Sign up for a live webcast (or if you are in DC, please attend) of Jim Baller and Christopher Mitchell engaging in an Oxford-style debate on the subject of community broadband with Rob D. Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach on June 1 at 9:00 EDT.
The statement to be debated is: "Governments Should Neither Subsidize nor Operate Broadband Networks to Compete with Commercial Ones." Guess which side Jim and I will take?
“Essentially this bill is a cable monopoly protection bill,” said Doug Paris, assistant city manager of Salisbury, N.C., another city with its own broadband service. “It protects Time Warner Cable and ensures they will continue to do what they’ve been doing for decades, which is serving where they want to serve and not serving where they don’t want to serve.”
And though it may be tacky to quote myself, I do quite like the quote…
Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit economic and community development consulting group, agreed and said that there is “almost no chance” another community in North Carolina will be able to build a new broadband network under the law.
“The Legislature, in passing laws like this, shows just how out of touch they are,” Mitchell said.
“It’s very clear to me that North Carolina’s legislators don’t understand the difference between a slow DSL connection and a modern, reliable fiber-optic connection. They don’t understand that what Time Warner [Cable] and CenturyLink are selling isn’t helping communities be competitive in the modern era.”
I hope communities and activists around the country have taken note of the power incumbents wield and are starting to talk to elected officials to educate them and build the relationships necessary to counteract all the money in politics.
North Carolina's Senate Finance Committee is poised to take away the right of communities to decide for themselves if building their own broadband network is a good idea or not. If it passes out of this committee, it goes right to the Senate Floor and will likely become law.
If you are shy, you can call before or after business hours and leave a message on their voicemail. It takes less than five minutes. Your calls make a huge difference because so few constituents ever call state legislators. Simply let them know you oppose H129 and that the state should concern itself with expanding broadband access, not restricting who can offer it.
And as I have said numerous times, those outside North Carolina should also be contacting their elected leaders -- because everyone lives in a state where powerful lobbyists are trying to preserve and expand the power of a few massive companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Progressive States Network recent covered this topic.
Two weeks ago, I wrote the following op-ed for The Wilson Times...
I just noticed that Progressive States Network has published the audio from a phone call we did on March 31 about community broadband networks. I was one of the four guest speakers -- we each spoke for 5-10 minutes and then answered questions from the audience. Progressive States Network has long advocated in the states to recognize and preserve local authority to decide whether to build a community broadband network.
Other guests included:
Washington State Representative John McCoy
Ben Lennett, Senior Policy Analyst, New America Foundation
Craig Settles, Founder and President, Successful.com
After more than four years of lobbying, Time Warner Cable may finally succeed in restricting the authority of local communities to build their own broadband networks.
Its legislation, H 129/S 87, will enact a host of special requirements for publicly owned networks that do not apply to networks run by the cable and phone companies.
The "Level Playing Field / Local Gov't Competition" bill could more appropriately be called the "Monopoly Protection Act." Rather than actually leveling the playing field, this bill solely disadvantages publicly owned networks.
Time Warner Cable has convinced the House that a massive $18 billion-per-year company operating one of the largest telecommunications networks on the planet, is powerless to compete against a community-owned network like Greenlight in Wilson or Fibrant in Salisbury.
Bill sponsor Rep. Marilyn Avila has simply had enough of "predatory" (her word) local governments shaking down AT&T and TWC. The champion of a similar bill last year, Sen. David Hoyle, candidly admitted it was written by TWC. There is no reason to suspect anything changed this year.
But perhaps the more fantastical element of this story is that the Legislature's biggest broadband priority is to limit, not expand, broadband investments in the state ranked 41st in broadband. Just how bad is North Carolina's broadband? When Broadband.com launched its new map showing the prices paid by small businesses for broadband, seven of the 10 most expensive cities were located in North Carolina. Anchorage barely beat out Greensboro for the highest average price per Mbps. This is why major private sector companies like Google and Intel have gone on the record opposing TWC's bill.
Fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet is essential for communities to thrive in the modern age. This...
I just joined the community at RuMBA - the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance - and will be appearing on Rural America Radio to discuss rural broadband issues on Friday, March 18. You can call in with questions. Details from Rural America Radio here:
Fiber Networks are admittedly the most powerful tools for delivery of high-speed Internet anywhere. How can communities take ownership of their broadband choices and funding so as to ensure the best outcome? From Minnesota to North Carolina, there is clearly a battle of words going on between private corporations and rural counties, municipalities and other underserved areas on decision-making. In this edition of Rural America Radio, showhost Luisa Handem interviews Christopher Mitchell, a strong proponent of publicly owned broadband networks. He is the Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative with the New Rules Project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He has been published in a number of online magazines as well as print publications. Mitchell is the author of last year's report on publicly owned broadband networks titled “Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need.”
You may join the show by dialing 646-378-1746 to ask a question from 3:00-3:30pm CDT, every Friday.
Rural America Radio gives voice to rural residents and those who wish to promote the wellbeing and economic growth of rural communities across the U.S. We bring you the very best in talk-show programming related to rural American affairs, by deliberately focusing on the use of technology, especially high-speed Internet, and healthy living. Rural America Radio is a project of the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance (rumbausa.com).
Who should decide the future of broadband access in towns across North Carolina? Citizens and businesses in towns across the state, or a handful of large cable and phone companies? The new General Assembly will almost certainly be asked to address that question.
Fed up with poor customer service, overpriced plans and unreliable broadband access, Wilson and Salisbury decided to build their own next-generation networks. Faced with the prospect of real competition in the telecom sector, phone and cable companies have aggressively lobbied the General Assembly to abolish the right of other cities to follow in Wilson and Salisbury's pioneering footsteps.
The decision by Wilson and Salisbury to build their own networks is reminiscent of the decision by many communities 100 years ago to build their own electrical grids when private electric companies refused to provide them inexpensive, reliable service.
An analysis by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (http://tiny.cc/MuniNetworks) compares the speed and price of broadband from incumbent providers in North Carolina to that offered by municipally owned Greenlight in Wilson and Fibrant in Salisbury.
Wilson and Salisbury offer much faster connections at similar price points, delivering more value for the dollar while keeping those dollars in the community. For instance, the introductory broadband tiers from Wilson (10 downstream/10 upstream Mbps) and Salisbury (15/15 Mbps) beat the fastest advertised tiers in Raleigh of AT&T (6/.5 Mbps) and TWC (10/.768 Mbps). And by building state-of-the-art fiber-optic networks, subscribers actually receive the speeds promised in advertisements. DSL and cable connections, for a variety of reasons, rarely achieve the speeds promised.
The Research Triangle is a hub of innovation but is stuck with last-century broadband delivered by telephone lines and cable connections. In the Triangle, as in most of the United States, broadband subscribers choose between slow DSL from the incumbent telephone...
On November 29, 2010, MPR published our commentary about community broadband. The Twin Cities has slower and more expensive broadband Internet than the nearby town of Monticello. The Twin Cities metro area has a population of 2.8 million and the highest density of people and businesses in the state. So why is our broadband Internet slower and more expensive than that enjoyed by Monticello, population 12,000? Several years ago, the city of Monticello (45 miles northwest of Minneapolis) recognized the increasing importance of reliable, high speed, low cost broadband. After the incumbent telephone and cable companies declined to build the network city leaders had in mind, the community decided to build one itself. Now, FiberNet Monticello offers some of the best broadband packages available in the country, while the Twin Cities is lagging. A new analysis by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance compares the available broadband speeds in Monticello to those available in the Twin Cities metro. In the metro, as in most of the United States, broadband subscribers choose between DSL from the incumbent telephone company (Qwest) and cable broadband from the incumbent cable company (Comcast). Monticello's offerings are faster at every price point, but Comcast appears to offer comparable downstream speeds in the highest tier of service. This apparent equivalence, however, is like comparing dirt roads with interstates. Both are roads that allow you to travel from point A to B, but they have fundamentally different characteristics in carrying capacity and reliability. For a variety of reasons, DSL and cable almost always fall short (and often, well short) of the advertised "up to" speeds, whereas full fiber networks regularly achieve the speeds they promise. In the metro, cable offers most residents the fastest option for broadband, but only one choice of provider. The Monticello network not only created a new choice for its residents, it induced the incumbent telephone company to greatly upgrade its network to remain competitive. Now, Monticello residents can choose between two extremely fast broadband providers, as well as a cable internet connection. The community-owned network may have only been the third broadband option, but it fundamentally changed the market. Prior to Monticello's investment, residents and small businesses had access only to asymmetrical broadband...
On August 19, 2010, I was one of hundreds of people telling the Federal Communications Commission to do its job and regulate in the public interest. My comments focused on the benefits of publicly owned broadband networks and the need for the FCC to ensure states cannot preempt local governments from building networks.
I’ll start with the obvious.
Private companies are self-interested. They act on behalf of their shareholders and they have a responsibility to put profits ahead of the public interest.
A recent post from the Economist magazine’s technology blog picks up from there:
WHY, exactly, does America have regulators? … Regulators, in theory, are more expert than politicians, and less passionate. …They are imperfect; but that we have any regulators at all is a testament … to the idea that companies left to their own devices don't always act in the best interests of the market.
They go on to say
If companies always agreed with regulators' rules, there would be no need for regulators. The very point of a regulator is to do things that companies don't like, out of concern for the welfare of the market or the consumer.
When we talk about broadband, there is a definite gap between what is best for communities and what is best for private companies. Next generation networks are expensive investments that take many years to break even.
With that preface, I challenge the FCC to start regulating in the public interest.
The FCC does not need a consensus from big companies on network neutrality. It needs to respect the consensus of Americans that do not want our access to the Internet to look like our access to cable television.
But while Network Neutrality is necessary, it is not sufficient. The entire issue of Network Neutrality arises out of the failed de-regulation approach of the past decade. Such policies have allowed a few private companies to dominate broadband access, giving communities neither a true choice in...