Tag: "level playing field"

Posted May 26, 2011 by christopher

At least once a week in my 48 months of public service, I was told by someone that the purpose of the Commission was to create a "level playing field." No one meant it.  The proponents of this view wanted someone else to be burred under their "level" field.  And I never believed our job was "leveling."  Should a jury declare a defendant neither guilty nor innocent, but only express a neutral view?

Posted May 23, 2011 by christopher

Last year, we put together a report with graphs showing how superior the community fiber networks are compared to incumbent operators like AT&T and Time Warner Cable. When we released the report, we noted that Time Warner Cable would almost certainly push legislation in 2011 to limit local authority to choose to build locally owned networks.

Sadly, we were right. On Friday, North Carolina's Governor Perdue bowed to the pressure of TWC, CenturyLink and other companies that want to limit competition. She refused to veto a bill written by those companies, for those companies, that will ensure local businesses and residents will have fewer choices and higher bills when they connect to the Internet.

In February, we dug into TWC's H129 to explain how it threatened the future of broadband access in the Tar Heel state. It was the first of more than 30 posts we wrote since, reporting very closely on its path through a legislature effectively controlled by big-money corporations.

North Carolina has become the first state in perhaps 5-6 years to enact new barriers to prevent communities from building their own broadband networks, even when the private sector has refused to invest. Advocates of the bill pretend it exempts rural areas with little broadband access, but that section was carefully amended by lobbyists to effectively apply to no one.

Below, you'll see the video we produced that shows the real threat TWC and CenturyLink were responding to - the embarrassment of offering anemic, overpriced services compared to networks like Salisbury's Fibrant and Wilson's Greenlight.

We hope that voters will remember whether their elected officials, including Governor Perdue, represented the people and small businesses of the state or simply parroted talking points from an industry that has dumped millions of dollars into the Legislature to buy new regulation to kill the only likely source of broadband competition.

nc-gov-perdue.png

Governor Perdue ignored more than 2,000 phone...

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Posted May 5, 2011 by christopher

It took far more longer than expected, due to the many phone calls from concerned citizens opposing it, but Time Warner Cable's investments in the North Carolina Legislature have finally paid off. A bill that will crush its only potential broadband competition in the state is sitting on the Governor's desk. We join with SEATOA, the vast majority of businesses in North Carolina who depend on broadband, and local communities in calling on the Governor to veto it.

The NC House had to approve it again due to changes made in the Senate -- including a change that absolutely gutted the rural exemption for communities who are lacking access broadband access to the Internet. Representative Avila and other sponsors have made many promises throughout this process that they never intended to hold true to.

SEATOA has long organized to preserve local authority in this matter and reported:

We made certain Rep. Avila understood that that clarification gutted the exemption and she did not care. e-NC reports that the private sector providers are permitted to report an entire Census Block as having access to internet, if only one home in the block actually has it.  In essence, North Carolina will have no "unserved areas" or communities will have to do their own door to door surveys, an expensive and monumental feat.

But what do you expect from elected officials who calls something a "level field" while bragging that they are crafting rules (such as limited service territories) that only apply to the community networks, which already operate at a disadvantage to a $19 billion a year competitor like bill author Time Warner Cable?

When the bill passed the Senate, a newspaper in Davidson noted its unequal approach that further handicapped communities:

Davidson Mayor John Woods said Tuesday MI-Connection deserves to be treated the same as private companies.

“We strongly object to the territory limits that this bill will impose on MI-Connection which are not imposed on other broadband providers. In addition, MI-Connection would remain subject to open meeting laws, which do not apply to those other providers,” he said.

Mr. Venzon also said local governments already face other rules that put them at a disadvantage to private competitors, including the requirement to...

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Posted April 26, 2011 by christopher

North Carolina's Senate Finance Committee is poised to take away the right of communities to decide for themselves if building their own broadband network is a good idea or not. If it passes out of this committee, it goes right to the Senate Floor and will likely become law.

We have covered Time Warner Cable's bill to kill community networks in greater depth than any other story -- and now folks in North Carolina have to immediately contact their Senators to oppose this power grab from big companies like TWC and CenturyLink. You can also use this form from Free Press if you are unsure who your Senator is.

In recent weeks, we've posted excellent speeches from legislators opposed to the bill, testimony from concerned citizens, and a variety of resolutions from local governments who are fearful of this bill's impact on public safety networks needed to keep residents and businesses safe.

If you are shy, you can call before or after business hours and leave a message on their voicemail. It takes less than five minutes. Your calls make a huge difference because so few constituents ever call state legislators. Simply let them know you oppose H129 and that the state should concern itself with expanding broadband access, not restricting who can offer it.

And as I have said numerous times, those outside North Carolina should also be contacting their elected leaders -- because everyone lives in a state where powerful lobbyists are trying to preserve and expand the power of a few massive companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Progressive States Network recent covered this topic.

Two weeks ago, I wrote the following op-ed for The Wilson Times...

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Posted April 13, 2011 by christopher

South Carolina has been quietly debating a bill to further erode the right of communities to decide locally whether they want to build broadband networks. South Carolina already restricts the rights of communities to build these networks but HB 3508 / SB 483 will effectively make any local government ownership of telecommunications facilities impossible.

Unsurprisingly, this bill is opposed by the South Carolina Association of Counties and the Municipal Association of South Carolina. But the lead opposition to it has come from Bill Clark, an Administrator from rural Orangeburg County. On the other side is AT&T, the nation's 10th largest company.

The bill is blatantly protectionist for AT&T interests, throwing South Carolina's communities under the bus. But as usual, these decisions about a "level playing field" are made by legislators solely "educated" by big telco lobbyists and who are dependent on companies like AT&T for campaign funds. Even if AT&T's campaign cash were not involved, their lobbyists talk to these legislators every day whereas local communities and advocates for broadband subscribers simply cannot match that influence.

We see the same unlevel playing field, tilted toward massive companies like AT&T, in legislatures as we do locally when communities compete against big incumbents with their own networks. Despite having almost all the advantages, they use their tremendous power and create even more by pushing laws to effectively strip communities of the sole tool they possess to ensure the digital economy does not pass them by.

South Carolina's access to broadband is quite poor -- 8th worst in the nation in access to the the kinds of connections that allow one to take advantage of the full Internet according to a recent FCC report [pdf].

A letter from Bill Clark to Senators notes that their county has an industrial park with over 1 million sq ft of developed facilities housing two Fortune 500 companies that private companies have not served [pdf].

This comes as no surprise given the facts:

  • South Carolina is served predominately by massive private providers...
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Posted April 12, 2011 by christopher

Time Warner Cable's bill to kill competition by limiting the right of communities to build their own broadband networks will have a committee hearing this week in North Carolina's Senate. Stop the Cap! has details in its action alert -- we encourage people to continue contacting their Senators as well as contacting local officials and telling them to contact Senators.

We have seen some interesting news coming out of North Carolina recently, including Salisbury connecting its 500th customer to its publicly owned Fibrant network [pdf]. Additionally, some nine nearby communities have told Raleigh they want to preserve their right to be served by Fibrant (the bill would greatly limit the territory in which Fibrant can expand, unlike private companies which have the freedom to expand across the state). The story starts with a church in one of the communities, Faith:

Mahoney said his church, Faith Baptist, would like faster Internet speeds but can’t afford the $20,000 Time Warner Cable would charge to build a business-class circuit for the church.

Church members are not satisfied with DSL service from Windstream, Mahoney said. But it’s their only option since they can’t afford Time Warner’s price tag, he said.

If Salisbury extends Fibrant to Faith, the church would have another choice for high-speed Internet, said Mahoney, who owns Rowan Onsite Computer Solutions in downtown Salisbury and has Fibrant.

This bill, inaptly named "Level Playing Field" creates new restrictions for publicly owned networks like Fibrant, which under current law can offer services to any community requesting them.

Stop the Cap

...

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Posted April 11, 2011 by christopher

I wrote an op-ed for the Durham Herald Sun about the efforts in North Carolina to limit local authority to build community networks. We will continue heavy coverage on North Carolina and other states in danger of passing anti-competitive, pro-monopoly legislation proposed by powerful, massive carriers. Here is the op-ed:

After more than four years of lobbying, Time Warner Cable may finally succeed in restricting the authority of local communities to build their own broadband networks.

Its legislation, H 129/S 87, will enact a host of special requirements for publicly owned networks that do not apply to networks run by the cable and phone companies.

The "Level Playing Field / Local Gov't Competition" bill could more appropriately be called the "Monopoly Protection Act." Rather than actually leveling the playing field, this bill solely disadvantages publicly owned networks.

Time Warner Cable has convinced the House that a massive $18 billion-per-year company operating one of the largest telecommunications networks on the planet, is powerless to compete against a community-owned network like Greenlight in Wilson or Fibrant in Salisbury.

Bill sponsor Rep. Marilyn Avila has simply had enough of "predatory" (her word) local governments shaking down AT&T and TWC. The champion of a similar bill last year, Sen. David Hoyle, candidly admitted it was written by TWC. There is no reason to suspect anything changed this year.

But perhaps the more fantastical element of this story is that the Legislature's biggest broadband priority is to limit, not expand, broadband investments in the state ranked 41st in broadband. Just how bad is North Carolina's broadband? When Broadband.com launched its new map showing the prices paid by small businesses for broadband, seven of the 10 most expensive cities were located in North Carolina. Anchorage barely beat out Greensboro for the highest average price per Mbps. This is why major private sector companies like Google and Intel have gone on the record opposing TWC's bill.

Fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet is essential for communities to thrive in the modern age. This...

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Posted March 22, 2011 by christopher

On Wednesday morning, March 22, the House Finance Committee will again consider H 129, a bill from Time Warner Cable to make it all but impossible for communities to build their own broadband networks. But now, as noted by Craig Settles, the momentum is shifting.

Last week, advocates had a big victory when Representatives Faison and Warren successfully amended the bill (each with his own amendment) to make it less deleterious to communities. Unlike the sham voice vote in the Public Utility Committee, Chairman Setzer of the Finance Committee had a recorded vote, allowing citizens to hold their representatives accountable.

After these amendments passed, the TWC lobbyist signaled for an aide. Shortly thereafter, the committee decided to table the matter until this week -- when TWC will undoubtedly try to remove or nullify those amendments.

In the meantime, AT&T has announced bandwidth caps, yet another reason the state is foolish to pin its broadband future on cable and DSL companies.

Compare AT&T's movement to less-broadband with Wilson Greenlight's recent dramatic price decreases in its ridiculously fast broadband network, causing at least one couple to move there! Greenlight is owned and operated by the public power company owned by the city.

Greenlight has signed up its first residential customers with the highest Internet speed available in Wilson.

Vince and Linda Worthington, former Johnston County residents, moved to Wilson after finding out that they could have access to 40 Megabits per second Internet speeds at a lower cost than what they were previously paying.

"We always wanted the 100Mbps service," she said. "When the price came down, we jumped on it." Greenlight, the city of Wilson's fiber-optic...

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Posted March 7, 2011 by christopher

Rockingham County has joined Raleigh in officially passing a resolution against legislation to cripple community networks in the state.

 

RESOLUTION
BY THE ROCKINGHAM COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
AGAINST SENATE BILL 87 and HOUSE BILL 129

WHEREAS, Senate Bill 87 and House Bill 129 have been introduced in the 2011-2012 Session of the General Assembly of North Carolina; and

WHEREAS, these bills do not provide a level playing field to cities, towns and counties, but greatly hinder local governments from providing needed communications services, especially advanced high-speed broadband services, in unserved and underserved areas; and

WHEREAS, these bills impose numerous obligations on cities and towns that private broadband companies do not have to meet; and

WHEREAS, private companies, despite having received favorable regulatory and tax treatment to enable broadband investment, have chosen to avoid the financial commitment necessary to provide top quality services to all residents and businesses; and

WHEREAS, while private companies declare top quality service is cost-prohibitive in our country, the United States continues to lose ground to other nations in broadband access, user cost and growth in number of users, falling behind the United Kingdom, Korea, France, Japan and Canada to name a few, and Japan has Internet access that is at least 500 times faster than what is considered high-speed in the United States and at less cost; and

WHEREAS, the bills would prohibit North Carolina cities and towns from using federal grant funds to 

deploy or operate locally-owned or operated broadband systems, thereby denying N.C. residents access to federal assistance available to the rest of the country and hindering employment opportunities; and

WHEREAS, deployment of high-speed Internet is a new public utility vital to the future economic development, educational outreach and community growth in North Carolina necessary to replace lost textile, tobacco, furniture and manufacturing jobs; and

WHEREAS, the General...

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Posted March 4, 2011 by christopher

On Wednesday, the bill to effectively ban community networks in North Carolina was passed out of the House Public Utilities Committee and will likely be heard by the Finance committee next week.

The audio is available here from the Wednesday meeting [mp3, 45 min].

It never fails to shock me how cavalierly some Committees refuse to discuss the bill, agreeing to let another Committee fundamentally change the bill. There is practically no discussion of what this bill does and very little discussion about the actual pros and cons of different approaches to providing broadband.

Listening to the discussion, one gets the distinct impression that a household either has "broadband" or doesn't. There is no discussion of the known failure of the private sector to invest in next-generation networks. If I were a Representative in North Carolina, I would be sure to ask why no private sector provider is building next-generation fiber-optic networks like those in Wilson, Salisbury, and hundreds of communities served by Verizon's FiOS outside the state. There is no discussion of the wisdom of relying on last-century cable and copper networks.

Horse and buggy

Those pushing this bill have no idea what they are doing. They may gut the potential for full fiber-optic networks in the state as the rest of the world charges forward building these networks. They are defending the horse-and-buggy industry in the age of automobiles.

Listen for the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce weighing in against community networks, the only entities investing in the next-generation networks needed for the digital economy. The Chamber cares more about its high profile members (cable and phone companies) than the 99% of businesses in North Carolina that need the kind of broadband available in Wilson and Salisbury. These organizations should not be allowed to get away with pretending to represent business interests in the state. They represent the...

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