Mediacom Lawyers Slow Competition With Court Time, Resources


When big corporate incumbent providers fear a hint of competition from a new entrant, they pull out all the stops to quash any potential threat. One of the first lines of offense involves the courts. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn and to stop it, Mediacom is reprocessing an old argument. It didn't work the first time, but they are going for it anyway; this is another example of how cable companies try to hobble competitors; just stalling can be a "win."

A Lawsuit In Search Of An Offense

Mediacom has a franchise agreement with Iowa City to offer cable television services and it also provides subscribers the option to purchase Internet access and telephone services. As most of our readers are attuned to these matters, you probably already understand that just any old cable TV provider can’t come into Iowa City and set up shop. State and local law require them to obtain a franchise agreement, which often includes additional obligations in exchange for access to a community’s potential customer base.

According to a 2015 Gazette article, Mediacom provides annual payments for use of the public right-of-way, operates a local office, and provides free basic cable services to local schools and government buildings. These types of commitments are commonplace as part of franchise agreements and are small sacrifices compared to the potential revenue available to Mediacom.

ImOn started offering Internet access and phone services to Iowa City downtown businesses in January but the company does not offer cable TV services like it does in other Iowa municipalities. ImOn doesn't have a franchise agreement with Iowa City but Mediacom says that it should. They argue that, because ImOn has built a system capable of offering video service, it should also have to obtain a franchise agreement.


In August, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Wolle dismissed the case, stating in a nutshell:

"Although ImOn is constructing in Iowa City a system that may become capable of delivering cable programming, ImOn is not now delivering cable programming. Therefore, ImOn is not presently required to seek a cable franchise.” 

Blast From The Past

This isn’t the first time this argument has echoed off the walls of a courtroom. Back in 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed a similar case between Time Warner Cable (TWC) and the city of North Kansas City. The situation was similar, except the city had not yet decided whether to invest in the required head end to provide video over the fiber-optic network they wanted to deploy. At the time, a Missouri law required a vote if the community planned to build and own a system in order to offer cable TV services. TWC wanted the use the court for a pre-emptive strike: to bar the city from using the network for video services stating that they could not do so because they had never held a vote.

TWC's argument revolved around the question of whether or not the city owned or operated a cable television facility, which was in violation of state law. Since the network was not offering cable services and there was no head end yet - in fact they didn't even know if they wanted to invest in one - what really mattered was whether or not North Kansas City owned a "cable TV facility" without prior voter approval. In other words, were they building a network that was capable of offering cable TV services?

As in Iowa City, the court determined that the issue was not “ripe.” From the opinion:

It is factually undisputed that the City's fiber-optic network is not connected to the required head end facility to receive such signals nor is there any plan to acquire it. Thus, Time Warner's statutory claim rests on a contingent future event:  the ownership or operation of a cable-television facility by the City;  therefore, Time Warner's claim that a vote is required under Missouri law is not ripe in that the City does not currently own or operate a cable-television facility because the planned fiber-optic network will not be capable of transmitting cable-television signals and because the City recognizes that in order for it to provide cable-television services a public vote would be required.


Let's not put the cart before the horse.

Jeff Janssen, vice president of sales and marketing for ImOn said in December that if the provider’s plans change, they will take the necessary steps:

“Franchise agreements are all around cable TV,” he said. “Once we decide, or if we decided to offer cable TV in Iowa City, we would get that franchise agreement, we are required to.”

Every Tool In The Anti-Competitive Toolbox

Mediacom has approximately 4,500 employees and, like the other large corporate providers, they have a highly qualified regiment of attorneys. Not likely they missed the similarities between the North Kansas City and Iowa City cases, but there’s more than one way to win.

Traditionally, winning means presenting the facts and proving to the judge that they fit into the law and that your interpretation of how they work with the law is more correct than your opponent's. For companies like Mediacom and TWC, however, winning can also mean delaying your opponents project to drive up their costs or cool subscriber interest. In other words, going after the fruit before it is "ripe."

Winning may also mean forcing the other side to give up and walk away by driving up their legal costs or making them lose progress when construction is delayed and subscribers lose confidence in the project.

Big incumbents have become masters at using the courts for sabotage schemes, no matter how frivolous the perceived infringement. They sue or threaten to sue over poles, attempts to streamline, and what services a city can and cannot offer. The state legislatures that have passed laws restricting local authority have only helped massive telecoms and cable companies abuse the courts by providing vehicles for their lawsuits. At the same time, they have forced local governments to waste citizen funds and stalled Internet access, typically to the communities most desperate for it.

You can read the Order for Summary Judgement, the Order Amending the Order (which appears to correct a typographical error), and the Notice of Appeal for more.

Rural Georgia, Here's A Survey For Ya!

Georgia has a few areas where businesses and residents can obtain high-quality Internet access, usually from munis, but most of the rural areas of the state are still lacking when it comes to connectivity. In order to find out exactly how big the problem is, state lawmakers are asking rural Georgia residents to complete an online broadband survey.

Asking Rural Residents

State Sen. Steve Gooch told the Gainesville Times, the results will be used by a joint committee of lawmakers who will then make recommendations to the General Assembly next year. “One of the biggest problems I have gotten complaints about from my constituents is the Internet,” he said.

Incumbent Windstream has promised to upgrade in areas of the state, but U.S. Representative Doug Collins from northeast Georgia has fielded calls from constituents that leave him wondering if they will ever live up to those promises:

“It is my hope that this survey truly demonstrates what the broadband experience is like for users in Northeast Georgia. It is one thing to hear promises from the internet service providers, but the truth will lie in the responses of real consumers,” Collins said in a statement to The Times.

“I welcome the state to the fight for rural broadband and look forward to working with them as I continue the effort on behalf of my constituents to get the best service possible. Reliable broadband is critical to growing our economic footprint and the day-to-day functioning of our citizens.”

Take The Survey!

If you are a Georgia resident living in a rural area, take a few moments to fill out the survey here, to let lawmakers know how difficult it is for you to obtain good connectivity. Unless they know the scope of the problem, they will never take steps to fix it.

Carrier-Grade Fiber in Centennial, Colorado - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 222

Located in the Denver metro region and shaped like a barbell, Centennial has effectively used dig once policies to build conduit and fiber assets that have attracted Ting to the community. Tim Scott is the Director of Fiber Infrastructure for the city and joins us on Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 222.

Centennial took advantage of a project installing fiber for Intelligent Transportation Signaling. But just putting in more fiber was not sufficient to establish a carrier-grade network that ISPs would want to use. Tim explains what they had to do to attract ISP interest.

Centennial's shape is very conducive to their strategy (which may be a tautology - they chose that strategy because it works for them). At any rate, their arterial corridors run quite close to the majority of premises and therefore a well-designed fiber backbone network is more attractive in that community than others.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Grant Gets Project Going In Sanford

Sanford, Maine’s plan to build a municipal open access fiber-optic network just got the shot in the arm it needs to move forward. On September 27th, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded the community $769,000 in grant funding to complete the $1.5 million project.

Mightiest Muni In Maine

About a year ago, we shared details about the plan to deploy what will be the largest publicly owned fiber-optic network in the state. The 45-mile network will run through Sanford, but will also travel through Alford, Kennebunk, and Wells and will connect to Maine’s statewide network, the Three Ring Binder. “We’re creating the fourth ring on the 3-Ring Binder,” said City Manager Steve Buck, in a recent Journal Tribune article.

The city of Sanford will own the infrastructure and GWI, headquartered in Biddeford, will operate the network. GWI does not have an exclusive agreement, so other providers could also offer Internet access or other data services over the infrastructure. For the time being, the network will serve primarily community anchor institutions (CAIs), government facilities, and business customers.

GWI also intends to offer residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to properties along the fiber route in areas where there is sufficient demand. They will make Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) symmetrical connectivity available so speeds will be the same for download and upload. Other providers may use the backbone to offer similar services; the backbone will have 10 Gigabit symmetrical capacity.

Economic Development Needed

For the time being, serving businesses and boosting economic development are the main priorities. Sanford has a history in textiles and manufacturing, with the population stagnating around 20,000 over the past two decades. Community leaders hope to diversify the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship and help Sanford grow. The network will serve downtown's Mill Yard complex, a 600-acre industrial park, and at least 80 additional sites including the Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC) Goodall Campus, local schools, and a new technical center, now under construction.

The EDA grant will fund approximately half of the cost of the project. Sanford will pay for the remainder with proceeds from a recent sale of a retired school property. They had considered using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in the past, and have not completely ruled out the possibility, but the EDA grant provides secured funding that may eliminate the need to consider TIF.

More Information Available

Sanford officials hope to begin construction next spring and estimate the project will be complete within 12 months. You can learn more details about the SanfordNet Fiber project from their new fact sheet.

For more on Sanford and municipal networks in Maine, check out episode #176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher talks with Fletcher Kittredge from GWI, who describes Sanford, and also discusses some other projects in Maine, including the Tree Ring Binder.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 3


Broadband survey looks to boost Internet service in rural Northeast Georgia by Joshua Silavent, Gainesville Times

In Dahlonega, for example, residents have only Windstream to choose from. The only thing preventing new providers from emerging in rural parts of the state is economics.

“I don’t believe a monopoly is the answer,” Gooch said.


Lafayette upgrades public Wi-Fi access by Jeremy Ervin, Lafayette Journal & Courier


Public-private partnership sought for high-speed Internet service in Topeka and Shawnee County by Tim Hrenchir, Topeka Capital-Journal


Cambridge needs strong dig once/touch once policies by Saul Tannenbaum, Medium

Broadband committee urges town to vote for muncipal light plant by John Osborn, Harvard Press


Ely vying for broadband grant, would benefit area by Tom Coombe, Ely Echo

North Carolina


Appeals court decision kills North Carolina town's gigabit Internet, could your town be next? by Brandon Hill, Hot Hardware


AT&T sues Nashville in bid to stall Google Fiber by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica


Bridging the digital (vet) divide by John Eggerton, MultiChannel News

ISP explains data caps to FCC: Using the Internet is like eating Oreos by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Internet data doesn't disappear when it's used the way an Oreo disappears when you eat it. It's true that there is only so much bandwidth an ISP can provide at any given moment, but a monthly data cap doesn't solve that problem. The per-second bandwidth limitations are addressed by the different speed tiers imposed by ISPs: Customers already pay more to get a higher number of megabits per second.

Calix announces five municipal broadband fiber-optic network deployments by LightWave Online

In tough terrain, state and county officials get creative to extend networks by Heather B. Hayes, StateTech Magazine

“The key is to look for opportunities to piggyback onto what’s already been built,” says Mitchell. He notes that some rural areas actually have faster and more robust infrastructure than many cities, though its availability is usually uneven. “If you can interconnect with a power co-op or another organization, you no longer have to think about building a 100-mile network across your county; you just have to build a three-mile network to that existing infrastructure.”

Photo of the horse courtesy of Norja Vanderelst via pixaby.

Dark Fiber, Free Wi-Fi, Startups in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Missouri law has severely restricted municipal networks, but local entrepreneurs decided to create their own fast, affordable, reliable community connectivity. The City of Cape Girardeau has made new plans in its Marquette Tech District: free public Wi-Fi and a tech-hub for startups. Although the city is already home to more than 100 large employers, city officials want to also encourage small businesses and entrepreneurship. Underneath all the possibilities is publicly owned dark fiber.

The Marquette Tech District will utilize the City of Cape Girardeau’s dark fiber to connect the new tech-hub and provide free public Wi-Fi. The project hopes to bring new vitality to the Marquette Tower building, a center of the city's old economy, transforming it into a space for new technology-based companies. Local entrepreneurs have created a nonprofit to develop the project and the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) Big River Communications is on board. The city, meanwhile, owns the essential infrastructure - the fiber.

A Nonprofit Drives Development

The Southeast Missourian has followed the development of the project since its inception. From the planning process to obtaining grants, the newspaper has unraveled the complex collaborations across several institutions and levels of government.

The City of Cape Girardeau, population 40,000, has always been a regional commercial hub on the Mississippi River in southern Missouri. In the late 1920s, travelers could stay downtown at the upscale Marquette Tower hotel. More than 100 employers in the city each provide jobs to more than 100 people, including Southeast Missouri State University and several healthcare systems. Community leaders hope the new tech district will attract and retain young professionals; the university next door is an excellent resource for educating and keeping a talented tech workforce.

Local entrepreneurs realized that they could unlock the potential of the city's dark fiber. They created a nonprofit, the Marquette Tech District Foundation, to improve quality of life, accelerate economic development, and provide connectivity in Cape Girardeau. The Foundation developed a plan through an agreement with the city council and a $200,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority, a federal-state partnership.

Details and Dollars

The Foundation has three main goals:

  1. Take advantage of the city’s dark fiber.
  2. Install more fiber downtown for the tech-hub.
  3. Develop free public Wi-Fi.

Downtown small businesses will also have access to affordable high-speed connections. In July, the city council approved the agreement with the Foundation for the use of the dark fiber and for the installation of a new fiber line. 

According to the agreement (July 5, 2016, Resolution No. 2995, Bill No. 16-111), the Foundation will own the hardware to “light” the fiber, but the city will own all of the fiber, including the fiber to be installed by the nonprofit. All plans and specifications must be approved by both the Foundation and the city, ensuring local control. 

The Foundation has up to two years to install the new fiber and commence the public Wi-Fi project. If the Foundation doesn’t follow through, the nonprofit will pay $25,000 to the city to install the fiber. If the Foundation fails to deliver on its promises, the city will install the fiber itself and recoup some of its expenses from the Foundation.

The entrepreneurs behind the Foundation, however, have a strong interest in completing their part of the agreement. The nonprofit's executive director is a cofounder of Codefi, a successful co-working space and tech incubator. Codefi is also an anchor tenant of the renovated Marquette Tower tech-hub. Local Internet service provider Big River Communications also agreed to provide gigabit (1,000 Mbps) Internet service to the Marquette Tower.

In early August, the Marquette Tech District received a $200,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority. The authority is a federal-state collaboration established in 2000 by an act of U.S. Congress to promote economic development in the eight state Delta Region. The funding will cover planning costs and connecting the public spaces. 

While announcing the grant, Mike Marshall, the alternate federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, spoke about the potential of the Marquette Tech District: 

"Cape Girardeau is an important economic and entrepreneurial hub for Southeast Missouri, so we are proud to make this investment in boosting digital connectivity for students, residents and businesses with fiber optic cable in the downtown area."

For more information on the Marquette Tech District, check out their video below.

Port of Ridgefield Receives Grant for Feasibility Study

Ridgefield, Washington, a community of about 4,800 located about 25 miles north of Portland, is one step closer to establishing a dark fiber network for the Port of Ridgefield after taking advantage of state funding for community revitalization. On September 15, the state’s Community Economic Revitalization Board approved a $50,000 grant for the project, and the city has approved matching funds to initiate the planning process. 

“A unanimous decision by the board to award us the grant in the full amount we applied for is much appreciated,” Port of Ridgefield vice president of innovation Nelson Holmberg said. “It recognizes our disciplined approach and smart policy we’ve established as we work to ‘light up’ the Discovery Corridor.”

As planned, the dark fiber infrastructure would include the Ridgefield Port District (also called the Discovery Corridor), reaching the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center and Washington State University Vancouver. While the port is not interested in operating the infrastructure, several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be able to compete to provide services through leasing space on the public fiber network.

Eugene Encouraged: Expanding Fiber Project

For the past year, Eugene has worked on a pilot project to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses in its downtown core. Now that community leaders and businesses have seen how a publicly owned network can help revitalize the city’s commercial center, they want to expand it.

The Proof Is In The Pilot

The project is a collaboration between the city of Eugene, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB). As we reported last year, each entity contributed to the project. EWEB owns the infrastructure and uses its electrical conduit for fiber-optic cable, reducing the cost of deployment. EWEB also has the expertise to complete the installation, as well as manage and operate the infrastructure. They lease dark fiber to private Internet service providers (ISPs) to encourage competition over the shared public infrastructure. 

The pilot project brought Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to four buildings in the pilot area. Vacancy rate for those four building is at zero while typical vacancy rate in Eugene is 12 percent. Matt Sayre of the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) notes that speeds in one of the buildings, the Broadway Commerce Center, increased by 567 250 percent while costs dropped by 60 40 percent. TAO joined the other pilot project partners in 2015.

The Search For Funding

The expanded project will cost approximately $4 million to complete. In June, the City Council approved a measure to make the project eligible for Urban Renewal Funds. Urban Renewal is another label for what is also known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which has been used in other places for fiber infrastructure. Bozeman, Montana; Valparaiso, Indiana; and Rockport, Maine, all used Urban Renewal or TIF to help finance their builds.

Eugene provides a helpful explanation for Urban Renewal on their website; they describe it in three steps:

Step 1 - The District is created . The value of ALL the properties inside the district is calculated. This becomes the frozen base amount of property tax for the area.

Step 2 - Redevelopment and Improvements. Public and private investments generate improvements. As property values increase, all new tax revenue above the frozen base amount go to the urban renewal fund to reinvest in the area.

Step 3 - District is retired. Once the City Council is finished investing in the area and the debt of the district has been repaid, the district is retired. Property taxes are distributed among the taxing districts.

Eugene offers more information about Urban Renewal and how the city applies it to help revitalize strugging areas. They also provide this illustration:


The city will also apply for federal Economic Development Assistance Program Investment grant funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The grant they pursue requires a 50 percent match which will include Urban Renewal Funds and the value of EWEB’s existing electrical infrastructure. In July, Eugene and its partners submitted a pre-application and the EDA invited them to submit a full application; they hope to obtain approximately $2.1 million.

Residents, Too!

Businesses are not the only ones expected to benefit form the community investment. The expanded project area also includes several multi-dwelling units (MDUs), and the network will help improve the city’s free Wi-Fi:

Anne Fifield with the city of Eugene says three low-income housing projects are in the service area, and she has been in communication with the building managers. One of the goals of Eugene’s broadband plan, she says, is to “bridge the digital divide” and bring internet access to low-income households. An added bonus, she says, is users of the city’s free wifi should eventually see an increase in speeds.

If all goes according to schedule, the project will be completed in late 2017 or early 2018.

AT&T Makes Good On Threats, Sues In Nashville

AT&T lawyers filed suit against Nashville just two days after Mayor Megan Barry signed the new One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance into law. The Metro Council passed the proposal for the final time, and sent it on to the Mayor, on September 20th.

Seeking Out Streamlining

OTMR was proposed by Google Fiber, which wants to enter the Nashville market by deploying an aerial fiber network. In order to do that, they need to attach fiber-optic cables to utility poles around town, but the current process is cumbersome and will significantly delay the rollout. OTMR streamlines the procedure but would allow some one other than AT&T to manage the rearrangement of wires on all poles in the Nashville rights-of-way. The telecom giant owns about 20 percent of the poles in Nashville; the city’s electric utility, NES, owns the rest.

Three Arguments

AT&T seeks a permanent injunction to stop the city from enforcing the new ordinance. They argue the city does not have the authority to enforce the ordinance - that role is within federal jurisdiction through the FCC.

They go on to state that the Metro Council does not have the authority to pass the ordinance because, according to the city charter, only the Electric Power Board the has the right to pass regulations that deal with issues related to equipment, such as poles and the cable on them. 

AT&T also asks that the court grant a permanent injunction on the basis that they already have a contract with the city relating to AT&T’s wires that are on NES poles. The contract allows the company to handle its own wires and enforcing the ordinance would basically nullify that component of the contract.

What This Is Really About

AT&T filed a similar suit in Louisville earlier this year when the Metro Council there passed OTMR; that suit is still ongoing. Google Fiber wants to serve both communities and, in typical AT&T fashion, the telecom giant is attempting to use the courts to put a block on them. Even before the final Metro Council vote, AT&T threatened to sue if the measure passed. “The short answer is the One Touch Make Ready proposal Google has offered is a proposal that we expect would result in litigation,” said Joelle Phillips, President of AT&T Tennessee. Mayor Barry had asked that the ISPs and NES all work together to come up with an agreement but AT&T was determined to slow Google Fiber’s deployment, hindering its success.

Lawyers On Loan

Google Fiber has offered assistance to Nashville in the form of its legal team. Before the final vote, Google’s parent company Alphabet had already committed to helping out:

“Google Fiber is disappointed that AT&T has threatened to go to court in an effort to block Nashville’s efforts to increase broadband competition should the OTMR ordinance pass,” Fleur Knowlsey, senior counsel of Alphabet’s Access group, which manages Google Fiber, wrote in an email to the council on Monday.

“We believe the city's commonsense initiative will be upheld in the face of any litigation. We know, however, that litigation can be challenging and expensive. In the event of OTMR litigation, Google Fiber will therefore be glad to share the capabilities of its in-house and outside attorneys, including some of the most experienced and accomplished regulatory attorneys in the industry.”

Read the complaint here.

RVBA Gets Governor Kudos

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe recognized the community of Roanoke and the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) for their work in bringing better connectivity to the region. McAuliffe presented the Governor’s Technology Award at the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) in Richmond on September 7th.

The award recognizes the project because it has improved government service delivery and efficiency. In addition to serving local government, the network provides high-quality connectivity for businesses, offering affordable dark fiber, transport service, and dedicated Internet service. Christopher spoke with President and CEO Frank Smith about the network in episode #221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

In a Facebook press release, Smith said:

“We are honored  to be recognized by the state for the work we're doing to ensure the Roanoke  Valley continues to be a great place to live, work, and start or grow a  technology business. This  affirms that as a community we have found yet another creative way to ensure our  region is competitive on the national scene.”

Congrats to the RVBA and the Roanoke Valley!