more than four centuries later.

This explains the amazing success of Bach’s collected works, which were published by Sogakukan, a Tokyo company, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. This collection of fifteen volumes, including 156 CDs accompanied by books with the original lyrics in German and Latin plus their Japanese translations, cost a staggering $3,000 each. Within weeks the first edition of five thousand copies was sold out.

The collection’s editor, Tesuo O’Hara, described himself as one of Christianity’s sympathizers, though not a believer. He could have fooled me. “What makes Bach so successful among the Japanese?” I asked him. O’Hara replied, “Bach gives us hope when we are afraid; he gives us courage when we despair; he comforts us when we are tired; he makes us pray when we are sad; and he makes us sing when we are full of joy.”
[Hat tip E. Echeverria]
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francisga
3 days ago
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Lafayette, LA, USA
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - The Nature of Weenies

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
This is the SMBCest SMBC I've ever SMBCed.

New comic!
Today's News:

I dare ANY cartoonist to make a dorkier butt joke.

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francisga
3 days ago
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Lafayette, LA, USA
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drchuck
3 days ago
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Wasn't there a comic about wiener dogs last week?
Long Island, NY
rclatterbuck
3 days ago
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Wittgenstein might have something to say about that.

Tips For Reading Washington Post Stories About Trump Based On Anonymous Leaks

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On May 10, the Washington Post‘s Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sari Horwitz, and Robert Costa claimed:

[Deputy Attorney General Rod J.] Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

But the “person close to the White House” who made the claim without using his or her name was contradicted by none other than Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein himself. The next day he said, “I’m not quitting” when asked by reporters. “No,” he said to the follow-up question of whether he had threatened to quit.

On May 10, Ashley Parker wrote:

Last week, then-FBI Director James B. Comey requested more resources from the Justice Department for his bureau’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, according to two officials with knowledge of the discussion.

The story was based on anonymous sources, naturally, and noted “The news was first reported by the New York Times.” If true, it would support a narrative that Trump had fired Comey not due to his general incompetence but because he was trying to thwart a legitimate and fruitful investigation. Anonymous sources again had something very different to say from people whose comments were tied to their names, who all denied the report. The Justice Department spokeswoman immediately responded that the claim was false, and her quote was included in the story:

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said reports that Comey had requested more funding or other resources for the Russia investigation are ‘totally false.’ Such a request, she said, ‘did not happen.’

The next day under oath, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe repeatedly denied that the probe into Russia was undersourced or requiring any additional funds. In response to one question about whether the FBI had sufficient resources to investigate, he said:

‘If you are referring to the Russia investigation, I do. I believe we have the adequate resources to do it and I know that we have resourced that investigation adequately,’ acting FBI director Andrew McCabe told lawmakers, adding that he was unaware of any request by the agency for additional resources.

Previous Washington Post stories sourced to anonymous “officials” have fallen apart, including Josh Rogin’s January 26 report claiming that “the State Department’s entire senior management team just resigned” as “part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.”

The story went viral before the truth caught up. As per procedure, the Obama administration had, in coordination with the incoming Trump administration, asked for the resignations of all political appointees. While it would have been traditional to let them stay for a few months, the Trump team let them know that their services wouldn’t be necessary. The entire story was wrong.

Rogin also had the false story that Steve Bannon had personally confronted Department of Homeland Security’s Gen. John F. Kelly to pressure him not to weaken an immigration ban. Take it away, Kelly:

‘It was a fantasy story,’ Kelly said. Of the reporter, he said: ‘Assuming he’s not making it up… whoever his sources are, are playing him for a fool.’

Each of these stories were explosive breaking news that served an anti-Trump narrative but later turned out to be false.

This week, the Washington Post reported that President Trump threatened national security during his meeting with Russians last week. The story was based on anonymous leaks regarding a real meeting that took place. The report was immediately slapped down as false by multiple high-level Trump officials who were present in the meeting:

He said,

The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the Secretary of the State, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on the record accounts should outweigh anonymous sources. I was in the room. It didn’t happen.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism. During that exchange the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods, or military operations.”

Dina Powell, deputy national security advisor for strategy, was also in the meeting. She said, “This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”

Now, clearly a meeting took place, and clearly things were discussed. But it’s hard to know if anything else in the Washington Post story was true. Particularly with three individuals all pushing back against it.

For context, it’s worth noting that breaking news is frequently wrong. In the aftermath of a terrorist attack or an active shooter, responsible journalists pass around a guide for how to monitor breaking news. Here it is:

Perhaps we need a similar guide for how to handle breaking news that comes from the Washington Post. It turns out we can keep many of the tips:

  1. In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong.
  2. Don’t trust anonymous sources. If democracy dies in darkness, anonymity is not exactly transparent or accountable. Unless someone is willing to to put his or her name with a leak, be on guard. Pay attention to how well the reporters characterize the motivations of the anonymous leaker. All leakers have motivation. Does the paper seem to have a grasp on how the motivation affects the veracity of the leak?
  3. If someone is leaking national security information in order to support the claim of a national security violation, be on guard.
  4. If someone is claiming a serious national security crisis but not willing to go public with the claim and resign in protest of same, be on guard.
  5. Compare sources willing to put their name and reputation on the line.
  6. Big anti-Trump news brings out the fakers.
  7. Pay attention to the language that the media uses. Is a story about something unimportant being written in such a way as to make it seem more important?
  8. Beware confirmation bias. Everyone has the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Be on guard that you don’t accept critical or exonerating evidence to match your political preferences.
  9. Pay attention to how quickly and fully editors and reporters correct stories based on false information from anonymous sources. If they don’t correct at all, it’s an indication of a lack of respect.
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francisga
4 days ago
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Lafayette, LA, USA
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