Tag: "comcast"

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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Posted April 2, 2012 by christopher

When a tornado rips your town apart and destroys your home, should you have to pay extra fees to your cable provider? Of course not. But we continue to see these news stories about massive cable companies ripping off people who are just trying to find the energy to get by day to day.

Last year, we saw reports about Charter Cable telling Alabama tornado victims they had to "find" their cable boxes or pay for them.

According to the friend, Glenda Dillashaw, a Charter representative told her that Spain would need to find his cable box or be charged $212 for its loss.

Fortunately, when Spain followed up with Charter after receiving another bill, the representative told him not to worry about it, suggesting that either Charter has an ambiguous policy to deal with it or Spain found a customer support person who's heart had not yet been crushed by soul-numbing job of being a customer support representative for a massive cable company.

At least one other company has a formal policy in place for these situations:

Bright House Networks, whose service area includes hard-hit Pratt City, also expects its customers to file claims under homeowners' or renters' insurance to pay for lost or destroyed cable boxes. "That's how we normally handle it," spokesman Robert L. Smith said.

Fascinatingly, an article in Michigan claims Comcast does not have a policy in place for these situations. Following recent tornados in Michigan, Comcast customers who lost their homes were given the option of paying a cancellation fee or paying a reduced "vacation" rate for a service they could not use.

Comcast Logo

Katherine Pfeiffer and Kathy Crawford soon found that residents were being told that they would be responsible for damaged or lost cable boxes and modems.

Initially residents were told their accounts with Comcast would be put on “vacation” status, where a monthly fee of between $15 and $20 would be charged.

Comcast is supposedly "working on a solution" for these people.

The hubris of this massive companies is unreal. People who are waiting to hear if their home is repairable or has to be destroyed should not be confronted by the...

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Posted January 28, 2012 by christopher

Chattanooga's community owned EPB Fiber Network continues to get positive reviews from subscribers in the local paper. And Comcast's customers continue to complain. The Times Free Press Chattanoogan presents a tale of two providers.

The longer letter details the frustration in dealing with Comcast following the failure of their on-demand service. After Comcast didn't resolve the problem over the course of several phone calls, the subscriber was told she would have to pay $30 for a Comcast technician to come to their house, even if the problem was entirely caused by Comcast's network and/or equipment.

The second letter, from Leah, notes that she too suffered at the hands of Comcast's customer service but became EPB customers after a long absence from their home due to damage from the tornadoes of 2011. When they returned home, they went with the community network rather than Comcast.

This is how she reflects on her experience with EPB:

We have had one instance where we needed to contact customer service, and the problem was fixed quickly and easily by the most polite customer service rep I’ve ever dealt with.

Comcast came by recently to offer us a “substantial savings” if we’d make the switch back to them. My question was, why now? I was a customer for years and treated poorly as rates increased exponentially. Now the offer the discount? No thanks.

For the $5 extra per month that we pay for EPB, we receive better features, prompt and polite customer service, and an all around trouble free experience. Thanks EPB!

Posted January 10, 2012 by christopher

One of the reasons community broadband networks face so many unique hurdles (often created deliberately by states in response to cable/dsl lobbying) is because of the many ways in which campaign finance corrupts our national and state governments.

Community broadband networks are focused on meeting community needs, not sending lobbyist armies into Washington, DC, and state capitals (though one of things we do at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is offer help to those that do push pro-community agendas in these areas).

To understand why DC is so focused on furthering the corporate agendas of AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and others, is to understand the revolving door. (Also, understanding capture -- which we have explained previously.)

In short, many of the people who make decisions about telecommunications policy in DC have worked, will work, or are presently working for the massive companies that effectively control access to the Internet in most of America's communities.

The good folks at Geke.US have created the following Comcast Venn Diagram illustrating a small piece of the DC revolving door.

Comcast and DC's revolving door Venn Diagram

Reforming this system is a deep, seemingly intractable problem. But for those looking for answers, a good place to start is with the work of Lawrence Lessig. I just finished his Republic, Lost, which offers a grand tour of the problems resulting from the present system of campaign finance.

You can also see a number of his presentations here.

His organization, the Rootstrikers aim to get to the root of problems rather than being distracted by trying to fix symptoms of deeper problems. This is precisely what we do with our focus on community networks.

Many focus solely on resolving digital divide issues, improving rural access to the Internet, lowering the cost of broadband, or the various other problems that result from narrowly-focused private corporations owning and controlling essential communications infrastructure with...

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Posted January 3, 2012 by christopher

It's a new year, but most of us are still stuck with the same old DSL and cable monopolies. Though many communities have built their own networks to create competition and numerous other benefits, nearly half of the 50 states have enacted legislation to make it harder for communities to build their own networks.

Fortunately, this practice has increasingly come under scrutiny. Unfortunately, we expect to see massive cable and telephone corporations use their unrivaled lobbying power to pass more laws in 2012 like the North Carolina law pushed by Time Warner Cable to essentially stop new community broadband networks.

The FCC's National Broadband Plan calls for all local governments to be free of state barriers (created by big cable and phone companies trying to limit competition). Recommendation 8.19: Congress should make clear that Tribal, state, regional and local governments can build broadband networks.

But modern day railroad barons like Time Warner Cable, AT&T, etc., have a stranglehold on a Congress that depends on their campaign contributions and a national capital built on the lobbying largesse of dominant industries that want to throttle any threats to their businesses. (Hat tip to the Rootstrikers that are trying to fix that mess.)

We occasionally put together a list of notable achievements of these few companies that dominate access to the Internet across the United States. The last one is available here.

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As you read this, remember that the FCC's National Broadband Plan largely places the future of Internet access in the hands of these corporations. On the few occasions the FCC tries to defend the public from their schemes to rip-off...

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