Tag: "regulation"

Posted July 13, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The net is buzzing about Comcast's data caps after a Seattle resident ran afoul of them. I found it particularly interesting given Seattle's recent decision to use its assets to further Comcast's monopoly following a poorly considered RFP.

This story highlights many of the frustrations and injustices that come with companies as massive as Comcast effectively monopolizing an essential utility, with practically no oversight locally or federally.

When Comcast enacted is 250GB monthly transfer cap years ago, many thought it was sufficiently high that few would run afoul of it. But the smart folks noted that if it did not increase as natural usage increases, it would hurt legitimate users (as opposed to those who run servers constantly trafficking in file sharing that violates copyright).

I made very clear to the gentleman I spoke with that I thought Comcast’s data cap policy was arbitrary, unfair, and extremely irritating… and that if I had any decent competitive options in the neighborhood I’d dump Comcast in a heartbeat. Since I don’t, I listened to him read his canned warning that if I exceeded their cap again I’d be cut off again.

Bear in mind that when you fill up the fuel tank in your car, you are at a gas station that is regularly inspected by the state to ensure it is correctly measuring the volume of gas dispensed. Comcast is not similarly regulated and we have to take Comcast's word on how much traffic we use. Most of the time I have visited Comcast's meter to see what my household usage is, I have been unable to even access it.

But back to the story, our Seattle friend later found that he had unintentionally violated the cap again, despite taking precautions not to:

The Customer Security agent was polite, and after the standard identification questions notified me I was cut off for a year due to exceeding Comcast’s Acceptable Use Policy limits on their bandwidth cap. I asked for details on what had been using bandwidth, and again, Comcast would not share. In a sudden brainstorm, I then asked whether the 250 GB bandwidth cap applied to just downloads (which I had assumed, as the majority of most bandwidth used in households is downstream bandwidth), or download and...

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Posted July 10, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Rick Karr has produced a "can't miss" 15 minute video that shows what happens when telecommunications is treated more like infrastructure and less like a for-profit morass controlled by massive companies.  

We can have universal, fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet but we choose instead to let companies like AT&T and Comcast dominate telecommunications to the detriment of our economy, innovation, education, and health care.  It is a choice -- and one we desperately need to revisit.

This video is no longer available.

Posted May 21, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

With so many community broadband stories breaking this week, I did not dig into an update to Boston seeking authority to regulate some cable rates in response to the many rate hikes they have endured from Comcast. Boston's mayor has previously complained about basic cable rate increases.

The Ars Technica story offers some good regulatory background that limits the power of Boston to do much about rates.

According to the City, Comcast's 2011 Basic Service Rate change went from $13.30 to $15.80 a month. This came in the wake of previous rate hikes—to $9.05 in 2008, to $10.30 in 2009, and to $13.30 in 2010.

That all adds up to "more than 60%, on a service that is supposed to be affordable and is identified in the industry as ‘lifeline service'," Boston says.

"In addition, when comparing Boston to neighboring communities that have rate regulation, Comcast has over-collected approximately $24 million from Boston's Basic Subscribers during the four year period from 2008 through 2011," the City's statement claims. Its own research indicates that neighboring cities that are still regulated, such as Cambridge, have cheaper rates.

This has led the Boston Globe to editorialize "If cable firms act as monopolies, cities should be able to regulate.

When the Federal Communications Commission took away Boston’s power to regulate basic cable rates almost a decade ago, the assumption was that competition for pay-TV services would hold prices down for consumers. That assumption has not panned out. Comcast Corp., the successor to Boston’s original cable franchisee, still dominates — not least because its former monopoly status conveys lingering advantages that hamper competition even now. Those advantages help explain why Comcast’s charges for basic cable — now $15.80 a month for a package of 35 channels, according to a city report — have risen by 75 percent since 2008.

We are strong proponents of public ownership (via local government, coops, or nonprofits) in part because the regulatory environment leaves communities practically no...

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Posted May 16, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Rick Karr, a correspondent with PBS' Need to Know, travels to Europe to investigate why some countries there have surpassed the US in fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet -- with a real choice among service providers to boot! Video is approximately 12 minutes.

This video is no longer available.

Additional materials from the video are available at its website.

Posted May 13, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Over the past few years, I have worked with some great folks in a coalition called the Rural Broadband Policy Group to advocate for rural communities and businesses. This is a working group organized under the National Rural Assembly.

The Rural Broadband Policy Group is a growing national coalition of rural broadband advocates that emerged from the National Rural Assembly. The group's goals are  

  1. to articulate national broadband policies that provide opportunities for rural communities to participate fully in the nation's democracy, economy, culture, and society, and
  2. to spark national collaboration among rural broadband advocates.

 

We adopted the following principles:

  1. Communication is a fundamental human right.
  2. Rural America is diverse.
  3. Local ownership and investment in community are priorities.
  4. Network neutrality and open access are vital.

The principles are further explained here and you can sign up or ask questions about the group on that same site.

We are especially keen on working with organizations in rural areas who want to have a say in federal or state issues. When we develop comments for a federal proceeding or connect with various policymakers, you can be notified and have the option of signing on.

For instance, read a recent letter we submitted to the FCC [pdf]. Snippet:

Big telecommunications companies have failed in extending Internet service to rural areas. They claim it is costly and not profitable. We are tired of waiting for AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. Instead of trying to bring in an outside solution, the FCC should help and encourage local providers, who are eager to invest in their own communities, to offer competitive Internet service and create jobs.

logo-nat-rural-assembly-gathering.png

If you follow what happens in DC, you may be surprised at some of the rural groups that claim to represent your...

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Posted April 22, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Five years ago, Michigan decided to deregulate cable companies, preempting local authority to negotiate with cable companies in favor of a more relaxed statewide franchise. Many states have gone down this path in hopes of spurring competition and lowering the prices for service. All have seen very minimal gains (mostly from AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS, deployments that have gone forward as well in states that did not preempt local authority). None have seen real decreases in prices.

Michigan also created greater hurdles for the public sector (click on Michigan on our Community Broadband Preemption Map for an explanation of the legislation). In short, Michigan made a big bet that the private sector would build the networks they need to remain competitive. The results are in.

"No matter how you look at it, 70 percent of Michigan's communities still have only one cable provider four years after deregulation," said Deborah Guthrie, President of MI-NATOA, in a statement. "Even in the places where two providers offer service, if serious competition existed, prices wouldn't run up several times faster than inflation and customer service wouldn't be so poor."

Michigan's National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Administrators joined with the Michigan Alliance for Community Media (neither of which seems to have much a web presence) to note that Comcast's prices for lifeline basic have gone up 18% with other services increasing 3x the rate of inflation. Most communities remain stuck with Comcast or Charter solely, two of the most hated corporations in America.

As we educate legislators around the country, we need to keep the lessons from Michigan in mind. Legislators often know very little about telecom issues and are bombarded by lobbyist talking points - but examples like Michigan clearly show what happen when the telco and cableco lobbyists make policy.

And so long as we are discussing Michigan, it is worth noting that the City of Detroit is pushing to have Michigan's statewide franchise law invalidated. Below you'll see the pdf of Detroit's recent...

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Posted March 23, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release the Community Broadband Map and report, Publicly Owned Broadband Networks: Averting the Looming Broadband Monopoly. The map plots the 54 cities, big and small, that own citywide fiber networks and another 79 own citywide cable networks. Over 3 million people have access to telecommunications networks whose objective is to maximize value to the community in which they are located rather than to distant stockholders and corporate executives.

ILSR has been tracking telecommunications developments at the local and state level, working with citizens and businesses to preserve their self-determination in the digital age.

View the Community Broadband Map
Download the Report [pdf]
Read the Press Release [pdf]

Executive Summary

Quietly, virtually unreported on, a new player has emerged in the United States telecommunications sector: publicly owned networks. Today over 54 cities, big and small, own citywide fiber networks while another 79 own citywide cable networks. Over 3 million people have access to telecommunications networks whose objective is to maximize value to the community in which they are located rather than to distant stockholders and corporate executives.

Even as we grow ever more dependent on the Internet for an expanding part of our lives, our choices for gaining access at a reasonable price, for both consumers and producers, are dwindling. Tragically, the Federal Communications Commission has all but abdicated its role in protecting open and competitive access to the Internet.

Now more than ever we need to know about the potential of public ownership. To serve that need the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has published an interactive Community Broadband Map that gives the location and basic information for existing city owned cable and fiber networks.

The communities featured on the Community Broadband Map have overcome many formidable obstacles to build their networks.  The results are impressive: millions of dollars of community savings; some of the best broadband networks in the country offering a real choice to residents...

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Posted February 5, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

As you observe (or hopefully, participate in), the debates around network neutrality or universal service fund reform, remember that many of the loudest voices in support of industry positions are likely to be astroturf front groups.  Between extremely well-financed astroturf organizations and industry-captured regulatory agencies, creating good policy that benefits the public is hard work.  It helps to study how industry has gamed the FCC in the past -- as documented by David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick in a recent Alternet article.

At the risk of being sarcastic, we can thank the FCC for working with the industry to make our phone bills to easy to read - an example is available here.

Posted January 29, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Another excellent video from Susan Crawford, this one from Summer 2010.  

Posted January 24, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

It's 2011 and time for Qwest to renew a push to gut local authority in a number of states - Idaho and Colorado to start. An article for the Denver Post explains the argument:

Phone companies say state-level oversight of video franchising fosters competition because it is less cumbersome for new entrants to secure the right to offer services.

Many states have also eliminated the condition that new video competitors must eventually offer service to every home in a given municipality, a requirement placed on incumbent cable-TV providers.

Gutting local authority is the best way to increase the disparities between those who have broadband and those who do not. Qwest and others are only interested in building out in the most profitable areas -- which then leaves those unserved even more difficult to serve because the costs of serving them cannot be balanced with those who can be served at a lower cost.

The only reason that just about every American living in a city has access to broadband is because franchise requirements forced companies to build out everyone. Without these requirements, cable buildouts would almost certainly have mirrored the early private company efforts to wire towns for electricity -- wealthier areas of town had a number of choices and low-income areas of town had none.

In Idaho, those fighting back against this attempt to limit local authority are worried that statewide franchising will kill their local public access channels - a reality that others face across the nation where these laws have passed.

The channels, which are also used to publicize community events, provide complete coverage of Pocatello City Council, Planning and Zoning and School District 25 board meetings, as well as candidate forums before elections.

Without these local channels, how could people stay informed about what is happening in the community? Local newspapers are increasingly hard to find. In many communities, these channels are the last bastion of local news. 

This fight over statewide franchising goes back a number of years, but the general theme is that massive incumbent phone companies promise that communities would have much more competition among triple-play networks if only the public...

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