Tag: "lawsuit"

Posted August 9, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

You are surrounded by the radio waves of local television signals. They are available to you for free if you put up an antenna, but there was no easy way to take that free signal and then stream it to all your digital devices. Now there is. Aereo, available only in New York presently, combines an antenna with broadband to transmit television wherever you want it.

Ryan Kim provides the details in a February GigaOm article:

The system works by creating an array of hundreds of thousands of tiny TV antennas the size of a thumbnail and housing them in one data center in a market. When users hook up to Aereo, they take command of an antenna, renting it to get local broadcast channels such as ABC, CBS, Fox and others. They also have access to a cloud-based dual tuner DVR that allows them to initially record up to 40 hours of content.

Customers can view the content on iPads, iPhones, AppleTV, and Roku devices via the web. Rates vary from $1/day to $80/year. The company, backed in part by IAC, aspires to expand nationally.

This is an approach local community networks should follow, particularly those who want to build broadband networks but don't want to get lost in the mind-numbing details of offering a television package.

Needless to say, major broadcasters have gone to the court to stop the ambitious start-up. FOX, the Tribune Company, PBS, Univision, and others, lost their July bid for a preliminary injunction to stop Aereo from rebroadcasting their programming over the Internet. The plaintiffs argued that Aereo violated copyright protections, but Aereo's method does not amount to a copyright infringement according to the court. The individual control over each antenna does not allow sharing of content and does not amount to infringement through public performance.

Staci D. Kramer, from paidContent summed up the judge's rationale for denying the injunction:

U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan ruled that the networks and television stations suing Aereo had some points in their favor but...

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Posted June 29, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Monticello faced a number of key decision moments throughout the history of its FiberNet. Given the recent changes in management and decision not to make up the different between debt service and revenues, some may be wondering if proceeding with FiberNet was the smart decision.

It was 2008 and the economy hadn't entered its death spiral. Monticello had overwhelmingly voted by a 3:1 margin for the local government to bond for and build the network.

When Monticello was beginning to sell its bonds, the incumbent telephone company (TDS) filed a lawsuit against the City, with the extremely dubious claim that Monticello did not have the authority to do what other cities in Minnesota had done. Courts later tossed it, finding that the TDS suit had no merit and making TDS reimburse Monticello for some of its costs due to the frivolous suit.

But the goal was never to win the lawsuit, it was to delay and harass. Monticello had to wait a year to begin building its network. Though TDS had previously maintained that its DSL was just fine for the needs of residents and busineses, it began pulling permits to significantly upgrade its DSL to a FTTH product. (TDS has steadfastly maintained, while investing more in Monticello than any other Minnesota community, that community networks result in less investment from incumbents.)

At any rate, Monticello had a decision. It faced an expensive court case and the City's action was apparently driving TDS to improve its poor network. Monticello could have backed down in the face of TDS' bullying.

And if it had? From what we have seen elsewhere, this is our best guess:

TDS Telecom Logo

TDS could have delayed its upgrades or changed its mind entirely when the economy tanked. If it continued with upgrades, it would likely have made some token investments but not lowered its prices because the threat of actual competition was removed. It certainly wouldn't have unveiled broadband tiers that were superior on speed and price to those in Minneapolis / St Paul metro area.

If they had unveiled a high-speed option like the 50/20 Mbps package, they likely would have priced it sufficiently high that few took it and then would have used that as...

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Posted November 22, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Monticello, a small community of 13,000 about 40 miles northwest of Minneapolis, built one of the most advanced broadband networks in the midwest and delivers some of the fastest connections available in the state at incredibly competitive rates. The Twin Cities metro area, stuck mostly with Comcast and Qwest, cannot compare in capacity or value.

Monticello is fairly rare in the publicly owned FTTH region because it does not have a public power utility and services on the network are provided by a third party, Hiawatha Broadband Communications -- a Minnesota company with an excellent reputation and track record.

Unfortunately, Monticello's network suffered costly delays due to a frivolous lawsuit filed by the incumbent phone company in a bid to bleed the publicly owned network while it suddenly invested in its own second generation network (that it previously maintained was totally unnecessary for a small town like Monticello).

Monticello lost a full year on the project, which has hurt its finances significantly. More unexpectedly, it has become the only community in North America where all residents have a choice between FTTH networks. They also have Charter in the mix. Add to this the economic downturn that hit just after they financed the network in 2007 -- the population growth has been much lower than forecast. The predictable result? Much lower prices, lots of community savings, and a publicly owned network that is behind its projections.

The local paper recently ran a story about the project, "FiberNet struggles in a sea of red. Should you read the full piece, please be aware that the inaptly named "Freedom Foundation" has no credibility, existing solely to defend massive corporations like cable and telephone companies.

For those who wonder why incumbents filed absurd lawsuits that have a vanishingly small chance of winning, note this discussion from the story:

“It stopped us from really building the system by about a year,” said Finance Director Tom Kelly, “which put our revenue collections about a year behind. Obviously if you don’t have a system, you can’t bill...

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Posted November 14, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Yet another court has ruled against an incumbent telephone or cable company that filed a lawsuit to block any threat to their continued monopoly in America's communities. Access Wisconsin, an AT&T dominated trade group, has been trying to stop communities in Wisconsin from building their own next-generation networks to serve schools and libraries that AT&T has long neglected with slow, overpriced, broadband connections.

A local judge has dismissed this blatantly anti-competitive attempt to stop communities from building the networks they need.

Wisconsin Independent Telecommunications Systems, operating as Access Wisconsin, sued the UW Board of Regents in July in an effort to stop a $32.3 million fiber optic network to Platteville, Wausau, Superior and the Chippewa Valley region. The lawsuit also named WiscNet, CCI Systems Inc. and the state Department of Transportation.

...

The grant — made available through federal stimulus funds — will build high-speed Internet fiber to anchor institutions such as libraries, schools and government, health care and public safety buildings.

A press release from the UW-Extension office that organized the Building Community Capacity through Broadband program, funded by the broadband stimulus program, notes:

“This work by the University of Wisconsin-Extension and our many community partners is vital to the future of the Wisconsin economy,” said Ray Cross, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Extension and University of Wisconsin Colleges. “I hope that now government, the university, private businesses and communities in every corner of the state will be able to work together to assure Wisconsin is connected to the global economy.”

Remember that these lawsuits are rarely intended to be won. They are intended to intimidate communities, to scare them away from making the necessary investments in their community to ensure the incumbents can preserve their customer base without investing in modern connections.

But AT&T and friends have continued to whine that it just isn't fair, much like a coalition of landlords (where Donald Trump plays the role of AT...

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Posted September 28, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls worked together to build a high-capacity broadband network connecting community anchor institutions, including schools, clinics, traffic lights, and more. Called the CINC for Chippewa Valley Inter-Networking Consortium, they now have higher capacity connections, more control over their future telecom needs and budgets, and can run applications that make their operations more efficient (lessening the pressure on the tax base).

The Building Community Capacity through Broadband, a stimulus funded project, has put together a video describing what they did and how they did it. Learn more about these BCCB projects here.

As you watch the video, remember that AT&T and its industry allies want to make projects like this illegal. They want to force the schools, libraries, etc. to pay much more for slower, less reliable networks. While the WiscNet attack in June failed, telcos are still trying to create a monopoly for themselves providing these services.

The lawsuit against the project has a hearing on November 11th where the Judge may decide to dismiss the case. If the case proceeds, the bench trial will be in early January. We frequently see lawsuits like these from big carriers that do not expect to win the case but rather are just harassing any potential competition to raise the cost of challenging the incumbent. So even though BCCB will almost certainly win the case, the telco goal is mostly to threaten any community that follows the good example of these communities.

Posted September 15, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

When last we looked in on the Lake County FTTH project connecting rural areas north of Lake Superior, the County had just ditched its original management team and Mediacom started trying to derail the project.

The County went on to hire "Lake Communications," a two man firm created for this project, while Mediacom presumably returned to quietly scheming against the introduction of any competition on their turf. Lake Communications has received authority by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to provide broadband in their target territory.

Kevin O’Grady, a staffer for the Public Utilities Commission, called Thursday’s 5-0 vote “uneventful.” He said that aside from a protest from the Minnesota Cable Communications Association that was withdrawn just before the vote, the application was “nothing out of the ordinary.”

The cable association, which faces competition from the fiber project, had complained that the county, without a public vote, couldn’t be the legal authority to provide telecommunications services under Minnesota law. The commission, responding to the complaint, said the authority would be granted to Lake Communications, which it deemed had a proper relationship with the county in providing the service.

The county plans to build the network and lease the lines to Lake Communications for revenue. In its original response to the cable association’s complaint, the state commission said Lake Communications’ application “complies with the requirements typically applied by the commission to applications” across the state. It also stated that Lake Communications’ financial statements were “sufficient and consistent with the financial information filed by other applicants for authority.”

Remember that Minnesota law requires a supermajority vote of 65% before cities and counties provide telephone service. In this case, Lake Communications will be offering the services on infrastructure owned by the County. If there is any sliver of a doubt about the legality of this arrangement, we can expect Mediacom or the Minnesota Cable Communications Association to file suit.

But...

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Posted September 9, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

After more than a year of expecting Citibank to file suit against Burlington, they finally did. Burlington Telecom, a muni FTTH network, now illustrates the worst case scenario for muni broadband. After the founder of the network left following disagreements with the Mayor, the Mayor's Administration ran the network into the ground (leading us to recently publish the report "Learning from Burlington Telecom: Some Lessons for Community Networks."

Burlington had financed its network with a municipal capital lease, rather than the more commonly used revenue bonds, meaning that the actual network secures the loan. In this arrangement, the network is technically owned by the lender (Citi) and Burlington leased it. So when Burlington decided to stop paying the lease for the network, it became Citi's problem.

And Citi had a lot of problems due to the games massive banks were playing having killed the economy. BT became just one more non-performing asset. They did nothing while the City continued to run the network without making lease payments. Now Citi is suing for the world (this is how these things work) but it isn't clear that Citi can actually get what it demands (the State has a say in whether the network simply gets shut down, which Citi is presently asking for). And if the network did get shut down, Citi would be in a worse position to recover any of its losses because the value of the network is far greater than the sum of its parts.

State law says that losses from a public telecom venture cannot be carried by taxpayers, which is where we return to an interesting document prepared by the Mayor's Administration. As reported by Blurt:

In its lawsuit, Citibank notes that a letter written by attorney Joe McNeil on behalf of Burlington "expressly warranted to Citibank that at least 40 percent of Burlington's revenues were derived from sources other than taxpayers' funds and would be available to fund payments to Citibank, and further, that Burlington had the financial resources and ability to make all payments to Citibank for the full...

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Posted June 1, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

MuniWireless has published a story noting the outcome of Tempe's lawsuit against Commonwealth Capital Corp in which the city was awarded $1.8 million in pole rental charges from a private company dealing with a failed Wi-Fi network.

Tempe, like many other communities circa 2006, had hoped a private company would be able to build and run a citywide Wi-Fi network that would create another broadband option for residents and businesses frustrated with the DSL/cable duopoly. For a variety of reasons, nearly all of these networks failed to deliver on promises and were either abandoned or turned into occasional hotspots.

Unfortunately, the term "Muni Wireless" was used to describe these networks despite the fact that local governments had little more to do with them than they do with franchising cable companies (and Comcast is not called "Muni cable"). Regardless, the general failure of Wi-Fi to match the hype gave muni broadband and community broadband a bad name due in part to this inappropriate "Muni Wireless" title.

What I found interesting about the MuniWireless.com story about Tempe is the section entitled "What should Tempe do now?" This is an excellent question. The suggestions offered by Esme Vos are interesting and worth mulling over. Over time, I hope the comments add some more suggestions.

Posted April 22, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Five years ago, Michigan decided to deregulate cable companies, preempting local authority to negotiate with cable companies in favor of a more relaxed statewide franchise. Many states have gone down this path in hopes of spurring competition and lowering the prices for service. All have seen very minimal gains (mostly from AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS, deployments that have gone forward as well in states that did not preempt local authority). None have seen real decreases in prices.

Michigan also created greater hurdles for the public sector (click on Michigan on our Community Broadband Preemption Map for an explanation of the legislation). In short, Michigan made a big bet that the private sector would build the networks they need to remain competitive. The results are in.

"No matter how you look at it, 70 percent of Michigan's communities still have only one cable provider four years after deregulation," said Deborah Guthrie, President of MI-NATOA, in a statement. "Even in the places where two providers offer service, if serious competition existed, prices wouldn't run up several times faster than inflation and customer service wouldn't be so poor."

Michigan's National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Administrators joined with the Michigan Alliance for Community Media (neither of which seems to have much a web presence) to note that Comcast's prices for lifeline basic have gone up 18% with other services increasing 3x the rate of inflation. Most communities remain stuck with Comcast or Charter solely, two of the most hated corporations in America.

As we educate legislators around the country, we need to keep the lessons from Michigan in mind. Legislators often know very little about telecom issues and are bombarded by lobbyist talking points - but examples like Michigan clearly show what happen when the telco and cableco lobbyists make policy.

And so long as we are discussing Michigan, it is worth noting that the City of Detroit is pushing to have Michigan's statewide franchise law invalidated. Below you'll see the pdf of Detroit's recent...

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Posted March 18, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Clearwire, which brags that it built the first 4G network in the country, is under assault from its customers.

Customers began complaining in mid-2010 that Clearwire had begun to throttle their home Internet connections, sometimes as slow as 256Kbps. It wasn't clear (ba-dum ching) at the time as to what standard Clearwire was using in order to trigger the throttling—some users were told about monthly usage caps while others were simply told that there were certain times of day in which the network would be congested. Customers were frustrated at this lack of transparency, and complaints began piling up all over the Web.

We were told for years that WiMax would obviate the need for last-mile wired connections. Now we are told that 4G LTE will solve those problems - and gullible reporters gush about how fast their connections are in these early days as the network is built. This is akin to driving on a metro interstate at 3AM and wondering why anyone would ever complain about rush hour traffic. 4G networks will likely be much better than 3G (it is a higher number, after all) but it remains to be seen how well they perform in real world conditions when many devices can actually attach and congest them.

We remain skeptical of wireless as a solution to last-mile problems. Wireless does little more than take a high-capacity wired connection and split it among hundreds or thousands of users - while reducing its reliability.

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