Tag: "preemption"

Posted July 12, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

You can also read this story over at the Huffington Post.

How can it be that the big companies who deliver some of the most important services in our modern lives (access to the Internet, television) rank at the top of the most hated? Probably because when they screw up or increase prices year after year, we have no choice but sticking with them. Most of us have no better options.

But why do we have so few choices? Government-sanctioned monopolies have been outlawed since the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Unfortunately, the natural tendency of the telecommunications industry is toward consolidation and monopoly (or duopoly). In the face of this reality, the federal government has done little to protect citizens and small businesses from telecom market failings.

But local governments have stepped up and built incredible next-generation networks that are accountable to the community. These communities have faster speeds (at lower prices) than the vast majority of us.

Most of these communities would absolutely prefer for the private sector to build the necessary networks and offer real competition, but the economics of telecom makes that as likely as donuts becoming part of a healthy breakfast. In most cases, the incumbent cable and telephone companies are too entrenched for any other company to overbuild them. But communities do not have the same pressures to make a short-term profit. They can take many years to break even on an investment that creates many indirect benefits along the way.

One might expect successful companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to step up to the challenge posed by community networks, and they have. Not by simply investing more and competing for customers, but by using their comparative advantage – lobbying state legislatures to outlaw the competition. As we noted in our commentary and video last week, massive cable and telephone companies have tried to remove...

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Posted July 8, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

I have long been a fan of Larry Lessig's work, so I was proud to see him use our work as the foundation for his presentation at the 2011 Personal Democracy Forum.  He talks about the fundamental right of communities to build their own networks as well as Time Warner Cable's successful purchase of competition-limiting legislation in North Carolina.

Posted July 7, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

A friend once told me about his battle with the local government over whether it would charge him a fee for inspecting the house he wanted to begin renting out (he had bought another house but didn't want to sell the first in a down market). His house was well maintained and he said he would be happy to schedule the inspection whenever convenient for the City but absolutely would not pay a fee so they could inspect his house.

Consider this from a different perspective. The local government should make sure that rental properties meet certain standards (building and fire codes if nothing else). This means inspections. Who should pay for the inspections? It boils down to two choices: the property owner or the tax-base at large. It seems more fair to charge property owners at least a portion of the cost as they benefit the most from being able to rent out their property.

I make this point to lead into another discussion about managing the Right-of-Way (ROW), the city-owned property used for utilities. An article in TribLive about a town near Pittsburgh fighting to keep its cable fees offers insight into a national discussion about fees for using the ROW.

Hempfield charges utilities $750 for a right-of-way permit, $500 for a renewal, and $250 for a construction permit, according to a township ordinance.

Ferguson said without the fees, the township would not be able to monitor the work.

"We use the monies, those permit fees, to pay staff to make sure they repair roads as they're supposed to," Ferguson said. "Part of the fee is ... for our inspectors to go out and make sure they (utilities) complete the job right."

Ferguson said utility companies sometimes dig up new roads to install or repair lines and leave the road in shambles afterward.

"Taxpayers should not be required to pay the staff to make sure utility companies do the right thing," he said.

FCC Logo

Telecommunications providers have long claimed that local government fees are unreasonable and getting the necessary permits is too difficult. But when asked to document such claims, they rarely do. The FCC is currently examining whether it believes the fees charged by local governments are fair...

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Posted July 5, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Update: You can also watch the video over at the Huffington Post, in our first post as a HuffPo blogger.

While we were battling Time Warner Cable to preserve local authority in North Carolina, we developed a video comparing community fiber networks to incumbent DSL and cable networks to demonstration the incredible superiority of community networks.

We have updated the video for a national audience rather than a North Carolina-specific approach because community fiber networks around the country are similarly superior to incumbent offerings. And community networks around the country are threatened by massive corporations lobbying them out of existence in state legislatures.

Feel free to send feedback - especially suggestions for improvement - to broadband@muninetworks.org.

Without further ado, here is the new video comparing community fiber networks to big incumbent providers:

Posted June 18, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

MHT, Mass High Tech -- the Voice of New England Innovation -- recently turned a spotlight on the difficulty of creating Ubiquitous high-speed broadband. Always refreshing to see others understanding the real impediments to expanding fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet in this country:

For Andrew Rollins, chief software architect for Cambridge mobile analytics software as a service company Localytics Inc., the answer is to go DIY — at least for municipalities.
“I think the most interesting thing that is happening today is that you are looking at municipalities that are saying (to carriers), ‘Forget you guys. We are going to do it ourselves,’” Rollins said.

That is happening because there is no real business incentive for broadband carriers like Verizon Communications Inc. or Comcast Corp. to make the investment in infrastructure required to reach everyone in the U.S. Add to that the deals they have struck to function as monopolies in many locations, and it adds up to companies that really want to hold on to the status quo, Rollins said. “Somehow you have to incentivize these guys to build out the infrastructure and I don’t think they are going to do it on their own. They’re already gouging the heck out of customers today so why bother making that infrastructure if you are already getting that money out of people.” 

They go to discuss the backwards approach from North Carolina:

“Down in North Carolina they have been actually going out of their way saying the community fiber-to-the-home and broadband networks are bad and can’t happen,” she said. “That’s not going to get us there. If you say to the communities that you can’t do it yourself, that’s not an environment in which we can achieve success, not just in 5 years but in 10 or 20 years.”

Well worth the read.

Posted June 8, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Tony Evers, the Wisconsin State Superintendent, has voiced concerns about a provision in Wisconsin' budget bill that we discussed yesterday. It would force Wisconsin to return tens of millions in broadband stimulus awards intended to connect schools and libraries in a few communities while also raising prices for most local governments, libraries, and schools around the country by killing the coop that connects the communities. Evers wrote the following letter on June 7 in response.

I am extremely concerned and alarmed by the telecommunications provisions which passed the Joint Finance Committee Friday night and their impact on Wisconsin’s public libraries, public and private schools, the university system, technical colleges, and WiscNet. These provisions will have a devastating impact on the University of Wisconsin System campuses and our schools and public libraries. This language was introduced very late in the legislative process and there was no time for any public review, comments or feedback from those impacted by these provisions.

From the UW perspective, this will require it to return the $39 million in broadband grants to the federal government. In addition, it will prohibit any UW campus from participating in advanced research networks linking research institutions worldwide. You cannot have a renowned research institution, like the UW-Madison, without having access to such networks.

From the public and private school and library perspective, seventy-five percent of our public schools and ninety-five percent of our public libraries get Internet access via WiscNet - a not-for-profit network service under the auspices of the UW-Madison. The provision in this legislation will very likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering Internet access. If our schools and libraries must use other Internet providers most will pay at least 2-3 times more than what WiscNet now charges. Furthermore, other Internet providers base their charges on how much bandwidth a school or library has - the higher the bandwidth, the higher the Internet costs. WiscNet’s funding formula is not based on bandwidth. Thus as schools and libraries continue to increase their bandwidth, their WiscNet costs remain the same. With our schools and libraries facing substantial budget reductions, how can anyone justify making them pay more...

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Posted June 7, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

For the rest of the summer, Wisconsin could be the new battleground in the ongoing effort for big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to secure their de facto monopoly positions.

In North Carolina, Time Warner Cable passed a bill effectively preventing communities from building next-generation networks offering services far superior to what TWC offered. Now AT&T and its allies in Wisconsin are trying to stop local governments, universities, libraries, and schools from using a buying coop -- called WiscNet -- to procure better connections than AT&T will provide, at lower prices than AT&T would charge. Why compete when you can outlaw the competition?

WiscNet is essentially a buying coop -- a public/private partnership connecting, among others, University of Wisconsin schools, local governments, libraries, and local public schools. As Barry Orton, Professor of Telecommunications at UW-Madison reminded me, buying coops are "great for buyers, not so great for the sellers."

In this case, sellers like AT&T want to kill the coop so local governments, schools, and libraries, are forced to buy the connections they need from AT&T or other incumbents. This will mean more tax dollars going to AT&T rather than educating students, connecting police stations, and generally allowing public sector institutions to function. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

The motion prohibits the UW System from taking part in WiscNet, the network provider for 450 organizations, including K-12 schools, libraries, cities and county governments.

No one has any doubts that AT&T and its allies are squarely behind this measure.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with last-mile connections. WiscNet is not providing connections to residents. This is a question of whether local governments can use a network they build and operate collaboratively with other public institutions like UW or whether they have to take whatever AT&T is selling (many small towns only have a single incumbent offering these dedicated access connections).

Last year, we wrote about Republican opposition to a broadband...

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Posted June 6, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Information Week has alerted Chief Information Officers (CIOs) that they need to pay attention to community broadband networks. Jonathan Feldman's column explains "What North Carolina's Broadband Battlefield Means to You."

The lessons have little to do with North Carolina and everything to do with the future of broadband Internet access. Community networks offer higher speed, more reliable, and more affordable connections to businesses and other entities than incumbent operators.

Feldman opens with a North Carolina business owner emailing him about wanting to duplicate Chattanooga's amazing broadband options and futuristic smart grid. Too bad North Carolina's Legislature just passed a bill to effectively prohibit NC towns from doing that.

MuniNetworks.org frequently decries the lack of choices among service providers, so it is gratifying to see Feldman make the same point:

Those of us who approve telecom budgets, whether in North Carolina or other states, know there really isn't a broadband marketplace. In contrast, we can choose among 50 providers of Web hosting services, and they're all trying to differentiate themselves based on quality and features. THAT'S a marketplace. What exists today in broadband telecom is essentially a choice between the telco and the region's cable operator.

And further on, a strong endorsement for communities that have made public broadband investments:

Unless you're a telecom carrier, you should be interested in doing business in a region where the government is building out next-generation broadband infrastructure. Whether you work for a large business that requires fiber optic capabilities (or "lambdas," which are virtual fiber pipes), or whether you simply need IP service, the lower price/performance levels of such regions are highly attractive.

Be aware of the telecom regulatory environment in any state your company is expanding into, especially as other states follow North Carolina's example. It may not be a make or break consideration, but it's one that you should bring up with your board when discussing site selection.

Feldman notes that these networks are not easy to build (a point that resonates with us - communities build these networks because they have to, not because they want to).

...

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Posted June 3, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Though the North Carolina fight is over, I wanted to include these two videos in our archive in case they are useful to those in the future who will undoubtedly cover the same ground.

One is the excellent local news video asking about the role of lobbyists and political contributions on the laws that get passed and the other captures an important moment from debates in the Legislature - thanks to NC Policy Watch for posting.

The first video is no longer available.

Posted June 2, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

On June 1, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an oxford-style debate over the proposition: "Governments should neither subsidize nor operate broadband networks to compete with commercial ones."  

Jim Baller and I spoke against the proposition while Rob Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach defended it during the 2 hour, 15 minute session.  I was unable to be in DC and thus participated by the magic of modern telecommunications.  

This is a long but valuable and unique discussion.  We left talking points behind, actually responded to the points raised by the other side, and presented both sides of this debate in a reasonable manner.  In short, this is exactly the kind of discussion we would elected officials to consider before legislating on the matter.  But it very rarely happens -- nothing even remotely close to it occured in North Carolina when Time Warner Cable pushed its bill through the Legislature to enact a de facto ban on muni networks in the state.

You can watch it here.

 

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