Tag: "preemption"

Posted February 2, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Durham's Herald Sun published our op-ed about community broadband networks in North Carolina. Reposted here:

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.

Curbing innovation

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...

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Posted January 30, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

In 2006, this short documentary helped to stop a push from incumbent providers to gut local authority over telecommunications and cable.  Unfortunately, several states then gutted that same local authority, leading to higher prices for consumers and, surprise surprise, no real increase in competition.  

Posted January 24, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

It's 2011 and time for Qwest to renew a push to gut local authority in a number of states - Idaho and Colorado to start. An article for the Denver Post explains the argument:

Phone companies say state-level oversight of video franchising fosters competition because it is less cumbersome for new entrants to secure the right to offer services.

Many states have also eliminated the condition that new video competitors must eventually offer service to every home in a given municipality, a requirement placed on incumbent cable-TV providers.

Gutting local authority is the best way to increase the disparities between those who have broadband and those who do not. Qwest and others are only interested in building out in the most profitable areas -- which then leaves those unserved even more difficult to serve because the costs of serving them cannot be balanced with those who can be served at a lower cost.

The only reason that just about every American living in a city has access to broadband is because franchise requirements forced companies to build out everyone. Without these requirements, cable buildouts would almost certainly have mirrored the early private company efforts to wire towns for electricity -- wealthier areas of town had a number of choices and low-income areas of town had none.

In Idaho, those fighting back against this attempt to limit local authority are worried that statewide franchising will kill their local public access channels - a reality that others face across the nation where these laws have passed.

The channels, which are also used to publicize community events, provide complete coverage of Pocatello City Council, Planning and Zoning and School District 25 board meetings, as well as candidate forums before elections.

Without these local channels, how could people stay informed about what is happening in the community? Local newspapers are increasingly hard to find. In many communities, these channels are the last bastion of local news. 

This fight over statewide franchising goes back a number of years, but the general theme is that massive incumbent phone companies promise that communities would have much more competition among triple-play networks if only the public...

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Posted December 21, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Today, the FCC is poised to pass a half-ass attempt to preserve the open Internet against the interests of massive gatekeepers like AT&T and Comcast. Tim Karr rightly calls it Obama's "Mission Accomplished" moment.

Fortunately, the likely result will be a couple of years in the courts before the rule is thrown out because the FCC has not properly ground its half-ass actions in any authority it has received from Congress. Perhaps when the FCC next has to deal with this, we'll have an FCC Chairperson with a backbone and a stronger interest in what is best for hundreds of millions of Americans than what is best for AT&T and a few other corporations.

The FCC and supporters of this let's-keep-the-Internet-partly-open "compromise" will lump all critics as being extremist looneys. (Okay, the Republicans who oppose this might fit that description as they are literally making things up or totally confused about what is being decided).

But let's look at the crazy looney rhetoric of FCC Chair Genachowski last year:

Genachowski proposed that the FCC formalize its four principles of network openness. To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled:

  • to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
  • to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  • to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  • to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

To these, Genachowski proposed adding two more: The first would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The second would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement.

Not only has Genachowski sold out on what he once stated was absolutely necessary to maintain the Open Internet, he has rolled back the...

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Posted November 23, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

For years, the North Carolina General Assembly has considered bills pushed by cable lobbyists to ban community networks. A new analysis from the folks at MuniNetworks.org shows that community fiber networks offer the most advanced services in the state -- faster speeds at lower prices. Preempting these community networks would cripple North Carolina's ability to compete in the digital future.

Read the Report [pdf]
Read the Press Release

Following on the heels of similar findings for Minnesota, smaller towns in North Carolina that have built community owned fiber networks offer far superior services to those found in the metro area around Charlotte and the famous Research Triangle.

The two community fiber networks are Wilson's Greenlight and Salisbury's Fibrant. We have written frequently about both - Fibrant coverage and Greenlight coverage.

A chart and explanation from the report:

NC BB Price chart

Comparing the tiers of residential service from Wilson or Salisbury against the providers in the Raleigh area (figure 4), shows that the communities have invested in a network that offers far faster speeds for less money than any of the private providers (Greenlight offers more packages than depicted as only unbundled options are displayed). Whether communities in North Carolina are competing against other states or internationally for jobs and quality of life, they are smart to consider investing in a community fiber network.

This chart actually uses the new FCC definition for “basic broadband,” which is 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. The packages that are plotted below and to the left of the origin are no longer technically broadband. Notice how many of the plans offered by private providers barely qualify as broadband. In fact, as neither AT&T nor Time Warner Cable offer upstreams of at least 1Mbps in Raleigh, their...

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Posted November 12, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Spanish Fork, a well-regarded community broadband network, is now offering triple-play services on its hfc network. Previously, the town was offering broadband and television but recently added telephone after feeling the time was right.

From the article:

John Bowcut, director of Information Systems for Spanish Fork, said 15 percent of homes signed up when told telephone service was available over the cable. The network only used door hangers to advertise at first because it intended to have a slow rollout. Then the service was promoted in the city newsletter.

SFCN's phone rollout was slow for a reason. Small neighborhoods were notified one at a time, which allowed the network to handle the load. Bowcut said they didn't want to open sign-ups citywide and then have to tell people their connection date was three months out. He said the most people had to wait this way was 10 days.

Initially about 1,500 homes signed up for phone service, out of 5,534 homes in Spanish Fork.

The new telephone service runs an economical $14.95 with a variety of features. 75% of the town takes at least one service from the network, perhaps because of the great customer service:

Perrins was a beta tester for the system. He thought going through that process was awesome. They fixed every problem quickly and fine-tuned the network. "It was fun because the employees were so excited and eager to find and fix the problems."

Prior to the telephone rollout, only some 60% of the community took a service from the network, as explained in this article

About 60 percent of Spanish Fork residents already subscribe to SFCN's cable TV and high-speed Internet. The customer appeal of the city-run communications utility is that Spanish Fork provides both the infrastructure and the service -- a practice that was actually outlawed by the Utah Legislature in 2004, though Spanish Fork was grandfathered in.

This means SFCN can cut out any middle-man service provider, which amounts to about $2 million in savings each year, Mayor Wayne Andersen said.

"I think it was a sad day when the state Legislature put the kibosh on that sort of thing," Andersen...

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Posted November 4, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

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 September 29, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

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.

My comments:

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...

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Posted September 23, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

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 July 12, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Success! After a few nerve-wracking months, North Carolina's state government has decided not to preempt local communities from building the broadband infrastructure they need. The full legislative explanation of how this standoff ended is available from Stop the Cap! as narrated by Catharine Rice.

We all benefit from the efforts of Catherine Rice, Jay Ovittore, and many others to ensure communities can maintain their self-determination in the information age. These grassroots efforts, coupled with several key Representatives and Senators, have once again prevented incumbents from consolidating their market power by outlawing competition from publicly owned networks.

Make no mistake, well-funded lobbyists will continue pushing for these changes both in North Carolina and in many other states. We should encourage the US Congress to "clarify" (in the words of the FCC) that states have no right to prevent communities from building this important infrastructure.

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