Tag: "preemption"

Posted May 21, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The latest attack on publicly owned broadband networks in North Carolina now has an official name - S1209: No Nonvoted Local Debt For Competing System and will apparently be debated in committee next week.

This bill is meant to stomp out any competition from community-owned broadband networks - the only real threat to Time Warner and other absentee-owned incumbent operators in the state. Not only would this bill create high hurdles for communities that want to build broadband networks, it also could prevent existing networks from upgrading or expanding. The community-owned networks in Wilson and Salisbury are the most advanced broadband networks in the state.

It is not clear, but the law may even bar communities from building networks with federal funds, as under the broadband stimulus projects, for instance. A coalition of local governments, concerned citizens, and private businesses (some noted here) are coming together to stop this attempt to keep North Carolina locked into the last-generation networks of AT&T and Time Warner.

In previous years, similar efforts to prevent community networks all suggested that local governments derived unfair advantages because they could finance their networks with tax dollars (though very few community networks have taken that approach). Now the same people are arguing that local governments should only be able to finance networks with taxpayer-backed bonds - a dead giveaway that those pushing to limit community broadband have no higher principle than protecting incumbent operators from competition.

As we have chronicled in coverage of North Carolina, several newspapers have come out against this bill - most recently the Winston-Salem Journal:

The Journal has long argued that government borrowing without a vote of the people is both unwise and unconstitutional. But that is borrowing backed by the "full faith and credit" of the borrower, in this case, the people of the jurisdiction involved. So, if that is what the telecoms want, we support them.

But that protection is already written into the state constitution...

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Posted May 11, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

"My issue is that cities should not be competing with private enterprise." - Senator Hoyle of North Carolina

Given this Senator's opposition to the public sector competing with the private sector, I assume he is fighting just as hard to shut down the libraries (or have Borders and Barnes and Noble neglected to donate enough to his candidacy?), as well as the schools (there are private schools), and the police (security guards are readily available on the private market). This is not merely a snarky attack on someone with whom I disagree, but a nod to the very serious problem that these massive companies can push their protectionist legislation everywhere.

Senator Hoyle, the driving force behind using state law to protect incumbent providers like Time Warner and AT&T from competition in broadband admitted his motivation at the beginning of a video from the recent committee hearing available on Stop the Cap!.

In it, the Senator also makes it clear that he is either unaware of what his legislation does or he is lying about it when he claims it does not affect the communities that have already built the most state-of-the-art networks in the state. His legislation would severely handicap each of them from upgrading despite his false claims that they are exempted. The post on Stop the Cap offers more background and discussion and I encourage readers to check it out.

As usual, I'll add my own short commentary about it. I previously explained why this bill's requirement for cities to use General Obligation Bonds is terrible policy.

Senator Hoyle claims the town of Mooresville did not know what they were doing. Listening to his discussion, it is abundantly clear that he doesn't know what he is talking about. I spoke with folks from Mooresville before they bought the cable system and I have spoken with them since. They got screwed by Adelphia and Time Warner in the deal and have had to take on additional debt. However, the idea that they have failed or were foolish in starting the network because they had an operating loss demonstrates the Senator's ignorance on broadband networks.

When anyone takes over a poorly maintained, old network and...

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Posted May 7, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Time Warner, AT&T, and other incumbents have radically changed their strategy to prevent broadband competition in North Carolina via new restrictions that are being debated in the Legislature currently. This switch in strategy offers more proof that they stand on no principle aside from protecting their monopoly.

The famous HB 1252 in North Carolina is back... but different. In the past, the telcos and cablecos have argued that municipal broadband networks are unfair to them because the city could use tax dollars in some way to build the network (ignoring that most publicly owned networks do not use any tax dollars). Now, these companies are pushing a bill to require financing backed by taxpayer dollars. Seems like an odd switcheroo.

As one might expect from companies like AT&T and Time Warner, who have no respect for the public process, the bill was kept top secret until debated in committee, giving only the side filled with monied interests and lawyers an opportunity to prepare. The bill (that we have made available here as there is no official version yet) would not just place significant restrictions on new publicly owned networks, but would also handcuff existing networks like Salisbury and Greenlight in Wilson.

To reiterate, this bill will damage the most advanced broadband networks available in North Carolina today. Sounds like North Carolina wants to take up Mayor Joey Durel in Lafayette on his offer to welcome the businesses moving from North Carolina to Lafayette with a big pot of gumbo.

Fascinating that after an FCC Commissioner noted that the US Broadband Plan recognizes the right for communities to build their own broadband infrastructure, North Carolina is deciding it prefers to preclude any broadband competition, sticking with its last-century DSL and cable. Just fascinating.

The Salisbury Post has been watching and recently published a scathing editorial against the bill. This is one paragraph, but the whole editorial is well worth reading.

Yet, if the HB 1252's intent becomes reality, such areas will be severely hobbled in their near-term ability to tap into the broadband revolution. Private...

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Posted April 28, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Thanks to Catharine Rice, who tipped me off to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn's presentation at the SEATOA Conference yesterday. SEATOA is a regional group of states from the southeast of the US that are part of NATOA. Commissioner Clyburn noted that the FCC and the National Broadband Plan oppose state preemption of local broadband networks.

Thus, the Plan recommends that Congress clarify that State and local governments should not be restricted from building their own broadband networks. I firmly believe that we need to leverage every resource at our disposal to deploy broadband to all Americans. If local officials have decided that a publicly-owned broadband network is the best way to meet their citizens’ needs, then my view is to help make that happen.

One example of a town that took control of its own digital destiny – Bristol, Virginia saw additional jobs created in that area. And last month I heard Lafayette, Louisiana’s City-Parish President, describe the development of economic opportunities in his city, that were a direct result of the fiber network built by the community. Right here in North Carolina, I understand that Wilson and Salisbury are trying to invest in fiber optic systems, that they hope will transform their local economies.

When cities and local governments are prohibited from investing directly in their own broadband networks, citizens may be denied the opportunity to connect with their nation and improve their lives. As a result, local economies likely will suffer. But broadband is not simply about dollars and cents, it is about the educational, health, and social welfare of our communities. Preventing governments from investing in broadband, is counter –productive, and may impede the nation from accomplishing the Plan’s goal of providing broadband access to every American and every community anchor institution.

I can only hope that North Carolina's Legislature listen to this speech before they vote on preempting communities from building broadband networks. However, as documented at Stop the Cap, Time Warner and other telcos are able to talk pretty loudly with their campaign contributions.

...

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Posted April 26, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

After focusing on the North Carolina battle at the Legislature (regarding whether cities should be allowed to choose to build their own broadband networks or if they should solely have to beg the private sector for investment), I wanted to check in on Salisbury, which is building a FTTH network.

Salisbury has persevered through many obstacles, including finding financing for the project in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Depression. They will begin serving customers this August.

After choosing the name "Fibrant" as the name of the network, they have established a slick web presence at fibrant.com. The site has a a blog, but is rarely updated currently.

Earlier in the month, the local paper discussed the ways in which the fiber network will aid public safety. The short answer is video, video, video.

Video can be used for security cameras (both in public places and in private homes) as well as to give officers better situational awareness when they arrive on a scene. But wireless video access is often the key - both so officers can stream video in the cruiser and because wireless video cameras are easier to place (no pesky wires to run) and move around.

Though wireless video is helpful, it creates of a lot of data that is best moved across fast, reliable, wired networks. This is why fiber-optic networks and wireless are better understood as complements than substitutes. A robust fiber architecture greatly eases the problems incurred by creating a wireless network because the wireless nodes will be more efficient if all are tied into a fiber network. Rather than streaming data across the entire city to send a single feed to a cruiser, a local access point will stream it across a smaller footprint.

"They are potentially looking at helmet cams," Doug Paris said, assistant to the city manager. "Those who are sitting outside (the structure) will be able to see what's going on inside."

It would make little sense for the fireman to have wires coming out of their helmets. But that wireless signal from the helmet probably won't propagate to the fire hall or police station. Instead, a wireless access point near the fire can grab the signal and make it available to anyone...

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Posted April 25, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Time Warner continues to fight for monopoly protections in North Carolina with legislation to hamstring municipalities, preventing them from building the essential broadband infrastructure they need. While I was in Lafayette at FiberFete, the North Carolina Legislature was considering a bill to preempt local authority, essentially shutting down the prospect for any cable and broadband competition in the state.

Jay Ovittore has covered this legislation in depth.

Salisbury small businessman Brad Walser, owner of Walser Technology Group testified that North Carolina community’s new municipal broadband network Fibrant would meet his company’s needs for broadband capacity not available from commercial providers. Walser noted Salisbury is suffering from an unemployment rate exceeding 14 percent. Advanced broadband, he believes, could help the city attract new businesses that will help create new, high paying jobs. Fibrant is expected to launch later this year.

Folks from Chattanooga also testified about the benefits of publicly owned networks. The public outcry on the issue has been helpful:

All of your e-mails and calls have been getting through to the legislators. This kind of attention makes them nervous and I ask you to continue. I can assure you that we here at Stop the Cap!, along with Communities United for Broadband, Broadband for Everyone NC, and Save North Carolina Broadband are going to ratchet up attention on this issue.

If you live in North Carolina, definitely read the bottom of the post on how to help.

Unfortunately, the state legislature seems to have more nitwits than anyone who knows anything about networks: one State Senator suggested wireless will be replacing fiber soon - one wonders how the wireless tower will connect to the Internet... magic?

North Carolina could become the 19th...

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Posted April 16, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Stop the Cap! sounded the alarm that North Carolina is once again considering a bill to prevent competition by effectively banning communities from building their own networks.

The Communities United for Broadband Facebook page notes:

The cable industry will be pushing a bill to stop communities from investing in fiber optic infrastructure on April 21st at 9:30am in Raleigh before the Revenue Laws Committee in room 544 of the Legislative Office Building found at 46 W. Lane St, Raleigh, NC.

This bill is being pushed by the private cable and telephone companies that are threatened by the publicly owned FTTH networks already in Wilson and Salisbury. North Carolina has a number of communities that have been inspired by the Gigabit promise of Google and are considering how they can build their own network if Google does not choose them. This bill will prevent communities from building the infrastructure they need to succeed in the future.

I should note that Craig Settles is working with the Communities United for Broadband folks. They have a great slogan: Picking up Where Google Leaves Off.

Posted March 17, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The Star Tribune ran my opinion piece on Monday, March 15

The vast majority of Minnesotans, like the rest of the country, are served by only two broadband suppliers: the cable or telephone company. These companies generally want to maintain their monopolies because they can postpone upgrades while keeping prices and profits high. Just about everyone else just wants a better choice among providers.

The result of this structure is that we pay much higher prices for slower internet connections than our peers in Europe and Asia.

Here in Minnesota, Monticello has broken the mold. It has transitioned from relying on an overpriced and slow DSL network to now offering the best broadband in the entire state. Monticello residents can choose between a symmetrical 20 Mbps connection (extremely fast) from the City for $35/month or the incumbent telephone company’s new 50 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream option for $50/month. They have better packages than Comcast’s best residential offers in the Twin Cities – and available at half the price!

Entering the local telecommunications market is quite difficult. Building a network costs hundreds of millions for large cities and tens of millions for communities from 10,000 to 50,000. Once the network is built, the costs of adding new customers actually decreases as the number of subscribers increases. This cost structure gives incumbents tremendous advantages because they can drop their prices precipitously if a new entity – public or private – tries to build a competing network. To date, incumbents have largely succeeded in fending off competition.

Given the sorry state of broadband in many communities, especially rural ones, it should be no surprise that many cities and counties have started to build their own networks. And happily, they’ve done so with great success. Creating competition forces incumbents to invest and cut prices, generating significant community savings as well as other advantages from a network that operates in the public interest.

Unfortunately, there are additional barriers for communities attempting to build their own state-of-the-art broadband networks. As a result of lobbying by incumbents, some eighteen states have created obstacles to publicly owned networks.

The need for any state barrier to community networks is dubious. Most states see no need for...

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Posted March 4, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Minnesota is one of the eighteen states that have enacted specific barriers to prevent the public sector from building networks (protecting incumbents from any competition). It presently has the uniquely high - 65% - referendum requirement on communities that want to build a network that will offer telephone services (which thereby includes all fiber-to-the-home triple play networks).

However, up in Cook County, they could not meet that threshold. They had a referendum in which 56% voted yes - a majority but not satisfactorily large for a 1915 MN law. State Representative Dill and Senator Bakk realized this was crazy - state law set too high a bar for the County they represented. Cook would be unable to build the network they need - remember that the whole County was isolated following a single fiber cut because Qwest does not invest in communities where profits are scant (let's not blame Qwest though - private companies are not supposed to be charities and they should not be expected to build the essential infrastructure communities need).

Rep Dill and Sen Bakk introduced a bill to reduce the 65% to 50% referendum but the private providers must have thrown some sort of tantrum. Before the bill could even be heard, incumbent providers had reached some sort of a deal with Rep Dill and Sen Bakk, agreeing that they would not oppose the bill if it only applied to Cook County. Cook would be able to build its network, but all other local governments, many very rural and in similar but not equal severity, would be stuck with the 65% referendum requirement if they wanted to build a similar network. In the House, this "compromise" has flown through multiple committees with little debate.

In the Senate, some fought back, wondering if perhaps massive incumbent providers shouldn't be the ones to determine if communities can build modern networks -- especially when the providers won't. So the bill was introduced in the Senate. It was quickly amended to the incumbent demanded-text, but was then amended back again to a 50% majority for all MN (better than the 65% in current law). This was all in the Senate Committee dealing with Telecom. Confused yet?

It was next forwarded to the Committee dealing with Local Government, where the...

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Posted March 1, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The Longmont Times-Call continues its coverage of the community network struggles of a Colorado community. This story has a lot of the history behind how Longmont developed a fiber ring and how they have used it even as they are prohibited from expanding it.

Longmont is not alone in working for upwards of a decade to bring better broadband to the community that actually meets local needs rather than maximizing profits. Other communities have also spent ten, fifteen, or even long with on-gain, off-again plans to build a publicly owned network. This reality provides a handy refutation of state preemptions based on the logic that communities will act too quickly in not considering their plan for a network. Communities take years in researching, planning, and developing networks.

In Longmont, the first public fiber investment came in 1996 and was expanded shortly thereafter by the Platte River Power Authority. The city moved more than 40 facilities to a gigabit network, leaving T1s to communities that prefer to vastly overpay for their telecommunications needs.

They worked with a private company, Adesta, to expand the network to residents and businesses but the company filed for bankruptcy in the following year. The arrangement certainly had its upside though - Qwest and Comcast mysteriously decided to start offering broadband in Longmont shortly after the Adesta agreement. This happens almost every time a community invests in infrastructure -- it leads to increased investment from incumbents.

They quote a techie from the Longmont Hospital who explains the one of the benefits of the publicly owned fiber already in the ground:

“It’s at least a three times reduction in cost,” Niemann said of leasing fiber from the city, versus contracting with a commercial provider. “And oftentimes, if you go with a commercial provider, you have construction costs.”

The city would like to expand the network, both to bring competition to the DSL/cable duopoly, and to invest in smart grid applications for its public power utility. Unfortunately, they have to win a referendum per Colorado's incumbent-protection law. The incumbents are more than willing to spend hundreds of thousands against any such measure, knowing they would lose far more in profits if they had to deal with competition in the community.

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