Tag: "public v private"

Posted November 23, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

For years, the North Carolina General Assembly has considered bills pushed by cable lobbyists to ban community networks. A new analysis from the folks at MuniNetworks.org shows that community fiber networks offer the most advanced services in the state -- faster speeds at lower prices. Preempting these community networks would cripple North Carolina's ability to compete in the digital future.

Read the Report [pdf]
Read the Press Release

Following on the heels of similar findings for Minnesota, smaller towns in North Carolina that have built community owned fiber networks offer far superior services to those found in the metro area around Charlotte and the famous Research Triangle.

The two community fiber networks are Wilson's Greenlight and Salisbury's Fibrant. We have written frequently about both - Fibrant coverage and Greenlight coverage.

A chart and explanation from the report:

NC BB Price chart

Comparing the tiers of residential service from Wilson or Salisbury against the providers in the Raleigh area (figure 4), shows that the communities have invested in a network that offers far faster speeds for less money than any of the private providers (Greenlight offers more packages than depicted as only unbundled options are displayed). Whether communities in North Carolina are competing against other states or internationally for jobs and quality of life, they are smart to consider investing in a community fiber network.

This chart actually uses the new FCC definition for “basic broadband,” which is 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. The packages that are plotted below and to the left of the origin are no longer technically broadband. Notice how many of the plans offered by private providers barely qualify as broadband. In fact, as neither AT&T nor Time Warner Cable offer upstreams of at least 1Mbps in Raleigh, their...

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Posted November 21, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

One of the key differences between community owned networks and those driven by profit is customer service. Community-driven providers spend more and create more jobs in the community to ensure subscribers' needs are met. The massive private companies instead choose to outsource the jobs to call centers (sometimes in the U.S., sometimes outside) in order to cut costs (and jobs - see the report from the Media and Democracy Coalition).

We've seen a few examples of the big carrier approach in this arena - as when Cablevision billed apartment residents $500 after a fire for the DVR that was consumed in the blaze... stay classy, Cablevision.

Another difference between community networks and the big carriers is that big carriers see little reason to upgrade their anemic networks to ensure communities remain competitive in the digital age. As Free Press has long documented [pdf] big companies like AT&T have been investing less in recent years as the U.S. has continued falling in international broadband rankings.

Up here in Minnesota, Qwest has invested in FTTN - what they call fiber-to-the-node. We call it Fiber-to-the-Nowhere. For those who happen to live very close to the node, they get slightly faster DSL speeds that are still vastly asymmetrical. Meanwhile, Qwest has branded this modest improvement for some as "fiber-optic fast" and "heavy duty (HD)" Internet, misleading customers into thinking they are actually going to get faster speeds than Comcast's DOCSIS 3.

Much as I hate to praise the middling DOCSIS 3 upgrade, it certainly offers a better experience than any real results we have seen with Qwest. But as we carefully documented in this report, community networks offer more for less.

Two friends recently moved to Qwest. One, J, was convinced by a Qwest salesperson that Qwest would be much faster so he signed up for a 20Mbps down package. Fortunately, he didn't cancel the cable immediately because he was back on it quickly - he says Qwest dropped out 4 times in...

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Posted August 24, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

I really try to focus on the many good things communities are doing rather than the many bad things done by massive companies like Comcast. However, sometimes I have a few items I need to publicize to illustrate the differences between providers that are accountable to communities and those that are accountable solely to shareholders.

Fine Print Friday has taken a sardonic look at Comcast's Contract with subscribers. Who says the truth cannot be humorous?

Comcast specifically does not guarantee that the equipment and services will: (1) Meet your requirements, (2) Provide uninterrupted use, (3) Operate as required, (4) Operate without delay, or (5) Operate without error. Nor do they guarantee that the communications will be transmitted in their proper format. So basically, if you want digital services you can rely on to work how you expected them to work, when you expected them to work, then Comcast can’t provide that to you. According to their limitation of warranties (section 10), what you are paying for each month is the possibility of having service that works as advertised, but they can’t promise anything.

There is a mention in there about Comcast having the right to monitor whatever you do with your connection. The next time you hear people complaining that their local government may spy on them if the public owned the network, ask if they prefer being spied on byh unaccountable corporations that want to sell their private surfing habits. After all, the private sector has more motivation to spy on subscriber activity than the local government.

The full post is worth reading - though it does not cover the entire Comcast contract:

The Comcast Subscriber Agreement for Residential Services is too long to continue to write about in a single post. I may come back to it and do a second part if necessary. This list, however, represents what are the most important provisions in the contract for customers to know about.

It’s not a good contract for the customers, and it’s a very good contract for Comcast. But if you want their services (and in many places you don’t have a choice, as they are essentially a monopoly), then you have to play by their rules. At least know you will know what you are getting into.

...
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Posted June 28, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

In an editorial about the LUS Fiber lawsuit against NCTC, the local Lafayette paper made the following observation:

We've had our own reservations about LUS Fiber to the Home, based on concerns about a government enterprise encroaching on a market in which private-sector entities were already providing service. But LUS has, from all available evidence, enhanced the competition in the local marketplace in terms of both price and technology.

Those who claim community broadband networks decrease competition and incumbent investment do so against all empirical evidence.

Posted May 11, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

"My issue is that cities should not be competing with private enterprise." - Senator Hoyle of North Carolina

Given this Senator's opposition to the public sector competing with the private sector, I assume he is fighting just as hard to shut down the libraries (or have Borders and Barnes and Noble neglected to donate enough to his candidacy?), as well as the schools (there are private schools), and the police (security guards are readily available on the private market). This is not merely a snarky attack on someone with whom I disagree, but a nod to the very serious problem that these massive companies can push their protectionist legislation everywhere.

Senator Hoyle, the driving force behind using state law to protect incumbent providers like Time Warner and AT&T from competition in broadband admitted his motivation at the beginning of a video from the recent committee hearing available on Stop the Cap!.

In it, the Senator also makes it clear that he is either unaware of what his legislation does or he is lying about it when he claims it does not affect the communities that have already built the most state-of-the-art networks in the state. His legislation would severely handicap each of them from upgrading despite his false claims that they are exempted. The post on Stop the Cap offers more background and discussion and I encourage readers to check it out.

As usual, I'll add my own short commentary about it. I previously explained why this bill's requirement for cities to use General Obligation Bonds is terrible policy.

Senator Hoyle claims the town of Mooresville did not know what they were doing. Listening to his discussion, it is abundantly clear that he doesn't know what he is talking about. I spoke with folks from Mooresville before they bought the cable system and I have spoken with them since. They got screwed by Adelphia and Time Warner in the deal and have had to take on additional debt. However, the idea that they have failed or were foolish in starting the network because they had an operating loss demonstrates the Senator's ignorance on broadband networks.

When anyone takes over a poorly maintained, old network and...

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Posted February 16, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Andrew Cohill of Design Nine has released a report about Open Access networks: "Broadband for America: The Third Way." I wanted to highlight this report because open access is an important idea that should be promoted and discussed. I believe open access is the most promising way to create the world most people want to live in - fast and affordable networks offering many choices in services and service providers to all Americans. However, though I hold Andrew in high regard, I have some disagreements with the paper that are noted below. This paper comes at an important time. For more than a decade, we have ended each year with less broadband competition than we started with. Politicians and regulators have abandoned policies aimed at promoting competition despite their continued lip service in favor of it. Incumbents have more and more power over both subscribers and entire communities. If we want competition in broadband and cable (and I certainly do!), open access is the only feasible approach. The cost of building the networks is fantastically high whereas the cost of offering services to an additional user are tiny. The result is a network with strong natural monopoly characteristics. Without a network that shares infrastructure (wires, poles, CPE, etc.), the market will trend toward monopoly or duopoly. Wireless complements wired broadband but cannot provide the high speeds and reliability of fiber-optic networks. Even if some metro areas can support multiple networks, most rural areas can barely support one network. Without open access, significant parts of the country cannot have a choice in service providers. Further, when the infrastructure is publicly owned and encourages competition, difficult problems like network neutrality quickly fade. Network neutrality legislation is needed because of profit-maximizing companies who are emboldened by too little competition. Publicly owned infrastructure requires less federal regulation because its incentives are to be responsive to community needs, not to maximize profits. I recommend reading his paper before reading the issues I raise below. Though I am agreement with the majority of his points, I want to note that we will continue opposing state laws that require communities to build wholesale-only networks (where the community does not provide retail services) because communities must...

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Posted January 14, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

While I was researching recent developments in the BVU OptiNet, I stumbled across a hilarious comment to a news post. I have tried to track down the original source but have not been able to find anything. I am going to reprint it here, assuming the author would appreciate it...

This was written by someone apparently fed up with all the claims about what is socialism and what isn't. I think it simply serves as a good reminder of the role government plays in our lives -- often transparently.

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by socialist electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy. I then took a shower in the socialist clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the socialist radio to one of the FCC regulated channels to hear what the socialist National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using socialist satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of socialist US Department of Agriculture inspected food and taking the socialist drugs which have been determined as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time, as kept accurate by the socialist National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Naval Observatory, I get into my socialist National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved automobile and set out to work on the socialist roads build by the socialist local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the socialist Environmental Protection Agency, using socialist legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank. On the way out the door, I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the socialist US Postal Service and drop the kids off at the socialist public school. If I get lost, I can use my socialist GPS navigation technology developed by the United States Department of Defense and made available to the public in 1996 by President Bill Clinton who issued a policy directive declaring socialist GPS to be a dual use military civilian system to be managed as a national socialist asset....

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Posted September 8, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

The second line of Rachel Carter's story at TimesCall.com captures the reason we care about community broadband networks:

But others argued that it’s not about whether the city will jump into the cable or Internet business; it’s about giving the city options and giving voters a choice.

Longmont, Colorado, will have a question on its November ballot asking whether the city should have the right to offer retail broadband services. This referendum is a requirement of Colorado state law (passed in June 2005 -- more details about that law from Baller.com [pdf]) for communities that want to offer such services to their community.

A number of people spoke at the city council meeting before they unanimously voted to put the question on the ballot. Responding to some who opposed giving citizens a chance to choose, one Council Member came up with quite the apt phrase:

Councilman Sean McCoy said the Comcast representatives and Denver attorneys who spoke against the ballot question tried to “put a shadow of a doubt” on it by using “red herring” issues. “I believe the concerns are more of an issue of ’not in my monopoly’ more than anything else,” he said.

Longmont has given the private sector plenty of chances to offer the broadband that citizens want - but they have failed to meet community needs. A number of private companies have tried to use the city's assets to build a wireless network: As detailed here, Kite Networks contracted with the city in 2006 to build a wireless network but ran out of money. In 2007, Gobility gave it a shot but also ran out of money. In stepped DHB, who completed the network.

It is not clear what has happened to DHB, but this suggests that many remain dissatisfied:

All council members supported the ballot question, although Mayor Roger Lange and Councilwoman Mary Blue questioned what the city may choose to do in the future. Lange said there are some telecommunications services that the city doesn’t need to jump into, but others — such as wireless...

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Posted August 21, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Opponents of publicly owned broadband networks often hold up examples of wireless networks that did not turn out as planned -- more often than not, they ignorantly use examples of privately owned networks like Earthlink networks in Philly, Houston, or proposed privately owned networks in San Fran and Chicago.

It is true that many wireless networks (especially those using Wi-Fi) came in above projected costs and late. It is also true that this happened across all manner of network ownership types. GoMoorhead, a publicly owned Wi-Fi network in Minnesota, was recently sold to a private company - and I am working on a report about that. However, there was also a recent announcement that the privately owned wireless network being built in Burnsville, Minnesota, is behind schedule.

Frontier Communications expects to extend its Wi-Fi hot spot service to Burnsville's performing arts center this fall, but a company official admitted Friday that knitting together complete citywide coverage has gone more slowly than expected.

The phone provider for the southern part of Burnsville as well as Apple Valley, Farmington and Lakeville, Frontier had expected to have 90 percent of the city covered with a network of broadband Internet Wi-Fi hot spots by now.

But Frontier is still moving its wireless service from the south, where it kicked off service in October 2007, into the northern parts of the city.

Additionally, the public-private partnership in Minneapolis remains behind schedule (privately owned but built with substantial amounts of public money).

The problem is the technology - not the ownership. We continue to believe that the future should feature wireless as a complement to the more reliable and faster wired connections that should be available to everyone. But the more we talk to communities, the more we learn that wireless is more difficult to work with and often more expensive than expected.

Posted May 13, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

In studying the role of municipalities in broadband infrastructure deployment, it is important to remember that municipalities act with a public motive and not a profit motive. Municipalities invest in schools, roads, hospitals, senior centers, marinas, airports, and convention centers, all assets that positively differentiate one community from another. In those areas, direct investment by municipalities is accepted and indeed often encouraged, even though private firms can (and do) build private schools, hospitals, health clubs, marinas, and conference centers that coexist with municipal infrastructure.

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