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The Monopoly Magnate Helps Big Cable to Ban Community Networks in Georgia
Community Leaders Testify Against HB 282, Bill Passes Anyway
Community leaders from several Georgia cities made the trek to Atlanta to oppose HB 282 on Thursday, February 28th. Opposition to this bill to limit investment in Internet networks includes community leaders, high tech companies, and citizens all over the state. Nevertheless, legislators on the House Energy, Utilities, and Telecom Committee chose to ignore the needs of communities, prefering to tell them from afar how to run their towns. Winners? Incumbents Windstream, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Comcast.
A substitute bill [PDF] was introduced that exempts communities with municipal electric utilities from the prohibition to provide telecommunications. Additionally, the bill's definition of "broadband service" is now defined as service equal to or greater than 3.0 Mbps. "in the faster direction." While these look like compromises at first blush, they do very little to change the real world application of the bill.
Our earlier analysis of the bill addressed the fact that the expense and time required to prove locations of unserved areas as defined by the bill, would foreclose the possibility of communities making investments in this essential infrastructure. Likewise, communities that already have networks would be similarly burdened.
High Tech Companies Oppose Bill to Limit Internet Investment in Georgia
Atlanta Writer Looks to Chattanooga, Fears State Bill to Prevent Internet Investment
Chattanooga continues to receive attention because of the incredible community owned network they built for themselves. We recently came across an article from Tom Baxter of the Atlanta SaportaReport. In his article, Chattanooga: Eating our lunch in liveability, Baxter expresses the envy he feels as an Atlantan as he considers the way Chattanooga has transformed itself. From the article:
Yes, Chattanooga. Seldom do we think of our neighbor across the Tennessee line as much of a competitor. When they built an aquarium, we just built a bigger one. But for nearly three decades, since a group of civic leaders got together in 1984 and committed themselves to doing something about Chattanooga’s image as the dirtiest city in America, and in the view of some the dullest, they have been eating our lunch on the playing field of liveability.
Baxter mentions Georgia's HB 282, a bill we are following closely, and notes how its passage would drive more distance between livability in Georgia and the increasing quality of life in Chattanooga:
Chattanooga’s broadband system, the fastest in the Western Hemisphere, could run at a gigabyte a second, if anybody could really use that kind of speed. Meanwhile, in Georgia, there’s a bill currently proposed which would prohibit public broadband carriers like the one in Chattanooga from expanding into any area if even one consumer in an entire census block has private broadband service of 1.5 megabytes a second or larger. (A gigabyte is equal to 1024 megabytes.)
Having a fiber-optic broadband system like Chattanooga’s in 2013 is like having an airport like ours was in 1963. And in 2057, given recent climate projections, having several decades of experience in energy efficiency and green growth will be priceless.
We ignore this at our peril. Cities we used to ignore, like Chattanooga and Greenville, S.C., have made enormous strides over the past few decades because they’ve tried harder. That’s what they used to say about Atlanta.
We are glad to see that Tom gets it, but we had to offer a gentle correction in that network speeds are typically measured in megabits, not megabytes. His analysis is spot-on, just a bit of word confusion.
LaGrange Muni Network Serves Business and Government in Georgia
As the Georgia legislature considers HB 282, a bill that will restrict local governments from investing in telecommunications networks, we are continuing coverage of the communities that will be harmed by passage of the legislation.
Should the restrictions become law, existing networks will not be able to expand. No expansion means fewer opportunities to reap the benefits that flow naturally from community networks. While this means few residents will receive access in places like Thomasville and Moultrie, it also means fewer businesses will receive access in places where networks exclusively serve commercial customers and government offices.
LaGrange's IT Director, Alan Slaughenhaupt, told us a little about its municipal network that began in 1996. The community decided to build its own network when no private provider would. The first goal was to get the K-12 schools connected. Bonds funded the network build out and were paid off within five years. At the time, the city partnered with ISN (Later Earthlink) to get the schools connected. LaGrange now partners with Charter Communications to bring connectivity to students.
The LaGrange network now connects hospitals, most city, county, and state government facilities, and provides connectivity for businesses. Alan describes how a T1 connection cost local businesses $2,300 per month in 1996. Now, thanks to competition created by the community owned network, local businesses can pay just $100 for a connection with better capacity. The municipal network serves about 400 commercial customers.
Alan explained that the automaker Kia moved a manufacturing facility near LaGrange in 2009 that used Just-In-Time inventory control. It needed a high-speed connection between the main plant and suppliers that LaGrange could deliver.
Georgia Mayor: "I Hate to Think What Our Community Would Be Like Without Our Network"
Recently on Gigabit Nation, host Craig Settles visited with Mayor Max Beverly from Thomasville, Georgia. As our readers know, the Georgia General Assembly is again considering a bill to limit municipal efforts to bring connectivity to local residents and businesses. That bill is currently scheduled to be heard on Tuesday afternoon, 2/26, but many people have already expressed their anger at it in Facebook comments on the bill page.
HB 282 sets a very low bar for what is considered "served" - 1.5 Mbps - and prohibits municipal networks from serving those areas while also imposing a new heavy cost on investing in unserved areas.
Mayor Beverly discusses how he and other Georgia community leaders are fighting HB 282 through education. Speaking from first-hand experience, he finds that elected officials often turn from support to opposition when they hear about the incredible success of Thomasville.
Mayor Beverly finds himself sharing the story of Thomasville's victories that are all tied with the network, created in 1999. In Thomasville:
Kentuckians Once Again Fighting to Keep Landlines
Last year, we reported on the failed SB 135, which would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement in the state. The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Hornback would have let AT&T decide who could receive basic telephone service and would have limited consumer protections.
Last year's bill did not become law, but a progeny, SB 88, has already [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] in the Kentucky Senate and was received in the House on February 15th. (We'd like to report what committee will hear it first but the Kentucky Legislative web has not yet published that information.) Senator Hornback is again the chief author of the bill, crafted by AT&T and its ALEC pals.
The Kentucky Resources Council (KRC) provides an analysis of SB 88 and a prognosis on how it would affect Kentuckians. KRC must be feeling deja vu, as are many organizations looking out for rural dwellers who depend on their landlines. These bills continue to be introduced year after year as large telecommunications companies spend millions of lobbying dollars, also year after year.
WMMT, Mountain Community Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky, recently reported on the legislation. Sylvia Ryerson spoke with Tom Fitzgerald from KRC, who discussed the analysis. From KRC's report on the legislation:
At potential risk is the opportunity for existing and new customers, to obtain stand-along basic telephone services from the incumbent telephone utility, or “Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS)” as it is called. Those most adversely affected by this loss of access to basic, stand-alone, telephone service are those least able to obtain affordable and reliable alternatives – those who live in rural, lower density areas, and the poor in dense, urbanized areas who have no affordable alternative priced as low as POTS.
FCC Chairman Issues Statement Opposing State Muni Broadband Limitations
As we’ve recognized in law and policy for many years, public-private partnerships are also essential for driving broadband deployment. Public-private partnerships like the Connect America Fund, which drives universal broadband deployment, and municipal and public -private projects like those in Chattanooga, Tennessee and San Leandro, California are also vital components of our national broadband strategy. Our Gigabit City Challenge and the important work of Gig.U to drive ultra -fast broadband centers for innovation can also benefit from innovative local approaches to broadband infrastructure. That’s why the National Broadband Plan stated that, when private investment isn’t a feasible option for broadband deployment, local governments ‘have the right to move forward and build networks that serve their constituents as they deem appropriate.’ If a community can’t gain access to broadband services that meet its needs, then it should be able to serve its own residents directly. Proposals that would tie the hands of innovative communities that want to build their own high-speed networks will slow progress to our nation’s broadband goals and will hurt economic development and job creation in those areas. I urge state and local leaders to focus instead on proposals that incentivize investment in broadband infrastructure, remove barriers to broadband build-out, and ensure widespread access to high-speed networks.”This is a welome development as the FCC has long opposed such barriers (thank you Commissioner Clyburn as well for long speaking out on this issue) but the Chairman himself has not been as direct as this. The Chairman regularly uses Chattanooga as an example of a tremendously successful network and again noted that community in this statement.
Roundup of Coverage of Georgia Bill to Slow Telecom Investment
Municipal broadband has been under steady attack nationwide by incumbent broadband providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. They contend that networks built by cities and counties that also offer subscription options for residents amount to unfair competition. They won this fight in North and South Carolina, but, following more coverage of the issue, fights in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Georgia have been harder to win.Ars Technica's Timothy Lee also covered the bill, including common pro and con arguments. But he gets something that many other reporters don't notice,
Moreover, limiting which parts of town a municipal fiber network can serve might make it impossible for that town to cost-effectively reach under-served sections with broadband service. It's often more cost-effective to deploy fiber to an entire town than to deploy fiber selectively to only certain parts of town. The neighborhoods being served by an incumbent are likely to be the wealthiest and densest parts of town.
Georgia Anti-Internet Bill Hearing Rescheduled for Next Week
The fundamental question is rather simple, does Georgia want local leaders to determine the economic and investment strategies for their communities or do we want those decisions to be made solely on the business plan of companies based outside of the state?And they go on to quote the former City Manager of Adel:
After much deliberation and public demand, the City of Adel launched our wireless internet system, Southlink, in 2003. There were NO INCUMBENT, HIGH-SPEED PROVIDERS at that time with no indication of interest by anyone. The City of Adel did what no investor-owned company would consider, yet the citizens and businesses in Adel deserved the service just as much as those citizens of Atlanta, Macon, Augusta or Savannah. The business plan worked and we gained customers. Within four years of our launch, both Alltel and Mediacom launched true high-speed service to the area. With our original intent served, we then dismantled the wireless system in 2009 and 2010 and the citizens had service options. We did not launch the service to compete with incumbent providers and we gave them every chance to provide the service. Did our positive action create the impetus for other providers to bring in their service?