Thursday, June 9, 2011

Counterpoints to Access Wisconsin's statements regarding omnibus motion 489, the BCCB grant, and WiscNet

Access Wisconsin statement:  The UW created WiscNet despite a statutory prohibition and staffs it with $1.4 million per year in UW-Madison employees.

Counterpoint:  WisNet was founded as a consortium of 24 equal partners from public and private colleges in 1990 with UW Madison administering the startup grants from the National Science Foundation.  The network expanded beyond the original charter members using two subsequent NSF grants and then evolved a series of sustainable business models that permitted many other institutions to participate. The $1.4 million is funding that WiscNet pays to the UW for technical support rather than a UW subsidy to WiscNet.  WiscNet has been providing Internet access and related services long before most telephone companies entered the market.

Access Wisconsin statement:  Nothing in the Jt. Finance action prevents the UW from meeting its own telecommunication needs.

Counterpoint:  Point #25 in the Jt. Finance action clearly prevents the UW from being a member or partner with any other entity that provides telecommunications services or information services.  Taken at face value, this prevents the UW from being part of advanced research networks, like Internet2.   

Access Wisconsin statement:   Taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize a government agency such as UW-Extension to duplicate and compete with our services.

Counterpoint:  Access Wisconsin members and other private sector telecommunication carriers in the state currently receive a subsidy of over $90 million annually in taxpayer money from the federal Universal Service Program as an incentive for expansion to underserved populations. WiscNet was designed to link public institutions in service areas where the private sector had declined comparable development of affordable infrastructure.

Access Wisconsin statement:  On the UW grant, to add insult to injury, the UW planned to hire an out-of-state firm to lay the fiber optic cables.

Counterpoint:  The UW reached out to numerous Wisconsin phone companies via an open bid process seeking their partnership on the grant.  None agreed to participate.  

Access Wisconsin statement:  The UW grant would harm the BadgerNet  network, which already offers reliable, affordable broadband services.

Counterpoint:  While being very reliable BadgerNet is less than affordable to many community institutions.  For example, a 100Mbps service is $6,000 a month and a 1,00Mbps service is $49,500 a month.  While these costs may drop with renewal of the BadgerNet contract, reliable evidence of future affordability is not available at this time.   The UW grant clearly shows a return on investment of 3.5 – 4.5 years.  After that an institution will be able to get 1,000Mbps service for about $10,000 annually vs. $594,000 annually, which is the current BadgerNet rate.

BadgerNet is a beneficial network for many of our schools and libraries only because it is heavily subsidized ($16.8 million annually) by state funds (an indirect subsidy to the telecommunication carriers.)  This state subsidy is limited. As schools and libraries need more affordable bandwidth not supported by the subsidy, they must pursue other options besides BadgerNet.

Access Wisconsin statement:  UW’s grant claims to serve rural areas but it will also serve more urban areas like Wausau. 

Counterpoint:   As stated above, BadgerNet is less than affordable to many community institutions, in both rural areas and urban areas.

Access Wisconsin statement:  At a time of limited pubic resources, these types of wasteful spending (i.e., UW grant) are unacceptable.

Counterpoint:  Limited resources demand investment in quality services like WiscNet, supported by fair share contributions on a statewide basis.  

General statement: WiscNet and the Building Community Capacity through Broadband (BCCB) grant are killing the Badgernet Converged Network (BCN).

Counterpoint:  The availability of WiscNet services over the BCN are a major part of the value of the BCN.  If WiscNet were no longer a service option, the BCN would still hold much of its value for site to site data connectivity at moderate data speeds, but would lose value as an Internet transport medium.  In fact, many BCN consumers would be financially constrained to obtaining lower quality, but affordable consumer broadband Internet (ie. through Charter Business Cable, or through CenturyTel DSL).  This direction could be a real disservice to the BCN.

The BCCB grant and the Community Area Network (CAN) projects are designed to build local, interconnectivity and the capacity to support large scale collaboration between local resource pools (ie. Universities, Colleges, Hospitals, Clinics, K12 schools Libraries, Emergency Services, and other public entities).  The networks fill a service and infrastructure void, and would allow private telecommunications companies access to a lucrative high end service market that currently does not exist.

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