Wednesday, January 21, 2015

1.22.15 BROAD BAND

This article originally appeared in the 1.22.15 issue of Metroland.

All kinds of fun on the broadband front.  Finally, we’re seeing some leadership that understands the need for real and affordable high-speed internet, as a basic human right, as a public safety necessity, as an economic driver, and as a matter of national security.  The news for now is mostly good, unless the Republicans, who are so whoring for the big internet providers, screw it up.

            First is Governor Cuomo’s re-affirmance of something he’s been bouncing around for a few months—a mega-push to make high-speed internet available everywhere in the state.  What's been proposed is up to half a billion dollars of matching funds for construction of a network that will provide every part of the state with at least 25 mbps internet by 2019.

            Let’s put this in perspective. Prior to this, the New York has kicked in $70 million for internet development.  Now we’re talking a total investment of a billion, if the private money materializes, which it should.  By contrast, over here in Massachusetts there’s an odd little organization called Wired West (which solicits Paypal donations) that’s trying to get towns to underwrite 25 year multi-million dollar bonds to pay for internet infrastructure, which they claim will somehow pay for itself.  Or something.  We’re not holding our breath, and meantime, a whole bunch of us don’t have meaningful service.  It just sucks.

            And the quality of service Cuomo’s talking about is pretty dazzling.  He wants 100 mbps as the standard, but will allow 25 mbps if a showing is made that it’s too difficult to provide the higher speed.  This is most likely a LOT faster internet than you are “enjoying” right now.  My lovely overpriced satellite internet promises “blazing fast” speeds of “up to” 15 mbps, but customer service informs me that anything north of 3 mbps is considered “acceptable”.  100mbps is faster than your cable internet, a lot faster than your DSL, and absurdly faster than your wireless. 

            Of course the devil will be in the details, and the roll-out, the technology, and most importantly, the affordability of all this are yet to be seen.  But it’s bold, and as Cuomo is quick to point out, it’s the biggest state internet initiative in history.

            Over on the Fed side of things, Obama said this the other night in his awesomely excellent State of the Union address: “I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.”

            This dovetails nicely with signals that the FCC will rule for true net neutrality in late February, and with studies from the FCC and the Commerce department that show the utterly dismal current state of real broadband in this country.  The studies tell us what we already know—that there is virtually no competition anywhere in the country for true broadband.  The FCC has gone so far as to propose redefining broadband as 25 mbps and up, which would demolish the internet company and telco arguments that since you have a choice between cable and wireless, why you’ve got competition!  You don’t.  You know you don’t.  That’s not a choice. 

            And finally, both Obama and the FCC have taken aim at state laws that forbid municipalities from forming their own broadband companies.  Yes, these laws exist in over 20 states, written by the big internet service companies and passed with waves of cash thrown at legislators.  There’s apparently some talking point about how these laws protect taxpayers, but of course they don’t.  They simply prop up the bloated, pampered, corrupt monopolies that are helmed by the likes of Comcast and Time Warner.  In states where these laws don’t exist, cities like Chattanooga, Seattle, and LaFayette, LA have installed city-owned networks, structured much like municipal electric systems, that deliver affordable and ridiculously fast (up to 1 gbps !!!) internet service to an adoring public.  This is the kind of thing that attracts businesses to your town.  Big time.

            Of course, since Obama’s for it, the Republicans are against it.  And because it’s a no-brainer, their arguments make no sense at all.  Net-neutrality is “government regulation” which, of course, is always bad.  Corporate butt-boy Ted Cruz has been making increasingly imbecilic remarks about net neutrality, like a conceptual art project to show how stupid his constituents are. Obama’s attacks on the protectionist state laws are an affront to “states’ rights,” which of course was what justified slavery in the 1800’s.  The fact that the Republicans are simply trying to prop up their corporate benefactors is lost on no one who is paying attention.

            With the current climate in Washington, maybe nothing will get done.  As I write this, congressional Republicans are trying to dismantle the FCC on behalf of their corporate overlords.  It’ll be a fight to the finish.

Paul Rapp, like Gregory Peck in “Duel in the Sun”, is a lecherous, amoral cowboy... wait!  wrong movie!  Paul Rapp, like Gregory Peck in “To Kill A Mockingbird”, is a dapper and civic-minded attorney devoted to social justice and good bourbon.


Thursday, January 08, 2015



This article has nothing to do with the slayings in Paris, but like Wikileaks says, you ain't Charlie
unless you're ready to post the most offensive cartoons the dead cartoonists drew.

This article originally ran in the 1.8.15 issue of Metroland.

Don’t know about you, but I hardly use paper anymore.  When I opened my own law practice almost eleven years ago, I was going through paper like there was no tomorrow.  I bought big boxes of bulk printing paper, bought ink cartridges 5 at a time, had piles of envelopes, binders, staples, paper clips, multi-colored folders; I drove to warehouses and bought big filing cabinets; my most prominent pieces of office equipment were my printer, my shredder, and my 3-hole punch.  I had a small library of reference books.  My Staples reward card held the coveted first position in my wallet.

            Those days are long gone.  Almost everything I do, from correspondence, to court filings, to filings at the Patent and Trade Office, the Copyright Office and various state agencies, is all done on the internet.  With the notable exception of the Copyright Office, which hosts the most atrocious, clunky, and user-unfriendly online filing system ever devised, these sites typically provide seamless filing and payment systems.  This eliminates not just paper, but going to the post office or some government office building to hand something to a bored, lifeless civil servant. These days, if I use two little packages of printing paper a year, that’s a lot.  I haven’t opened a filing cabinet in months.  I use my 4-in-1 printer primarily to scan things into my computer.  If I need to fax something (a rarity), I scan it and use an online fax service.  Virtually all of my research is done online. I’ve moved my binder clips into the kitchen, and enlisted them for closing food packages.  It’s fabulous.  I can practice law from my couch, or anywhere that has wifi.

            It’s a minor annoyance when I learn I actually have to file a physical document somewhere.  What?  Are we living in the stone age here or what?  State and local court systems, chronically underfunded, are just now starting to transition to electronic filing, but it’s going oh-so-slowly.  Last year I had to do a state appellate filing that required me to produce something like 11 bound copies of my brief and the trial court record, literally thousands of pages, with special colored-paper covers, and some weird page numbering system.  I was tearing my hair out trying to get it all right, and then loaded up a couple of heavy boxes and drove them to the courthouse.  It was expensive, time-consuming, nerve-wracking and fundamentally unnecessary.  In my mind I could see the court clerks unbinding one copy of my filing, scanning it into the court’s computer system, and throwing everything else away.  It’s what I would do. 

            So, it’s with some excitement that I can report the U.S. Supreme Court just announced that it, too, was going to begin building an online filing system.  The Court is legendarily Ludditetic; several justices don’t use computers or even cellphones, they write draft briefs long-hand, they send hand-written notes to each other.  The Court’s severe lack of computer and digital literacy regularly goes on display when there’s an oral argument in a case involving high-tech issues—questions are garbled or nonsensical, and often a justice will admit, in open court, that he or she doesn’t understand what the case is about.  It’s kind of funny and extremely scary, when you consider that these are the folks with the final say in matters involving intellectual property, privacy, telecommunications, pretty much everything involving a high-tech world that they neither understand nor are active participants in.  Hopefully the Justices’ clerks, typically recent law-school grads, are a little more hep to that jazzy digital noise all the kids are so crazy about.  For now, they’re our only hope that the Court’s decisions will make any sense.

            Oh yeah, and you won’t get to see any of this embarrassing court behavior because the Supreme Court doesn’t allow broadcasts of its sessions.  Which is ridiculous and a whole ‘nother topic.

            But I digress!  The good news is that starting sometime next year, all filings to the Court will be done electronically as well as (for now) on paper.  While this won’t impact any of our day-to-day lives, the Court also promises to post all court filings on its website, where the public can see them for free.  Previously, we had to use hyper-expensive online services like Westlaw or Lexis to get these documents, or scrounge around online to see if anyone had posted them.

            To most of you, this must seem banal, and almost like reading something that was written 15 years ago.  But for legal-minded folk, it’s a big deal.  Huge-a! And maybe the efficiencies this will bring to the Court will breed a little bit of an understanding and appreciation on the part of the Justices about how the world actually functions these days.

Paul Rapp is an affable Berkshire Mountain lawyer who is about to find out what a -40 degree wind chill evening is like.