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There are definitely times when you learn of a business practice where you think, "Wow, my opinion of AT&T could not go any lower." And then, BOOM. You find out that AT&T was intentionally underfunding a 9-11 call center in order to undercut its competitors in bids.
Did we mention that this is not an isolated case? AT&T has been busted in several jurisdictions for this practice.
Hat tip to Stop the Cap! for bringing my attention to a lawsuit brought by Hamilton County against AT&T for its practice of under-reporting the number of business lines it provides.
This practice allows it to undercut all competitors in the market, including the community fiber network run by Chattanooga's Electric Power Board. From the Times Free Press article:
The lawsuit claims that, since at least July 2001, AT&T has filed monthly and annual reports listing fewer business phone lines than they actually provide. Under Tennessee law, phone companies must pay $3 per month per line to pay for 911 access.
In a March phone service bid proposal for Hamilton County, AT&T stated it would not collect the $3 rate and instead collect $2 per line per month. That allowed the company to underbid the next lowest bidder by 69 cents per line per month, “unlawfully increasing its profits at the expense of revenue to support the critical emergency services that” 911 provided, according to court records.
A difference of $.69 may not seem like much, until you consider they may be providing 1,000 lines - which is a difference of $690/month or $8,280/year.
It is an incredible racket. AT&T gets more high-margin customers, pays less in fees than competitors, and the only people who get hurt are those who depend on 9-11.
Just when you think AT&T is brilliantly evil (an accusation I tend not to make against many corporations no matter how much I disapprove of their...Read more
Two years ago, we first wrote about the Johnson City Power Board considering using its fiber-optic network to encourage economic development and create more broadband competition. Last year, we again saw them examining their options, with a recognition that DSL and cable are not enough for economic development when Chattanooga and Bristol are so close by, as well as other publicly owned FTTH networks.
The JCPB has decided to move forward with a public-private partnership approach that will focus first on serving commercial clients and may later expand to offering residential services.
The decision on the third-party vendor approach stems from a feasibility study by Kersey Consulting, a firm that offers broadband consulting to municipalities and public utilities. The study began in July, and examined three models the JCPB could use to offer the services: having the JCPB be the retailer; leasing the extra fiber capacity to another company; or bringing in a third-party operator to provide the network access electronics, customer support, billing services, etc.
Working with a third-party vendor gives the JCPB the best return on its investment, balancing low risk with possible profits, said JCPB spokesman Robert White. The Power Board would provide the “backbone,” while the vendor, working under JCPB’s brand, would provide the “last mile” services and equipment to the commercial customers.
This approach could be somewhat similiar to the Opelika, Alabama, partnership with Knology, except Knology is clearly going after both residential and commercial customers right away.
The article uses these numbers, but they don't seem to make a lot of sense to me on first glance:
Initially, according to the feasibility study, the Power Board would most likely make a capital investment of $1.5 million over five years, which could include installing more of a fiber backbone to reach businesses if needed. On the flip side, revenues from the extra service could reach $1.3 million over 10 years, depending on...
Chattanooga, with the nation's most impressive broadband network (stretching into rural areas even outside the metro), is spending $30 million to put a Wi-Fi wireless network on top of it. At present, it is primarily for municipal uses:
For now, city government plans to retain exclusive use of the network for municipal agencies as it tests it with applications including Navy SEAL-esque head-mounted cameras that feed live video to police headquarters, traffic lights that can be automatically adjusted at rush hour, and even water contamination sensors that call home if there’s a problem beneath the surface of the Tennessee River.
Much of the wireless network is being funded by state and federal grants -- Chattanooga is turning itself into a test bed for the future city, at least for communities that recognize the benefits of owning their own infrastructure. Chattanooga can do what it wants to, it does not have to ask permission from Comcast or AT&T.
The goal for the city’s wireless network is to make the entire city more efficient and sustainable, said David Crockett, director of Chattanooga’s Office of Sustainability.
As Bernie Arnason notes at Telecompetitor, Wi-Fi is increasingly needed by smartphones because the big cellular networks cannot handle the load. The future has wireless components, but without Wi-Fi backhauled by fiber-optics, the future will be extremely slow and unreliable -- traffic jams for smartphones.
A more recent story from the Times Free Press notes that Chattanooga is wrestling with how to handle opening the network to residential and business use.
“I want to be innovative,” he said. “I want to do more than just turn it on in the parks.”
It’s a popular idea with technologists, tourism officials and the general public, who would gain the ability to surf around the city at speeds greater than typical cellular speeds.
Bob Doak, president and CEO of...
Tullahoma's LightTUBe FTTH network, owned and operated by the Tullahoma Utilities Board, has attracted J2 Software Solutions to locate its headquarters in town [PDF]. Its CEO, Jerry Wright offers some background:
Wright said J2, which specializes in providing high-tech software to law enforcement agencies to handle dispatching, records management and other related functions, needed to have the highest speed, most dependable Internet service available.
He said TUB, through its LightTUBe broadband communications service, provides exactly what his company needs to thrive and expand.
"What LightTUBe has is top of the line," Wright said, adding that normal cable TV service and higher speed digital subscriber line, commonly referred to as DSL, were not adequate to meet the company’s volume and demand.
Sounds like confirmation of the story we we just wrote about AT&T's CEO admitting DSL is obsolete.
Congratulations to Tullahoma for making smart investments in its own future.
Craig Settles recently interviewed Dan Speers, the Executive Director of the Pulaski-Giles County Economic Development Council, focusing on the publicly owned PES Energize muni FTTH network.
Craig started by asking how the network is used by local businesses:
There’s a printing operation here with their corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. They have to be able to send artwork all the time to headquarters. There’s a guy who works developing catalogue books that are published by an outfit in Canada. Before the network it would take him six hours to upload materials and now it’s done in minutes. One company has their offices on the north side of community and the manufacturing plant on the south side. They’re always sending large data files back and forth.
Hospitals here can upload and download files such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans immediately between other hospitals and doctors 75 miles away in Nashville. Patients don’t have to be transferred there, and they don’t have paper records that have to be carried by hand to specialists like they did in the old days. All of this saves lives and it saves money.
When Craig asked what the Obama Administration can do to expand broadband to "improve local economies," Speers asked for an end to state-created barriers to community networks and mentioned a Tennessee bill that would allow muni utility networks to offer services to communities outside their historic electric territories:
From a Tennessee perspective, first put us on a level playing field with the telcos. Allow municipalities to get into the business with none of the restrictions we have. We wanted to be able to wholesale our network services. Take Lawrenceberg, for example. They have no broadband and the telcos flat out refuse to build it there. We can expand our network over to them and they’d save $3 Million. But with the law the state legislature passed, we can’t serve them because they’re out of our area. If we shared head-in facilities, this would go a long way for economic development there.
Remapping Debate, an organization dedicated to "the full spectrum of domestic policy issues," has turned its focus on community broadband networks in an article called "Wave of the Future?" The article notes the tremendous success of Bristol, Virginia, in creating jobs. Most are well aware of the 700 jobs created by CGI and Northrup Grumman due to the network, but there are other success stories too:
Fiber has helped Bristol and the surrounding counties hold onto existing businesses as well as attract new ones. Alpha Natural Resources, a coal giant, pointed to the BVU service as a key factor in its 2009 decision to keep the company’s corporate headquarters in Bristol after a merger with Foundation Coal, a rival based in the more cosmopolitan Baltimore-Washington corridor. BVU’s fast service (up to 30 megabits for downloads and 10 megabits for uploads) will allow Alpha management to maintain close electronic watch over a combined network of mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.
The article goes on to discuss Chattanooga. Once again, we knew that its muni fiber network had already led to many more jobs from Amazon and Homeserve, but we learn more about exactly how the network has improved health care:
Chattanooga’s fiber network has been a foundation for high-tech business startups. One new company, Specialty Networks, allows doctors spread across many area hospitals and offices to get quick image analysis from radiologists specializing in the cancers of various regions of the body. In the past, according to Dr. Jim Busch, the radiologist behind the venture, eye, nose, and throat doctors would get initial readings from radiologists who did not necessary understand the particular subtleties of cancers affecting those areas. Now a single head-and-neck expert reads the images for just about all of greater Chattanooga’s ENT doctors. “The relatively inexpensive nature of all this bandwidth has been great for patient care,” Dr. Busch told Remapping Debate.
The rest of the article discusses other benefits of community networks and policy options for moving forward. Recommended reading.
As we continue to report on depressing campaigns to deny people fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet (as Time Warner Cable is doing in North Carolina), we are also making an attempt to highlight good legislation (as we recently did in Washington state). In that spirit, we turn to HB 2076 / SB 1847 in Tennessee
From the bill summary:
This bill urges all municipalities to endeavor to utilize advanced broadband systems in their operations and to encourage the construction of advanced broadband systems.
The bill would have let the municipal utilities extend service up to 30 miles outside their service areas.
Unfortunately, the powerful incumbent lobbying machine (including AT&T, Comcast, and others who already hate having to compete with technologically superior networks in several Tennessee communities) killed the bill, a blow to the future of economic development in the state. Neighbors of Chattanooga, including Bradley County, desperately want access to the impressive 1Gbps network Chattanooga built -- the most advanced citywide network in the country.
Harold DePriest recognized the power of AT&T and Comcast in the Legislature, but vowed not to give up.
“Well, we would like to see the bill pass, but I think Gerald was dealing with the reality of the difficulty of moving the bill through the committee at this point in time,” he said Friday. “We will be back. We think it is important.”
The article wisely includes a...Read more
We've been raving about Chattanooga' FTTH network and smart-grid for quite some time now, but others are just learning about it. Chattanooga's Electric Power Board serves some 170,000 households and businesses across 600 sq miles. Though we have mostly focused on the triple-play benefits of the network
Chattanooga had been named one of the 2011 Top 21 Intelligent Communities of the year previously, but more recently made the cut to a Top 7 Intelligent Community. Time will tell if is awarded the Intelligent Community of the year.
[A]ll of its 170,000 electricity customers could benefit from the infrastructure. The network will serve as the conduit for 80 billion data points on electricity use per year that could help the utility run more efficiently, reduce outages, and give customers more control over their monthly electricity expenses.
“Chattanooga is the epicenter of energy technology,” said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. “One of our biggest jobs is to exploit this technology for the benefit of our community.”
With power outages previously taking a $100 million/year bite out of private businesses served by EPB, the new FTTH network will enable a much smarter network that will radically decrease those outages and thereby make businesses more productive. By mid 2012, businesses will see a 40% decrease outage time. Over time, as EPB's grid grows ever "smarter," those losses will likely decrease further while also providing energy users (residential and business) more opportunities to manage their power consumption.
For those who only associate the smart-grid with enabling time-of-use pricing (paying more electricity during periods of high demand), there are other important, if hidden benefits:
S&C Electric is supplying EPB with the switches’ pulse-closing technology, which injects a low-energy current pulse into an electric line to determine if a fault has cleared. This saves the utility money by reducing wear and tear on substation...Read more