Tag: "monopoly"

Posted June 7, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

It’s been nine months since we launched our Big List of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Community Broadband Projects, tracking what communities are doing with the various pots of federal money intended to go towards solving local broadband challenges. Since then, we’ve recorded 250 community projects and 27 states which have announced significant broadband grant programs or disbursement for new infrastructure projects. Here we highlight some of the community projects we’re really excited about, including those that have decided to build their own networks and those building on existing projects, as well as those using ARPA dollars for open access networks, affordable connectivity, or Internet access for students. We also discuss some examples of solutions we believe are less permanent, forward-thinking, or likely to result in long-term success, including the distribution of hotspots and the allocation of funds to monopoly providers. 

What We’re Excited About: Community-Owned Networks and Open Access  

Fortunately, we’re seeing a number of communities approve plans to spend their Rescue Plan dollars on building their own municipal networks. In Lexington, Tennessee (population 8,000), the city is collaborating with Lexington Electric to bring broadband to the community. An ARPA grant is expected to cover about $20 million of the total $50 million price tag, and the city will issue bonds for the rest. If this grant is received, Henderson County (28,000) – where Lexington is located – has agreed to a 10 percent match (from $300,000 to $500,000). 

Maine has also allocated just over $15 million to eight broadband projects through the ConnectMaine Authority, $8.5 million of which comes from the American Rescue Plan. The funding will go to five municipal projects and three provider-led initiatives, and will serve approximately 6,000 residents “in some of the least-served areas of the state.”

Other communities are deploying fixed wireless solutions....

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Posted April 20, 2022 by Karl Bode

Freshly proposed legislation in Missouri would prohibit towns and cities from using federal funds to improve broadband access in areas telecom monopolies already claim to serve. It’s just the latest attempt by incumbent telecom giants to ensure that an historic wave of federal broadband funding won’t harm their revenues by boosting local broadband competition.

Missouri SB 1074 - Sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman (R., District 12), proclaims that “no federal funds received by the state, political subdivision, city, town, or village shall be expended for the construction of retail broadband internet infrastructure unless the project to be constructed is located in an unserved area or underserved area.” It passed the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee on April 13th.

According to the bill, the Missouri Office of Broadband Infrastructure would certify the project prior to a political subdivision receiving authorization. Before being authorized, the office would be mandated to check with incumbent broadband providers to ensure that they don’t offer service in the specified area. 

The bill prohibits federal funding for any projects in areas where a single provider already receives funding to deliver 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds. If it passes, it also allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to submit written challenges to grant applicants within 45 days. The Department of Economic Development would then be tasked with determining the truthfulness of each challenge. 

Only if applicants can prove they’re servicing an “unserved” or “underserved” area (which again is defined by flawed FCC Form 477 data that routinely overstates existing coverage and speeds using broadband definitions set at ankle height) will the applications be deemed valid. 

But the bill gives incumbent monopolies even greater leverage in the challenge process, by letting them challenge a deployment if an incumbent ISP has “taken affirmative steps to begin the process of construction to provide broadband,” or “has been designated funding through federal programs to support the deployment of broadband” in the targeted areas.

As such, it looks like the current version of the bill would allow incumbent ISPs  to block federal funding to competitors if...

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Posted March 3, 2022 by Staff

Written by Christine Parker and Ry Marcattilo-McCracken

A recent report by BroadbandNow made the rounds in February, with the authors concluding that the average price for broadband access across all major speed tiers for Americans has fallen, by an average of 31 percent or nearly $34/month, since 2016. At a glance, this is great news – perhaps affordable Internet access for all is within reach?

Readers following up to check out the report itself would be well justified in coming to the same conclusion, with BroadbandNow writing in the first paragraph that “we’ve found that prices have decreased across all major download speeds (25Mbps up to 1Gbps+) and technologies (cable, fiber, DSL and fixed wireless).” Immediate news coverage reinforced the report’s points.

But you don’t have to follow broadband policy closely to get the sense that something a little off is going on here. It feels like every day there’s a story like this one about Cable One, with a provider increasing speeds as it improves its network infrastructure and then raising rates while removing the slowest tier options. Charter and Comcast, for their part, do this nearly every year whether pairing it with speed increases or not. Is broadband access getting cheaper, or more expensive? What’s going on here?

The reality is that this report from BroadbandNow, unfortunately, poorly frames the national broadband marketplace. At best, it muddies the waters with a lack of clarity about the relationship between broadband access speed tiers and relative pricing. At worst, it leaves the average reader with the incorrect assumption that broadband prices must be falling, and gives the monopoly cable and telephone companies ammunition to push for millions more in taxpayer dollars while building as little new infrastructure as possible.

Either way, it contradicts the fact that broadband prices, for the vast majority of...

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Posted January 27, 2022 by Emma Gautier

In November, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance published a report examining the transparency practices of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] identified locally-controlled broadband networks as the most transparent around key service details.

Large ISPs, however, were found to be more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible for potential customers to find. 

After the report’s original publication, a WISP advocate suggested that our fixed wireless sample may not appropriately represent the industry and requested that we review and re-issue our analysis with an alternative list of ISPs that have been more aggressive in pursuing federal funding and spectrum opportunities. These WISPs greatly outperformed our original sample, which was selected based on those claiming the largest population coverage.

New Set of WISPs Shows Better Transparency 

While many of the original WISPs failed to disclose basic pricing and service information, only two of the second set offered less than excellent information in all categories. The second set had less poor quality information and slightly more missing information than our set of cooperatively-run networks. Municipal networks remained the most transparent. 

Though many of the fixed wireless providers originally studied do seem to claim the greatest number of potential customers, we agree with some reviewers that they are not actually among the largest fixed wireless ISPs with the most subscribers. The new list of WISPs, which is included alongside the original one on the Broadband Transparency Rule Compliance Scorecard, may be a more accurate representation of providers’ transparency practices in this industry. 

We also point out the significant variation in transparency practices between providers of the same type of service, which has been made visible by adding these new wireless providers to the scorecard. While we did expect to see variability between WISPs in particular, we’re interested in whether this variability exists in...

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Posted January 25, 2022 by

In this episode of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) to talk current events in broadband.

The panel will dig into recent attacks on munis, states that are providing outside plant materials as grant awards, and how partnerships can get creative with using milestones rather than upfront cash.

Subscribe to the show using this feed on YouTube Live or on Facebook Live, or visit ConnectThisShow.com

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Watch here on YouTube Livehere on Facebook live, or below.

Posted January 3, 2022 by Karl Bode

Over 230 communities have applied for National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program grants. But community leaders increasingly say they’re facing costly, unnecessary challenges from incumbent broadband providers, who are exploiting unreliable U.S. broadband maps to overstate existing coverage and defend the status quo.

The NTIA’s $288 million grant program - and the looming $42 billion broadband infrastructure investment plan - will help bring affordable broadband to the roughly 20-30 million Americans without broadband, and the 83 million Americans currently living under a broadband monopoly.

In Grafton County, New Hampshire, 39 municipalities are part of a growing list of communities exploring home-grown broadband alternatives. They represent a grassroots movement driven by frustration with market failure that accelerated during the Covid-19 crisis. In response they’ve bonded together to apply for a $26.2 million NTIA grant to improve the region’s substandard broadband.

A Little Something Called Competition

Grafton hopes to use the NTIA funding to provide a middle mile fiber network, making it easier for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to service each municipality and the county’s 90,000 residents. The network will be open access, inviting numerous ISPs to compete over the same shared infrastructure. Studies have repeatedly shown such open access models result in better, cheaper, faster service

“The whole idea is that we want to facilitate competition,” Bristol town administrator Nik Coates shared in a recent phone interview. “I get at least an email a day from people contacting me about how bad their service is.” According to the FCC Form 477 data (which can dramatically overstate access), there are more than 5,300 people in the county completely unserved by wireline connections capable of speeds at 25/3...

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Posted December 29, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

As you curl up by the fire this holiday season, we invite you to take the opportunity to watch (or rewatch!) a collection of excellent short films and documentaries that explore the challenges, obstacles, and success stories for communities all over the country looking to improve Internet access. 

From Cullen Hoback's "Do Not Pass Go," chronicling the impact of monopoly power in Pinetops, North Carolina, to fun and informative tours of the community networks in Ammon, Idaho and Sandy, Oregon, to a short history of the birth of community broadband in the United States, there's something for everyone. 

Check out the Fiber Film Festival collection here, and please share!

Posted December 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

We've been writing for years that the artificial restrictions put on municipalities that keep communities from solving their connectivity needs with locally owned and operated networks are unpopular with the vast majority of Americans, irrespective of political affiliation. Today, 17 states persist in keeping these barriers in place.

A new survey out from Consumer Reports shows just how out of touch such policies are, and we've been remiss in not pointing it out. The survey, which comes from data collected in Chicago in August of 2021, highlights an array of important statistics.

They include the fact that "nearly a quarter of Americans (24 percent) who have a broadband service at their home say it’s difficult to afford their monthly broadband costs," with "a larger percentage of Black, non-Hispanic (32 percent) and Hispanic (33 percent) Americans than white, non Hispanic Americans (21 percent) say[ing] it’s ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ difficult to afford their monthly Internet [access] costs."

The most recent survey also finds that "43 percent of Americans who have broadband service in their household say they are dissatisfied with the value they get for the money," a testament to the circumstances for tens of millions of households stuck in monopoly territory with no viable options.

What about municipal or community-owned broadband?

Three out of four Americans feel that municipal/community broadband should be allowed because it would ensure that broadband access is treated like other vital infrastructure such as highways, bridges, water systems, and electrical grids, allowing all Americans to have equal access to it.

A larger percentage of Democrats (85 percent) than Independents (74 percent) and Republicans (63 percent) say municipal/community broadband should be allowed.

While the Consumer Reports survey suggests a slight spread based on political affiliation, it's nevertheless a confirmation of what we hear every day in communities large and small all over the country: that local connectivity challenges deserve the option of local...

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Posted November 11, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Report updated in January, 2022.

A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) examines Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs) transparency — or lack thereof — around the Internet service packages they offer. Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] finds that locally-controlled broadband networks are the most transparent around key service details. Large ISPs, on the other hand, are more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible to find. 

Missing or unclear information is frustrating for anyone shopping for a new Internet service. It can make it especially difficult for low-income customers, who need to know pricing details (such as the difference between a service’s promotional price and standard monthly cost) in order to navigate the market and budget for service. Federal standards for transparency exist, but are not currently enforced in any real way by either federal regulation or market pressure.

Recently, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes new information disclosure requirements for ISPs. To underscore the value of these requirements and the need for their proper enforcement, this report offers detailed analysis of 50 of the nation’s largest private wireless, private fiber, cable, municipal, and cooperative ISPs based on how clearly they disclose basic service and pricing information. Key findings include:

  • Municipal broadband networks offer the most available and accessible information in the three categories analyzed.
  • Private fixed wireless providers had the most missing information, with only three out of ten offering clear information in all three categories.
  • Locally-controlled networks — including municipal and cooperative networks — are held accountable by their customers to a greater degree than their larger counterparts, with more incentives to disclose information in a more comprehensive and accessible way.
  • Overall, the ISPs analyzed in this report tend to offer the best information regarding download speeds and the worst information regarding upload speeds.

The report identifies...

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Posted November 11, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Frustrated while shopping for Internet service? Blame federal policy (and monopoly power). 

A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) examines Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs) transparency — or lack thereof — around the Internet service packages they offer. Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] finds that locally-controlled broadband networks are the most transparent around key service details. Large ISPs, on the other hand, are more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible to find. 

Missing or unclear information is frustrating for anyone shopping for a new Internet service. It can make it especially difficult for low-income customers, who need to know pricing details (such as the difference between a service’s promotional price and standard monthly cost) in order to navigate the market and budget for service. Federal standards for transparency exist, but are not currently enforced in any real way by either federal regulation or market pressure.

Recently, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes new information disclosure requirements for ISPs. To underscore the value of these requirements and the need for their proper enforcement, this report offers detailed analysis of 50 of the nation’s largest private wireless, private fiber, cable, municipal, and cooperative ISPs based on how clearly they disclose basic service and pricing information. Key findings include:

  • Municipal broadband networks offer the most available and accessible information in the three categories analyzed.
  • Private fixed wireless providers had the most missing information, with only three out of ten offering clear information in all three categories.
  • Locally-controlled networks — including municipal and cooperative networks — are held accountable by their customers to a greater degree than their larger counterparts, with more incentives to disclose information in a more comprehensive and accessible way.
  • Overall, the ISPs analyzed in this report tend to offer the best information regarding download speeds and the worst information regarding upload speeds.

The report identifies multiple dimensions of the Internet transparency problem and offers a series...

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