Tag: "lawsuit"

Posted July 10, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

We’ve been following the community of Lafayette, Louisiana, and their LUS Fiber community network from the early days. Director of Utilities Terry Huval was one of the people responsible for bringing high-quality Internet access to the community back in 2009. Terry is about to retire so we wanted to have one more conversation with him before he pursues a life of leisure.

The last time Terry was on the show, he and Christopher discussed the possibility of an LUS Fiber expansion. That was back in March 2015 for episode 144 and the network has since spread its footprint beyond city limits. Those efforts have inspired better services from competitors in addition to bringing fiber to communities that struggled with poor Internet access.

Christopher and Terry talk a little history as Terry reflects on the reactions of incumbent ISPs who tried to disrupt the LUS Fiber deployment. A winning strategy that has always served the advancement of the network, Terry tells us, has been to focus on the unique culture of Lafayette and its people. Marketing based on local pride has always kept LUS Fiber in locals' minds. Terry discusses establishing pricing and how it relates to marketing and maintaining subscribers; in broadband, the situation is much different than with other utilities.

Terry spends some time answering a few questions on free Wi-Fi at the airport and the ways the network’s economic development benefits have kept the community’s youth in Lafayette. He also addresses how the city has dealt with state rules that apply to LUS Fiber but not to private sector ISPs and the way the city has dealt with those rules.

For more details about how the community of Lafayette developed its fiber optic network, check out our 2012 report, Broadband and the Speed of Light. You can also learn more about how to address some of the many erroneous and misleading claims about LUS Fiber and similar networks from our report Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Attacks on LUS Fiber.

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Posted June 28, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

In May, Connecticut’s Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA) struck a blow at local authority when the ruled that communities could not use their protected utility pole space for municipal fiber deployment. Big cable and telephone companies cheered, broadband advocates and communities that need better connectivity decided to take action. Now, PURA faces lawsuits that challenge the decision from the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), and at least three local communities that just want high-quality Internet access.

Long Wait

The focus of the controversy is Connecticut’s Municipal Gain Space Law, which was first established in the early 1900s to guarantee municipalities the ability to hang telegraph wires. The municipal gain space is a location on all utility poles — publicly or privately owned — situated in the public right-of-way. After multiple law suits over the years in which cities and the state typically won, Connecticut’s legislature finally amended the language of the law to allow government entities to use the municipal gain space for “any use” in 2013.

Almost two years ago, we reported on the petition filed by the OCC and the State Broadband Office (SBO) with PURA asking for clarification on the law, which included establishing clear-cut rules on using the municipal gain space for fiber optic deployment. They felt the rules needed cleaning up because some incumbents in Connecticut were still finding ways to thwart competition and stop or delay plans for municipal fiber deployment. 

logo-PURA-ct.jpeg In addition to using restrictive pole attachment agreements, incumbents were exploiting the lack of definition in the statute to slow make-ready work, question who pays for make-ready work, and generally delay municipal projects. Time is money and losing momentum can drive up the cost of of a project, which in turn erodes a community's will to see it realized.

The Decision in Question

In addition to the petition that the OCC had filed, Frontier, the Communications Workers of America, and the New England Cable and...

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Posted March 26, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

A bill making its way through the Colorado General Assembly is tackling one of the tools that big incumbent ISPs use to secure their positions as monopoly Internet access providers - the right of first refusal. If HB 1099 passes, and other states see the savvy behind this approach, community leaders and advocates for a competitive broadband market will be able to put a chink in the monopoly armor.

Update: HB 1099 passed the Legislature and the Governor signed the bill into law on April 2nd, 2018. Yay!

A Familiar Story

ISP entrepreneurs, cooperatives that want to offer high-quality Internet access, and entities planning publicly owned projects know the story. Grants are available, usually for an unserved or underserved area that the incumbent DSL provider has ignored. Said entity invests the time and money into developing a plan and applying for the grant, feeling good about the fact that they will likely be able to serve this community that no one else seems to want to serve. 

They apply for the grant, may even receive a preliminary approval, BUT then the incumbent ISP exercises its right of first refusal, which throws a very big wrench into the plans of the ISP entrepreneur, cooperative, or entity.

In June 2017, we interviewed Doug Seacat from Clearnetworx and Deeply Digital in Colorado who told us the story of how his company had applied for and won grant funding through the Colorado Broadband Fund to develop fiber Internet network infrastructure near Ridgway. CenturyLink exercised its right of first refusal, which meant that unless Seacat could change the mind of the board that considered the appeal, CenturyLink would get the funding rather than Clearnetworx.

CenturyLink prevailed because it had the attorneys and the experience to wield the right of first refusal as a weapon. When all was said and done, however, the people in the project area did not have access to the fast, affordable, reliable fiber connectivity they would have obtained from Clearnetworx. CenturyLink instead obtained state subsidies to deploy DSL that was better than the services it was already offering, but no where near as useful as the Internet access Seacat’s company had planned to deploy....

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Posted October 18, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

In Detroit, AT&T is facing a formal FCC complaint accusing the telecom giant of deploying discriminatory “digital redlining” tactics. This is the second such complaint filed against the telecommunications giant since the first of the year.

Demanding Equality in Connectivity

The complaint filed by civil rights attorney Daryl Parks says the FCC violated the Communications Act which forbids unjust and unreasonable discrimination. A month earlier, Parks filed a similar complaint on behalf of three Cleveland residents. In both instances, Parks and community members maintain that AT&T is withholding high-speed Internet from minority neighborhoods that have higher poverty rates.

These complaints fall under Title II of the Communications Act, which contains not only net neutrality rules but important consumer protections regarding discrimination. Title II SEC. 202. [47 U.S.C. 202] (a) clearly specifies:

It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.

The first complaint filed in Cleveland last March was prompted by a report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and...

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Posted October 2, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

The Fort Collins’ ballot measure that could amend the City Charter allowing high-speed Internet to become a municipal utility moves forward after a short legal scuffle. The question will be decided at the November 7th special election.

Failed Legal Petition

After the language of the ballot question was released following approval by City Hall, local activist Eric Sutherland filed a petition with Larimer County. Sutherland — well known for his numerous petitions wagered against the city, county and school district— claimed that the language “failed to consider the public confusion that might be caused by misleading language”. Sutherland also insisted the proposed City Charter Amendment isn’t legal under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment to the State Constitution. TABOR requires local governments to get voter approval to raise tax rates or spend revenue collected under existing tax rates. 

Attorneys representing the city of Fort Collins rejected Sutherland’s claims and maintained that the amendment isn’t covered by TABOR. A utility does not require voter approval to issue debt because it is legally defined as an enterprise, a government-owned business. Moreover, Fort Collins Chief Financial Officer Mike Beckstead testified that the bonds would be backed by utility ratepayers, not tax revenue. City Council explained in a statement that they included the $150 million-dollar figure in the ballot language in an effort to maintain transparency and show the level of commitment a broadband utility could require from the municipality. By including the dollar amount in the ballot language, the Charter would also establish a limit on any debt.

District Court Judge Thomas French issued his ruling on Sept. 4th, dismissing Sutherland's arguments regarding TABOR and explained that “there are no legal grounds to cause the submission clause to be rewritten” and finally that “...

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Posted September 1, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

Large, corporate providers like AT&T have to make shareholders happy, which is why they shy way from investing in regions where they don’t expect much profit. Routinely, those areas include sparsely populated rural communities and urban neighborhoods traditionally considered low-income. Often low-income neighborhoods also include a high percentage of people of color. Attorney Daryl Parks of ParksCrump, LLC, recently filed suit with the FCC on behalf of three residents in Cleveland who are victims of AT&T's "digital redlining."

The Data Tells The Story

In March, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Connect Your Community (CYC) released a report on digital redlining in low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland. “Digital redlining” refers to AT&T’s investments in infrastructure, which improve connectivity in areas where they serve, except for neighborhoods with high poverty rates. CYC and NDIA analyzed form 477 data submitted by the telecommunications company and noticed a pattern. The revelations in that report helped the plaintiffs understand their situation and choose to ask the FCC to look deeper into AT&T's questionable business practices.

The event that inspired the analysis was the AT&T DirecTV merger. As part of the merger, AT&T agreed to create a low-cost Internet access program for customers under a certain income level. The speed tier was only 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) download, but AT&T infrastructure investment in Cleveland lower income neighborhoods was so outdated, residents could not obtain those minimal speeds. As a result, they were deemed ineligible for the program.

The Case

The complainants are three African-American residents in Cleveland’s lower income neighborhoods who can’t take advantage of the affordable program mandated by the merger because they can only access speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps download or less. Without the infrastructure to connect at higher capacity, they’ve ended up paying higher rates for slower Internet access.

In a press release on the complaint, Parks stated:

As a result of the ineffectual and substandard quality level of speed, the women’s [residents’] children cannot...

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Posted August 28, 2017 by Lisa Gonzalez

Louisville has overcome a tall hurdle in its efforts to bring better connectivity and more competition to the community through local control. On August 16th the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky supported the city’s one touch make ready (OTMR) ordinance. AT&T challenged the ordinance in court, but their arguments fell flat and court confirmed that the city has the authority to manage its rights-of-way with OTMR.

State Law

AT&T’s claim based on state law asserted that the city was overstepping its authority by enacting the OTMR ordinance because it was impinging on Kentucky Public Service Commission jurisdiction. AT&T attorneys argued that, according to state law, the PSC has exclusive jurisdiction over utility rates and services, but the court found that argument incorrect.

Within the state law, the court found that the OTMR ordinance fell under a carve-out that allows Louisville to retain jurisdiction over its public rights-of-way as a matter of public safety. The ordinance helps limit traffic disruptions by reducing the number of instances trucks and crews need to tend to pole attachments. The court wrote in its Order:

AT&T narrowly characterizes Ordinance No. 21 as one that regulates pole attachments. But the ordinance actually prescribes the “method or manner of encumbering or placing burdens on” public rights-of-way. … It is undisputed that make-ready work can require blocking traffic and sidewalks multiple times to permit multiple crews to perform the same work on the same utility pole…. The one-touch make-ready ordinance requires that all necessary make-ready work be performed by a single crew, lessening the impact of make-ready work on public rights-of-way. … Louisville Metro has an important interest in managing its public rights-of-way to maximize efficiency and enhance public safety. … And Kentucky law preserves the right of cities to regulate public rights-of-way. … Because Ordinance No. 21 regulates public rights-of-way, it is within Louisville Metro’s constitutional authority to enact the ordinance, and [the state law granting authority to the PSC] cannot limit that authority. 

Federal Jurisdiction

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Posted May 30, 2017 by Christopher Mitchell

In an exciting milestone, this is podcast 100000000. Or 256 in decimal - you know, for the squares. While at the always-amazing Mountain Connect event in Colorado, I snagged an interview with Doug Seacat of Deeply Digital and Clearnetworx. They sought a grant from the Colorado Broadband Fund to deploy fiber and wireless to underserved Ridgway in western Colorado. 

What happened next is shocking but hardly an anomaly. Using what is often called the "Right of First Refusal," where incumbents get to prevent competition in state broadband programs, CenturyLink not only blocked Clearnetworx from getting the grant but got itself a hefty subsidy for a very modest improvement in services.

Ridgway residents went from almost certainly having a choice in providers and gigabit access to seeing their taxpayer dollars used to not only make competition less likely but also effectively blocking the gig from coming to everyone in town. In this interview, we discuss the details. 

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 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or 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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted December 2, 2016 by

 

This is the transcript for episode 230 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Harold DePriest of Chattanooga, Tennessee, describes his role in building the fiber network in the city. This is an in-depth interview of over an hour in length. Listen to this episode here.

Harold DePriest: This fiber system will help our community have the kind of jobs that will let our children and grand children stay here and work if they want to. That is the biggest thing that has happened.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 230 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Chattanooga, Tennessee has been profiled in dozens of media outlets. It's a community reborn from one of the dirtiest cities in America, to what is now an economic development powerhouse. The city's publicly owned fiber optic network provides high quality connectivity that attracts businesses and entrepreneurs, but getting to where they are today did not happen overnight. In this episode, Chris has an in depth conversation with Harold DePriest, one of the men behind bringing fiber optics to Chattanooga. He's retired now, but as president and CEO of the electric power board, he was involved from the beginning. Harold describes how the electric power board made changes both inside and out, and went from being just another electric utility, to one that's considered one of the best in customer service in the country. The interview is longer than our typical podcast, but we think it's worth is. Now here are Chris and Harold DePriest, former CEO and president of the electric power board in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to a community broadband bits discussion. A long form discussion, a little bit different from what we normally do, with someone that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, Harold DePriest. Welcome to the show.

Harold DePriest: Thank you. It's good to be with you Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Harold, you've been the CEO, and you've recently retired from being the CEO and president of the electric power board in Chattanooga, which runs that legendary municipal fiber network. You've been involved in many capacities in public power, and I know that you're...

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Posted November 29, 2016 by Christopher Mitchell

In a break from our traditional format of 20-30 minutes (or so), we have a special in-depth interview this week with Harold Depriest, the former CEO and President of Chattanooga's Electric Power Board. He recently retired after 20 incredibly transformative years for both Chattanooga and its municipal electric utility. 

We talk about the longer history behind Chattanooga's nation-leading fiber network and how the culture of the electric utility had to be changed long before it began offering services to the public. We also talk about the role of public power in building fiber networks.

Something we wanted to be clear about - we talk about the timeline of when Chattanooga started to build its network and how that changed later when the federal stimulus efforts decided to make Chattanooga's electric grid the smartest in the nation. This is an important discussion as few understand exactly what the grant was used for and how it impacted the telecommunications side of the utility. 

But we start with the most important point regarding Chattanooga's fiber network - how it has impacted the community and the pride it has helped residents and businesses to develop. For more information about Chattanooga's efforts, see our report, Broadband at the Speed of Light, and our Chattanooga tag

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 70 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...

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