Tag: "legislation"

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 17, 2011 by christopher

As we predicted, Time Warner Cable is pushing a new bill in North Carolina to limit competition and local authority to build broadband networks (Save NC Broadband is alive again). H129 purports to be An Act to Protect Jobs and Investment By Regulating Local Government Competition with Private Business - [download a PDF of the bill as introduced].

This bill is another example of state legislators refusing to allow communities to make their own decisions -- imposing a one-size-fits-all policy on communities ranging from the metro area of Charlotte to small communities on the coast and in the mountains. Many of the provisions in this bill apply tough constraints on the public sector that are not applied to incumbent providers, but this analysis focuses only on a few.

Let's start with the title:

An Act to Protect Jobs and Investment by Regulating Local Government Competition with Private Business

There is no support anywhere in this bill to explain what the impact of community networks is on jobs. Nothing whatsoever. There is a claim that "the communications industry is an industry of economic growth and job creation," but ignores the modern reality that that the communications industry goes far beyond the private sector. In fact, the recent history of massive telecommunications providers is one of consolidation and layoffs. It is the small community owned networks that create jobs; larger firms are more likely to offshore or simply cut jobs.

Certainly all businesses depend on communications to succeed. Unfortunately, they are often limited to very few choices because the of the problem of natural monopoly. This is why many communities have stepped up, including three in North Carolina (two of whom offer the offer the most advanced services in the...

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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 December 13, 2010 by christopher

In another TelecomTV segment, Jay Ovittore speaks with Guy Daniels discussing Communities United for Broadband.

This video is no longer available.

Posted November 23, 2010 by christopher

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 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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Posted June 16, 2010 by christopher

We continue to watch in slow motion horror as North Carolina's General Assembly considers turning its back on next-generation networks and compute like it's 1999. This would be the effect of S.1209's proposed ban on communities from building their own networks - as they have been the only parties interested in moving North Carolina into a modern communications infrastructure rather than last-generation DSL and cable networks.

Stop the Cap! offered this wrapup of the process in the Senate. The next stop for this bill is in the House Ways and Means/Broadband Connectivity Committee. Another Stop the Cap! piece explains who to call with contact information.

Wherever you are, make sure your representatives know that you oppose limits on communities that want to build their own infrastructure -- or your community may be next.

Update: Why would North Carolina want to ban muni networks when this is the result?

The municipal broadband debate began when Wilson instituted "Greenlight," a high speed network that competes directly with Time Warner Cable's Roadrunner. As a subscriber to Greenlight, I am very satisfied with the service I receive. If there is a problem, I speak to a tech in Wilson. That is more than I can say about my experience with Time Warner. If there were issues, I was transfered to a call station in India and the service I received was horrible.

Posted June 9, 2010 by christopher

Once again, Senator Joe Sam Queen again led the effort to legislate on behalf of the people of North Carolina rather than a few companies headquartered out of state. On Monday night, the Senator offered an amendment to remove the temporary ban on community networks (currently set to be one year - though powerful lobbyists will undoubtedly push to extend it). Unfortunately, the Senate ultimately passed the bill with the ban.

The Salisbury Post had covered the legislative battle last week, revealing yet another horrendous quote from Senator Hoyle, who has pushed the ban on community broadband infrastructure.

We're not going to get broadband to everybody in the state anytime soon.

This was his response to a question noting the nature of private companies like Time Warner (who donate regularly to Hoyle) to ignore communities they deem unprofitable.

To reconstruct:

  • No one expects the private sector to serve the entire state - no one disputes that companies like Time Warner will refuse to invest in small, isolated communities
  • Senator Hoyle, the main proponent of protecting Time Warner monopolies where they exist, simply says that these people just won't get Internet
  • The majority of Senators vote with Hoyle to deny people, who have no broadband option, from building it themselves

Unreal.

Now we wait to see when it will pop up in the House. Without a larger grassroots uprising, it will slowly work its way through Committees and toward the House Floor. Call your Reps. To follow this issue in real time, I recommend periodically searching twitter for ncbb.

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