Tag: "north carolina"

Posted September 24, 2010 by christopher

The nation's newest community fiber network (FTTH) is launching in Salisbury, North Carolina, in the next month. Fibrant, a $29 million project financing by general obligation bonds, is slightly behind schedule but way ahead of the cable and DSL competition.

The City Council has approved the network's pricing in anticipation of hooking up customers in October. Some 70 people have been testing the network, but it will soon be available to everyone in the community. The basic tier of broadband speeds is 15Mbps and they have a second tier at 25 Mbps. The network is capable of much faster speeds but these are the tiers they will start with, making them the fastest basic tier available in North Carolina.

They are offering over 460 television channels, of which 100 are HD. HD quality over fiber-optics tends to be the highest quality viewing experience (though not everyone can tell, depending on their level of obsession with picture quality) but the first year or so of video service on Fibrant may suffer from occasional problems as they iron out the quirks of the new system. Reports of the broadband and voice services are tremendously positive.

They have made it clear that they cannot get into a price war with incumbents (Time Warner Cable and AT&T) and cannot beat the "promo" prices these companies offer for the first x months. However, Fibrant's rates are 7-10% lower than the regular rates of the incumbents and will come with local, superior, customer service.

Big companies like Time Warner Cable often claim they are at a disadvantage relative to these municipalities but the reality is that the massive scale of national cable and phone companies give them many more advantages to offer lower prices for their services (which tend to also be lower in quality).

“If you get deal you can’t refuse from someone else, just thank Fibrant for it because you wouldn’t have gotten it if we hadn’t been here,” Clark [Fibrant Marketing Director] said.

Fibrant aims for a 30% take rate (4400 subscribers) by the end of year 3 and a positive cash flow in year 4. Pricing and channels lineups are available at the end of this Salisbury Post article. Subscribing to the service has no installation fee...

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Posted September 23, 2010 by christopher

A few weeks ago, the Herald Tribune ran a number of articles about broadband by Michael Pollick and Doug Sword that discussed some community fiber networks and efforts by Counties in Florida to build their own fiber-optic networks.

The first, "Martin County opting to put lines place," covers the familiar story of a local government that decides to stop getting fleeced by an incumbent (in this case, Comcast) and instead build their own network to ensure higher capacity at lower prices and often much greater reliability.

Martin County, FL

"We decided for the kind of money these people are asking us, we would be better off doing this on our own," said Kevin Kryzda, the county's chief information officer. "That is different from anybody else. And then we said we would like to do a loose association to provide broadband to the community while we are spending the money to build this network anyway. That was unique, too."

The new project will use a contractor to build a fiber network throughout the county and a tiny rural phone company willing to foot part of the bill in return for permission to use the network to grab customers of broadband service. The combined public-private network would not only connect the sheriff's office, county administration, schools and hospitals, but also would use existing rights of ways along major highways to run through Martin's commercial corridors.

Michael Pollick correctly notes that Florida is one of the 18 states that preempt local authority to build broadband maps.

However, they incorrectly believe that Martin County is unique in its approach. As we have covered in the past, a number of counties are building various types of broadband networks.

This is also not the first time we have seen a local government decided to build a broadband network after it saw a potential employer choose a different community because of the difference in broadband access.

From there, Michael Pollick and Doug Sword...

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Posted August 30, 2010 by christopher

A local news story from WCNC in North Carolina has caught national attention among some tech news sites. As reported by WCNC, Fibrant will start beta testing its community fiber network next month (which answers a question we have been wondering -- just what is happening down there?). We have covered Salisbury previously here.

The video:

This video is no longer available.

Senator Hoyle still relies on his two mutually exclusive talking points: "cities should not do this because they are terrible at it" and "it is not fair for cities to do this because they will crush private providers who are unable to compete." Of course, if cities really did fail at this with any sort of regularity, they would not pose a threat to private providers.

But that is not what caught the interest of Ars Technica, Tech Dirt, and DSL Reports.

This is:

When the I-Team asked him if the cable industry drew up the bill, Senator Hoyle responded, "Yes, along with my help."

When asked about criticism that he was "carrying water" for the cable companies, Hoyle replied, "I've carried more water than Gunga Din for the business community - the people who pay the taxes."

Big companies like Time Warner employ a lot of smart accountants to avoid paying even their fair share of taxes -- perhaps Senator Hoyle should not confuse them with the many small businesses that do pay their share.

From Ars Technica's "Who writes pro-cable Internet legislation? Cable does":

Yikes. In Hoyle's defense, this sort of practice is not uncommon—legislators often work with interest groups on particular pieces of legislation or on letters that go out under their name. But letting those who stand to benefit financially sit down and actually draft the bill protecting their interests, then bragging about how you carry more water for them "than Gunga Din...

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Posted August 20, 2010 by christopher

I wrote a short piece for Tech Journal South, "Fastest and cheapest US broadband systems are city run in the South."

In it, I discuss some of leading broadband networks in the country - publicly owned systems in southern and southeastern states. There are others I would have liked to have noted - some in Florida and a community in South Carolina working toward joining the elite. I hope to expand that list next year!

This is not an uprising against a single cable or phone company, rather general dissatisfaction with de facto monopolist providers who focus first on shareholder returns rather than community needs.

Throughout the south, nearly every national cable co has had to deal with an upstart community that chose to own its information infrastructure: Comcast (Chattanooga, TN), Cox (Lafayette, LA), Time Warner (Wilson, NC), and Charter (Opelika, AL).

Posted July 12, 2010 by christopher

Success! After a few nerve-wracking months, North Carolina's state government has decided not to preempt local communities from building the broadband infrastructure they need. The full legislative explanation of how this standoff ended is available from Stop the Cap! as narrated by Catharine Rice.

We all benefit from the efforts of Catherine Rice, Jay Ovittore, and many others to ensure communities can maintain their self-determination in the information age. These grassroots efforts, coupled with several key Representatives and Senators, have once again prevented incumbents from consolidating their market power by outlawing competition from publicly owned networks.

Make no mistake, well-funded lobbyists will continue pushing for these changes both in North Carolina and in many other states. We should encourage the US Congress to "clarify" (in the words of the FCC) that states have no right to prevent communities from building this important infrastructure.

Posted July 6, 2010 by christopher

What do you do when the media gets key facts about your community network wrong? Set the record straight!

This blog post from the Public Affairs Manager in the city of Wilson, North Carolina, demonstrates a good response to errors in an article. In the first case, it offers "clarifications," a better term than errors when dealing with reporters, especially as many reporters have less expertise than we would like in the complicated world of broadband networks, policy, and technology.

This is a good excerpt - with the City's response in blue text.

Other conflicts can arise as well. For example, in 2007, when Wilson was developing its Greenlight service, the town tripled its rate for using municipal utility poles from $5 to $15 a year. That raised the pole fee for Time Warner Cable from $82,000 to $246,000 a year, but Time Warner is still paying the old rate while it negotiates with town officials over the issue.

Before 2007, Wilson’s pole fee had stayed the same since 1975. The attachment fee increase was not related to Greenlight. The old fee schedule was outdated. By comparison, the cable company’s standard rates have doubled since 1997.

“When the regulator becomes your competitor, it’s not a good situation,” said Marcus Trathen, a lawyer for the cable lobby.

Wilson and other cities regulate only the pole attachments. The cable and telecom companies are regulated by the State of NC. The local regulation of cable services ended in 2007 after intense lobbying from the cable/telecom companies.

The main issue is to make sure false claims are corrected at every opportunity. These networks and local policies around pole attachments are greek to most people. Any false claim without a response (and some that are responded to) will be believed by many in the community.

Posted June 29, 2010 by christopher

Wilson has won two awards for communications due to its efforts on the Save North Carolina Broadband Blog. The city of Wilson's public power utility built a citywide FTTH network called Greenlight.

Their blog has featured a lot of content both about Greenlight's successes and efforts by cable and telco lobbyists to ban community broadband in the state. Cities should strongly consider creating similar blogs as helpful communications tools with citizens... but if such a blog is created, the community must make an effort to keep it updated.

Posted June 16, 2010 by christopher

We continue to watch in slow motion horror as North Carolina's General Assembly considers turning its back on next-generation networks and compute like it's 1999. This would be the effect of S.1209's proposed ban on communities from building their own networks - as they have been the only parties interested in moving North Carolina into a modern communications infrastructure rather than last-generation DSL and cable networks.

Stop the Cap! offered this wrapup of the process in the Senate. The next stop for this bill is in the House Ways and Means/Broadband Connectivity Committee. Another Stop the Cap! piece explains who to call with contact information.

Wherever you are, make sure your representatives know that you oppose limits on communities that want to build their own infrastructure -- or your community may be next.

Update: Why would North Carolina want to ban muni networks when this is the result?

The municipal broadband debate began when Wilson instituted "Greenlight," a high speed network that competes directly with Time Warner Cable's Roadrunner. As a subscriber to Greenlight, I am very satisfied with the service I receive. If there is a problem, I speak to a tech in Wilson. That is more than I can say about my experience with Time Warner. If there were issues, I was transfered to a call station in India and the service I received was horrible.

Posted June 15, 2010 by christopher

Lafayette Utilities System has filed a complaint with the FCC following what seems to be a rather arbitrary decision by the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to deny Lafayette as a member. This is a crucial issue for communities that want to build fiber-optic networks, so we will dig in and offer an in-depth explanation.

It all starts with the business model. Fiber-optic networks are fantastically expensive and are expected to be financed entirely with revenues from subscribers. Though communities typically want fiber-optic networks for the broadband capacity, they find themselves having to offer cable television services also to ensure they will attract enough subscribers to make the debt payments on the network.

Unfortunately, cable television services are the most difficult and expensive part of the triple-play (broadband, telephone, cable tv). A community network has to sign deals with different content providers in order to put together its channel lineup. Even a community network with 100,000 subscribers has little power over the companies with channels like ESPN, the Disney Channel, Discovery, MTV, Food Network, and others. Thus, it will have to pay more for those channels than massive networks like Comcast that have many millions of subscribers and therefore a stronger negotiating position. LUS has noted that video programming is the "largest single on-going cost" it incurs in the network.

Enter the NCTC. By forming a cooperative, many small providers (public and private) were able to gain negotiating power over content owners and even hardware manufacturers to cut costs to members by buying in bulk. In recent years, the size of NCTC rivaled that of major national providers like Charter and Cox cable. All three parties stood to gain by bringing Cox and Charter into NCTC in 2009. The addition grew NCTC significantly -- only Comcast has more subscribers currently.

The advantages of NCTC are quite significant and worth reiterating because it is a reminder of the ways in which massive private companies have the playing field tilted in their direction. Without access to NCTC, communities have to pay more for the same content and equipment (NCTC savings may start at 15%-20%. From the complaint:

NCTC market power also enables it to obtain much bigger, better, more flexible, and less costly packages, than any individual small cable...

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Posted June 9, 2010 by christopher

Once again, Senator Joe Sam Queen again led the effort to legislate on behalf of the people of North Carolina rather than a few companies headquartered out of state. On Monday night, the Senator offered an amendment to remove the temporary ban on community networks (currently set to be one year - though powerful lobbyists will undoubtedly push to extend it). Unfortunately, the Senate ultimately passed the bill with the ban.

The Salisbury Post had covered the legislative battle last week, revealing yet another horrendous quote from Senator Hoyle, who has pushed the ban on community broadband infrastructure.

We're not going to get broadband to everybody in the state anytime soon.

This was his response to a question noting the nature of private companies like Time Warner (who donate regularly to Hoyle) to ignore communities they deem unprofitable.

To reconstruct:

  • No one expects the private sector to serve the entire state - no one disputes that companies like Time Warner will refuse to invest in small, isolated communities
  • Senator Hoyle, the main proponent of protecting Time Warner monopolies where they exist, simply says that these people just won't get Internet
  • The majority of Senators vote with Hoyle to deny people, who have no broadband option, from building it themselves

Unreal.

Now we wait to see when it will pop up in the House. Without a larger grassroots uprising, it will slowly work its way through Committees and toward the House Floor. Call your Reps. To follow this issue in real time, I recommend periodically searching twitter for ncbb.

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