Tag: "comcast"

Posted October 6, 2011 by christopher

Just one day after getting busted for lying about its supporters, a group funded by self-interested groups outside the community is accusing the City of distributing propaganda regarding an upcoming referendum over whether the City should have the authority to use an existing fiber-loop to spur economic development.

We developed a comic that explored the ways cable and phone companies use dirty tricks to fool people into voting against more competition in broadband (such as this "Look Before We Leap" Vote no group).

As if to prove our point for us, that group was busted for outrageously claiming the Mayor wanted people to vote no when the Mayor has been explicit in not just supporting the referendum but in condemning outsider groups like theirs from coming into the community to do the dirty work of anti-competitive incumbents.

Bryan Baum has appeared at several forums in support of 2A, including a Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce forum in which he urged out-of-town opponents of the ballot question to "get out of town" and let Longmont settle its own issues.

The group said "This is obviously a mistake," Merritt said. "We'll get that fixed." Yeah sure. Whoops. We accidentally claimed a prominent figure as a supporter. Their response? They took his name off that list but left his wife's name on their site!

Comcast's front group has zero credibility

This is a group with absolutely zero credibility. But they have tons of funding -- likely from Comcast and incumbent trade groups that fight these initiatives everywhere to preserve what is essentially a monopoly for the cable and telephone companies. We just republished an op-ed outlining some these tactics from 2009.

Now the "Look Before We Leap" group is accusing the City of distributing propaganda.

Longmont'...

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Posted October 3, 2011 by ejames

Residents in Longmont, Colorado are preparing for a municipal referendum to utilize an existing fiber optic network.

The referendum is set for Tuesday, November 1, 2011.

At issue is how the city can use a ring of fiber-optic cables it built around the city in the late 90's as part of its electrical infrastructure.  Much of the capacity on the ring remains unused but the city requires approval of the voters in a referendum before it can offer services to local businesses -- which will encourage economic development by creating more telecommunications choices in the community for businesses and residents (some background here).  

This is referendum question 2A:

Ballot Question 2A: Without increasing taxes, shall the citizens of the City of Longmont, Colorado, re-establish their City's right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by Title 29, article 27 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, described as "advanced services," "telecommunications services" and "cable television services," including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to the existing fiber optic network, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, residential or commercial users within the City and the service area of the City's electric utility enterprise?

Big cable and telco operators  have wasted no time in spreading fear and false information to scare voters into voting against using a valuable asset owned by the community. When the community organized a debate for the end of September, the only people willing to defend Comcast's position came from far outside the community to do it.  

Trying to get in the mind of the big incumbents of Longmont, we developed this cartoon (the style is an homage to the "Get Your War On" comic).

Longmont 2A Opposition

Download a higher quality pdf version.

Citizens have responded by...

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Posted September 29, 2011 by christopher

As we previously noted, the city of Longmont, Colorado, is preparing for a referendum to allow the City to offer telecommunications services to local businesses and residents using a fiber ring it built long ago. This is due to a 2005 law (the "Qwest" law) that was pushed through the Colorado Legislature by incumbents seeking to prevent competition.

That law has succeeded -- most Colorado communities can only choose between slow DSL from the incumbent telephone company and comparatively faster services from the incumbent cable company. And when Longmont last attempted to pass a referendum to share its fiber infrastructure with local businesses, Comcast and Qwest swamped the town with unprecedented sums to confuse residents -- leading to the referendum failure with 44% voting yes.

But after the referendum passed and people had time to better understand the issue, many who voted against it realized they had been duped. We have seen the same dynamic elsewhere -- in Windom, MN, for example, where the second referendum succeeded. WindomNet has since saved a number of jobs and is expanding to eight other underserved rural communities around it.

Longmont built its fiber ring in the late 90's but it still has a lot of unused capacity that could be used to attract economic development if the publicly owned power utility were authorized to offer services to businesses. Without this authority, the community has a valuable asset that they are forced to leave unused -- even as local businesses could benefit greatly from it.

The Longmont Times-Call outlined the situation in July:

Without that vote, the city can't let homes or businesses use that fiber without a vote, thanks to a 2005 state law. It's a fight the city's lost once before in 2009, when opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to urge the measure's defeat.

This time out, there's a different tack. The city has been underlining in discussions that the measure would "restore its rights" to provide telecommunications service. And it's stressing that no high-dollar project is on the table -- the first words of the ballot measure now read "...

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Posted August 15, 2011 by christopher

Chattanooga, with the nation's most impressive broadband network (stretching into rural areas even outside the metro), is spending $30 million to put a Wi-Fi wireless network on top of it. At present, it is primarily for municipal uses:

For now, city government plans to retain exclusive use of the network for municipal agencies as it tests it with applications including Navy SEAL-esque head-mounted cameras that feed live video to police headquarters, traffic lights that can be automatically adjusted at rush hour, and even water contamination sensors that call home if there’s a problem beneath the surface of the Tennessee River.

Much of the wireless network is being funded by state and federal grants -- Chattanooga is turning itself into a test bed for the future city, at least for communities that recognize the benefits of owning their own infrastructure. Chattanooga can do what it wants to, it does not have to ask permission from Comcast or AT&T.

The goal for the city’s wireless network is to make the entire city more efficient and sustainable, said David Crockett, director of Chattanooga’s Office of Sustainability.

As Bernie Arnason notes at Telecompetitor, Wi-Fi is increasingly needed by smartphones because the big cellular networks cannot handle the load. The future has wireless components, but without Wi-Fi backhauled by fiber-optics, the future will be extremely slow and unreliable -- traffic jams for smartphones.

A more recent story from the Times Free Press notes that Chattanooga is wrestling with how to handle opening the network to residential and business use.

Wireless symbol

“I want to be innovative,” he said. “I want to do more than just turn it on in the parks.”

It’s a popular idea with technologists, tourism officials and the general public, who would gain the ability to surf around the city at speeds greater than typical cellular speeds.

Bob Doak, president and CEO of...

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Posted August 8, 2011 by christopher

You can now read this post at Huffington Post also.

As a condition of its massive merger with NBC, the federal government is requiring Comcast to make affordable Internet connections available to 2.5 million low-income households for the next two years.

In promoting the program, Comcast's Executive VP David Cohen, has made some unexpected admissions:

“Access to the internet is akin to a civil rights issue for the 21st century,” said David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president. “It’s that access that enables people in poorer areas to equalize access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities.”

It was only after the federal government mandated a low-cost option for disadvantaged households that Comcast realized everyone could benefit from access to the Internet. Sadly for Comcast, it has done a poor job of reaching those disadvantaged communities, by its own admission:

"Quite frankly, people in lower-income communities, mostly people of color, have such limited access to broadband than people in wealthier communities."

This is why so many communities are building their own next-generation networks - they know that these networks are essential for economic development and ensuring everyone has "access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities." And they know that neither Comcast nor the federal government are going to make the necessary investments. They need a solution for the next 20 years, not just the next 2.

Community Networks Map

Comcast has a de facto monopoly in many communities. Modern cable networks offer much higher capacity connections than...

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Posted July 14, 2011 by christopher

Colorado requires a referendum before a local government can build a broadband network as a result of a 2005 law pushed by Qwest to prevent communities from building next-generation networks. So when Longmont wanted to expand its fiber ring to offer residential and business services, they put it to a vote.

They lost with only 44% supporting the measure. But now, more people understand the issue and the community is considering voting again.

We saw the same dynamic in Windom, Minnesota. Almost ten years ago, Windom held a vote to build a muni FTTH network and it failed to gain the Minnesota-required 65% supermajority. After the vote, a number of people wanted to revote because they realized they had been conned by the incumbent phone provider (ahem… Qwest) and only truly understood the issue after the vote had occurred.

City officials wanted no part of another referendum but community champions eventually prevailed and they had a second vote that authorized the community to build the network.

We'll see if Longmont follows suit. An article discussing the re-vote notes that Comcast and Qwest have dumped unprecedented sums into preventing the community from having a new choice:

The first attempt at getting that approval didn't go so well in 2009. According to city records, opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to defeat that ballot measure, the largest amount ever spent on a Longmont city election. By contrast, the city legally couldn't campaign on its own behalf, and the explanations that were out there didn't explain well, according to Longmont Power & Communications director Tom Roiniotis.

The cable and phone companies created an astroturf group called "No Blank Check" that then used standard fear, uncertainty, and doubt tactics to spread misinformation around the community. A quarter of a million dollars is a drop in the bucket to stop the only real threat of competition these companies face anymore -- locally owned community networks.

The situation in Longmont has attracted the interest of the...

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Posted July 13, 2011 by christopher

The net is buzzing about Comcast's data caps after a Seattle resident ran afoul of them. I found it particularly interesting given Seattle's recent decision to use its assets to further Comcast's monopoly following a poorly considered RFP.

This story highlights many of the frustrations and injustices that come with companies as massive as Comcast effectively monopolizing an essential utility, with practically no oversight locally or federally.

When Comcast enacted is 250GB monthly transfer cap years ago, many thought it was sufficiently high that few would run afoul of it. But the smart folks noted that if it did not increase as natural usage increases, it would hurt legitimate users (as opposed to those who run servers constantly trafficking in file sharing that violates copyright).

I made very clear to the gentleman I spoke with that I thought Comcast’s data cap policy was arbitrary, unfair, and extremely irritating… and that if I had any decent competitive options in the neighborhood I’d dump Comcast in a heartbeat. Since I don’t, I listened to him read his canned warning that if I exceeded their cap again I’d be cut off again.

Bear in mind that when you fill up the fuel tank in your car, you are at a gas station that is regularly inspected by the state to ensure it is correctly measuring the volume of gas dispensed. Comcast is not similarly regulated and we have to take Comcast's word on how much traffic we use. Most of the time I have visited Comcast's meter to see what my household usage is, I have been unable to even access it.

But back to the story, our Seattle friend later found that he had unintentionally violated the cap again, despite taking precautions not to:

The Customer Security agent was polite, and after the standard identification questions notified me I was cut off for a year due to exceeding Comcast’s Acceptable Use Policy limits on their bandwidth cap. I asked for details on what had been using bandwidth, and again, Comcast would not share. In a sudden brainstorm, I then asked whether the 250 GB bandwidth cap applied to just downloads (which I had assumed, as the majority of most bandwidth used in households is downstream bandwidth), or download and...

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Posted June 27, 2011 by christopher

We have an answer to the question of what a city gets when it commits the bare minimum to improving broadband access: more of the same. We were skeptical of Seattle's approach of using city-owned conduit to spur serious improvements to broadband and, it turns out, correct.

Only one company bid on the project, Comcast, a provider in much of Seattle already -- and a much maligned one at that. So Pioneer Square will have better access to the Internet, but from the dominant provider of high speed access in the City.

Seattle just helped Comcast consolidate its monopoly just a bit further. This is a small step forward for Pioneer Square, and a larger step backward for the City as a whole. With FiOS available in the suburbs, offering much faster and more reliable connections for the same prices, Seattle has done very little to stem the flow of techies to the burbs.

The RFP set certain requirements for use of the City's conduit, as noted in the Seattle Times article but one has to wonder if Comcast might be able to negotiate that down - few are better at exercising monopoly power than the Nation's largest cable and Internet provider.

Comcast is slated to pay $78,000 in one-time fees to cover part of the cable's installation, plus $4,057 in annual leasing fees, according to city documents.

The City elected a Mayor who promised to improve broadband access, but it seems the City Council is standing in the way of actually doing anything that would bring residents and businesses a meaningful choice in providers.

Photo, used under creative commons license, courtesy of Jeff Hathaway

Posted May 27, 2011 by christopher

In the campaign for Mayor, Seattle Mayor McGinn frequently proposed the city getting more involved in improving broadband access. Since becoming mayor, he has accomplished little in this area, perhaps due to a City Council that is not convinced it should get involved in broadband.

But the mayor held an event in Pioneer Square to announce a new initiative to start using City assets to expand broadband access:

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn today laid out a proposal to encourage broadband Internet in a four-block area in Pioneer Square, allowing telecom and cable companies to lease some of the conduit that the city is now placing under First Avenue South. McGinn said it is a small, incremental step in a larger plan to bring high-speed Internet to the parts of the city that need it, tapping into some 500 miles of “dark fiber” that’s not being utilized.

Pioneer Square, with a mix of commercial and residential, currently has very poor access to the Internet:

Jeff Strain, the founder of Undead Labs, a 20-person game developer in Pioneer Square, said that fiber-optic cable would dramatically improve his company’s ability to create cutting-edge games.

“What we are able to get in Pioneer Square is about half the speed of what you’d be able to get in your home,” said Strain. “So, it is not really suitable for the sort of media rich businesses that we are trying to build down here.”

The Mayor's site explains that Jeff Strain was considering moving his company to a location with better access.

We’ve heard from Pioneer Square businesses that internet speeds there are just not what a 21st century economy needs. Jeff Strain, who founded a game development company called Undead Labs, worries that he might have to move his company from Pioneer Square if the “barely adequate” internet service isn’t improved. He needs high-speed, high capacity internet access to upload his content.

...

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Posted May 21, 2011 by christopher

With so many community broadband stories breaking this week, I did not dig into an update to Boston seeking authority to regulate some cable rates in response to the many rate hikes they have endured from Comcast. Boston's mayor has previously complained about basic cable rate increases.

The Ars Technica story offers some good regulatory background that limits the power of Boston to do much about rates.

According to the City, Comcast's 2011 Basic Service Rate change went from $13.30 to $15.80 a month. This came in the wake of previous rate hikes—to $9.05 in 2008, to $10.30 in 2009, and to $13.30 in 2010.

That all adds up to "more than 60%, on a service that is supposed to be affordable and is identified in the industry as ‘lifeline service'," Boston says.

"In addition, when comparing Boston to neighboring communities that have rate regulation, Comcast has over-collected approximately $24 million from Boston's Basic Subscribers during the four year period from 2008 through 2011," the City's statement claims. Its own research indicates that neighboring cities that are still regulated, such as Cambridge, have cheaper rates.

This has led the Boston Globe to editorialize "If cable firms act as monopolies, cities should be able to regulate.

When the Federal Communications Commission took away Boston’s power to regulate basic cable rates almost a decade ago, the assumption was that competition for pay-TV services would hold prices down for consumers. That assumption has not panned out. Comcast Corp., the successor to Boston’s original cable franchisee, still dominates — not least because its former monopoly status conveys lingering advantages that hamper competition even now. Those advantages help explain why Comcast’s charges for basic cable — now $15.80 a month for a package of 35 channels, according to a city report — have risen by 75 percent since 2008.

We are strong proponents of public ownership (via local government, coops, or nonprofits) in part because the regulatory environment leaves communities practically no...

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