Tag: "at&t"

Posted November 11, 2010 by christopher

The Media and Democracy Coalition has released a short paper detailing the many ways in which cable and phone companies have failed America. These companies use their market power to gouge residents and businesses, putting a drag on our economy. Meanwhile, the biggest ones are massively profitable and refuse to invest in the networks necessary to keep America competitive with peer nations.

We recently wrote about how privately owned networks tend to consolidate and reduce competition rather than reducing prices. The lesson is as clear as it has always been throughout human history: allowing a select few to control essential infrastructure is a recipe for economic calamity.

From the paper:

It’s good for our economy when companies make money and hire workers. But while small businesses continue to struggle in this economy, the cable and phone companies achieved extremely healthy profit margins. If the Great Recession didn’t stop these ISPs from making big profits, how could they be hurt by sensible consumer protections to keep the net operating just like it always has?

Well, seeing as how seat belts destroyed the automobile industry... and then air bags also destroyed the automobile industry... and CAFE standards destroyed the automobile industry.... wait -- all of these predictions were false. Perhaps we should not base important policy decisions upon the dire predictions of self-interested parties who are obligated to put self-interest ahead of the public interest.

I was saddened to see that the paper suggest "we need" the private companies to build these networks. Point of fact, not only do we not "need" them to do it, we "need" to wake up to the fact that even when they do the best they can, it is second best to networks built by those who put the public interest first. Compare the networks of communities like Salisbury, NC; Monticello, MN; Lafayette, LA; and Chattanooga, TN, to the joke AT&T calls U-Verse and the stronger offers of FiOS. The private sector cannot be trusted to build the infrastructure we need.

Addendum: I should note that while infrastructure must be managed in the public interest, I do believe the private sector should have a strong role as service providers operating on top of...

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Posted October 30, 2010 by christopher

Ars Technica is running another fascinating history piece -- Matthew Lasar's "Who 'ruled the air' in 1910? (and who rules it now?)" article looks back at the beginning of bigness in telecom.

Reading about the supposed benefits from bigness, I wouldn't help but reflect on my recent frustrations with the big carriers. Big carriers are poorly disposed to building the infrastructure our communities need.

Posted October 27, 2010 by christopher

The University of Wisconsin System is involved in a broadband stimulus project to expand fast and affordable broadband access to key community institutions. Just as they have in similar projects around the country, massive companies like AT&T are trying to derail any potential competition to their services.

From the Cap Times, "Surf and turf: Telecom industry protests UW-Extension broadband plan:"

The angst is over nearly $30 million that was awarded to build more than 600 miles of fiber optic cable that will bring high-capacity broadband connections to a range of key public entities and health care providers in the four communities, each of which has indicated a desire for more reliable broadband service and, not coincidentally, has a UW campus. This project’s budget is nearly $43 million when one adds in funds contributed from groups that will benefit from the infrastructure upgrade in each community.

[T]hose backing the undertaking argue it will bring faster and more reliable Internet service to public safety agencies, health care providers, schools and community organizations in Platteville, Superior, Wausau and the Chippewa Valley (Eau Claire) area.

Private telecom companies (led by AT&T) are protesting the project with a rejoinder we commonly hear in these issues:

Bill Esbeck, the executive director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association, argues the project will duplicate an existing network and take revenues out of the pockets of local Internet providers. The group is asking for a state review of the plan and is considering legal action, says Esbeck.

Interestingly, both sides are mostly right. The public safety, health care, and educational institutions will see faster, more reliable, and less expensive broadband. Private existing providers (mostly AT&T), will lose some revenues.

Of course, those lost revenues would have come from the tax base in the form of local governments having to greatly overpay for telecom services.

The fiscally responsible path for local governments is to build and own (perhaps operate if they wish) their own broadband networks rather than leasing overpriced services from carriers like AT&T. Not only does this cut...

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Posted September 24, 2010 by christopher

The nation's newest community fiber network (FTTH) is launching in Salisbury, North Carolina, in the next month. Fibrant, a $29 million project financing by general obligation bonds, is slightly behind schedule but way ahead of the cable and DSL competition.

The City Council has approved the network's pricing in anticipation of hooking up customers in October. Some 70 people have been testing the network, but it will soon be available to everyone in the community. The basic tier of broadband speeds is 15Mbps and they have a second tier at 25 Mbps. The network is capable of much faster speeds but these are the tiers they will start with, making them the fastest basic tier available in North Carolina.

They are offering over 460 television channels, of which 100 are HD. HD quality over fiber-optics tends to be the highest quality viewing experience (though not everyone can tell, depending on their level of obsession with picture quality) but the first year or so of video service on Fibrant may suffer from occasional problems as they iron out the quirks of the new system. Reports of the broadband and voice services are tremendously positive.

They have made it clear that they cannot get into a price war with incumbents (Time Warner Cable and AT&T) and cannot beat the "promo" prices these companies offer for the first x months. However, Fibrant's rates are 7-10% lower than the regular rates of the incumbents and will come with local, superior, customer service.

Big companies like Time Warner Cable often claim they are at a disadvantage relative to these municipalities but the reality is that the massive scale of national cable and phone companies give them many more advantages to offer lower prices for their services (which tend to also be lower in quality).

“If you get deal you can’t refuse from someone else, just thank Fibrant for it because you wouldn’t have gotten it if we hadn’t been here,” Clark [Fibrant Marketing Director] said.

Fibrant aims for a 30% take rate (4400 subscribers) by the end of year 3 and a positive cash flow in year 4. Pricing and channels lineups are available at the end of this Salisbury Post article. Subscribing to the service has no installation fee...

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Posted May 17, 2010 by christopher

Connected Nation and the utter lack of accurate maps depicting broadband options and metrics in this country reminded me of possibly my favorite comedian. George Carlin had a great routine about airlines and the safety speech given by flight attendants. In it, he has a throw-away line that continues to rattle around my head:

The safety lecture continues...

"In the unlikely event…"

This is a very suspect phrase! Especially, coming as it does, from an industry that is willing to lie about arrival and departure times!

After reading Larry Press' account of ordering DSL from Verizon, I couldn't help but wish George Carlin were still with us and also a giant broadband geek.

Larry Press' account on dealing with Verizon should be read in full, but this is what got me thinking:

Last week I ordered 7 mbps service from Verizon, but, after they switched it on, I was only getting about 1.5 mbps. I assume there were tons of retransmission errors due to an overly aggressive modulation scheme.

When I called to complain, a Verizon "technician" kept me on the phone … [and finally] got his bosses permission to schedule a "truck roll" to come to my house and fix the problem.

The minute the driver arrived, he told me that, at 9,000 feet from my central office, there was no way I was going to get 7 mbps.

We have long known that Verizon and similar companies are similarly willing to lie about their available broadband speeds (yah, I know, I'm no Carlin).

As I recently testified in a MN House hearing, the Connected Nation maps systematically overstate available broadband (particularly for DSL). And of course they do - Verizon doesn't even know what it can achieve at each premises (thought it damn well should know what it cannot offer 9,000 feet from the DSLAM).

The dumb question is: Does Verizon actually maintain a database of what it could really offer, in real world conditions, to each house (or what speeds are actually achieved when they take service). It might, but they may still just market faster speeds assuming (correctly) that most people will not know the difference between what they order and what they receive.

But the better...

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Posted May 7, 2010 by christopher

Time Warner, AT&T, and other incumbents have radically changed their strategy to prevent broadband competition in North Carolina via new restrictions that are being debated in the Legislature currently. This switch in strategy offers more proof that they stand on no principle aside from protecting their monopoly.

The famous HB 1252 in North Carolina is back... but different. In the past, the telcos and cablecos have argued that municipal broadband networks are unfair to them because the city could use tax dollars in some way to build the network (ignoring that most publicly owned networks do not use any tax dollars). Now, these companies are pushing a bill to require financing backed by taxpayer dollars. Seems like an odd switcheroo.

As one might expect from companies like AT&T and Time Warner, who have no respect for the public process, the bill was kept top secret until debated in committee, giving only the side filled with monied interests and lawyers an opportunity to prepare. The bill (that we have made available here as there is no official version yet) would not just place significant restrictions on new publicly owned networks, but would also handcuff existing networks like Salisbury and Greenlight in Wilson.

To reiterate, this bill will damage the most advanced broadband networks available in North Carolina today. Sounds like North Carolina wants to take up Mayor Joey Durel in Lafayette on his offer to welcome the businesses moving from North Carolina to Lafayette with a big pot of gumbo.

Fascinating that after an FCC Commissioner noted that the US Broadband Plan recognizes the right for communities to build their own broadband infrastructure, North Carolina is deciding it prefers to preclude any broadband competition, sticking with its last-century DSL and cable. Just fascinating.

The Salisbury Post has been watching and recently published a scathing editorial against the bill. This is one paragraph, but the whole editorial is well worth reading.

Yet, if the HB 1252's intent becomes reality, such areas will be severely hobbled in their near-term ability to tap into the broadband revolution. Private...

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Posted September 9, 2009 by christopher

The FCC recently asked for comments about how broadband should be defined. There was a marked difference between those who put community needs first and those who put profits first. Companies like AT&T and Comcast were quick to argue that the FCC should not change the definition of broadband for reasons ranging from too much paperwork to the suggestion that rural people have no need for VoIP. The honest approach would have been for these companies to say they do not want a higher definition because it will change their business plans, likely requiring them to invest in better networks for communities, and that will hurt their short term profits.

On the other side were groups that argued for a more robust definition of broadband - something considerably less ambitious than our international peers but an improvement over the current FCC definition.
NATOA's comments [pdf] focused on issues like the need for measurements based on actual speeds rather than advertised and symmetrical connections (or at least "robust upstream speeds to facilitate interactivity" - which we think captures the importance of symmetric connections without getting lost in debates about absolutely symmetric connections).

The key metric for broadband should be the applications and needs that drive consumer requirements and choices. In this way, broadband should be understood as a connection that is sufficient in speed and capacity such that it does not limit a user’s required application.

Their magic broadband number is a reasonable and doable 10Mbps symmetric connection for residential and small businesses as well as a 1Gbps level for enterprise users. Importantly, they note that a single broadband connection supports far more than a single computer or use - these connections are shared, often among many wired and wireless devices.

Compare these comments to those of the NCTA [pdf] (lobbying organization for cable companies) that argue broadband is nothing more than an "always on" connection regardless of the speeds or user experience. This is how they justify maintaining the international laughingstock definition of 768kbps/200kbps.

It is this basic “...

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Posted August 27, 2009 by christopher

Folks who are mostly interested in broadband are probably unfamiliar with video franchising laws. Many people still apparently believe that cable companies are able to get exclusive franchises from the city (granting them a monopoly on providing cable television). However, that is not true and has not been true for many years.

Most cable companies still have a de facto monopoly because it is extremely difficult to overbuild an existing cable company - the incumbent has most of the advantages and building a citywide network is extremely expensive. This is not a naturally competitive market; it is actually a natural monopoly.

However, most people want a choice in providers (something that goes beyond a single cable company and a satellite option or two depending on whether you rent/own and your geographic location. In talking with many local officials and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers (NATOA), it seems that almost every local government wants more competition in its community too.

This is where telephone and cable company lobbyists have stepped in - more successfully at the state level than at the federal level. They have convinced legislators that the barrier to more competition is local authority over the franchise (the rules a company agrees to in return for the right to use the community's Right-of-Way in deploying their network). These rules include red-line prohibition (you cannot refuse to serve poor neighborhoods), an affordable "basic" tier of service, local public access channels, broadband connections at public buildings, etc.

Some states have listened to the lobbyists and enacted statewide franchising - where local communities are stripped of the authority to manage their Right-of-Way and companies can offer video services anywhere in the state by getting a state franchise from the state government. Every year, we gather more data that this practice has hurt communities, raised prices, and barely spurred any competition. Most of the competition it is credited with spurring came from Verizon's FiOS deployments, which would have occurred regardless of state-wide franchise enactment.

This touches directly on broadband because the statewide franchises often give greater power to companies like Verizon to cherry-pick who gets next generation broadband. Wealthier neighborhoods will increasingly get access to faster...

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Posted July 31, 2009 by christopher

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a national broadband strategy. FCC invited comments and then invited replies to those comments in summer 2009. The Free Press Reply Comments deserve to be singled out for revealing some of the lies of large telecommunications companies like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Qwest, and others. It also describes many of the ways that these companies harm the communities that are dependent on them for essential services. I've highlighted some passages below that show the ways in which these companies put profit above all else. These companies claim that regulation discourages investment and deregulation (allowing a higher degree of concentration or larger monopolies) encourages increased investment in better networks - an incredibly self-serving claim that Free Press shows to be false on pages 13-29.

Competition -- meaningful and real competition -- and not regulation is the primary driver behind investment decisions. Where meaningful competition exists, incumbents are compelled to innovate and invest in order to maintain marketshare and future growth. Where competition is lacking -- such as it is in our broadband duopoly -- incumbents will delay investment, knowing full well they can pad their profits on the backs of captured customers who have no viable alternatives. (Page 14)

Regulations like open access and non-discrimination encourage competition and should be strengthened. Free Press offers an in-depth explanation of how Verizon has dumped millions of customers on other companies that clearly could not handle the burden.

Verizon began the purging of less lucrative areas with the sale of Verizon Hawaii to the Carlyle Group in 2005, a company that had no previous experience in operating telecommunications services. By Dec. 2008, the company, now called Hawaii Telecom, had lost 21% of customers and filed for bankruptcy. (Page 26)

Verizon then sold most of their New England lines to Fairpoint, which is currently heading for bankruptcy. Fairpoint's customers are not the only ones suffering - the independent companies that resell services over that infrastructure are also suffering because Fairpoint is utterly unable to meet its obligations.

Most recently, Verizon announced that it intends to sell-off mostly rural areas in...

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Posted July 27, 2009 by christopher

After winning the election, the Obama Administration announced that broadband networks would be a priority. True to its word, the stimulus package included $7.2 billion to expand networks throughout the United States. A key question was how that money would be spent: Would the public interest prevail, or would we continue having a handful of private companies maximizing profits at the expense of communities?

Creating the Broadband Stimulus Language

The debate began in Congress as the House and Senate drafted broadband plans as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The House language on eligibility for stimulus grants made little distinction between global, private entities and local public or non-profit entities.

the term `eligible entity' means--

(A) a provider of wireless voice service, advanced wireless broadband service, basic broadband service, or advanced broadband service, including a satellite carrier that provides any such service;
(B) a State or unit of local government, or agency or instrumentality thereof, that is or intends to be a provider of any such service; and
(C) any other entity, including construction companies, tower companies, backhaul companies, or other service providers, that the NTIA authorizes by rule to participate in the programs under this section, if such other entity is required to provide access to the supported infrastructure on a neutral, reasonable basis to maximize use;

The Senate language clearly preferred non-profit or public ownership.

To be eligible for a grant under the program an applicant shall—

(A) be a State or political subdivision thereof, a nonprofit foundation, corporation, institution or association, Indian tribe, Native Hawaiian organization, or other non-governmental entity in partnership with a State or political subdivision thereof, Indian tribe, or Native Hawaiian organization if the Assistant Secretary determines the partnership consistent with the purposes this section

The final language, adopted by the Conference Committee and passed by both houses in February was a compromise. It favored a public or non-profit corporation but allowed a private company to be eligible only if the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce found that to be in the public interest. In the final law an eligible...

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