Tag: "at&t"

Posted June 11, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Over the weekend, while listening to an old episode of Star Talk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson, I was reminded of just how incredible the open Internet is. And what happens when a few massive corporations dominate the airwaves.

Neil was interviewing Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lt. Uhura on Star Trek - an African-American woman who just happened to be the 4th in command of a starship in the distant future. At about 9 minutes into the podcast, she begins telling an amazing story. In short, she wanted to quit after the first season to do stage productions. But the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and others prevailed on her to continue because her presence on TV was revolutionary.

As someone who grew up watching sports and the Dukes of Hazzard, I never understood why some were so attached to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. But in listening to this interview I began to understand. Sure, I grew up identifying with "them Duke boys" but what if I hadn't?

Long before the Long Tail, the few channels of television available aimed for the white middle class demographic. Portraying African-Americans in any position of authority was so rare that Neil deGrasse Tyson regularly exclaims that before seeing Star Trek, the science fiction of TVs and movies provided no confirmation that black people would be around in the future.

In 1967, having an African-American woman on television in a position of authority was so novel that one of our greatest Americans, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., went out of his way at an NAACP event to tell her what an inspiration she was to his family.

Big corporations aren't evil. But they have one goal -- increase their profits year after year. During the civil rights era, increasing profits year after year meant avoiding controversy. Somehow Gene Roddenberry broke through with Star Trek, inspiring many who were unused to any positive representation on television.

Unfortunately, in 2012, it seems that maximizing profits includes creating as much controversy as possible - how times have changed.

Nonetheless, we live temporarily in a time when content creators aspire to be "viral." Ten years ago, anyone who had a great idea for a channel had to give partial ownership to Comcast or other powerful corporations to have a chance of people seeing it. Not...

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Posted April 24, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

In most states, telephone companies are required to serve everyone and when there are problems with the service, the state can mandate that the company fix them. But AT&T and ALEC are leading the charge to let these massive companies decide for themselves who should have access to a telephone, taking state regulators out of the loop.

These big companies use several arguments we are well familiar with - that mobile wireless is already available (in many rural areas, it actually is not available) and there is plenty of competition. If only that were the case.

I was thrilled to see David Cay Johnston cover this in a column on Reuters:

AT&T and Verizon, the dominant telephone companies, want to end their 99-year-old universal service obligation known as "provider of last resort." They say universal landline service is a costly and unfair anachronism that is no longer justified because of a competitive market for voice services.

The new rules AT&T and Verizon drafted would enhance profits by letting them serve only the customers they want. Their focus, and that of smaller phone companies that have the same universal service obligation, is on well-populated areas where people can afford profitable packages that combine telephone, Internet and cable television.

What happens when the states hand over authority to these companies? David has an answer:

AT&T and Verizon also want to end state authority to resolve customer complaints, saying the market will punish bad behavior. Tell that to Stefanie Brand.

Brand is New Jersey's ratepayer advocate whose experience trying to get another kind of service - FiOS - demonstrates what happens when market forces are left to punish behavior, she said. Residents of her apartment building wanted to get wired for the fiber optic service (FiOS) in 2008. Residents said, "We want to see your plans before you start drilling holes, and Verizon said, 'We will drill where we want or else, so we're walking,' and they did," Brand told me.

Verizon confirmed that because of the disagreement Brand's building is not wired. And there's nothing Brand can do about it. Verizon reminded me the state Board of Public Utilities no longer has authority to resolve complaints over FiOS.

Better broadband is not just about...

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Posted April 16, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

Wise people say that collaboration often leads to a better result than individual efforts. Recently, I was reminded of the benefits of different levels of collaboration, as they relate to community networks, in two separate articles about fiber-optic expansion in Wisconsin.

First, is a recent Randy Happel article in Trenchless Technology, about how UW-Extension is working with a private telecommunications network design, engineering, and construction firm to expand the fiber-optic landscape in their state.  Over thirty-seven million dollars in stimulus funding for UW-Extension through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is allocted as part of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The result will be a 630-mile fiber-optic network to help improve connectivity in Wisconsin.

CCI Systems, the private partner, has been around since 1955 and has a history in CATV networks. From the Happel article:

“Public-private partnerships are our expertise,” says Dave Mattia, director of operations for CCI Systems. “We are also quite adept at working within the parameters for the federal funding programs. Our experience and expertise in designing and building broadband, fiber-optic communications networks are great assets to our partners.”

“Our approach is extremely disciplined and methodical,” says Cory Heigl, director of business development for CCI Systems. “Collaboration, listening and cooperation are critical to maximize project efficiencies. Other firms may start by choosing a technology. We begin by listening and identifying the desired end result. Our approach streamlines the process and has proven most effective in securing funding, especially grants and stimulus money.”

After fiber installation is complete, scheduled for June 2013, CCI Systems will shift from installation and design to maintenance and support. After the long battle with AT&T, working with a cooperative partner like CCI Systems must be a welcome relief for UW-Extension.

UW-Extension and CCI Systems are partnering to create...

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Posted March 20, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Less than a year after North Carolina became the 19th state to create barriers to community networks, effectively outlawing them, the non-partisan organization Follow the Money has crunched the numbers and found that private telecommunications interests donated quite heavily to lawmakers that pushed their bill through the Legislature:

According to a report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Dialing Up the Dollars: Telecommunication Interests Donated Heavily to NC Lawmakers, Republican lawmakers and those who held key leadership positions, sponsored the bill, and/or who voted in favor of the bill received considerably more campaign contributions from the telecommunication donors than did their colleagues. For example, lawmakers who voted in favor of HB 129 received on average 76 percent more than the average received by those who voted against the bill. The four primary sponsors of the bill received an average of $9,438 each, more than double the $3,658 given on average to lawmakers who did not sponsor the bill.

Recall that Time Warner Cable pushed this bill for years with some help from AT&T, CenturyLink, and others that stood to benefit by limiting broadband competition. But the Legislature wisely refused to enact it... until 2011.

Now we have a better sense of what may have shifted the balance. Consider this:

Thom Tillis

Thom Tillis, who became speaker of the house in 2011, received $37,000 in 2010–2011 (despite running unopposed in 2010), which is more than any other lawmaker and significantly more than the $4,250 he received 2006–2008 combined. AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon each gave Tillis $1,000 in early-mid January, just before he was sworn in as speaker on January 26. Tillis voted for the bill, and was in a key position to ensure it moved along the legislative pipeline.

Running unopposed for office, he collected more money from the cable and phone companies than any other Representative and almost 10 times as much as in the previous two cycle combined. As Speaker, he set the agenda and...

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Posted March 6, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

After AT&T began pushing a bill in Georgia to revoke local authority to decide to build a publicly owned broadband network, the Georgia Municipal Assocation (GMA) and the SouthEast Assocation of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors began reaching out to Georgia's legislators to explain how the private sector has left serious gaps in broadband coverage, which stopped the bill. Below are two flyers they report being particularly helpful.

GMA, SEATOA, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance are among the vast majority that believe communities should decide locally if a community network makes sense to bring next-generation connections to local businesses and residents.

Georgia is a conservative state and AT&T had enlisted the support of the Senate Majority Leader in pushing their anti-competition broadband bill. Unfortunately for AT&T, their CEO was too candid on calls with Wall Street, contradicting AT&T's lobbyist talking points in Georgia.

Georgia Flyer1

Note, that AT&T was originally trying to define broadband at the absurd 200kbps level but a substitute bill would have bumped it up to a still-too-low 768kbps, which is referenced above.

The other flyer that apparently made a difference with legislators is here:

Georgia Flyer2

Rememeber that elected officials often think of broadband in binary terms. You have it or you don't. In their mind, if you have options aside from dial-up, the problem is solved. These are people that often do not know what is needed to attract economic development, work efficiently from home, or successfully compete remote education courses.

Graphics that explain why we need next-generation networks rather than simply...

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Posted March 5, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

We are hearing that SB 313 in Georgia, AT&T's bill to overrule local authority, will be turned into a study bill. Despite the strong support of the Senate Majority Leader, the bill lost support after we and others exposed the frank admission of AT&T's CEO that they had no plans to expand broadband in rural areas.

Given the strength of AT&T's lobbying and the support of the Senate Majority Leader, this is a tremendous victory. Congratulations to the communities in Georgia that successfully organized and defended their authority to decide locally if a network is a wise choice for them.

We do not consider these issues resolved until the ink is dried, but it does look like AT&T lost this round -- which means thousands of local businesses and millions of people won. They can still hope for next-generation networks and a real choice in providers.

Note: the South Carolina bill remains in play and will be discussed on Wednesday by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.

We have been collecting some of the news coverage of this broadband debate in Georgia, but have neglected posting until now. Here is a run-down of some of the coverage.

In the beginning of February, the AP covered an SB 313 hearing featuring testimony from rural communities:

Leaders from cities including Elberton, Hogansville, Thomasville, Monroe and Toccoa lined up to tell senators that broadband is necessary infrastructure for the 21st century economic development they hope to attract — and that they are doing what they must to keep their communities competitive.

"We cannot wait for the private sector to ride to our rescue," said Tim Martin, executive director of the Toccoa-Stephens County Development Authority.

Thomasville Mayor Max Beverly said the city's broadband network supports major employers there.

"If we have to cut them off, there's no telling what that's going to do...

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Posted February 24, 2012 by

The SEC has moved network neutrality from the murky back rooms of day-to-day operations into the bright light of of shareholder resolutions. 

This is a significant turn for the SEC and it opens up a new avenue in the campaign for net neutrality. As the SEC helpfully reminds us, “One of the key rights of shareholders is the right to vote their shares on important matters that affect the companies they own.” The SEC gives companies a fair amount of discretion on resolutions. In previous years, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance ruled that similar net neutrality proposals pertained to “ordinary business” and could be excluded from shareholder ballots. 

The telcos have reason to be afraid. Proxy fights have derailed business plans and taken down CEOs. Most successful campaigns have been carried out by activist fund managers with substantial stakes in relatively small companies (by stock exchange standards). 

The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and Trillium Asset Management have led the effort to put this on shareholder ballots. They will need help to move it forward. Proposals must claim a minimum percentage of support in order to be allowed on the ballot next year.

This time of year about 20 percent of U.S. households receive proxy voting forms, and most are promptly discarded. If you ask your parents and grandparents, chances are good someone owned some shares of Ma Bell at one time and now has voting rights in a telco.

If your only investments are in mutual funds, you can still make your voice heard. Contact the fund management company, tell them you support net neutrality, and ask them how they are planning to vote on the issue.

AT&T’s annual meeting is the last Friday in April. There are roughly six billion common shares outstanding. It may be a long-shot to get three...

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Posted February 16, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Susan Crawford's op-ed in Bloomberg makes a tremendous case for publicly owned broadband networks.

She notes the importance of broadband and the failure of big cable and DSL companies to meet the growing needs of communities, just as the electrical trusts were insufficient to electrify much of America.

I'm a bit biased because she cites our work:

Today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for community broadband initiatives, is tracking more than 60 municipal governments that have built or are building successful fiber networks, just as they created electric systems during the 20th century. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, the city’s publicly owned electric company provides fast, affordable and reliable fiber Internet access. Some businesses based in Knoxville -- 100 miles to the northeast -- are adding jobs in Chattanooga, where connectivity can cost an eighth as much.

Though I encourage readers to read the full column, I love the conclusion:

Franklin D Roosevelt

Right now, state legislatures -- where the incumbents wield great power -- are keeping towns and cities in the U.S. from making their own choices about their communications networks. Meanwhile, municipalities, cooperatives and small independent companies are practically the only entities building globally competitive networks these days. Both AT&T and Verizon have ceased the expansion of next-generation fiber installations across the U.S., and the cable companies’ services greatly favor downloads over uploads.

Congress needs to intervene. One way it could help is by preempting state laws that erect barriers to the ability of local jurisdictions to provide communications services to their citizens.

Running for president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt emphasized the right of communities to provide their own electricity. “I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility a birch rod in the cupboard,” he said, “to be taken out and used only when the child gets beyond the point where more scolding does any good.” It’s time to take out that birch rod.

Posted February 15, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

The absurdity of AT&T's push to define broadband as 200kbps is so great, it boggles the imagination. We developed the graphic below to highlight just how slow 200kbps connections are.

200kbps is not good enough for communities

Feel free to spread it around. Higher quality pdf below.

Posted February 14, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Many complain about gridlock in Washington, DC, but I sometimes subscribe to the cynical counter-reaction that gridlock is great. It is when the Democrats and Republicans agree that Americans should beware.

Though this may or may not be true about politics, it is certainly true when applied to two of the most hated industries in America: cable television companies and DSL companies like AT&T. When they come to agreement, you can bet that prices are going up for the rest of us.

In our coverage of AT&T's bid to limit broadband competition in South Carolina by revoking local authority to build networks for economic development, we have thus far ignored the position of the cable companies.

We took a tour through the newsletters of the South Carolina Cable Television Association over the course of 2011, which is when AT&T introduced its H.3508 bill.

Unsurprisingly, the cable companies are thrilled at the prospect of limiting competition in communities by cutting off the ability of a community to build a network when the private sector is failing to meet their needs. From the 1st Quarter newsletter [pdf]:

The SCCTA has been actively following the AT&T-backed legislation that would amend the Government-Owned Telecommunications Service Providers Act. House Bill 3508 would impose the same requirements on government-owned broadband operations that are currently imposed on telecommunications operations.

Of course, H.3508 goes far beyond applying the "same requirements." It enacts a host of requirements that only apply to public providers, which are already disadvantaged by being much smaller than companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. We have long ago debunked the myth of public sector advantages over the private sector.

The second quarter newsletter [pdf] identifies this bill as the highest priority of the cable association:

H3508, the AT&T backed legislation, has been our dominate piece of legislation in 2011.

Even after the bill was shelved...

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