Tag: "comcast"

Posted November 17, 2010 by christopher

Today, we at MuniNetworks.org have released the first of a series of regional broadband comparisons examining the benefits of community networks. We decided to start with the Minneapolis / St Paul area, where we live and work. Read the Analysis [pdf]
Read the Press Release
Our analysis, "Twin Cities Broadband No Match For Community Network," compares the available broadband plans in Minneapolis and St. Paul to small town Monticello, located 45 miles NW of Minneapolis. Monticello, as we have frequently discussed, has built a publicly owned FTTH network (which then pushed its telco incumbent to invest in much faster connections as well). Despite Comcast's much touted DOCSIS 3 upgrades and Qwest's "Heavy Duty" DSL, neither comes close to the value of Monticello's services. These companies have continued to use last-generation DSL and cable technologies with significant downfalls, including much slower upstream speeds than downstream -- a limitation particularly damaging to small businesses and people attempting to work from home. Qwest advertises "fiber-optic fast" but its speeds come nowhere near Monticello's actual fiber-optic network. Further, Qwest's actual speeds are often far below their claims due to limitations with DSL technologies. Comcast offers faster speeds than Qwest, even advertising a 50 Mbps downstream speed that appears to rival Monticello's until you consider the Comcast cable architecture rarely delivers promised speeds because entire neighborhoods have to share bandwidth. Both providers struggle to deliver fast upstream speeds, whereas Monticello's network services all include upstream speeds just as fast as the downstream speeds. When it comes to prices, Monticello's are lower, despite the faster speeds they offer. Minneapolis residents have access to a low-cost Wi-Fi network, but in that case, the low cost reflects the slower available speeds and significantly lower reliability. Our analysis also includes Clear, a new Wi-Max provider, to discredit any claims that 4G wireless will somehow change the fundamental dynamic at work in the Twin Cities: Comcast and Qwest are content to deliver 2nd rate speeds at inflated prices. Wireless provider have...

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Posted November 4, 2010 by christopher

Two cities, located on opposite coasts, have recently cried out for cable competition in their communities.

A few weeks ago, SunBreak ran a story under "Why Comcast Needs Competition...Badly." The post describes a significant outage in Seattle and Comcast's slow response to fix the problem.

You may think to yourself, Hey, come on, it's 90 minutes out of your day. But what I think about is how much time cumulatively was wasted in Seattle this morning, much of it simply because people would not have been sure where the problem was. An early, all-hands-on-deck announcement from Comcast would have been a big help. It seems slightly insane that a company that provides internet service isn't very good at using the internet.

The folks at Sunbreak apparently were not aware that the City is still slowly considering building a network to ensure everyone in the community has affordable high speed broadband access (which would likely be far more reliable than Comcast's network). After I noted this in the comments, they reprinted one of my posts about Seattle's deliberations.

Meanwhile, the folks in Scranton, Pennsylvania, (immortalized in the television show The Office) have been asking when they get the faster broadband now available in Philly, Pittsburgh, and parts of the Lehigh Valley. The answer came bluntly from Stop the Cap: Sorry Scranton, You’re Stuck With Comcast Cable… Indefinitely

An article from the Times Tribune explains why the private sector fails to provide competition:

"Offering out television service is expensive, too expensive for most smaller telephone companies," said telecom industry analyst Jeff Kagan. "So many are reselling satellite service to keep customers who want one bundle and one bill."

Because of that, satellite television providers, who were never a formidable challenge to conventional cable...

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Posted October 15, 2010 by christopher

In all the talk of the need for competition in broadband (or in the mobile space), there is remarkably little attention paid to the difficulties in actually creating competition. A common refrain from the self-interested industry titans (and their many paid flacks) is: "keep the government out of it and let the market decide."

Unfortunately, an unregulated market in telecom tends toward consolidation at best, monopolization at worse. Practicioners of Chicago economics may dispute this, but their theories occur in reality about as frequently as unicorn observations. In our regulatory environment, big incumbents have nearly all the advantages, allowing them to use their advantages of scale to maintain market power (most notably the ability to use cross-subsidization from non-competitive markets to maintain predatory pricing wherever they face even the threat of competition).

The de-regulatory approach of telecom policy over the past 10 or more years has resulted in far less competition among ISPs, something Earthlink hopes to change with a condition of the seeming inevitable NBC-Comcast merger. Requiring incumbents to share their lines with independent ISPs is one policy that would greatly increase competition - but the FCC has refused to even entertain the notion because big companies like AT&T and Comcast are too intimidating for the current Administration to confront.

In the Midwest, Windstream is cutting 146 jobs as part of its acquisition of Iowa Telecom. When these companies consolidate, they can cut jobs to lower their costs... but do subscribers ever see the savings? Not hardly. The result is less competition, which leads to higher prices. Consider that Comcast is the largest cable company, but they are known better for their poor record of customer service than low prices enabled by economies of scale.

We need broadband networks that are structurally accountable to the community, not private shareholders located far outside the community. The solution is not more private companies owning broadband infrastructure, but more private companies offering competing services over next-generation infrastructure that is community owned by coops, non-profits, or local governments.

Photo by...

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Posted September 23, 2010 by christopher

A few weeks ago, the Herald Tribune ran a number of articles about broadband by Michael Pollick and Doug Sword that discussed some community fiber networks and efforts by Counties in Florida to build their own fiber-optic networks.

The first, "Martin County opting to put lines place," covers the familiar story of a local government that decides to stop getting fleeced by an incumbent (in this case, Comcast) and instead build their own network to ensure higher capacity at lower prices and often much greater reliability.

Martin County, FL

"We decided for the kind of money these people are asking us, we would be better off doing this on our own," said Kevin Kryzda, the county's chief information officer. "That is different from anybody else. And then we said we would like to do a loose association to provide broadband to the community while we are spending the money to build this network anyway. That was unique, too."

The new project will use a contractor to build a fiber network throughout the county and a tiny rural phone company willing to foot part of the bill in return for permission to use the network to grab customers of broadband service. The combined public-private network would not only connect the sheriff's office, county administration, schools and hospitals, but also would use existing rights of ways along major highways to run through Martin's commercial corridors.

Michael Pollick correctly notes that Florida is one of the 18 states that preempt local authority to build broadband maps.

However, they incorrectly believe that Martin County is unique in its approach. As we have covered in the past, a number of counties are building various types of broadband networks.

This is also not the first time we have seen a local government decided to build a broadband network after it saw a potential employer choose a different community because of the difference in broadband access.

From there, Michael Pollick and Doug Sword...

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Posted September 20, 2010 by christopher

Though this article may appear on first glance to be unrelated to broadband networks that put community needs first, Susan Crawford discusses the damaging effects of large scale companies like Comcast using market power to prevent competition. Scale is a very important part of any discussion about competition and broadband policy.

The Comcast/NBCU merger is aimed right at competition — avoiding any series of steps that might result in having dumb (but big) pipes serving the areas where Comcast now has dominion, and avoiding having Comcast’s pipe itself made dumb. If the merger goes through as Comcast proposes, the new NBCU will have the power in Comcast’s market areas (where it routinely has a 60 percent-plus share of local pay-TV customers) to raise other pay-TV providers’ (satellite, small cable, telephone, nascent online distributors) costs of doing business substantially.

This will mean, among other things, that competing aggregators of online video who don’t have reasonable access to crucial NBCU content (particularly sports) won’t have the power to constrain Comcast’s prices. Comcast ties access to online video content it controls to a cable subscription, and Time Warner does the same thing with its content. Many of the other pay TV providers will cooperate in this plan, which goes by the nickname “TV Everywhere”. This means that independent online aggregators don’t stand a chance — because consumers will be used to getting highly-branded online video for “free” as part of their bundle from their ISP, they won’t be willing to pay for an independent service.

For those who hope that technological change will unseat the market power of an even larger Comcast, think again:

Wireless? Well, the laws of physics tell us that wireless just doesn’t have the capacity of a fast wired cable connection. It will be a complementary service, not a substitute. Wireless is much less efficient in its use of spectrum and faces much harsher signal environments than signals do inside a controlled cable environment, and so the overall number of bits that can be conveyed in a given amount of time in a mobile environment is much lower than that possible in cable systems. We love mobility, but for watching live video, we’ll still prefer wired cable.

The giant cable operators generally do not compete with each other in major metropolitan areas in the US. (The one exception is New York City, which is so...

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Posted September 19, 2010 by christopher

Southwest Review News covered discussions to build a publicly owned fiber I-Net in West St. Paul (a city located, oddly enough, due south of Saint Paul, MN). The estimated cost is $143,000 and will be undertaken in partnership with Dakota County.

Current I-Net services come from Comcast, which recently tried to grossly overcharge Palo Alto for such services.

They are contemplating offering connections to the private sector as well as public institutions:

The infrastructure would put the city in the position of providing connectivity as it would any other utility. Businesses could pay to install connecting lines on their property to the city's fiber, similiar to how sewer and water systems operate.

Posted September 15, 2010 by christopher

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 August 24, 2010 by christopher

I really try to focus on the many good things communities are doing rather than the many bad things done by massive companies like Comcast. However, sometimes I have a few items I need to publicize to illustrate the differences between providers that are accountable to communities and those that are accountable solely to shareholders.

Fine Print Friday has taken a sardonic look at Comcast's Contract with subscribers. Who says the truth cannot be humorous?

Comcast specifically does not guarantee that the equipment and services will: (1) Meet your requirements, (2) Provide uninterrupted use, (3) Operate as required, (4) Operate without delay, or (5) Operate without error. Nor do they guarantee that the communications will be transmitted in their proper format. So basically, if you want digital services you can rely on to work how you expected them to work, when you expected them to work, then Comcast can’t provide that to you. According to their limitation of warranties (section 10), what you are paying for each month is the possibility of having service that works as advertised, but they can’t promise anything.

There is a mention in there about Comcast having the right to monitor whatever you do with your connection. The next time you hear people complaining that their local government may spy on them if the public owned the network, ask if they prefer being spied on byh unaccountable corporations that want to sell their private surfing habits. After all, the private sector has more motivation to spy on subscriber activity than the local government.

The full post is worth reading - though it does not cover the entire Comcast contract:

The Comcast Subscriber Agreement for Residential Services is too long to continue to write about in a single post. I may come back to it and do a second part if necessary. This list, however, represents what are the most important provisions in the contract for customers to know about.

It’s not a good contract for the customers, and it’s a very good contract for Comcast. But if you want their services (and in many places you don’t have a choice, as they are essentially a monopoly), then you have to play by their rules. At least know you will know what you are getting into.

...
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Posted August 10, 2010 by christopher

After Seattle's new Mayor campaigned on a community fiber network and consulted with both Lafayette and Tacoma on how to build it, it will now spend a year considering its options.

In discussing the current options for broadband in the city, Governing Magazine notes lack of demand for Comcast's "up to" 50/10 EXTREME package:

The demand for this "Extreme" tier speed, however, is "extremely low," says spokesman Steve Kipp. Later this summer, the ISP plans to offer 105 Mbps download and 12 Mbps upload speeds.

I suspect people mostly aren't interested in the extreme price for supposed extreme speeds. A number of communities that have built their own networks offer faster (and symmetrical) connections for considerably less. However, even there most people opt for lower tiers rather than the fastest speeds.

What the article utterly misses is that faster speeds are only one piece of the reason communities build these networks. Yes, next-generation networks offer faster speeds now and have much more capacity for future expansion than cable networks (and DSL is so far behind as to not be comparable).

But public ownership is about more than faster speeds. It spurs competition and lowers prices for everyone. It offers accountability, ensuring the network meets the needs of the community now and in the future. It allows public agencies to get faster connections at lower prices (though Seattle already has this through its previous investments in fiber-optics). As Seattle owns City Light, it would have greater abilities to invest in smart-grid and metering applications to make the city more energy efficient. When the community owns the network, it can ensure everyone has access to fast connections (particularly children in low-income neighborhoods where absentee companies may be reluctant to invest).

But to get back to the argument about network speeds, there is an argument for FTTH and faster speeds even if people do not demand them right now. Until people have access to robust connections, applications will not be created to take advantage of them. When people have access to faster connections that are affordable...

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Posted July 23, 2010 by christopher

A Qwest sales person admits on tape that Qwest is trying to eliminate competition by purging the network of independent ISPs. Listen to the conversation here.

Customer: "Qwest is trying to eliminate competition?"

Customer Service Rep: "In a way."

Undoubtedly, Qwest will (if it has not already) disavow this quote and suggest the CSR just didn't know what she was talking about. But they are clearly trying to remove competition - something we have witnessed in the Twin Cities of Minnesota as the good ISPs (for instance, IP House) are slowly strangled because they are not permitted resell the faster circuits. Additionally, I believe allegations that Qwest deliberately allows more congestion on lines they resell than lines where they are the sole retailer.

Our office uses IP House and we have never had anything but good experiences with them. But we need a faster services, so we can choose between slightly faster options with Qwest or much faster options with Comcast. We have no choice but to take service from a crappy massive company if we want to maintain productivity.

Some would claim that we have additional choices because USIW runs a Wi-Fi network in Minneapolis (subsidized by the City) but the network's speeds cannot compare to Comcast and it is far less reliable than the wired network alternatives (though Qwest's reliability in some areas may actually be worse).

I found this story via the Free UTOPIA blog but it links to the original source on Xmission - a UTOPIA service provider and DSL resellter.

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