Tag: "at&t"

Posted May 29, 2020 by christopher

I have been tracking from afar local grassroots efforts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start a municipal broadband network for years. I've visited them locally and spoken to various people from citizens to elected officials about the different options. The following are my observations. I'm not trying to channel their thoughts on how to move forward.

Cambridge is a high-tech city with nearly ubiquitous coverage from Comcast, delivering more or less the same services they offer to millions of homes — which is too say mostly reliable and high-cost Internet access (that will be still higher cost next year and the next after that). In the case of Comcast, it comes with crippled upload speeds compared to fast download capacity. Customer service is . . . well, you do your best to never have to use it.

But with MIT and Harvard within its confines, many in Cambridge are well aware that Internet access can get so much better and not be mediated by a company willing to spend millions in D.C. to preserve its right to set up tollbooths for certain kinds of content if they so choose.

However, Cambridge is remarkably similar to Palo Alto, which is also home to high tech households that mostly use Comcast cable and sometimes have the option of AT&T fiber. And in both instances, there is a strong case for some kind of municipal network that would create more local Internet choice. Both appear to have significant support in the community for a public option. But both also have city staff that have decided to prevent any meaningful investment.

They have run into the challenge that Seattle also wrestled with. These high profile cities have refused to consider creative, incremental, and targeted efforts. Instead, they have focused almost entirely on the costs of duplicating Chattanooga or Wilson, where the community built the entire citywide at once with debt-financed capital.

In Cambridge, the city council is rebelling after having been stymied by a city manager that has successful resisted efforts to study municipal broadband for years.

City Manager DePasquale has consistently refused to act on municipal broadband despite a...

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Posted May 28, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

For the eighth episode of our special podcast series “Why NC Broadband Matters,” Christopher and his guests, Catharine Rice and Jack Cozort, continue their conversation on HB 129, North Carolina’s restrictive law that prevents local governments from investing in broadband infrastructure. The first half of their discussion focused on the years leading up to the passage of HB 129 in 2011. Today, Christopher, Catharine, and Jack talk about the bill itself, the influence of the telecom industry over the state legislature, and how HB 129 has impacted connectivity in North Carolina.

Catharine and Jack explain that local broadband authority became a partisan issue after the 2010 election, which flipped control of the North Carolina legislature to the Republicans. They share their experiences advocating against HB 129, explaining how legislators restricted public comments on the bill by limiting speaking time and rescheduling hearings and meetings. Jack tells Christopher that there were as many as 25 lobbyists representing telephone and cable companies at the state legislature pushing for HB 129. Catharine relates how corruption and a lack of transparency in government are the reasons why the telecom industry successfully got the bill passed.

Christopher and his guests also run through some of the provisions of HB 129, dissecting the telecom monopolies’ misleading arguments in favor of the bill.

This is the second half of a two part discussion. For part one, listen to...

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Posted May 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

We've written a lot about North Carolina's HB 129, the anti-competition law that prevents communities in the state from investing in broadband infrastructure. This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher dives deeper into the history of HB 129 with guests Catharine Rice, co-founder of NC Broadband Matters and project manager at the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, and Jack Cozort, a government relations consultant who has worked with the City of Wilson. In this first half of a two part conversation, Christopher and his guests discuss the years leading up to HB 129, which was passed in 2011, speaking frankly about the sway telecom lobbyists held over state legislators.

To start, Jack describes how Wilson decided to invest in its own broadband network Greenlight, after incumbent providers refused to partner with the city to upgrade the community. He goes on to explain how Wilson's decision led the regional broadband monopolies Time Warner Cable (now Charter Spectrum) and AT&T to advocate for legal restrictions on municipal broadband at the state legislature.

Catharine and Jack review some of the early bills ⁠— written by telecom companies and handed off to state legislators ⁠— that the monopoly providers introduced in an attempt to stop broadband competition. They share their involvement in those legislative fights and explain how difficult it was to counter the influence that the telecom industry had over politicians in both major parties. However, Catharine points out that there were also Democratic legislators during this time who defended local broadband authority and kept anti-...

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Posted April 10, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Internet access is more important than ever before. Elementary school math classes, routine doctor’s appointments, after-work happy hours, and more all require a high-speed broadband connection now.

In response, many national Internet service providers (ISPs) have introduced free and discounted plans to keep people connected during the crisis (though there are still holdouts). Comcast has raised speeds and is offering 60 days of free broadband service to new low-income subscribers. Charter Spectrum is extending a free two month offer to new customers with students in the household. And AT&T is giving low-income families signing up for new service a couple of months free.

The charity of these companies is commendable, but their plans still leave many people disconnected, forcing them to choose between staying safe at home and accessing essential services. Eligibility oversights leave out households in need, and overwhelmed call centers make signing up for programs difficult. In many cases, families are falling through the cracks simply because the national ISPs are too big and too monopolistic to catch them.

Ineligible and Unaccessible

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has documented many of the issues that families across the United States face in trying to access ISPs’ Covid-19 offers. Ars Technica covered their concerns in a recent article, spelling out the shortcomings of various providers’ plans.

NDIA logo

One problem is the eligibility guidelines restrict many households from taking advantage of ISPs' programs. In many cases, free connections are only available to new subscribers, even though many people are now struggling with reduced incomes. A number of companies have excluded prior customers with...

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Posted March 16, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In an effort to keep families connected as schools and workplaces close in response to the novel coronavirus, many Internet service providers (ISPs) are taking steps to make their services more accessible and functional for those of us who are staying home for the foreseeable future.

Some policies are being officially encouraged by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through Chairman Ajit Pai’s new Keep Americans Connected Pledge. By signing onto the pledge, providers agree to open Wi-Fi hotspots to the general public and to not disconnect or charge late fees to those struggling to pay bills due to the pandemic.

To ensure people have sufficient connectivity during the public health crisis, some ISPs are going beyond the pledge’s requirements by raising speeds, suspending data caps, and offering free Internet access to certain households.

While these efforts will not close all of the digital divides being exacerbated the pandemic, they are an important step toward mitigating the immediate impact on families and businesses.

Keep Americans Connected Pledge

FCC Chairman Pai announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge last Friday, March 13. The pledge calls on ISPs to make Wi-Fi hotspots publicly accessible and to keep households and small businesses that are facing financial difficulties because of the pandemic connected over the next couple months.

Ajit Pai“As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected,” said Pai in a press release [pdf] issued by the FCC. He also noted the importance of broadband access to enable remote work, online education, and telehealth appointments during periods of “social distancing.”

The press release, available below, shared the text of the pledge:

Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:

(1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to...

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Posted February 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.

Steady as it Grows

When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."

Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.

The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.

By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.

Bursting at the Streams

...

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Posted October 31, 2019 by lgonzalez

As the seasons change, we're fondly remembering past team members from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and their creative contributions to our Halloween stories. Scott, Kate, and Hannah have moved on to other paths in their careers, but we'll always treasure their contribution to our 2016 celebration of movie monster madness. A special hat tip to our Development Director John Bailey, who pointed out this Halloween morning that "Munis are 'ghoul!'" Check it out:

Much like the the bone-chilling flicks celebrating eerie entertainment that dwells in the depths of our dark imaginations, monster cable and DSL Internet service providers strike terror in the hearts of subscribers…if they survive. Mesmerizing fees, hair-raising customer service, and shockingly slow connections can drive one to the brink of madness.

In celebration of Halloween 2016, our writers each selected a national ISP and reimagined it as a classic horror character. The results are horrifying! Read them here…if you dare! 

AT&T’s Frankenmerger

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by Kate

This shocking film tells the horrific tale of a mad scientist in his quest to create the world’s largest telecommunications monopoly monster. The scientist’s abomination runs amok, gobbling up company after company, to create a horrifying monster conglomerate. Watch the monster terrorize towns across America as it imposes data caps, denies people access to low-cost programs, and refuses to upgrade infrastructure. What nightmare lies ahead? Will the townsfolk and their elected officials unite to stop the monster, before it acquires Time Warner? Watch and find out!

 

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The Mummy From Last CenturyLink

by Scott 

Archaeologists unearth the Last CenturyLink Mummy from a rural...

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Posted May 24, 2019 by lgonzalez

The fifth anniversary of the announcement of the KentuckyWired project is approaching later this year. As voters start to assess their candidates’ job performance, the unfinished and over budget middle mile public-private partnership (P3) has become an albatross that incumbents aren’t able to easily cast off. When we last discussed the project in 2017, we shared our observations and misgivings. Not much has changed, except some of our concerns have played out and the project has become troubled by new problems.

In Case You’re Just Arriving to the Party… 

The statewide, massive middle mile project officially began when Kentucky announced in late 2014 that they would build a fiber optic network in order to bring better connectivity to rural areas. They planned to find a private sector partner and sought bids. In the fall of 2015, Australian firm Macquarie won the contract for what soon became an even larger endeavor — a fiber optic network that would enter every county in the state at a minimum of one location. The network would consist of approximately 3,200 miles of fiber and connect about 1,000 public facilities. At the time the project was developed, the state estimated that deployment would cost approximately $300 million.

With early bipartisan support, the state allocated $30 million from their budget, which they expected to combine with $23.5 million in federal grants. When the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority issued $232 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds and $58 million in taxable revenue bonds to complete financing, Bond Buyer named the issue the “Deal of the Year” for 2015. Macquarie’s timeline estimated an optimistic one-year completion for the entire statewide project.

logo-Macquarie.jpgMacquarie Capital, as the entity managing the project, included in the agreement with the state a requirement that they and their partners, including Black & Veatch from Kansas and Ledcor of Canada, would build, operate, and maintain the network for 30 years. During the course of those three decades, the state would pay them approximately $1.2 billion and when the term was over, Kentucky would own the infrastructure free and clear. During the contract period, Kentucky would make “...

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Posted December 3, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Lampasas are fed up with outages that have repeatedly plagued the community due to lack of redundant infrastructure connecting the central Texas municipality. Now, the city and the Lampasas Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) are asking the community to complete an Internet survey to help determine how best to move forward an achieve better connectivity.

Cuts to the Line

In the spring, summer, and early fall of 2017, Lampasas experienced four outages totaling 45 hours when local construction projects accidentally cut AT&T fiber, the only Internet connection into town. Without a redundant line, the community’s residents, businesses, emergency services, and hospitals were cut off for days as AT&T repaired the breaks. To add insult to injury, AT&T didn’t respond well to the town’s requests to resolve the situation:

“We felt like we weren't a priority on AT&T's list, so when we had outages, and we had businesses that were losing thousands of dollars, and we were calling and we were trying to get reimbursements, and we were trying to get answers, and we were trying to see if there were future projects for infrastructure for Lampasas, we just weren't getting a good response from AT&T,” Lampasas Economic Development Director Mandy Walsh said. 

Within a few months, local leaders had started searching for a firm to help them assess their options. After considering proposals from six different companies, Lampasas chose Foresite Group for a project that includes a market analysis and a technology assessment. As part of the project, Foresite Group has helped the city and the LEDC prepare the current survey.

The survey has divided the community into Service Zones in order to obtain a detailed analysis of which areas of town residents and businesses are most interested in better Internet access. The Service Zones approach will also help the city, the EDC and Foresite discover Internet access speeds in each area of town.

Mandy Walsh, Economic Director from the LEDC, suggests that the city is...

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Posted July 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

In recent years AT&T and Verizon, the nation’s two largest telco Internet providers, have eliminated their cheaper rate tiers for low and mid-speed Internet access, except at the very slowest levels. Each company now charges essentially identical monthly prices – $63-$65 a month after first year discounts have ended – for home wireline broadband connections at almost any speed up to 100/100 Mbps fiber service.

This policy of upward “tier flattening” raises the cost of Internet access for urban and rural AT&T and Verizon customers who only have access to the oldest, slowest legacy infrastructure.

Affordability is the greatest barrier to increased home broadband subscriptions. In the United States, broadband is becoming faster for some households and more expensive for others.

This report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) takes a detailed look at tier flattening from AT&T and Verizon, digging into monthly rates that users pay and the types of services they obtain from each company. The authors put the numbers side by side and show that those purchasing what used to be the most economical Internet access service are now simply paying higher rates for slow service.

Download the report to see the comparisons and the authors' analysis.

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