Tag: "north carolina"

Posted November 3, 2010 by christopher

Wilson's Greenlight community fiber network is ahead of schedule. They continue to operate ahead of the business plan, despite a few difficulties that offer lessons to up and coming community networks.

We recently covered the fallout from their application to the broadband stimulus program where they had to disclose network information to their competitors.

Fortunately, that was not the only news last month from North Carolina's first all-fiber citywide network. They also surpassed 5000 subscribers and remain 6-9 months ahead of their business plan in take rate, according to the Wilson Times.

The number of customers is expected to reach 5,300 by the end of the fiscal year if the current trend continues, according to Dathan Shows, assistant city manager for Broadband and Technical Services. The city's current business plan calls for Greenlight to reach 5,000 customers by the end of the third full year of operation, which will be June 2011.

This is not the first time the network has exceeded projections; the network was built faster than expected and quickly jumped out ahead of take rate expectations.

One of the reasons Greenlight may be growing is its attention to local needs, as illustrated by the network finding a way to televise local football matches that otherwise would not have been available.

However, the Wilson Times story goes into much greater detail regarding the competition from Time Warner Cable. As we regularly see, Time Warner Cable is engaging in what appears to be predatory pricing to retain customers and starve Greenlight of new subscribers.

A lesson to other community networks, Wilson is documenting the deals TWC uses to keep subscribers. All communities should keep these records.

"Time Warner Cable's market tactics include anti-competitive pricing that interferes with Wilson's ability to secure customers through normal marketing," the application [for broadband stimulus] states. "TWC offers below-market rates to customers seeking to switch to Greenlight, locking them...

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Posted November 1, 2010 by christopher

I recently heard that the only place one finds a free lunch is in a mouse trap. As we sift through the lessons from the broadband stimulus programs, we have learned that the federal government preferred funding private projects rather than those that are structurally accountable to the community.

Before the first round of stimulus applications were due, many communities recognized the costs of applying were too high for them. Now, some are recognizing the high costs of complying with the many federal rules that come with accepting federal grants and loans (as detailed by Craig Settles).

And now, North Carolina's city of Wilson has found that applying for the broadband stimulus may have disadvantaged its FTTH network. Though the application was not accepted, the city has had to turn over its full application (chock full with proprietary information) to its competitors.

This is yet another example of ways in which the "playing field" is tilted against the public. The Wilson Times explained the situation and settlement.

The application included a proposed expansion of the network to provide reduced-cost or no-cost broadband lines to homes of Wilson County school children, a health network, increased lines for police and other improvements that would enhance the network in the city, Goings said.

When the North Carolina Telecommunications Association (with prominent member Time Warner Cable - incumbent cable provider competing with Wilson's Greenlight) asked to see the full application, the City refused to turn it over -- even after a court ruled against the City. The City argued the application contained key information regarding the policy and utilities that should not be made public for security reasons. When the Department of Homeland Security ignored the City's requests to intervene, the City was compelled to release the documents.

This is a particularly interesting juxtaposition as privately owned telcos and cablecos regularly argue against having to disclose any information about about their networks as a security...

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Posted October 29, 2010 by christopher

Kudos to Wilson's Greenlight fiber network in North Carolina. They are featuring some interviews with people who like their services, two of which are embedded below.

Posted October 25, 2010 by christopher

Fibrant has decided to offer premium adult content to subscribers that choose to receive it. Salisbury's approach and response offer a window into the benefits and responsibilities inherent in building a triple-play network that offers services directly.

As a gesture to those who are publicly opposed to such content being available, the channel listings do not show up to the subscriber by default -- which is to say that you cannot even see the scrambled channel unless you take action to tell Fibrant you would like the option of purchasing adult content.

The reason for offering the adult content? Much like the reason most community networks get involved in television at all: it helps pay the bills. The margins on premium content are high and competitors also offer these options locally.

However, a number of people are morally opposed to such content -- this has been a particularly sensitive issue in both Utah and the South more generally. Opponents to community networks generally take this opportunity to rally some opposition to the network in general.

Years ago, we wrote about a similar situation in Burlington, Vermont, because they carried the Al-Jazeera English international news channel.

The lesson we draw from these situations is that running a community fiber network is not all about creating economic development and educational opportunities. There are many issues that may be confronted, and some are messy First Amendment discussions. When a community takes responsibility for its future, it really has to take responsibility for its decisions.

When Comcast or Time Warner Cable chooses the channels, these problems may lurk under the radar because no one expects TWC or Comcast to take community needs or desires into account when they choose their channel lineup.

But when the network is owned locally and accountable to the public, the public has a voice in the decisions governing the network. Controversy on adult content on television may well subside over time, as few are actually proposing to censor the same content delivered via words, photos, and video over the Internet. The Salisbury Post editorialized a similar point:

While there’s no perfect choice here, there is this reality: Even if...

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Posted October 18, 2010 by christopher

As Salisbury prepares to officially launch its publicly owned FTTH network offering triple-play services, it offers lessons for other communities that want to follow in its footsteps. As we wrote a month ago, Fibrant has candidly admitted it cannot win a price war with incumbents. Companies like Time Warner Cable have a tremendous scale advantage, which allows them to price below cost in Salisbury because the large profits from all the non-competitive markets nearby can subsidize temporary losses.

On October 10, the Salisbury Post ran a story "Fibrant can't match cable company specials." Alternative possible titles for the article could have been "Cable Co cuts prices to drive competition from market," or "Time Warner Cable admits customers pay different prices for same services." Interestingly, when Fibrant unveiled its pricing originally, the headline read "Fibrant reveals pricing" rather than "Fibrants offers speeds far faster than incumbents."

A lesson for community networks: do not expect the media to cover you fairly. The big companies have public affairs people with relationships with the press and they often buy a lot of local advertising. This is not to say all local media is bought off -- far from it -- but local media will have to be educated about the advantages of community networks.

Quick question: When you hear this quote, who do you first think of?

"We always work with customers to meet their needs and budget."

The cable company, right? Well, that is Time Warner Cable's claim in the above Salisbury Post article. Later in the article, a local business owner expressed a different sentiment: "Time Warner has the worst customer service I have ever dealt with."

The business owner goes on:

“Fibrant may have these same kind of issues, however I can actually go to the source to deal personally with someone who is vested in the community, not spend two hours on the phone and never solve the problem as I do with TWC,” he said.

“Even if pricing is higher, I would make the change. Price is important, but quality and service is tantamount.”

Speaking of the services...

...
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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.

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