Tag: "lawsuit"

Posted February 1, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

In a situation similar to the Frontier letters to Sibley we published last week, the cable company Mediacom has sent letters to Silver Bay and Two Harbors in Lake County to scare them into abandoning the rural county-wide FTTH network that they are building with federal broadband stimulus aid.

Interestingly, rather than sticking to the normal fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) campaign, Mediacom apparently based its threats on a draft previous version of the joint powers ordinance rather than the language actually passed by the resolutionsincluded in the current JPA. Whoops.  [See Update below]

Mediacom, perhaps you should focus on improving your networks rather than stifling potential competition.  Please send us copies of letters your community network has received from incumbent providers.

Without further ado, here is the letter [download pdf] sent to Silver Bay and Two Harbors on December 21, 2010 by Tom Larsen, VP of Legal and Public Affairs for Mediacom:


Re: Joint Powers Agreement with Lake

County Dear Mayor Johnson:

Mediacom prides itself in being one of America's leading providers of telecommunications services to small and medium sized communities. As you may be aware, Mediacom offers a highly competitive suite of high-speed Internet, cable television and phone services to homes and businesses throughout Silver Bay (the "City").

It has come to our attention that the City passed a resolution on November 15, 2010 approving a Joint Powers Agreement with Lake County (the "JPA"). Given the significant private capital that Mediacom has invested in order to make advanced telecommunications services available throughout the City, we were extremely surprised to learn that your resolution approving the the JPA includes the following finding in Section 4(e):

The Municipality hereby finds that the facilities composing the Project are necessary to make Internet and other communication services that are not and will not be available through other providers or the private market accessible and available on an equal basis to the residents of the municipality.

As...

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Posted November 1, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

I recently heard that the only place one finds a free lunch is in a mouse trap. As we sift through the lessons from the broadband stimulus programs, we have learned that the federal government preferred funding private projects rather than those that are structurally accountable to the community.

Before the first round of stimulus applications were due, many communities recognized the costs of applying were too high for them. Now, some are recognizing the high costs of complying with the many federal rules that come with accepting federal grants and loans (as detailed by Craig Settles).

And now, North Carolina's city of Wilson has found that applying for the broadband stimulus may have disadvantaged its FTTH network. Though the application was not accepted, the city has had to turn over its full application (chock full with proprietary information) to its competitors.

This is yet another example of ways in which the "playing field" is tilted against the public. The Wilson Times explained the situation and settlement.

The application included a proposed expansion of the network to provide reduced-cost or no-cost broadband lines to homes of Wilson County school children, a health network, increased lines for police and other improvements that would enhance the network in the city, Goings said.

When the North Carolina Telecommunications Association (with prominent member Time Warner Cable - incumbent cable provider competing with Wilson's Greenlight) asked to see the full application, the City refused to turn it over -- even after a court ruled against the City. The City argued the application contained key information regarding the policy and utilities that should not be made public for security reasons. When the Department of Homeland Security ignored the City's requests to intervene, the City was compelled to release the documents.

This is a particularly interesting juxtaposition as privately owned telcos and cablecos regularly argue against having to disclose any information about about their networks as a security...

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Posted September 15, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

This is a follow-up to my coverage of Chattanooga's 1Gbps announcement and press around it.

Firstly, I have to admit I was simultaneously frustrated and amused by reactions to the $350/month price tag for the 1Gbps service, like Russell Nicols' "Chattanooga, Tenn,. Gets Pricey 1 Gbps Broadband."

Wow.

I encourage everyone to call their ISP to ask what 1Gbps would cost. If you get a sales person who knows what 1Gbps is, you will probably get a hearty laugh. These services are rarely available in our communities… and when they are, the cost is measured by thousands to tens of thousands. Chattanooga's offering, though clearly out of the league most of us are willing to pay for residential connections, is quite a deal.

The reaction that it is pricey blows my mind… at $350 for 1Gbps, one is paying $.35 for each megabit. I pay Comcast something like $4.5 for each megabit down and $35 for each megabit up (I actually pay more as I rarely get the speeds advertised).

Make no mistake, Chattanooga's 1Gbps is very modestly priced. And I would not expect many communities to duplicate it. Chattanooga has some unique circumstances that allow it to create this deal; the fact that other community fiber networks around the country cannot match it should not be taken as a knock against them. Ultimately, communities must do what is best for them, not merely try to steal the thunder as the best network in the nation.

But for the folks who have the best network in the nation, I get the idea they have enjoyed the vast coverage of their creation. The Chattanooga Times Free Press ran a lengthy story titled "Fastest on the web."

"We can never overestimate the amount of bandwidth that will be needed in the future," said jon Kinsey, a Chattanooga developer and former mayor who is working with local entrepreneurs to study ways to capitalize on the faster broadband service. "What EPB has set up gives us an opportunity as a community to get into a whole new realm of business growth."

One might expect that the president of the "Information Technology and Innovation Federation" would be interested in the most cutting edge broadband network in the country --...

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Posted July 17, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

LUS has asked the court in Kansas to dismiss a lawsuit against it by NCTC (I previously explained this situation here). Down in Louisiana, a local paper is continuing to cover it and John at Lafayette Pro Fiber has explained the situation as well, with more context about the NCTC.

Once this lawsuit is dismissed, we'll hope for a ruling from the FCC that the NCTC cannot simply discriminate against some municipalities based on the private company incumbents doing business there.

Posted January 14, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

I caught an interesting article asking whether Dubuque, Iowa, should build a publicly owned broadband network. Iowa already has a number of publicly owned networks, mostly cable HFC networks, that serve communities.

The article starts with some history, noting that the small community of Hawarden, Iowa, was the first to build a public cable system in the state and had to defend its rights to do so in court.

The northwest Iowa community of about 2,500 people more than a decade ago built a $4 million cable system, only to be temporarily shut down by an Iowa Supreme Court injunction. Hawarden survived the court's order prohibiting municipalities from being in the telecommunications business, and in many respects blazed the trail for publicly run cable, Internet and phone service in Iowa.

More communities may be considering building their own networks (though they will build now with fiber rather than HFC) following Iowa's statewide franchising rules that preempt local authority, giving greater power to private cable companies.

The way it was written, existing franchise agreements may be nullified if a competitor announces plans to serve the community. Fortunately, many Iowa communities voted to formed telecommunications utilities back in 2005, though few have yet exercised that authority.

Unfortunately, the article's author was clearly misled by either Qwest or Mediacom's public relations flacks because he wrote about UTOPIA, as though the problems of a purely open access model under a different regulatory environment poses important lessons for communities in Iowa that may build their own networks. The successes and failures of UTOPIA teach us very little about how Iowa communities should move forward.

Smaller Iowa communities do have a serious disadvantage - building modern networks is very difficult the smaller they get. Below 5,000 subscribers, it can be difficult to make the network pay for itself (though exceptions exist) - suggesting to me that joint efforts combining communities could be a good option. Unfortunately, though the technology has no problems crossing political boundaries, the politics are much more difficult.

Posted October 14, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

While I try to keep postings on this site to the subject of publicly owned networks, I think it important to discuss the ways in which some major carriers routinely flout the public interest. Thus, a little history on how Comcast has acted against the public interest.

Most of the readers of this blog are probably aware that Comcast has been dinged by the FCC following its practice of interfering with subscribers legal content (and undoubtedly illegal content as well) by blocking and disrupting the BitTorrent traffic. BitTorrent is frequently used to transfer large media files because it efficiently breaks large files into many little pieces, allowing the user to download from a variety of sources concurrently - the file is then reassembled.

When Comcast detected BitTorrent connections, it would effectively hang up on them, regardless of the congestion level on the network at the time. The FCC (the Bush Administration's FCC) said it couldn't do that and Comcast is currently in the courts trying to tell the FCC that it can't tell Comcast what it can't do on its network.

Prior to a journalistic investigation that proved Comcast was doing this, net geeks had repeated asked Comcast if it were blocking the BitTorrent protocol. Comcast never admitted to anything, often claiming it did not "block" anything... as time would go on, Comcast would refuse to admit it was blocking anything - as if permanently delaying traffic was anything other than a blockage. "I'm not blocking you, try back in 20 million years."

Around this time, Comcast quietly changed its policy regarding the maximum amount of bandwidth subscribers could consume in a month. At the time, I thought it was a result of the FCC cracking down on the arbitrary policies frequently used by cable companies, but it turns out we can thank the State of Florida for forcing Comcast to enact a transparent cap on monthly usage.

Prior to the official cap, there was an unofficial cap. Every month, some number of people would be notified they were kicked off Comcast's service for using too much bandwidth - but no one knew how much was too much and, perhaps more importantly, how to keep track of how much bandwidth they were using. Discussions on geek-hangout Slashdot suggested a monthly cap of between 100 Gigabytes and 300 Gigabytes depending on the neighborhood. There was no limit documented anywhere and Comcast representatives refused to acknowledge any hard cap.

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Posted October 6, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

The Minnesota Independent took Pawlenty's Administration to task last week for its decision to give more money to the telecom company front group Connected Nation. To be clear, this is not the money for infrastructure (yet - time will tell how the state encourages the feds to allocate the grants). This was the mapping money.

Peter Fleck, of PF Hyper blog, put it well:

“My understanding is that we have allowed the companies that have not provided the needed broadband coverage in our state to steer the broadband mapping process itself because of a stated need for confidentiality. That need is questionable,” said Fleck.

“And it puts the state in a position where if the maps show there is no problem with broadband coverage, then we won’t need legislation, regulation, or any other policies and it creates the risk that the telecom industry can continue to provide inadequate coverage to underserved areas — usually areas of low-density and low-income. And because of the inadequacy of these maps, eventually we will have to undertake broadband mapping again at taxpayer expense. To me, this is an irresponsible use of public money.”

The story also quotes me and links back to our story on Connected Nation in Minnesota.

I want to note that states and federal agencies can demand more in terms of better maps and data transparency. It is somewhat disingenuous to lay the blame solely at the doorstep of this telecom-front organization when elected officials refuse to demand more from an industry that has long retained legions of lobbyists. Make no mistake, Connected Nation's conflict of interest is a serious problem, but we need our elected officials to stand up to the telecommunications companies and demand better mapping data. We had higher hopes from the NTIA, but clearly that was misplaced.

More recently, Sharon Schmickle of MinnPost wrote about plans for a publicly owned network in Cook County, Minnesota. It touches on the major issues that many communities face when deciding whether to build...

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Posted August 6, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Ellen Perlman of Governing has written a short history of the struggle in Lafayette, Louisiana (Cajun Country) to build a publicly owned (by the public power utility) FTTH network. She also highlights the role of citizen activists who worked quite hard to show community support for the network (see video below). An excerpt:

Huval, the Lafayette utility’s director, advises municipalities interested in similar projects to be sure to do their research and hire experts. “Municipalities are going to face pushback, and it’s going to take different forms,” he says. They need a good plan to share with elected officials and the public and to use in reaching out to business, the education community and residents. “Make sure that what you’re trying to do is what they want,” Huval says. “No matter how good the idea, it’s climbing a steep hill.”

But for Lafayette, at least, the climb seems to have been worth it. Recently, a Canadian company moved a call center to Lafayette, creating hundreds of jobs. Company representatives told city leaders that Lafayette had proved itself to be forward-thinking with its plan for high-speed fiber. Durel, when testifying before Congress, had facetiously told lawmakers that other companies would do well to come to Lafayette and plug in to its prized fiber. “Please send your technology companies to Lafayette, Louisiana,” he said. “We will welcome them with open arms and a gumbo.”

Posted June 30, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

This is a letter to the editor from Monticello's Mayor in regard to the lawsuit TDS filed against the city to prevent the city from building its own fiber network.

As your Mayor for the City of Monticello, I feel it is time to lay out the truth regarding the city's decision to install fiber and TDS's lawsuit that attempts to stop us. The city council, staff and myself have been handcuffed in our ability to offer information to the public for fear that TDS would twist the information and add new allegations to their suit, thus extending the litigation.

We (the city) talked with TDS on several occasions to explore options to give the citizens and businesses of Monticello cutting edge technology. We felt that fiber optic technology would attract another level of business and industry that would offer our residents well-paying, local jobs. It has been and continues to be the city council's goal to create a city where you can work, live and raise a family. It was also very important to make sure EVERY resident was given the opportunity to experience this technology. Councilman Wayne Mayer and I met with TDS at their office. We expressed our concern that every resident and business should be able to access the fiber optic system. We were told that they "could not justify the expense" to their shareholders and they "already had good copper in the ground." Their plan was to continue to offer fiber to new developments, but not address existing homes.

It was clear to Wayne and I that if the citizens of Monticello were to experience this type of technology it would be in their own hands. Therefore, the council decided to put it up to you, the citizens of Monticello. You made your voice heard loud and clear by passing a referendum by 74%. That was after being bombarded with telephone calls and mailings from TDS that were very misleading. Claims were made that this system would cost the citizens of Monticello 25 million dollars, but TDS knows how revenue bonds work. I know that, because I sat in a courtroom and listened to their high priced Chicago attorney explain why we shouldn't be able to use this type of bond to fund the system. They know that these dollars are raised through investors and it is these investors who would be on the hook if this system failed. TDS tries to claim that they are suing us to protect the citizens of Monticello, but the truth is that they want to continue their monopoly for land line telephone in...

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Posted June 30, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Following the TDS-initiated lawsuit against the city of Monticello, Minnesota, I wrote the this op-ed to offer some outside perspective. This is a snippet:

At a time when most of the United States has slower, more expensive Internet connections than our overseas competitors, communities across the country have responded with initiatives to build the infrastructure of the 21st century. And then they have been sued. Monticello is hardly the first community where an incumbent provider believes it alone should decide how that community connects to the world. Lafayette, a conservative city in Louisiana, spent several years in the courts before it could break ground on a publicly owned citywide network. Cajun culture did not allow for giving up on the project. Nice Minnesotans should do no less. Monticello, too, must hold true to its citizens, who in last year’s referendum voted by almost 3 to 1 for a modern telecommunications network. That referendum wasn’t a request that the city do something; it was a mandate from the people to their government to build a fiber network to every home and business in the town.

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