Tag: "state laws"

Posted March 7, 2011 by christopher

Rockingham County has joined Raleigh in officially passing a resolution against legislation to cripple community networks in the state.

 

RESOLUTION
BY THE ROCKINGHAM COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
AGAINST SENATE BILL 87 and HOUSE BILL 129

WHEREAS, Senate Bill 87 and House Bill 129 have been introduced in the 2011-2012 Session of the General Assembly of North Carolina; and

WHEREAS, these bills do not provide a level playing field to cities, towns and counties, but greatly hinder local governments from providing needed communications services, especially advanced high-speed broadband services, in unserved and underserved areas; and

WHEREAS, these bills impose numerous obligations on cities and towns that private broadband companies do not have to meet; and

WHEREAS, private companies, despite having received favorable regulatory and tax treatment to enable broadband investment, have chosen to avoid the financial commitment necessary to provide top quality services to all residents and businesses; and

WHEREAS, while private companies declare top quality service is cost-prohibitive in our country, the United States continues to lose ground to other nations in broadband access, user cost and growth in number of users, falling behind the United Kingdom, Korea, France, Japan and Canada to name a few, and Japan has Internet access that is at least 500 times faster than what is considered high-speed in the United States and at less cost; and

WHEREAS, the bills would prohibit North Carolina cities and towns from using federal grant funds to 

deploy or operate locally-owned or operated broadband systems, thereby denying N.C. residents access to federal assistance available to the rest of the country and hindering employment opportunities; and

WHEREAS, deployment of high-speed Internet is a new public utility vital to the future economic development, educational outreach and community growth in North Carolina necessary to replace lost textile, tobacco, furniture and manufacturing jobs; and

WHEREAS, the General...

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Posted March 1, 2011 by christopher

As the North Carolina Legislature considers HB129 and S87 to greatly limit community broadband networks (we analyzed the bill here), it is worth taking a step back to understand why companies like Time Warner Cable provide broadband that is unreliable and comparatively both slow and costly without having other companies come in to offer a better product. The problem is basic economics: the problem of natural monopoly.

Ever wonder why you generally don't have a choice between two major operators like Comcast and Time Warner Cable? They have carved up the market due to the costs and difficulty of directly competing with one another.

Some folks have a choice of cable companies -- RCN and Knology, for instance, have been successful overbuilders in a few regions (though they went through troubles far worse than most public networks that have been termed "failures").

But for the most part, overbuilding an incumbent cable company is all but impossible -- especially for a private sector company looking for a solid return on investment inside a few years. In the face of a new cable entrant, massive companies like TWC start lowering prices, offering cash or other enticements, and lock both residents and businesses into contracts to deny the entrant any subscribers.

Companies like TWC can do this because they have lower costs (through volume discounts for gear, content, and even marketing synergies as well as because they long ago amortized the network construction costs) and can take losses in one community that are cross-subsidized by profits from non-competitive areas. New entrants, both private and public, have higher costs as well as a learning curve.

This is why we have so little broadband competition. Without competition, the few providers we have invest less and charge more, which is other countries are rapidly surpassing us (not because we have large rural areas, nonetheless a popular straw man).

In the face of this reality, communities have built their own networks for a variety of benefits, including creating competition or changing the dynamic of a duopolistic "market." Massive incumbent providers responded by claiming competition from communities was unfair and using their lobbying power to...

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Posted March 1, 2011 by christopher

A coalition of private companies, including Alcatel-Lucent, American Public Power Association, Atlantic-Engineering, the Fiber to the Home Council, Google, Intel, OnTrac, Telecommunications Industry Association, and Utilities Telecom Council, have released a letter opposing HB129/S87 in North Carolina. The bill would create considerable barriers to community broadband networks and public-private partnerships, effectively outlawing both given the restrictive language. We examined this bill here>. This the text of the letter they released:

February 25, 2011
via email

Representative Thom Tillis
Speaker of the House
Room 2304
16 West Jones Street
Raleigh, NC 27601-1096

Senator Phil Berger
Senate President Pro Tempore
Room 2008
16 W. Jones Street Raleigh, NC 27601-2808

Dear Representative Tillis and Senator Berger:

We, the undersigned private-sector companies and trade associations, urge you to oppose H129/S87 (Level Playing Field/Local Competition bill) because it will harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper work force development and diminish the quality of life in North Carolina. In particular, this bill will hurt the private sector in several ways: by curtailing public-private partnerships, stifling private companies that sell equipment and services to public broadband providers, and impairing educational and occupational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.

The United States continues to suffer through one of the most serious economic crises in decades. The private sector alone cannot lift the United States out of this crisis. As a result, federal and state efforts are taking place across the Nation to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and jobs, especially in economically distressed areas. North Carolina has been the beneficiary of these efforts, as MCNC, with its $148 million award, is now building a state-of-the-art fiber optic network that will cross 106 counties and make available low-cost, internet connections to numerous high-cost, low-density, communities that the state’s private providers have...

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Posted February 22, 2011 by christopher

As part of the effort to stop the bill that will codify Time Warner Cable's monopoly in North Carolina, we published a press release today (previous coverage of the bill here):

While the rest of the world is working to become more innovative and competitive, the North Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that will stifle innovation, hurt job creation and slow economic development. The Bill, H129/S87 will effectively prevent any community from building a broadband network and impose onerous restrictions on existing networks, including Wilson’s Greenlight and Salisbury’s Fibrant. Greenlight and Fibrant are the most technologically advanced citywide networks in the state, comparative to the best available in the U.S. and international peers, according to a study released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) in November, 2010.

This bill will protect the aging networks of incumbent cable companies—furthering their effective monopolies—that have refused to invest in newer, faster technologies.

“This bill is a job and competitiveness killer. I don’t know why North Carolina wants to protect old technology, but if they want to get on the information super highway in a horse and buggy—the world is going to pass them by,” said Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative.

The bill says it is an act to “protect jobs,” a claim that puzzles Mitchell. “Community owned networks create jobs both directly and indirectly – and there is no evidence they have resulted in the elimination of any jobs.”

You can now Sign a petition showing your support for community networks in North Carolina - please make sure this link circulates among any contacts you have in NC!

Posted February 9, 2011 by christopher

In South Carolina (the state TWC Forgot), AT&T is pushing harsher restrictions on any publicly owned broadband system in an attempt to derail one or more broadband stimulus projects. South Carolina already greatly restricts community broadband networks, likely one of the reasons no incumbent there bothers to upgrade in a similar time frame as the rest of the country.

This should be seen a significant overreach -- AT&T is trying to shut down County efforts to improve middle mile access -- whereas most preemption tends to heavily restrict community last-mile networks. This is a whole new world of anti-competitive policy to favor AT&T (not dissimilar from what AT&T wants to do in Wisconsin and Fairpoint did in Maine).

The bills would force Oconee County to follow guidelines as a broadband service provider that would likely cripple the county’s current three-year project to construct 245 miles of broadband cable, county administrator Scott Moulder said.

...

Oconee County’s goal is to be a so-called “middle mile” provider, Moulder said, essentially providing a network that would allow private broadband providers to extend their service into areas they aren’t serving. In most cases, those are areas where the private providers have found it is not financially feasible to install their own infrastructure.

AT&T, Moulder said, has been asked to be a partner in the project as a retailer, but the company’s current actions are a rebuff.

The Oconee project is meant to attract additional independent service providers to invest in projects, not the County itself. But that hardly matters to AT&T, which wants to preserve the present lack of competition in order to maximize their gains at the public expense.

The Bill, S 483 is viewable here and contains the same old tired arguments claiming...

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Posted February 2, 2011 by christopher

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 31, 2011 by christopher

Update: We have covered the second round of financing from ECFiber here.

The East Central Vermont Fiber Network, connecting some 23 rural towns, announced back in July that they would self finance a pilot project as a preliminary step to securing the full funding for the project.

Right around Thanksgiving, last year, David Brown updated the community on progress via an article in the Vermont Standard:

It would have been terrific to get the $50million needed to build out all 35,000 telephone and electric poles with 1,500 miles of fiber optic cable. Along the way, we learned an important lesson. We noticed that government money went to existing telephone companies to expand existing networks rather than funding start-ups like ours. That’s when the ECFibernauts decided on a change in strategy: build a small network, get a few real customers, and deliver rock-solid ultra-fast Internet to them as a proof of concept – all using our own money. Then, when all the critical components are up and running, go to the commercial markets for funding needed to expand out to all 23 towns.

The ECFiber Governing Board and our technology partners ValleyNet, Inc. are fortunate to have several experienced financiers within our ranks. Working with our attorneys (to keep everything legal) ECFiber is reaching out to the community with a private offering of tax-exempt promissory notes. As of this writing, we have raised more than three-quarters of what is needed to complete Phase I of our project. The ECFiber hub is now under construction on Waterman Road in Royalton and an initial pole attachment application for 500 poles is being processed. Phase I will bring ECFiber service to selected businesses, schools, town facilities and residents in Bethel, Barnard, Stockbridge and Royalton.

This is a commitment that few other communities have made -- self-financing a start up portion. It is actually quite inspiring, though one quickly grasps the huge need from the stories EC Fiber has collected. Any community hoping...

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Posted January 24, 2011 by christopher

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 January 12, 2011 by christopher

A group of towns in rural western Massachusetts, having already decided on a cooperative structure, have now started the process of joining the coop in order to eventually build an open access FTTH network to serve everyone in each of the member towns.

Originally, the Wired West towns looked to a similar project in Vermont, East Central Vermont Fiber Network, for guidance but found Massachusetts law did not allow them to use the same joint powers agreement approach. After researching Massachusetts law, they found a law previously used by towns to form "light plants" for electrification. In more modern times, the law had been amended to allow such an entity to offer cable television and telecom services. Of the forty muni light plants in Massachusetts, some four provide telecom services.

In order to join the coop, a town has to twice pass a 2/3 vote by those in attendance at a town meeting. The meeting must be no less than 2 months apart and no more than 13 months apart. In talking with folks from Wired West, this approach appears to be unique to Massachusetts.

From the Wired West site:

Passing the MLP legislation creates a new town department, and does not require a town to produce or sell electricity. The Selectboard can choose to oversee its MLP department themselves or appoint a three to five member board. This group is responsible for appointing a manager, making decisions around the town’s participation and representation in the WiredWest Cooperative, and filing annually with the State.

Creating the MLP incurs no cost to the town. If a town decides to join the WiredWest Cooperative, there will be a membership fee of not more than $1,000 per town.

The coop requires at least 2 towns, but that does not appear to be doubt. The towns to consider it thus far have been enthusiastic - Wired West has a helpful map showing where local towns stand in the process. In general, Wired West is an excellent example of how community groups can use a website to keep people...

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Posted August 30, 2010 by christopher

A local news story from WCNC in North Carolina has caught national attention among some tech news sites. As reported by WCNC, Fibrant will start beta testing its community fiber network next month (which answers a question we have been wondering -- just what is happening down there?). We have covered Salisbury previously here.

The video:

This video is no longer available.

Senator Hoyle still relies on his two mutually exclusive talking points: "cities should not do this because they are terrible at it" and "it is not fair for cities to do this because they will crush private providers who are unable to compete." Of course, if cities really did fail at this with any sort of regularity, they would not pose a threat to private providers.

But that is not what caught the interest of Ars Technica, Tech Dirt, and DSL Reports.

This is:

When the I-Team asked him if the cable industry drew up the bill, Senator Hoyle responded, "Yes, along with my help."

When asked about criticism that he was "carrying water" for the cable companies, Hoyle replied, "I've carried more water than Gunga Din for the business community - the people who pay the taxes."

Big companies like Time Warner employ a lot of smart accountants to avoid paying even their fair share of taxes -- perhaps Senator Hoyle should not confuse them with the many small businesses that do pay their share.

From Ars Technica's "Who writes pro-cable Internet legislation? Cable does":

Yikes. In Hoyle's defense, this sort of practice is not uncommon—legislators often work with interest groups on particular pieces of legislation or on letters that go out under their name. But letting those who stand to benefit financially sit down and actually draft the bill protecting their interests, then bragging about how you carry more water for them "than Gunga Din...

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