Tag: "north carolina"

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 The old fee schedule was outdated.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.

Posted June 7, 2010 by christopher

As I have considered writing yet another post about this debacle in North Carolina, I worried that readers outside of North Carolina might ignore it, thinking they cannot help and it doesn't impact them. Well, we can all learn a lesson from the fight in North Carolina to preserve local self-determination.

The same forces that are pushing North Carolina to crush the rights of communities to build the infrastructure they need are talking to elected officials and policymakers across the country. They are saying that the U.S. really does not have a broadband problem, that people are happy with their DSL and cable options.

Elected officials and policymakers very seldom hear from the other side - as Philip Dampier notes here and reinforces in the comment section here.

Sure, most states have organizations like a League of Cities or Munis or Towns and these organization are often fairly powerful. However, very few state legislatures have anyone speaking consistently for the rights of consumers. In DC, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and Media Access Project all do good work on the federal level but have little capacity to work on the state level. I try to help in state efforts wherever possible, but we have neither the funding nor staffing to really offer substantial help on any of these issues.

Someone needs to represent the interests of broadband subscribers -- and right now the only option is YOU. The folks at Stop the Cap! often make that easier by keeping you informed and providing the information you need to contact reps and policymakers.

But you need to make the call.

When you contact your reps to tell them you are not happy with your services and your choices in broadband, they are less likely to buy the industry claims that everything is hunky-dory and there is no reason for new policies that would encourage competition or allow communities to build for themselves the networks that no one else will.

When you do not make calls or write to your Reps, they de-prioritize broadband...

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Posted June 3, 2010 by christopher

Update: Thanks to Mark Turner (@mtdotnet) for tape-delayed tweets updating what happened. He has reported: "Senator Joe Sam Queen objects to third reading of S.1209! It remains on the calendar!" This can still be stopped in the Senate. End Update

Update 2: Thanks to Senator Queen for his crucial objection, delaying passage today. His motivation for opposing this bill so strongly? His communities have been ignored by the private sector:

"They’re just frustrated that it’s not getting done by the cable companies, the network companies, whoever’s doing it. They’re just cherrypicking and leaving off so many of our citizens, and that’s just unacceptable."

Both Senator Queen and Senator Purcell should be thanked for their opposition to this handout to cable and telephone companies.
End Update 2

Despite the efforts of so many folks in North Carolina, the bill to stop communities from building broadband networks (forcing them to rely on whatever the incumbent wants to deploy, if anything) has passed out of the Senate Finance Committee. The Direct Revenue Laws committee has to examine it, but it will soon make its way to the floor of the Senate for a full vote (it did, see updates above).

At this point, we still hope the session ends before this bill can be sent to the Governor. Before sending it to the Gov, it must pass the full Senate, several House Committees, and then the full House. So make sure all your representatives know your feelings on it, and encourage your local leaders to tell State leaders to defend the rights of communities to build their own infrastructure. Contact information is detailed on this post.

The bill has changed once again, as summarized by IndyWeek:

The bill's language was revised this past week to include a moratorium. If the bill becomes law, the moratorium would extend through August 2011 when the legislature's long...

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Posted June 1, 2010 by christopher

Update: Once, again, the committee has pushed the bill back... now to Wednesday afternoon. One wonders how normal people with jobs are supposed to follow legislation live when they have no certainty when a specific subject will be discussed. End Update.

After a short-lived victory last week, Time Warner's bill (to prevent communities from building broadband networks that would compete with them) will apparently be considered today. Once again, we refer you to Jay Ovittore at Stop the Cap! for more direct information on who you can contact in the state to register opposition to this monopoly protection act.

There is a new development though, Save NC Broadband suggests there is a new bill to specifically allow Caswell County to build a broadband network.

This sort of monopoly protectionist legislation is extremely frustrating because Time Warner and other similar companies have the funds and power to push it over and over again. We cannot win by simply rising up once and putting it down; we know it will come up time and time again. Each time, they will make more campaign contributions and hire more lobbyists because those expenses are small compared to what they would lose if communities gain a real choice between broadband networks.

Posted May 26, 2010 by christopher

Update: Apparently the bill was pulled from the Committee today. No word yet of what the next step is.

The Senate Finance Committee of the North Carolina Legislature will vote today on a bill to create more barriers for publicly owned networks, essentially preventing competition for communities throughout the state - a great boon to Time Warner and AT&T who are pushing the bill. The meeting is in Room 544 LOB and the vote will occur sometime after 1:00.

Stop the Cap! has a good list of people you can call about this bill as well as a discussion why it is poor policy.

Progressive States Action sent out an alert about the legislation with the following information that they have graciously allowed me to repost here:

Analysis of SB 1209: “No Nonvoted Local Debt for Competing System”

SB 1209, dubbed the "No Competing System" bill by broadband advocates, places North Carolina at a disadvantage compared to other states and global competitors by limiting municipalities’ ability to ensure that all North Carolinians have access to affordable, top-quality, and high-speed broadband. Universal access to high-speed broadband networks, combined with programs aimed at increasing broadband adoption, represents one of the best ways to reinvigorate a struggling economy. Broadband networks also provide state and local governments with a means to implement cost saving mechanisms, provide better access to needed services and stimulate job and business growth.

North Carolina communities have lost their tobacco, furniture and textile jobs to competition overseas. Currently, the unemployment rate in North Carolina is approximately 11.1%, representing the tenth highest unemployment rate in the nation. In some underserved areas without adequate access to broadband, the unemployment rates are even higher, reaching close to 17%. At a time when North Carolina needs more than ever to invest in 21st Century infrastructure such as broadband to build jobs for the future, SB 1209 impedes local governments from taking effective action. North Carolina’s largest cable provider raised rates 5-50% each year in 2007 and 2008 in all communities except those where municipalities were providing competitive cable service. By allowing...

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Posted May 21, 2010 by christopher

The latest attack on publicly owned broadband networks in North Carolina now has an official name - S1209: No Nonvoted Local Debt For Competing System and will apparently be debated in committee next week.

This bill is meant to stomp out any competition from community-owned broadband networks - the only real threat to Time Warner and other absentee-owned incumbent operators in the state. Not only would this bill create high hurdles for communities that want to build broadband networks, it also could prevent existing networks from upgrading or expanding. The community-owned networks in Wilson and Salisbury are the most advanced broadband networks in the state.

It is not clear, but the law may even bar communities from building networks with federal funds, as under the broadband stimulus projects, for instance. A coalition of local governments, concerned citizens, and private businesses (some noted here) are coming together to stop this attempt to keep North Carolina locked into the last-generation networks of AT&T and Time Warner.

In previous years, similar efforts to prevent community networks all suggested that local governments derived unfair advantages because they could finance their networks with tax dollars (though very few community networks have taken that approach). Now the same people are arguing that local governments should only be able to finance networks with taxpayer-backed bonds - a dead giveaway that those pushing to limit community broadband have no higher principle than protecting incumbent operators from competition.

As we have chronicled in coverage of North Carolina, several newspapers have come out against this bill - most recently the Winston-Salem Journal:

The Journal has long argued that government borrowing without a vote of the people is both unwise and unconstitutional. But that is borrowing backed by the "full faith and credit" of the borrower, in this case, the people of the jurisdiction involved. So, if that is what the telecoms want, we support them.

But that protection is already written into the state constitution...

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