Tag: "incumbent"

Posted October 18, 2017 by Matthew Marcus

In Detroit, AT&T is facing a formal FCC complaint accusing the telecom giant of deploying discriminatory “digital redlining” tactics. This is the second such complaint filed against the telecommunications giant since the first of the year.

Demanding Equality in Connectivity

The complaint filed by civil rights attorney Daryl Parks says the FCC violated the Communications Act which forbids unjust and unreasonable discrimination. A month earlier, Parks filed a similar complaint on behalf of three Cleveland residents. In both instances, Parks and community members maintain that AT&T is withholding high-speed Internet from minority neighborhoods that have higher poverty rates.

These complaints fall under Title II of the Communications Act, which contains not only net neutrality rules but important consumer protections regarding discrimination. Title II SEC. 202. [47 U.S.C. 202] (a) clearly specifies:

It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.

The first complaint filed in Cleveland last March was prompted by a report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and... Read more

Posted October 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

Torpedo legislation aimed at municipal network initiatives don’t usually appear in October, but Michigan’s year-round legislature is making 2017 atypical. Last week, Freshman Representative Michele Hoitenga from the rural village of Manton in Wexford County introduced a bill banning investment in municipal networks.

HB 5099 is short; it decrees that local communities cannot use federal, state, or their own funds to invest in even the slowest Internet infrastructure, if they choose to do it themselves:

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT: 

SEC. 13B. (1) EXCEPT AS OTHERWISE PROVIDED IN SUBSECTION (2), A LOCAL UNIT SHALL NOT USE ANY FEDERAL, STATE, OR LOCAL FUNDS OR LOANS TO PAY FOR THE COST OF PROVIDING QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE. (2) A LOCAL UNIT MAY ENTER INTO AN AGREEMENT WITH 1 OR MORE PRIVATE PARTIES TO PROVIDE QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE. (3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, "QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE" MEANS HIGH-SPEED INTERNET SERVICE AT A SPEED OF AT LEAST 10 MBPS UPSTREAM AND 1 MBPS DOWNSTREAM.

The exception allows local communities to engage in public-private partnerships, but the bill’s ambiguous language is likely to discourage local communities from pursuing such partnerships. As we’ve seen from partnerships that have successfully brought better connectivity to towns such as Westminster, Maryland, communities often took the initiative to invest in the infrastructure prior to establishing a partnership. Typically, the infrastructure attracts a private sector partner. If a community in Michigan wants to pursue a partnership that suits the exception of HB 5099, they will first have to grapple with the chicken and the egg dilemma.

Rather than put themselves at risk of running afoul of the law, prudent community leaders would probably choose to avoid pursuing any publicly owned infrastructure initiatives.

Munis Gaining Ground In Michigan

seal-michigan.png Michigan already has a significant state barrier in place; municipalities that wish to improve connectivity must first appeal to the private... Read more

Posted September 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

California Legislators have turned on their constituents living in rural areas who want to participate in the 21st century online economy. What began as a move in the right direction - allocating substantial resources to funding high-speed Internet infrastructure - has become another opportunity to protect big incumbents. It’s twice as nice for Frontier and AT&T, because they will be paid big bucks to meet a low Internet access bar.

Discretionary Fund

Democrat Eduardo Garcia, the main author on Assembly Bill 1665, represents the Coachella Valley, a rural area in the southern area of the state near Palm Springs. Democrat Jim Wood coauthored with eight others. Wood represents coastal areas in the northern part of the state, which was passed during the eleventh hour of the 2017 legislative session. Wood’s district and region has obtained several grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that have helped to improve local connectivity. 

The CASF is much like CAF; both programs are funded through a surcharge on revenue collected by telecommunications carriers from subscribers. Since 2007, when California authorized the CASF, the legislature has amended the rules and requirements several times. Early on, CASF awards went primarily to smaller, local companies because large corporations such as AT&T and Frontier did not pursue the grants. Now that those behemoths have their eyes on CASF grants, they’ve found a way to push out the companies who need the funds and have shown that they want to provide better services to rural Californians.

AB 1665 allocates $300 million to Internet infrastructure investment and an additional $30 million to adoption and related local programs. Policy experts have criticized the legislation on several fronts. Consultant Steve Blum told CVIndependent:

The incumbents (large corporate ISPs) including AT&T, Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association jumped in and said, ‘We want the bill to be X, Y and Z.’ … Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia took it and started adding language that reflected the desires of these cable and telephone company incumbents.

“The bill went through three revisions, and each time,... Read more

Posted August 28, 2017 by lgonzalez

Louisville has overcome a tall hurdle in its efforts to bring better connectivity and more competition to the community through local control. On August 16th the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky supported the city’s one touch make ready (OTMR) ordinance. AT&T challenged the ordinance in court, but their arguments fell flat and court confirmed that the city has the authority to manage its rights-of-way with OTMR.

State Law

AT&T’s claim based on state law asserted that the city was overstepping its authority by enacting the OTMR ordinance because it was impinging on Kentucky Public Service Commission jurisdiction. AT&T attorneys argued that, according to state law, the PSC has exclusive jurisdiction over utility rates and services, but the court found that argument incorrect.

Within the state law, the court found that the OTMR ordinance fell under a carve-out that allows Louisville to retain jurisdiction over its public rights-of-way as a matter of public safety. The ordinance helps limit traffic disruptions by reducing the number of instances trucks and crews need to tend to pole attachments. The court wrote in its Order:

AT&T narrowly characterizes Ordinance No. 21 as one that regulates pole attachments. But the ordinance actually prescribes the “method or manner of encumbering or placing burdens on” public rights-of-way. … It is undisputed that make-ready work can require blocking traffic and sidewalks multiple times to permit multiple crews to perform the same work on the same utility pole…. The one-touch make-ready ordinance requires that all necessary make-ready work be performed by a single crew, lessening the impact of make-ready work on public rights-of-way. … Louisville Metro has an important interest in managing its public rights-of-way to maximize efficiency and enhance public safety. … And Kentucky law preserves the right of cities to regulate public rights-of-way. … Because Ordinance No. 21 regulates public rights-of-way, it is within Louisville Metro’s constitutional authority to enact the ordinance, and [the state law granting authority to the PSC] cannot limit that authority. 

Federal Jurisdiction

... Read more

Posted July 10, 2017 by lgonzalez

It’s been about two years since the people of Lincoln County, Wisconsin, learned that Frontier Communications received federal funding to expand Internet access in their region. Now, they’re wondering why Frontier has still not started construction of promised infrastructure.

A Long Road To Nowhere

The community has been seeking ways to improve local connectivity for years. Back in 2013, they held a series of local listening sessions and workshops with officials from the University of Wisconsin-Extension Center for Community Technology Solutions. The goals of the workshops were to educate community members about the importance of connectivity and to learn more about the availability of Internet access at the local level. The meetings addressed both residential and business needs

In the summer of 2015, county officials announced that they had been working on an initiative to find a way to improve connectivity throughout Lincoln County. By engaging members of the public in town hall forums they had learned that the general consensus was:

“For the most part, people are disappointed with their current service.”

“Generally speaking, their current Internet service is not fast enough and there just isn’t enough capacity to do what they want to do.”

Community leaders were also learning that a fair number of home-based businesses were popping up in the county.

As part of their initiative, the board had worked with the UW Extension Office, County Economic Development Corporation and County Information Technology Department. They also passed a resolution stating that they would do everything they could to expand broadband to every resident in the county. County officials began having meetings to develop a plan to meet their goal. Shortly after, they learned that Frontier had accepted Connect America Funding Phase II (CAF II), federal funding designed specifically to... Read more

Posted July 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

If you live in rural America, chances are you know what it’s like to have inadequate Internet access. If you've heard about the Connect America Fund, however, you probably think help is on the way and your problems will soon be over; you'll get the kind of speeds available in large cities, right? Wrong.

Our short video on rural connectivity and CAF explains how big companies are taking federal subsidies to build networks that provide the same old slow DSL service to rural areas. So, what can people in rural communities do? The video describes how local communities are becoming more self-reliant through publicly owned infrastructure and offers some starting points if you're interested in learning more.

More Of The Same? No Way!

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is offering billions of dollars to build out networks in rural areas, but the companies receiving the subsidies are the same ones that already offer terrible connectivity in most rural communities. Are they using those subsidies to invest in high-speed connectivity for rural areas? No. The DSL connections that those companies are deploying for your home or business with CAF funding is already considered obsolete.

Rather than accepting these substandard solutions, an increasing number of communities have decided to act so they can have the same or better quality of connectivity as urban areas. Rural cooperatives and municipal networks are taking charge of their own telecommunications infrastructure needs. Unless you live in one of these communities, you may have never heard about the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity available from a community network or a cooperative. They’re just doing it and not bragging about it.

YOU Make It Happen

How does a community or a cooperative start offering better connectivity? We’ve created this short video that explains the basics and we invite you to share it with others. It all starts with YOU.

Be sure to check out our other videos, too!

Posted June 28, 2017 by lgonzalez

One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) policies are recognized as a way to cut down on the expense and the time it takes to deploy fiber optic networks. At least three sizable urban communities have adopted OTMR practices to streamline fiber optic construction and ensure consistent standards. For other communities looking at ways to encourage brisk fiber optic investment, it pays to study the language of OTMR resolutions and policies.

OTMR allows a pre-approved contractor to move cables belonging to more than one entity on one visit to the pole to make room for the new fiber optic cable. This is a departure from the old method, in which each entity takes turns visiting the pole in question to move only their wires. The old approach is time consuming because each entity must take turns in the order in which their wires are installed on the poles. If one entity causes a delay, every other entity that needs to work after them must also wait. What follows is a snowball effect and an entire project can fall far behind schedule.

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio’s municipal utility, CPS Energy, adopted a broad set of pole attachment standards that include specific requirements for OTMR, including what needs to happen before, during, and after the process.

The standards lay out administrative procedures, technical provisions, and specific provisions for both wired and wireless attachments. It incorporates recommendations from the FCC on how best to expand broadband while also weaving in safety standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In the introduction, CPS Energy writes:

From a holistic perspective, the Standards seek to balance the competing needs and interests of multiple communications providers to access and utilize CPS Energy Poles, while at the same time recognizing that the core purpose and function of these Poles is for CPS Energy’s safe and reliable distribution and delivery of electric services to CPS Energy customers. Hence, any use of CPS Energy’s Poles must at all times ensure the continued operational integrity, safety and reliability of CPS Energy’s Facilities, electric services, personnel and the general public.

You can view the... Read more

Posted May 30, 2017 by christopher

In an exciting milestone, this is podcast 100000000. Or 256 in decimal - you know, for the squares. While at the always-amazing Mountain Connect event in Colorado, I snagged an interview with Doug Seacat of Deeply Digital and Clearnetworx. They sought a grant from the Colorado Broadband Fund to deploy fiber and wireless to underserved Ridgway in western Colorado. 

What happened next is shocking but hardly an anomaly. Using what is often called the "Right of First Refusal," where incumbents get to prevent competition in state broadband programs, CenturyLink not only blocked Clearnetworx from getting the grant but got itself a hefty subsidy for a very modest improvement in services.

Ridgway residents went from almost certainly having a choice in providers and gigabit access to seeing their taxpayer dollars used to not only make competition less likely but also effectively blocking the gig from coming to everyone in town. In this interview, we discuss the details. 

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted March 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.

Revenue Neutral And Popular

The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:

“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.

“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”

Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.

The Broadband Enhancement Council

West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access. 

HB 3093 briefly addresses the creation of the “Broadband Enhancement Fund," and addresses how the funds should be spent. For now, the fund remains dry... Read more

Posted February 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

Jonathan Chambers from Conexon works with rural electric cooperatives as they bring high-quality Internet access to rural America. When he spoke with Christopher for episode 229 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast last November, he had some choice words to say about how the FCC chose to continue to subsidize big telcos for little return.

They Propose "A Huge Mess"

In a recent post on the Conexon blog, Chambers analyzes “The New Trumpfone Program,” and reveals how proposed Connect America Fund (CAF) subsidies, when applied to real world data, creates outrageous financial waste. While providers can receive up to $17,500 per location in CAF funding, when applied to a per subscriber formula, the figure is $100,000:

There are no U.S. communities where satellite or fixed wireless provides broadband to 100% of the homes and small businesses. Not 80% either, which is the FCC assumption. Not 50% or 25% or 15% or 10% or even 5%. The FCC has data on this. Let’s say, for this arithmetic exercise, that a satellite or fixed wireless subscriber achieves a 15% market share of telephone and broadband service in a rural community.

A 15% market share while receiving $17,500 for every location in an area translates into over $100,000 per subscriber. Should there be insufficient competitive pressure in the auction, the $17,500 per location is a realistic outcome, as is the likelihood of $100,000 per subscriber by some technologies.

Reimburse Per Subscriber

Chambers offers a sensible solution to save CAF funds and direct public dollars in the right direction: reimburse providers for actual subscribers, rather than by location.

The most perverse subsidy incentive is one by which a provider makes more money by not serving customers. That’s the current FCC plan and the basis of many current FCC subsidies. By definition, the high cost subsidy is based on how much a provider is calculated to lose per customer. When the FCC provides funding by location, rather than by subscriber, some technologies will make more money by winning the auction, collecting public funding, and serving no one. Hence the fallacy of the argument that it is less expensive to cover rural... Read more

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