Comcast Merger Wrap-up and Anti-Monopoly Policy - Community Broadband Bits Episode 148

In the aftermath of the Comcast/TWC merger being effectively denied by the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission, we thought it was a key moment to focus on antitrust/anti-monopoly policy in DC. To discuss this topic, we talk this week with Teddy Downey, Executive Editor and CEO of the Capitol Forum as well as Sally Hubbard, Capitol Forum senior correspondent and expert on antitrust.

We start off with the basics of why the Comcast takeover of Time Warner Cable posed a problem that regulators were concerned with. From there, we talk more about the cable industry and whether other mergers will similarly alarm regulators.

We end with a short discussion of what states can do to crack down on monopolies and the abuse of market power. Along the way, we discuss whether DC is entering a new era of antimonopoly policy or whether this merger was just uniquely troubling.

We learned about Teddy and Sally from Barry Lynn at the New America Foundation, who we had previously interviewed for one of my favorite shows, episode 83.

Read the transcript from our discussion with Sally and Teddy here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

FTTH Adding Value to Apartments and Condos, Studies Show

Urban real estate investors take note: FTTH has come of age in the multi-dwelling unit marketplace. (MDU). When looking for new homes, many more renters and owners are now considering FTTH a necessity.

Several studies have established that fiber raises the value of single family homes by $5,000 - $6,000 on a home valued at $300,000. A July 2014 survey, commissioned by Broadband Communities magazine and conducted by RVA LLC indicates that similar results influence MDUs. Clearly, access to FTTH adds measurable value to real estate.

The study examined numerous factors related to knowledge, use, satisfaction, and adoption of FTTH related to MDUs. RVA broke down the results by age, economics, and education attained. While some results were surprising, others were predictable. For example, level of education attained is not necessarily consistent with knowledge of the benefits of FTTH. The study reflects that those with a graduate degree did not have the same appreciation for the technology as those with some college less than a four-year degree.

The level of satisfaction when comparing FTTH to cable, DSL, wireless, and satellite options was not surprising. Of course, fiber-to-the-home far out performed any other technology.

The survey also found that access to broadband has become as important as other utilities: 

Overall, survey respondents indicated that broadband was, indeed, their top amenity. This finding confirms other recent polling and provides finer-grained details: For MDU unit owners, access to good broadband is now the top amenity by a large margin. Renters rated broadband second in terms of amenity importance, close behind “in-unit washer/dryer.” Broadband was valued highly in all types of buildings but especially in student housing and in luxury buildings.

FTTH can influence sale value by 3 percent and rental value by 8 percent. The additional revenue to the building owner far outweighs the initial investment:

For an MDU building owner, outfitting an apartment with FTTH would yield $972 more annual rental revenue and $209 more revenue from lower vacancy rates, the survey shows. Having FTTH at the site would also result in a $120 savings in marketing, administration and maintenance stemming from 31 percent lower churn and more word-of-mouth advertising, according to the survey.

In a May 2014 American Planning Association report, Investing in Place [PDF], researchers asked Millenials, Boomers, and Gen Xers to rank their priorities for urban landscapes:

When asked about high priorities for metro areas, Active Boomers cited high-speed Internet access and affordable housing equally at 65 percent each, which was second only to safe streets (79 percent). Millennials ranked internet service third with 58 percent; safe streets cited first with 76 percent and affordable housing cited second with 71 percent. Generation Xers also ranked Internet service third with 51 percent; safe streets was first (69 percent) and affordable housing was second (57 percent).

These same three metro features also were cited in the same order by three of the four different types of communities — urban, suburban, and small town — and each of the four regions. 

Fiber it quickly becoming on par with considerations of floor plan, natural light, and location. From the Broadband Communities survey:

MDU developers and managers should be marketing broadband, especially FTTH broadband, more aggressively. This is especially true given that broadband is the only amenity (in the list respondents used) that cannot be seen with the naked eye. 

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 25

The big news this week was about the fall of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger. We like to think it was because of our incredibly brilliant, insightful (also: "witty", "pithy", "charming"...) letter to Comcast.

Once Comcast’s Deal Shifted to a Focus on Broadband, Its Ambitions Were Sunk By JONATHAN MAHLER, New York Times

At the end of the day, the government’s commitment to maintaining a free and open Internet did not square with the prospect of a single company controlling as much as 40 percent of the public’s access to it… it didn’t really matter if Comcast and Time Warner’s cable markets overlapped. The real issue was broadband.

Blocking Comcast Is a Start. But if We Want Better Broadband, We Need Much More by Peter Kafka, Re/Code

'Fast, fair and open:' FCC Chairman lays out his big picture for broadband, WRAL TechWire

In case you missed it, here is a transcript of Chairman Wheeler’s remarks to Broadband Communities in Austin. 

“Our idea of rock stars would be the leaders of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina.”

Community Broadband News by State

California

Digital debate: SF supervisors mull connecting the masses with citywide broadband network by Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner

“Fiber broadband lines are exactly the same as highway and roads,” Brooks said. “It’s a thing all governments need to put in as a government service so that all people and all businesses can go nuts on that system, enjoy the system and make loads of money.”

Brooks said The City would ultimately recoup the costs with businesses “chomping at the bit” to use a fast city-owned broadband service, which would charge them less than other private services like Comcast.

“We are way behind the curve and the way to get ahead of the curve is to just build out a public system,” he said.

Maryland

Boone talks Internet expansion by Dorian Mitchell, My Eastern Shore Maryland

“When you see kids in their dad’s pickup truck in the library parking lot on Sundays, trying to connect to the Internet, that’s what we call a Third-World issue,” he said. “That shouldn’t be happening in this country.”

Boone said the project involves a theoretical “ring” of dark fiber-optic cable, starting in the Fairlee area and possibly extending as far west as U.S. Route 301, that would encircle the existing structures in Kent County. This ring would allow a provider to “light” the cable and beam their services all over the county.

“We’re looking to keep the price at zero,” he said. “We’re not looking to create revenue, our goal is to give it (service) away as much as possible without being in the red.”

Massachusetts

Hilltown officials puzzle over broadband costs by Diane Broncaccio, The Recorder

Michigan

VIDEO: Southern Michigan’s Rural Broadband Revolution

In the 1930s, electric cooperatives were formed to bring power and light to the rural space. Today, Midwest Energy Cooperative is again responding to the needs of those who are unserved and underserved as a result of geography by leveraging the utility fiber communications system to offer a true high-speed internet solution to its members. 

Minnesota

Economic Development and Fiber, Pots and Pans

New Mexico

SF [Santa Fe] launches $1M broadband infrastructure project by T.S. Last, Albquerque Journal

“Here’s the government doing what it’s supposed to do: helping out its citizenry,” he said, comparing the project to streets and highways. “It’s one of these things that this is a lot more important than it may appear to be. Improving people’s access to the Internet will help increase what they are able to do and its effects will be felt for a long time.”

New York

Expansion of high speed Internet can help region stay competitive by Elizabeth Cooper, Utica Observer-Dispatch

Broadband for everyone by 2019! The new state budget included a $500 million allocation for the expansion of high speed Internet, and it's slated to be complete by the end of 2018.

Oregon

Oregon Changes State Tax Law to Lure Google Fiber by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Other Broadband News

Smart Cities: It's More Than Broadband by John M. Eger, Huffington Post

Nothing could be more timely or important as this signal to cities that our future, the future of America in the Internet age, depends on renewing, often reinventing, our cities for the global, knowledge economy.

In every study about economic development, the importance of broadband Internet services is mentioned prominently. Given the realignment of power in the world -- from nations to cities to individuals -- what the city does or does not do can determine their community's success and survival, or its demise; and as such, will determine the nation's success or failure.

Look to the States on Broadband by The Editorial Board, New York Times

Bloomberg's 'What Works Cities' Initiative Targets 100 Mid-Sized Metros by Colin Wood, GovTech

The $42 million, three-year program will provide expertise and time to cities that want data-driven solutions for their biggest challenges.

Broadband and Real Estate by Doug Dawson, Pots and Pans

The numbers behind the broadband ‘homework gap’ by John B Horrigan, Pew Research Institute

ECFiber Seeks New Business Model Designation

ECFiber hopes to transform its business model in order to attract investors, reported Valley News in February. The organization is now an "inter-local contract," an entity somewhat unique to Vermont, but seeks to change to a "telecommunications union district." Similar to a municipal utility district, the telecommunications union district is created by two or more municipalities. The new business model would not change ECFiber's governance or require financial support from local towns but officials believe it would attract more outside investors.

Last year, ECFiber announced it would expand in 2015, seeking large scale funding to help speed up deployment. Since 2008, the organization has raised over $6 million for deployment from individual investors and now serves more than 1,000 subscribers. Unfortunately, this method financing slows expansion. The results are bad for ECFiber and bad for local consumers:

“The worst thing (about ECFiber’s delay) is a lot of the people who wanted to have it weren’t able to get it right away,” said [ECFiber Treasurer John] Roy.

At this point, FairPoint, Northern New England’s provider of land-line service, is able to reach more rural areas than ECFiber with its high-speed Internet service. But, FairPoint’s speeds of up to 30 megabits per second are slower than the 400 megabits per second ECFiber’s cables can provide, said Roy.

“If we’re going to get this job done before the end of this decade, we need to step up the rate,” said [Irv] Thomae [ECFiber's Governing Board Chariman].

It would take another 17 - 18 years to deploy 1,600 miles of fiber, the ECFiber goal. If the organization can raised $40 million from larger investors, that period can be reduced to 3 - 5 years, estimated Roy.

In order to achieve the business model change, ECFiber seeks approval from the State Legislature, which will create a union district via H 353 [PDF]. Local communities served by ECFiber must also approve the measure by ballot at their Town Meetings. Thetford approved the measure in February and ECFiber officials expected other communities to follow with no surprises.

Local communities may have no problem taking care of business, but the same cannot be said for state leaders. H 353 and two others are stalled in the State Legislature's Commerce and Economic Development Committee, reports VTDigger. All three bills are designed to help advance rural broadband development but have been put on the back burner while the committee deals with other matters.

Rep. Jim Masland from Theford introduced H 353. He told Valley News that he was optimistic about passage and that "it shouldn't be controversial." Hopefully, the committee can tend to the bill quickly this session so ECFiber can continue to do its good work. Delay only benefits Fairpoint and harms consumers who want better services from a local, accountable, publicly minded network provider.

Ammon Brings Local Connectivity to Idaho Schools as State Education Network Goes Dark

The City of Ammon's municipal fiber network recently stepped in to provide primary broadband access for School District 93 as the state's educational network went dark reports Local News 8. Watch the video of local coverage below.

When a judge ruled last year that the Idaho Education Network (IEN) contract between the state Department of Administration was void, an education broadband crisis loomed across the state. As the drama played out, however, local networks such as Ammon's muni, have come to the rescue to keep students connected.

Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham described an attitude characteristic of municipal networks:

"I think it's just something we do in the spirit of collaboration, and I think that's always important because when we talk about the school district and the city it's all the same people, and so anytime we can keep costs down it benefits everyone involved," Kirkham said.

CenturyLink and Education Networks of America (ENA) were providers under the contract voided last year. As CenturyLink and ENA cut off service to schools, forcing them to negotiate their own contracts, they have discovered better, more affordable broadband from local providers like Ammon.  A recent Idaho State Journal reported on several school districts:

The state, under the now-void IEN contract, had been paying Education Networks of America more than $6,000 a month for a 20 Mbps Internet service to Rockland School District. The school district will pay less than a third of that cost for a new 100 Mbps service next year.

The State Journal also discovered that numerous school districts had used fiber optic service from local providers but were forced to switch to slower service in order to obtain the IEN reimbursement. In order to get the reimbursement, West Side School District had to switch from fiber from Direct Communications, a local company, to a slow copper T1 connection from CenturyLink:

Once the IEN contract was in place, the Idaho taxpayers were saddled with paying over $8000 a month for outdated copper service to that same location.

[Direct Communications Marketing Director Brigham] Griffin said Preston [School District] was in the same boat. It had been getting fiber-optic Internet from Direct Communications, but had to switch to copper to have the state pick up the tab.

“Preston School District will now receive double their previous speed for about a fifth of the monthly cost,” Griffin said.

Though it is incredibly frustrating to see how Idaho has hurts its schools while funnelling extra tax dollars to CenturyLink, it is not as rare as you might think. Many states have these kind of "deals" with the large phone companies. We have long covered the depressing story in Wisconsin, where AT&T has successfully lobbied to hobble WiscNet, an arrangement that brings tremendous cost savings to local budgets and better connections to schools. 

This is more evidence for a point we have long made: building better networks does not necessary have to cost a lot more. We spend so much money inefficiently that eliminating these crony capitalism deals would free up significant funds to be spent more wisely.

In Ammon, Mayor Kirkham summed up the situation:

"This is always an argument for local control so whenever you have local control, then you aren't at the mercy of the decisions being made higher up the ladder and so this is one of those instances where you see that being played out," Kirkham said. 

Video: 
See video

San Francisco Looks to Expand Muni Fiber and Wi-Fi

San Francisco has long been considered a modern, glittering, tech capital. For years its leaders have struggled with ensuring residents and businesses actually had next-generation Internet access as AT&T and Comcast only provide the same basic services that are available in most cities. In a recent Backchannel article, Susan Crawford discusses how the City by the Bay is taking steps to develop its vision, its long-term plan, and hopefully a network that will improve connectivity in a city of over 800,000 8.5 million.

San Francisco has developed an Information and Communication Technology Plan, which still needs approval from the City Board of Supervisors. According to the article, the plan calls on the city to take an incremental approach on its path to improved connectivity. They plan to use a similar method as Santa Monica by connecting municipal facilities - many of which are already connected via fiber - and then shedding expensive leased circuits. By eliminating that expense, the city will cut $1.3 million for Internet access and networking services from its connectivity costs.

Last year the City also put dig once policies in place, a decision other communities attribute as one of the keys to a cost-effective deployment. Like Santa Monica, the City currently leases dark fiber to ISPs. They plan to entice more ISPs who want to bring broadband to residents and businesses by expanding that practice. San Francisco plans to streamline the process and work with developers on strategically linking new developments to Internet hubs with dark fiber.

As Crawford notes, the City has created free Wi-Fi in select areas of town with plans to serve public housing and commercial corridors. Miquel Gamiño, San Francisco's CIO, told Crawford they hope to make Wi-Fi available on a larger scale:

Gamiño’s dream is that San Franciscans and visitors will be connected to that service at all times: “I would love for people to come here, or live here, and feel as if they are just connected, woven into this fabric that exists in thin air,” he says. Consolidating the brand so that every public open network is labeled #SFWiFi will ensure that users perceive the city’s role in providing public WiFi. 

Crawford believes the City is on the right path by investing in more fiber throughout the community:

In the bigger picture, San Francisco will require fiber to businesses and homes. You can’t have a WiFi connection without a wire — that would be like having an airplane but no airports. And the WiFi connections used by both citizens and city infrastructure (“phoning home” via sensors about weather, water, air pollution, transport, energy use, and a host of other indicators of the city’s wellbeing) will be generating — uploading — mountains of data that will need wires on which to travel anywhere at all.

...

Fiber and WiFi are complementary, in other words. And that’s where long-term planning will be essential.

For more about Santa Monica's incremental approach, check out Chris's interview with CIO Jory Wolf in Episode #90 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. You can also learn about their strategy in our detailed report, Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network. 

LUS Fiber Brings Free Wi-Fi to Airport

LUS Fiber is now sharing its municipal gigabit network with travelers at the Lafayette Regional Airport, reports KLFY News 10. According to the article, free Wi-Fi is available at the airport supported by LUS Fiber.

“Today’s travelers expect to stay connected when they are away from the office or home. With complimentary WiFi, guests can check important email, post to social media and browse the Internet,” said Steven Picou, Executive Director of Lafayette Regional Airport. “We recognize that to deliver complimentary Internet access contributes towards a positive customer impression of the airport, as well as Lafayette.”

LUS Fiber and the city of Lafayette has recently attracted a number of high tech companies and understands the value of first impressions. The airport is the perfect place to dazzle visiting potential employers:

“We know that businesses choose to come to Lafayette for a variety of reasons and many have cited our 100% fiber-optic network as one of those reasons,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel. “As a gateway to Lafayette, we want visitors to experience the ultra high speeds of a Gigabit Internet connection, from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.”

Lincoln, Illinois, Once Again Looking at Fiber

Lincoln, Illinois, has contemplated investing in a fiber-optic municipal network since 2009 and, while they have not taken steps to deploy yet, the community appears to be ready to dive in. The Lincoln Courier reports that the City Council recently considered investing $100,000 to deploy fiber in the downtown business district.

Lincoln, located right in the center of the state, is home to approximately 14,500 people. At the meeting, City Administrator Clay Johnson described the need as essential for economic development:

"Fiber optics are the sewer and water for economic development; what businesses look for when they want to locate in your area or expand in your are is, ‘do they have access to high speed internet’ and in a lot of areas, no they don’t."

Johnson believes that existing fiber from local Lincoln College could be integrated into a network that would eventually lead to better access to businesses and as backhaul for downtown Wi-Fi. His "extremely preliminary" estimate is $140,000 - $160,000 for a fiber connection from the college down one of the main commercial corridors.

He also suggested that a long-term plan would include connectivity for local schools as a cost-saving measure.

In 2009, former Mayor Keith Snyder's administration embraced the idea of investing in municipal fiber infrastructure as part of a downtown revitalization plan. In 2012 the community received a $600,000 grant of which $16,500 was dedicated to develop an initial plan for a network. City leaders ultimately decided to direct remaining funds toward other projects in 2012 and the City Council is once again taking up the possibility of fiber.

In Reedsburg, Expansion Weighed After Muni Fiber Success - Community Broadband Bits Episode 147

The first gigabit city in Wisconsin, Reedsburg, has a municipal fiber network operated by the city-owned electric utility. This week, we talk with General Manager of the Utility Commission, Brett Schuppner. Reedsburg fiber goes back to 2003, which makes it one of the oldest FTTH networks in the nation.

Located about an hour outside of Madison, Reedsburg has seen more investment from local industrial businesses because of its fiber network. They received a broadband stimulus award to expand their network into some surrounding rural areas and are now considering how they can continue expanding the network deeper into surround Sauk County without federal assistance.

We talk about what goes into these expansion discussions - what is the dynamic when one community has a great network and the County would like it to expand?

Read all of our Reedsburg coverage here.

Read the transcript from this conversation here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 13 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Gigabit Networks and Utah: March 24th Luncheon and Webcast

On Friday, April 24th, make plans to attend the Utah and Broadband Breakfast Club Luncheon Event. If you can't make it in person, attend the webcast. The topic: Gigabit Networks in Utah.

From the announcement:

In announcing in late March that Google Fiber will expand to Salt Lake City (its eighth metropolitan area nationwide), the broadband world turned its envying eyes on Utah. With Google Fiber in Provo and now Salt Lake -- and with Gigabit Networks available in the 11 cities served by the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, or UTOPIA -- Utah is poised to be the first state where a substantial portion of its residents have access to the fastest-possible broadband internet services.

What does Google's investments say about the economic health and technology-savvy nature of Utah? What do cities and citizens get from Google Fiber that they haven't gotten from traditional telecom companies? And, for cities and states seeking to get a Gig, what are the best options to build and enhance Gigabit Networks?

A panel of experts will discuss what Google and Gig networks mean to Utah and its citizens. The webcast is free and the event is $25 for Nonmembers of the Utah Breakfast Club or $15 for Members. Lunch will be served at the Utah State Capitol at 11:30 a.m. MT and the panel discussion will and webcast will start at 2 p.m. ET/Noon MT.

As a bonus, you may now obtain a free three-month trial membership to the Utah Breakfast Club.

Panelists will be:

  • Devin Baer, Head of Fiber Business, Salt Lake, Google
  • Paul Cutler, Mayor, City of Centerville, Utah
  • Justin Jones, Vice President, Public Policy and Communications, Salt Lake Chamber
  • David Shaw, Shareholder, Kirton McConkie; Chair, Government and Utilities Practice Group
  • Moderated by Drew Clark, Of Counsel, Kirton McConkie; Founder, Utah Breakfast Club

Register online for the webcast or buy tickets for the live event.