Agency and Structure at Work in Municipal Wireless Broadband Adoption

Community owned and operated wireless broadband is one of the fronts in a widespread battle over the future what Benkler (2006) considers the ‘institutional ecology’ of the Internet, or all of the social, political, and economic constitutive choices faced by society as it grapples with the implications of the network.  In essence, the series of choices and decisions will determine the extent of agency and constraint, as described by Croteau, Hoynes, and Milan (2012), provided or imposed over various public and private stakeholders in institutional ecology of the network.  The future of municipal wireless broadband represents one such choice faced by society with important implications for the future of network access.

According to the FCC (2011), “broadband is a foundation
for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life” (p. xi).  Yet, the FCC (2011) also notes that more than 100 million Americans lack broadband access at home, roughly a third of the country.  Benkler (2006) describes the problem as a last mile problem, meaning the last mile to the home is often the most expensive mile for infrastructure providers, particularly in rural areas, or urban areas that lack an economically attractive demographic for private industry.  Moreover, Benkler (2006) advocates the buildout of municipal wireless broadband because of the positive externalities that municipalities have to gain, such as increased economic growth, improved healthcare, or lower unemployment.  Indeed, Ferree (2011), investigated the impact of broadband adoption on employment rates and unemployment, finding that  “broadband adoption has a positive impact on a county’s employment growth rate and a negative impact on a county’s unemployment rate” (p. 34).  In addition, Kolko (2006) found significant evidence of a persistent digital divide, particularly in low-income urban areas.  Moreover, Kolko’s (2006) study suggested strong evidence that increased urban broadband use translated to users seeking healthcare information online.  Thus, municipal wireless broadband can be a particularly attractive solution for both urban and rural areas suffering from the digital divide, and can create positive externalities for municipalities seeking to improve their communities.  What stands in the way?

In The National Broadband Plan, the FCC (2011) acknowledges the challenge in municipal broadband wireless deployments as a policy issue, resolving to “clarify the congressional mandate allowing state and local entities to provide broadband in their communities and do so in ways that use public resources more effectively” (p. xii).   The congressional mandate referenced is none other than the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which states that “no State or local statute or regulation, or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service” (United States. Congress., 1996, Section 253).  Despite the clarity of the law, municipalities seeking to implement municipal broadband networks, have faced intense political and legal challenges from telecommunications industry actors.  The city of Abilene, Texas sought to implement a broadband network, however was prevented from doing so, given Southwestern Bell “persuaded the Texas legislature to pass a law that prohibited local governments from providing high-speed Internet access” (Benkler, 2006, p. 407).  After appeal, the Federal Appeals Court in Washington D.C. ruled that ‘any’ did not mean municipalities and the city was prevented from moving forward (Benkler, 2006).  This is but one example of the constraints faced by municipalities in seeking the derive the positive externalities of broadband by implementing their own network in the face of tension from corporate interests.

Of course, telecommunications corporations do not want to see the rise of municipal broadband because of the challenge to their oligopoly.  Therefore, there are intense efforts at lobbying underway.  Comcast Corporation, one of the largest broadband providers in the nation, is also one of the nations largest lobbying spenders, spending nearly $20M in 2011 alone (, 2012).  Moreover, Comcast sits on the Communications and Technology Board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative, free market bill mill that produces draft bills for federal and state legislators (, 2012).  ALEC’s position on municipal broadband favors the telecommunication’s industry arguing that municipal broadband networks could negatively affect free markets and “erode consumer choice by making markets less attractive to competition because of the government’s expanded role as a service provider (ALEC, 2012, p. 1).  However, Sadowski and De Pender (2009) found that the presence of municipal broadband actually increased competition.  It appears to this author that the arguments against municipal broadband by telecommunications providers are more oriented towards preserving their interests rather than serving the public interest, which is exactly what a publicly-owned corporation should do.  In fact, the reason the digital divide exists, is because telecommunications providers have serviced the segment of the population that can afford broadband, a behavior that is expected.  However, their desire to constrain the agency of municipalities that are not being served is both self-serving and an obstruction of social and economic progress.


ALEC. (2012). Communications and Technology  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks : how social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press.

Croteau, D., Hoynes, W., & Milan, S. (2012). Media/society : industries, images, and audiences (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE.

FCC. (2011). Connecting American: The National Broadband Plan.  Washington DC: FCC Retrieved from

Ferree, P. E. (2011). The effect of broadband Internet adoption on local labor markets. Master Public Policy in Public Policy, Georgetown University, Georgetown. Retrieved from

Kolko, J. (2006). Why should cities provide wireless broadband access? Paper presented at the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference. Available at SSRN: (2012). Lobbying Spending Database: Top Spenders  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

Sadowski, B. M., & De Pender, M. (2009). Do municipal broadband networks foster network competition?: Case study evidence from the Netherlands. Paper presented at the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference. Available at SSRN: (2012). Comcast Corporation – SourceWatch  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

United States. Congress. (1996). Telecommunications Act of 1996. (0160534887). Washington DC: U.S. G.P.O. : For sale by the U.S. G.P.O., Supt. of Docs., Congressional Sales Office Retrieved from

The Demise of the USSR: A Failure to Evolve Administrative Doctrine?

On December 25, 1991, the U.S.S.R. was officially dissolved as a state entity after roughly six years of the most ambitious attempt at reinvention of government in modern history.  Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, openness and restructuring, sought to reform the existing political and economic systems, given the failure of the U.S.S.R’s centrally planned economy (Moss & Thomas, 2010).  The inefficiency of the U.S.S.R.’s command economy resulted in the country’s inability to compete as a world power on the global stage with the United States (Shafritz, Russell, & Borick, 2011).  The subsequent dissolution of the U.S.S.R serves as a reminder of the important link between a state’s administrative doctrine and the well being of its citizens.  Indeed, effective administrative doctrine is essential for the successful public administration of state, given it is a key driver of the effectiveness of state institutions that can positively or negatively affect the well-being of constituents and the survival of the state on the global stage.

Early Soviet administrative doctrine was heavily influenced by Western schools of thought in pubic administration (Cocks, 1978).  In particular, the Soviet administrative rationality movement of the 1920s and 1930s, adopted many of Taylor and Fayol’s principles of scientific management (Cocks, 1978).  However, the USSR focused on the technical production aspects of scientific management and appeared unable to adopt Fayol’s managerial principles as they dealt with “coordination, control, organization, planning, and command of people” (Shafritz, et al., 2011, p. 231); issues that would affect the landscape of Soviet political power (Cocks, 1978).  Rather, “the rationalizers were to deal only with administrative methods; they were not to decide issues of policy and power” (Cocks, 1978, p. 46).  The limits placed on rational administrative doctrine by the Soviet party apparatus all but assured the rational movement would be unable to evolve to address the failures of the centrally planned economy.

In truth, while administrative doctrine in the U.S.S.R appeared to be unable to evolve, the history of western organizational theory demonstrates a consistent evolution and adoption of new scientific thought.  Shafritz, et al. (2011) note that paradigms in administrative doctrine “overlap both in time and content because they are constantly evolving” (p. 245), in response to scientific advances, technological changes, and changing environments, describing doctrinal development as “inherently cyclical”.  Furthermore, Shafritz, et al. (2011) attribute the cyclical nature of administrative doctrine to a competence/incompetence cycle whereby new innovations increase effectiveness until “advancing technologies and changing environments allow the innovation to deteriorate relative to other arrangements” (p. 246), noting striking similarity to the boom and bust cycles of the business world.

Indeed, both the boom and bust cycle of the business world and the competence and incompetence cycle of large organizations share similar roots in human biological and social processes.  Raafat, Chater, and Frith (2009) describe herding behavior in humans as “as the alignment of the thoughts or behaviours of individuals in a group (herd) through local interaction and without centralized coordination” and use the herding metaphor to explore the very human proclivity to follow the behavior of others preceding them, particularly should they appear successful.  Herding behavior, in this sense, can be used to describe why best practices and even benchmarking are commonplace.  Of course, the downside to herding is that individual or groups are unlikely to wander far from the herd, either, resulting in maintenance of the status quo until such time as there is an internal or external shock that creates a need for change to begin the innovation cycle anew.

Of course, the USSR administrative doctrine did not follow the competence and incompetence cycle and as a result, appeared unable to innovate or evolve their approach to public administration.  The lack of an evolved Soviet public administration doctrine left the state unable to deal with the changing global landscape, nor able to compete with U.S. economic and administrative power, despite the considerable political power of the U.S.S.R.  As the fall of the U.S.S.R demonstrates, effective administrative doctrine is essential for successful public administration of a state, can either positively or negatively affect the well being of constituents, and have implications for the long-term survival of the state.


Cocks, P. (1978). Administrative rationality, political change, and the role of the party. In K. W. Ryavec (Ed.), Soviet society and the Communist Party (pp. xviii, 220 p.). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Moss, G., & Thomas, E. P. (2010). Moving on : the American people since 1945 (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Raafat, R. M., Chater, N., & Frith, C. (2009). Herding in humans. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(10), 420-428.

Shafritz, J. M., Russell, E. W., & Borick, C. P. (2011). Introducing public administration (7th ed.). Boston: Longman.



Immigration and Intergovernmental Relations: How Immigration is Redrawing the Lines of Federalism

In May 2007, Encarnacion Bail Romero, mother of Carlitos Romero, and an undocumented worker in Missouri, was arrested at a poultry plant by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during an immigration raid (Gigler, Ross, & Hill, 2012).   While Romero was incarcerated for an immigration-related law that the Supreme Court later struck down as unconstitutional, the State of Missouri terminated Romero’s parental rights and granted the adoption of Carlitos to a Missouri couple (Cambria, 2012).  After Romero exhausted all legal options, the adoption was upheld by a Missouri Juvenile Court (Ross & Hill, 2012).  Romero’s case is not an isolated incident, as Wessler (2011) found that more than 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were removed from their children in the first half of 2011, and at least 5,100 children of detained or deported undocumented immigrants are in U.S. foster care.  These types of cases highlight the complexity of intergovernmental relations in a federalist system, existing precisely because of the gaps between the patchwork of federal, state, and local immigration laws and policies.  Immigration policy gaps exist because federal, state, and local policymakers disagree over both the aims and means of immigration policy and because federal policy consequences are borne by state and local governments in the form of an unfunded mandate, giving rise to immigrant federalism caused by active state and local governments seeking to create change.

Hoefer, Rytina, and Baker (2012) estimate that there are 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, the majority of which are from Mexico and Central America.  Extreme estimates by conservative, anti-immigration think tank FAIR, suggest that undocumented immigrants cost $113 billion annually, 76% of which is borne by state and local governments (Martin & Ruark, 2010).  Although, the Congressional Budget Office (2007) found that while the costs to state and local governments exceeded the revenues from undocumented immigrations, the budgetary impact was modest.  Furthermore, and Shafritz, Russell, and Borick (2011) and Hanson (2007) both recognize that undocumented immigrants are positive for the U.S. economy.  Why then are state and local governments more active in the legislation and regulation of immigration?

While the lack of reliable statistics give fuel to differing partisan perspectives on the immigration debate, the unequal budgetary burden placed on state and local governments make illegal immigration “the mother of all unfunded mandates” (Shafritz, et al., 2011, p. 164).  It is therefore, little surprise, given both the economic burden and a lack of clear direction from the federal government, that state and local governments are seeking a rearrangement of immigrant federalism (Huntington, 2008).  In fact, Huntington (2008) argues that the immigration debate should be considered through a lens of federalism to determine proper allocation of power between the various levels of government, rather than having the federal government preempt all immigration law and policy decisions.  Huntington’s (2008) perspective echoes the notion of incremental decision making inherent in a federal system that Shafritz, et al. (2011) consider “integral to democracy” (p. 140).  Indeed, the tendency towards incrementalism may be one of key reasons for lack of clear immigration policy from the federal government.

Shafritz, et al. (2011) note that in 2007, “at least 1,100 immigration bills were submitted by state lawmakers” (p. 164).   Some of the new legislation is aimed at making illegal immigration less favorable in the jurisdictions of local lawmakers, while other localities enact legislation to make illegal immigration more favorable (Huntington, 2008).  Where some lawmakers are seeking to discourage illegal immigration to reduce the economic consequences of the unfunded mandate, others are seeking to encourage immigration in order to grow their local economies.  There are also some who consider anti-immigration a thinly, veiled attempt to advance a nativist and ultimately racist agenda (Zeskind, 2005).  Indeed, history would suggest that immigration policy has it roots in a discriminatory agenda (U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, 1980).  It is clear that differing policy actors have conflicting views on the aims of U.S. immigration policy, and likely the means.  It is equally clear that the federal government must consider the various policy aims of constituent governments, while also assuring the needs and interests of minority or weaker groups are protected.   It appears to this author that the federalist system of government is both the cause of the slow progress in immigration reform, and responsible for the benefits of the existing immigration policy to various constituents.

Despite the history of incrementalism inherent in a federalist system, the immigration debate has started a new chapter in what appears to be a continual redefinition of federalism to determine where legislative and administrative power resides in immigration policy.  As federal immigration policy consequences are largely borne by state and local governments, the last decade has seen the rise of immigrant federalism creating a patchwork of federal, state, and local immigration laws that clearly disagree over both the aims and means of national immigration policy.   While the immigration federalism policy debate appears far from over, the urgency to improve immigration policy is clear, because existing policy allows the U.S. citizen children to be involuntarily taken from their undocumented immigrant parents, a situation that should never occur in a country built on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Cambria, N. (2012, July 19, 2012). Judge gives Missouri couple custody of illegal immigrant’s child  Retrieved August 4,, 2012, from

Congressional Budget Office. (2007). The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments.  Washington DC: U.S. Congress: Congressional Budget Office Retrieved from

Gigler, L., Ross, B., & Hill, A. M. (2012, February 1, 2012). Adoption Battle Over 5-Year Old Boy Pits Missouri Couple Vs. Illegal Immigrant  Retrieved August 4, 2012, from – .UB1uVI6_FLo

Hanson, G. H. (2007). The economic logic of illegal immigration. Council on Foreign Relations, 26(April 2007), 1-52.

Hoefer, M., Rytina, N., & Baker, B. (2012). Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2011.  Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security Retrieved from

Huntington, C. (2008). The consistutional dimension of immigration federalism. Vanderbilt Law Review, 61(3), 787-853.

Martin, J., & Ruark, E. (2010). The fiscal burden of illegal immigration on United States taxpayers (pp. 1-95). Washington DC: Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Ross, B., & Hill, A. M. (2012, July 18, 2012). Tug-of-Love: Immigrant Mom Loses Effort to Regain Son Given to US Parents  Retrieved August 4, 2012, from – .UB1t-o6_FLo

Shafritz, J. M., Russell, E. W., & Borick, C. P. (2011). Introducing public administration (7th ed.). Boston: Longman.

U.S. Commission On Civil Rights. (1980). Historical dimiscrimination in the immigration laws. In R. Fiske-Rusciano (Ed.), Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Wessler, S. F. (2011). Shatter Families: The Perilous intersection of immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System: Executive Summary (pp. 1-10). New York, New York: Applied Research Center.

Zeskind, L. (2005, October 23, 2005). The new nativism. The American Prospect  Retrieved August 10, 2011, from