Tag: "transparency"

Posted February 7, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

With a little less than a year left in its projected build schedule, Fort Collins (pop. 168,000) continues to make progress on its municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, while also releasing new resources to help keep citizens informed and help households with affordability challenges stay online. 

When we last checked in on Fort Collins' Connexion a little more than a year ago, the network was nearing a milestone, having spent roughly 49 percent of its construction budget. Today, the network is well over the halfway point of its $142 million-dollar build. In fact, it expects to be done placing vaults and with boring work in July.

Along the way, local officials have taken steps to increase transparency and improve communication with local residents. Last summer, it released a construction map of the networks' anticipated 357 fiberhoods, delineating which areas were in design, under construction, or fully lit.

In addition, at the end of November of 2020 the network released a Network Status tracker so that users could see in each of the four quadrants of the city if connections were down. 

The network also continues to offer a tier for income-qualified households who might have trouble paying for service. Anyone with access to the network currently "in a City income-qualified program," can get symmetrical gigabit Internet access for just $20/month. This means those connections are free for those able to particicipate in and apply the current federal Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB).

In fact, even after the the EBB transitions to the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) on March 1, the $30 monthly subsidy will still mean that the network's income-qualified access tier remains free, which should be a significant benefit for those in the city who desperately need to stay connected to the...

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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 November 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the general lack of fiber network coverage across the United States - with barely a third of homes able to choose a fiber option -  comes in large part from the domination of the broadband marketplace by incumbent providers who both own and operate the infrastructure that provides Internet access to the vast majority of Americans. It’s a classic market failure, authors Benoît Felten and Thomas Langer argue, where there’s a clear profitable business case for the existence of more fiber access that continues to go unaddressed. At its core, the failure is driven by the attitudes of monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISP) which prefer to reap the profits from existing legacy copper and cable infrastructure rather than invest in new build outs. As a result, a larger proportion of Americans than many other nations remain stuck on slower, more expensive connections.

The solution, the report shows, is relatively straightforward and economically viable for as many as 78 percent of all households across the country: the construction of a series of local or regional fiber networks operated on a wholesale basis, whereby any ISP that wants to can join an open, transparent marketplace, creating much more competition than exists in the current arena. 

“Wholesale Fiber is the Key to Broad US FTTP Coverage” offers an economic case for open access fiber in improving access, affordability, and driving competition. Comparing the potential of what it calls a Vertically Integrated Operators deployment (i.e. traditional incumbent broadband providers that build, own, and operate networks for end users) and Wholesale Network Operators deployment (an open access arrangement where the physical infrastructure is owned by one entity that invites providers to operate on the network and connect end users for a fee), the report finds that the Wholesale Network Operator model reduces the risk of capital investment, drives infrastructure expansion, and would lead to future-proof connectivity for hundreds of millions of Americans. 

  • Reducing the risk of fiber infrastructure deployment is one of the most effective ways to increase the...
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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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Posted August 23, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A month ago we announced the launch of Let's Broadband Together, a coalition of organizations and advocacy groups led by Consumer Reports to collect as many broadband bills as possible and crowdsource the data necessary to fight the trend towards deliberately confusing, obfuscatory broadband pricing in the United States.

If you've had the intention to help out but were looking for that reminder, here it is. Head over to Let's Broadband Together and take a speed tests, submit a PDF of your bill, and answer a few questions. More submissions mean a better the dataset and more comprehensive evidence to support reform. 

Click here to begin, and join Consumer Reports, ILSR, and dozens of other organizations. 

 

Posted July 26, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

In case you missed it, earlier this month President Biden signed an executive order that aims to promote competition in the U.S. economy. The order includes 72 initiatives, directing a dozen different federal agencies to promote competition in key sectors. 

The White House published a fact sheet to explain what the EO aims to do. [Read the full factsheet is here]. It begins by pointing out how a "lack of competition drives up prices for consumers," which is why "families are paying higher prices for necessities—things like prescription drugs, hearing aids, and Internet service."

It goes on to say that the order will, among other things, "save Americans money on their Internet bills by banning excessive early termination fees, requiring clear disclosure of plan costs to facilitate comparison shopping, and ending landlord exclusivity arrangements that stick tenants with only a single Internet option."

As you might imagine, we are particularly interested in the section on “Internet Service,” which you can read below:

Internet Service

The Order tackles four issues that limit competition, raise prices, and reduce choices for Internet service.

In the Order, the President encourages the FCC to:

• Prevent ISPs from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices.

Lack of competition among broadband providers: More than 200 million U.S. residents live in an area with only one or two reliable high-speed Internet providers, leading to prices as much as five times higher in these markets than in markets with more options. A related problem is landlords and internet service providers entering...

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Posted July 13, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Internet access in the United States is among the most expensive in the world, both in terms of absolute prices and in cost-per-megabit. Millions of families around the country can't afford to get online, making them even more disconnected from social services, family, and friends, more economically vulnerable, increasingly bearing the burden of the homework gap, and less healthy. 

All of this is a direct result of the broken broadband marketplace, dominated by just a few monopoly providers regularly raising prices to extract wealth from communities. It's also the result of an FCC which has consistently refused to mandate the submission of pricing data from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), or collect it from users themselves. Instead of investing in infrastructure upgrades or innovating, huge providers like Charter Spectrum, AT&T, Comcast, and Suddenlink have sunk time and energy into making our broadband bills harder to interpret, all while raising prices, changing plan terms, and playing around with data caps to pad their profits. 

Let's change that, together.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is joining with Consumer Reports to collect bills from 30,000 households across diverse geographic and demographic backgrounds in an initiative called Let's Broadband Together.  

Let's Broadband Together is asking individuals to take a 7-minute survey and submit a PDF of their broadband bill. The effort will contribute to a valuable dataset which will inform future analysis and support efforts to secure federal legislation or regulation to address these problems.

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Posted April 27, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Welcome to In Our View, a new series here at MuniNetworks. From time to time, we'll use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

Special thank you to ILSR Data and Visualization Researcher Michelle Andrews for noticing the Michigan discrepancy, and for her contributions to this piece.

Earlier this month, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) released updated Form 477 data, the primary source of information used for the FCC’s broadband coverage maps and the basis upon which federal agencies and states make major funding decisions.

With new interim leadership from FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel – who has been well-aware of the FCC’s dubious track record of publishing imprecise, insufficient, and often inaccurate broadband coverage data – you will be disappointed if you were expecting any improvements in the newest data set. 

Filers had until March 26, 2021 to make revisions to data that was submitted by September 1, 2020 for service they provided as of June 30, 2020. When the updated data was first released on April 7, it indicated that nearly the entire state of Michigan had access to 10 Gbps (Gigabit per second) broadband, thanks to Form 477 data provided by Strategic Alliance CDC (see map below, or a high-resolution version here).

Historical Error Repeats Itself

That data has been since scrubbed, probably as someone at the FCC belatedly realized that couldn’t possibly be correct. There are only a relative handful of communities in the entire country where residents have access to 10-gigabit connections (many are municipal networks). For every resident in any state to have access to such high-speed Internet connectivity would be major broadband news shouted from the rooftops of every elected official, economic development board member, and tourism official in the state. But alas, Michigan, which does contain geographical pockets of high-quality Internet access, most definitely does not...

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Posted March 29, 2021 by Jericho Casper

 

Snapshot 

Colorado House passes bill that reduces broadband board membership and conceals mapping data

Michigan legislature approves bill granting ISPs property tax exemptions 

New Mexico and Virginia bills await governors’ action 

 

The State Scene

Tennessee

Tennessee is home to some of the most creative local solutions to bridging the digital divide. Municipal fiber networks across the state, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber network, Morristown’s FiberNet, and Bristol’s network, have been a boon to economic development, job creation, educational initiatives, and overall quality of life in the past decade.

The next city to potentially join the ranks of providing municipal broadband in Tennessee is Knoxville. On March 11, the Knoxville Utility Board approved a business plan to provide Internet services across its service area. 

Despite the widespread success of municipal networks across Tennessee, the state restricts what populations they can serve. Although Tennessee law allows cities and towns to offer advanced telecommunications services if they have a municipal electric utility, the networks are not permitted to offer those services to residents who live outside of the utility’s service area. Removing these restrictions would permit substantial fiber expansion to connect more residents at no cost to the state or taxpayers.

Multiple laws introduced this legislative session in Tennessee sought to overturn statutes stifling the expansion of municipal networks. As of yet, these legislative proposals have stalled in committee, had their hearings postponed until next year’s legislative session, or been withdrawn altogether. AT&T and Comcast have historically killed these bills in subcommittees and committees early in the process in order to continue limiting broadband competition in Tennessee,...

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