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Alabama Broadband Initiative Contract Reveals That Telecoms Receive More Protection than Consumers

by: countrycat

Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 11:05:53 AM CST

Alabama Broadband InitiativeHave you ever stopped to consider how much personal information about you, your property, and your family is available to the general public?

Anyone with some time, interest, and a couple of bucks can find out:

  • If you've ever been arrested.
  • Your unlisted telephone number.
  • Your credit history
  • Birth and marriage records, divorce decrees
  • The amount of property you own, where, and the purchase price.

And that just scratches the surface.  Now, some of this is free, but much is available for a fee.  As you know, many companies make big bucks selling personal information.  Information that, if it's incorrect can seriously effect your ability to buy a house, get a job, get insurance, and more.

A lot of us would consider it to be "proprietary information" that should be private and only available to someone with a real need to know.

If only someone offered us consumers the same protections that telecom companies receive.

Yeah I know.  Dream on...


countrycat :: Alabama Broadband Initiative Contract Reveals That Telecoms Receive More Protection than Consumers

Earlier this week, I blogged about the Alabama Broadband Initiative and asked why we have to pay a private, Ohio-based company, CostQuest, $1.7 million to create a map showing who has access to broadband and who doesn't.

It's seemed a perfectly reasonable question:  "Why can't the Alabama Public Service Commission provide that information?"

PSC Commissioner, Susan Parker, answered my question:

"The legislature deregulated much of the telephone industry in 05 so we cannot make them share that info."

Once again, our tax dollars at work.

The service area and service level of telecommunication companies is considered "proprietary information" in Alabama and many other states.  They assert it would "adversely impact" their competitiveness if they were forced to share that data.

hmmmm.... what this really means (I think) is that if everyone knew what poor, spotty service they provide, then competitors might move in to provide better, cheaper service.  Isn't that the essence of free enterprise?

Why aren't both Republicans and Democrats screaming about this racket?  It directly hits some of their core beliefs in different ways - one from a competitive standpoint and one from consumer protecton.

So now we're left with some new questions:

  1. If the information is proprietary, how will CostQuest create a map?
  2. If the information is proprietary and CostQuest manages to pry it out of Bellsouth, AT&T, Comcast, etc., will the data be made public?
  3. If not, what the $%#@ are we spending our money on?
  4. Finally, why is the Alabama Legislature more concerned with protecting the privacy and profits of corporate giants than the pocketbook and quality of life issues of Alabama citizens?

Yes, NormBoyd... #4 is rhetorical.  I think we all know the answer, sadly, and it's    $$$$$$$$.

One thing the committee is doing right is working with the Obama transition team

Kathy Johnson, director of the Alabama Broadband Initiative, said Alabama officials have been talking with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team and hope to receive some financial assistance from an economic incentive plan. Obama has made improving broadband access part of his objective for boosting the economy by improving the nation's infrastructure.

Here's hoping that new leadership in Washington will bring more results and accountability to federal spending.  This project shouldn't just be a conduit for federal money to be funneled through the state to private companies.

Results!  That's one of the changes we really need!

But it seems that the main thing we need in Alabama is for the Legislature to give the Public Service Commission the ability to collect the information it needs to adequately serve the public.  It's just crazy that, in a time of severe budget crisis, we're paying a private company to collect information that our own PSC isn't entitled to.

Yes, much of it is coming from the federal govt., but, last I looked, they're having trouble paying their bills too.

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Surprise, surprise. (4.00 / 1)
 And just where are those tough, Alabama Legislators (from both sides of the aisle who like to try and play "one-up" games against each other about who's more "for the little guy")?

 I still say that a true, dyed-in-the-wool Populist (who was well-funded, naturally; and not the racist kind of "populist") could take Alabama by storm.  Those who hedge, are mealy-mouthed, and who suck-up to the likes of the most rapacious mega-corporations can, and do, certainly win political races in Alabama (because that's pretty much all we have running).  But I contend that there IS room for a person who's actually on the side of 99% of the population, i.e., consumers who get gouged and churned-about at every twist and turn of their lives.

 That Josh Segall did as well as he did (given the CG he ran in, as a young challenger) should be studied by those who have any leanings towards (1) running for public office; and who (2) want to do more for Alabamians than dance to James Dobson's tune or that of Exxon or the cable companies or CostQuest.


Well said, countrycat and bg! (4.00 / 2)

Why doesn't the PSC have any teeth?  Cause corporations don't want them to, that's why, and corporations generally get what they want in Alabama.  Damn right there's room for one or a few dozen true populists running in Alabama to represent the interest of average people instead of corporate CEOs.

And this contract with CostQuest, it sounds to me like Bob Riley's office is taking money from the feds and just passing it on to CostQuest and not one person without broadband access today will get it as a result of this expenditure of tax dollars.  Telecom providers in Alabama should already have to tell the state (the PSC in fact) where they provide services and what services they provide.  Spend that federal money to actually extend broadband service, not just generate a map which may or may not be made public.  Good Lord, our state government is a real mess! 

Work harder and work smarter!

I'm going to sort of defend Gov. Riley here. (4.00 / 2)
But am not disagreeing with you, either.  

I believe that Gov. Riley wants to "do the right thing" here, and I applaud him for it.  But I, too, wonder about who's advising him.  I'm willing to bet it's not someone sinister or nefarious but, rather, a good and trusted adviser or committee or some such thing.

But I think that also this evidences a need for an State Office of Innovation & Technology. (pron. "sweet!", like Cartman).  

Seriously, even if there was only 5 people in such office, who could advise the Governor (let the Leg make its own committees) on such matters, such would be a good thing.  Just having such an Office would say good things about Alabama.

Certainly the Secretary of Commerce, the State Dept of Education, and the Department of Agriculture and Industry, ADECA, the University of Alabama Systems Board of Trustees, etc., all -- to one degree or another -- work with, have experts in (or access to experts in the private sector and in higher education) high tech, alternative energy, cyper-, bio-, nano-tech, but having a permanent adviser, dedicated to being the "go-to" adviser, and idea person/office, in these areas where Alabama has some very good foundations, but which could use some coordinated representation/presence on the Cabinet Level.

I also think a Department of International Affairs should be created.  This would not really eclipse any of the existing responsibilities of the ADO or "oversee" any of the various international initiatives of our colleges and universities or cities, but would be a "go to" place for all initial inquiries of an international nature and could assist in directing people to the right connection or coordinating this or that program or initiative.  And, again, it would add to the prestige of the State as a whole.




[ Parent ]
Didn't mention here (4.00 / 2)

but I did in my previous post, that Riley deserves a lot of credit for recognizing the problem and looking for a solution.

The problem is that the solution they're looking at may not be the best for the state.  And a lot of what they're having to do now is because our PSC doesn't have enough authority.

That should be the next cause he takes up - or someone planning to run for governor or Legislature, or anything.

"Hey Alabama voters!  We're paying out of state, private companies millions to collect information because our PSC has been too weakened by the Legislature to do its job!"

Sounds like a campaign issue to me.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
Great campaign issue (4.00 / 1)
Wonder if any of our gubernatorial hopefuls will comment on the PSC's lack of authority?

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]
Call me a cynic (4.00 / 2)

But I think all they get credit for is recognizing a problem and offering an imaginary solution.

I used to have a boss who said "Real problems need real solutions.  Imaginary problems need imaginary solutions."

I still believe that to be good advice.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

[ Parent ]
Forgot to mention (4.00 / 1)
The Benefit or Boondoggle icon is very nice.

Work harder and work smarter!

Thought we needed a logo (4.00 / 1)

if we're going to stay on this issue.

And of course, I LOVES me some alliteration....

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
The PSC response (4.00 / 3)

Reminds me of how ADEM does not have the authority to enforce violations of Alabama environmental regulations.

All they can do if they find something, is yell "Citizen's arrest, citizen's arrest" like Gomer catching Barney Fife.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

Citizen's Arrest! Citizen's Arrest! (4.00 / 2)

"Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future." - William Wordsworth

[ Parent ]
and at the same time "certain entities" all say, "Well, the PSC . . . (4.00 / 1)
. . . makes and requires that we do this or that so, gosh, our hands are just all tied and everything."

Nevermind that the PSC and those "certain entities" are BFF and, in my opinion, hardly deal at arms length.

It is, indeed, a mess.


[ Parent ]



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