Tag: "comcast"

Posted June 30, 2012 by christopher

We have followed Seattle's on-again, off-again consideration of a community broadband network for years and have occasionally noted the successful cable network in nearby Tacoma.

Seattle Met's Matthew Halverson has penned a short, impressive article explaining the trials and tribulations of Tacoma while also exploring why Seattle's Mayor has abandoned his goal of a broadband public option.

Before the massive cable consolidation that has left us with a handful of monopolists, we had a larger number of smaller monopolists that abused their market power to limit competition. One of the worst was TCI, which refused to upgrade its awful services in Tacoma, which pushed Tacoma to build its own network. TCI suddenly decided it did care about Tacoma.

TCI wouldn’t go down easily, of course. For the next year, as the City built out its system, the cable giant took advantage of the utility’s biggest weakness: All of its plans, from the kind of equipment it would buy to its construction schedule, were public information. So when Tacoma Power put in an order with its supplier for, say, coaxial cable, it found that TCI had already bought every foot of it. “But we started in one area of town and luckily we were able to get just enough material,” says Pat Bacon, Click’s technical operations manager. “We just inched our way through it and, before you knew it, we were a presence.” By July 1998, Click had its first cable subscriber, and the first broadband Internet user signed on in December 1999.

A substantial portion of the article is devoted to the dynamics around open access between the utility and independent providers -- an important read for anyone considering the open access approach.

Halverson did his homework on this article and I think he got it mostly right. I think the FiOS-wired suburbs do present a larger threat to Seattle than suggested, but it certainly does not compare to the approaching-existential crisis faced by Tacoma fifteen years ago.

I wish I could disagree with his conclusion that Seattle is unlikely to get a community fiber network but unless the community rises up to demand it, elected officials are unlikely to see any benefit to making such a long term...

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Posted June 28, 2012 by lgonzalez

Arlington County, Virginia is taking advantage of a series of planned projects to create their own fiber optic network, ConnectArlington. The County is moving into phase II of its three part plan to improve connectivity with a publicly owned fiber network.

Some creative thinking and inter-agency collaboration seem to be the keys to success in Arlington. Both the County and the Arlington Public Schools will own the new asset. Additionally, the network will improve the County Public Safety network. Back in March, Tanya Roscola reported on the planing and benefits of the ConnectArlington in Government Technology.

Arlington County's cable franchise agreement with Comcast is up for renewal in 2013. As part of that agreement, the schools and county facilities have been connected to each other at no cost to the County. Even though there are still active negotiations, the ConnectArlington website notes that the outcome is uncertain. The County does not know if the new agreement will include the same arrangement. Local leaders are not waiting to find out, citing need in the community and recent opportunities that reduce installation costs. 

Other communities, from Palo Alto in California to Martin County in Florida, have found Comcast pushing unreasonable prices for services in franchise negotiations. Smart communities have invested in their own networks rather than continue depending on Comcast.

Like schools all around the country, Arlington increasingly relies on high-capacity networks for day-to-day functions both in and out of the classroom. Digital textbooks, tablets, and online testing enhance the educational adventure, but require more and more bandwidth and connectivity. From the article:

Through ConnectArlington, Arlington Public Schools will be able to take advantage of Internet2 for distance learning. At no cost, students will be able to communicate with teachers and access electronic textbooks and online courses from wireless hot spots.

The...

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Posted June 25, 2012 by christopher

Far too many people seem to think that when they go to Speedtest.net to test their connection, they get a number that has any bearing on reality. For most of us, it simply doesn't. This is true of other large tools for measuring connections. And it has important policy implications because the FCC contracted with a company called Sam Knows to measure wireline speeds available to Americans (I'm a volunteer in that project).

Sam Knows explains :

SamKnows has been awarded a ground breaking contract by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to begin a new project researching and collecting data on American fixed-line broadband speeds delivered by Internet Service Providers (ISP's) - until now, something that has never been undertaken in the USA.

The project will see SamKnows recruit a team of Broadband Community members who will, by adding a small 'White Box'’ to their home internet set up, automatically monitor their own connection speeds throughout the period of the project.

Unfortunately, SamKnows appears to be documenting fantasy, not reality.

To explain, let's start with a question Steve Gibson recently answered on his amazing netcast, Security Now (available via the TWiT network). A listener asked why he gets such large variation in repeated visits to Speedtest.net.

Security Now Logo

Steve answers the question as an engineer with a technical explanation involving the TCP/IP protocol and dropped packets. But he missed the much larger issue. Packets are dropped because the "pipes" are massively oversubscribed at various places within the network (from the wires outside you house to those closer to the central office or head end). What this means is that the cable company (and DSL company, to a lesser extent) takes 100Mbps of capacity and sells hundreds of people 20Mbps or 30 Mbps or whatever. Hence the "up to" hedge in their advertisements.

The actual capacity you have available to you depends on what your neighbors (cable) or others in the network (DSL) are doing. Dropped packets in TCP result often result from the congestion of high oversubscription ratios.

This gets us into why Speedtest.net and Sam...

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Posted June 21, 2012 by lgonzalez

Farmington, New Mexico, currently has 80 miles of fiber and has decided to consider the best way to get the most out of the investment. The City uses the fiber network strictly for its Farmington Electric Utility System but sees potential in maximizing the power of the unused strands. Earlier this year, they commissioned a study from Elert & Associates to investigate the technical possibilities. Front Range Consulting reviewed the financial pros and cons.

In February, both experts provided options to the City Council. While offering triple play services is a possibility, both firms recommended leasing available fiber to existing ISPs instead. Expanding to a triple play offering would require  a $100 million investment to connect the 32,000 current Farmington Electric Utility System's customers.

Dick Treich, from Front Range Consulting, commented on the pushback to expect from Comcast and CenturyLink, if the City decided to pursue triple play retail services. From a February Farmington Daily Times article (this article is archived and available for purchase):

"They won't sit still for that," Treich said. "First they will challenge the legality of whether you can get into that option, possibly tying you down in court for a long time. They will also start the whole argument of public money being used for starting a private business. It would be a two-pronged attack."

The City Council also pondered the option of leasing fiber, which would require a $1.5 million infrastructure investment. Also from the article:

"Five companies have expressed interest," said Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell. "Assuming that those companies would each use approximately 10 miles of fiber, (they) would provide $170,000 annually leasing dark fiber."

Update:

Bob Campbell, Acting Director of the General Services Department of Farmington, emailed us this update:

"...after the February meeting Council requested a study for the leasing of bandwidth, that report was presented to Council in May. Now staff will be making a presentation to Council in July asking Council to adopt a policy for the leasing of dark fiber....

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Posted June 20, 2012 by christopher

We have just released a paper revealing how Martin County saved millions of dollars by building its own fiber optic network to link schools and county facilities rather than leasing lines from Comcast.

The report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network, reveals how Martin County transformed the threat of a near ten-fold cost increase for its telecom budget into cost savings and new opportunities for economic growth.

Download the Florida Fiber Report here.

“Martin County is a model example of how local governments can cut costs, increase efficiencies, and spur economic development,” according to Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “Local governments will need broadband networks in 10, 15, 30 years – they should consider owning the asset rather than leasing indefinitely.”

ILSR Broadband Researcher Lisa Conzalez and Christopher Mitchell authored the report.

The new report highlights challenges the County faced, creative tactics used to reduce the cost of the investment, financial details on the incredible cost savings from the network, and how the new connections are already being used.

Though the County is not planning on offering services directly to residents or businesses over the network, the network has already allowed a local Internet Service Provider to expand its territory and offer some choices to people and businesses previously stuck only with AT&T and Comcast. Additionally, the network is leasing dark fiber to some entities.

Florida law makes it difficult for the community to offer services to residents and businesses by imposing additional regulations on public providers that are not imposed on massive companies like AT&T and Comcast.

If you want to stay current with stories like this, you can subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

Posted June 12, 2012 by christopher

For those waking up from a two week nap, the publicly owned FiberNet Monticello recently saw the private provider managing it step down, the City tell Bondholders that it would not make up the difference between revenues and debt payments, and us examining what the network has achieved.

On Monday, the Monticello City Council joined forces with Gigabit Squared a new organization with several experienced network operators on board that previously made news by noting it had $200 million to help build next-generation networks and would likely be working closely with Gig.U.

In a few months, they will take over managing FiberNet Monticello from HBC for a short period of time and may then continue with a longer contract.

One of the benefits of the public owning a network is that when the business plan does not work out as expected, the public still has a strong voice in what happens next. Monticello could have decided to give up on it, but we are glad to see it chose instead to try a new approach. If a private company had owned the network, it alone would have decided how to proceed and its competitors would undoubtedly pay a pretty penny to see it disappear.

Given the anti-competitive actions by incumbents (engaging in predatory pricing and frivolous lawsuits), FiberNet Monticello has to work harder to increase its revenues.

Put simply, they have two choices. 1) Expand. 2) Innovate with new, next-generation services.

From what we could tell, HBC was not particularly interested in either option in Monticello. HBC is a very accomplished triple play company (telephone, Internet access, and television) and does not appear focused on innovating new services. In fact, we have heard one of their likely future public partners saying that they would do triple play and nothing else for years.

Gigabit Squared...

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Posted June 11, 2012 by christopher

Over the weekend, while listening to an old episode of Star Talk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson, I was reminded of just how incredible the open Internet is. And what happens when a few massive corporations dominate the airwaves.

Neil was interviewing Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lt. Uhura on Star Trek - an African-American woman who just happened to be the 4th in command of a starship in the distant future. At about 9 minutes into the podcast, she begins telling an amazing story. In short, she wanted to quit after the first season to do stage productions. But the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and others prevailed on her to continue because her presence on TV was revolutionary.

As someone who grew up watching sports and the Dukes of Hazzard, I never understood why some were so attached to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. But in listening to this interview I began to understand. Sure, I grew up identifying with "them Duke boys" but what if I hadn't?

Long before the Long Tail, the few channels of television available aimed for the white middle class demographic. Portraying African-Americans in any position of authority was so rare that Neil deGrasse Tyson regularly exclaims that before seeing Star Trek, the science fiction of TVs and movies provided no confirmation that black people would be around in the future.

In 1967, having an African-American woman on television in a position of authority was so novel that one of our greatest Americans, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., went out of his way at an NAACP event to tell her what an inspiration she was to his family.

Big corporations aren't evil. But they have one goal -- increase their profits year after year. During the civil rights era, increasing profits year after year meant avoiding controversy. Somehow Gene Roddenberry broke through with Star Trek, inspiring many who were unused to any positive representation on television.

Unfortunately, in 2012, it seems that maximizing profits includes creating as much controversy as possible - how times have changed.

Nonetheless, we live temporarily in a time when content creators aspire to be "viral." Ten years ago, anyone who had a great idea for a channel had to give partial ownership to Comcast or other powerful corporations to have a chance of people seeing it. Not...

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Posted June 8, 2012 by christopher

Monticello has been all over the muni broadband news lately, in the wake of a letter it sent to bondholders [pdf] alerting them that the City would no longer make up the difference between the revenues produced by the system and the debt payments. This came shortly after the company managing the network decided to step down.

Over the next year, the reserve fund will make up the difference while the City and bondholders come to some sort of an agreement.

The Star Tribune today published a good synopsis of the situation:

City administrator Jeff O'Neill said that the city has no intention of abandoning FiberNet's 1,700 customers, including about 130 businesses.

"This system isn't going anywhere," he said. "We're not going out of business."

Despite the problems, he said the city has one of the fastest Internet systems in the country that has driven down prices and improved services by providing competition.

The article also notes that prior to the City-owned network, the telephone company (TDS) provided very poor DSL service that was harming area businesses with slow and very unreliabile phone and broadband services. Without FiberNet Monticello, we don't know how many businesses would have been forced to relocate to be competitive in the digital economy.

We decided to dig a little deeper to get a sense of what Monticello has received for its investment and difficulty. We previously examined the prices charged by Charter cable in town and found that households taking that deal were saving $1000/year.

monticello-goodbadugly_0.jpg

We also noted that Charter was almost certainly engaging in predatory pricing. After talking with other networks, we would guess that Charter is losing between $30 and $50 (conservatively) per subscriber per...

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Posted June 6, 2012 by lgonzalez

If you live in Boston, Baltimore, Albany, Syracuse, or Buffalo, you won't be getting FiOS from Verizon. Absent any public investment, you will likely be stuck with DSL and cable... like 80% of the rest of us.

Not long after Verizon announced it would cease expanding FiOS, we learned that Verizon was coming to an arrangement with the cable companies that would essentially divide the broadband market. Verizon won't challenge cable companies with FiOS and the cable companies won't challenge Verizon's "Rule the Air" wireless domain.

For a while now, the FCC has reviewed a potential deal for a Verizon purchase of Comcast's wireless spectrum. The possible deal involves multi-layered questions of anti-competitive behavior, collusion, and corporate responsibility. 

Along with many other interested parties, such as the Communications Workers of America, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and  the five towns are publicly opposing the deal. They have expressed their derision to the FCC but whether or not they will influence the result remains to be seen.

From a FierceTelecom article by Sean Buckley:

Curt Anderson, chair of the Baltimore City Delegation to the Maryland House of Delegates, expressed...outrage on the agreement the telco made.

"Under this transaction, Baltimore will never get a fiber-optic network, and the city will be at a disadvantage," he said. "The direct job loss will be the hundreds of technicians that would be employed building, installing and maintaining FiOS in the area. The indirect costs of this deal are even higher: the lack of competition in telecommunications will raise prices and reduce service quality.

And:

The deal, said Albany Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, "is not in the best interest of those who need to get and stay connected the most and is "a step backwards in bridging the digital divide."

Though these five cities...

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Posted May 16, 2012 by christopher

One of the reasons we so strongly support local, community owned broadband networks over European-like regulations on private companies is that large institutions regularly game the rules. We wrote about this last year, when Free Press called on the FCC to stop Verizon from ignoring the rules it agreed to for using certain spectrum.

Senator Franken, who has taken a strong interest in preserving the open Internet, has just reminded the FCC that creating rules does no one any good if it refuses to enforce them.

Not only has Comcast announced that its own Netflix-like service does not count against its bandwidth caps, some researchers found evidence that Comcast was prioritizing its own content to be higher quality than rivals could deliver. Comcast has denied this charge and proving it is difficult. Who do you believe? After all, Comcast spent years lying to its own subscribers about the very existence of its bandwidth caps.

The vast majority of the network neutrality debate centers around whether Comcast should be allowed to use its monopoly status as an onramp to the Internet dominate other markets, like delivering movies (as pioneered by Netflix). Comcast and many economists from Chicago say "Heck yes - they can do whatever they like." But the vast majority of us and the FCC have recognized that this is market-destroying behavior, not pro-market behavior.

So when Comcast was allowed to take over NBC Universal, it agreed to certain conditions imposed by the FCC to encourage competition. But the FCC has a long history of not wanting to enforce its own rules because it can be inconvenient to upset some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Plus, many of the people working in telecommunications policy for the federal government will eventually make much more money working for...

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