Tag: "misinformation"

Posted September 29, 2011 by christopher

As we previously noted, the city of Longmont, Colorado, is preparing for a referendum to allow the City to offer telecommunications services to local businesses and residents using a fiber ring it built long ago. This is due to a 2005 law (the "Qwest" law) that was pushed through the Colorado Legislature by incumbents seeking to prevent competition.

That law has succeeded -- most Colorado communities can only choose between slow DSL from the incumbent telephone company and comparatively faster services from the incumbent cable company. And when Longmont last attempted to pass a referendum to share its fiber infrastructure with local businesses, Comcast and Qwest swamped the town with unprecedented sums to confuse residents -- leading to the referendum failure with 44% voting yes.

But after the referendum passed and people had time to better understand the issue, many who voted against it realized they had been duped. We have seen the same dynamic elsewhere -- in Windom, MN, for example, where the second referendum succeeded. WindomNet has since saved a number of jobs and is expanding to eight other underserved rural communities around it.

Longmont built its fiber ring in the late 90's but it still has a lot of unused capacity that could be used to attract economic development if the publicly owned power utility were authorized to offer services to businesses. Without this authority, the community has a valuable asset that they are forced to leave unused -- even as local businesses could benefit greatly from it.

The Longmont Times-Call outlined the situation in July:

Without that vote, the city can't let homes or businesses use that fiber without a vote, thanks to a 2005 state law. It's a fight the city's lost once before in 2009, when opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to urge the measure's defeat.

This time out, there's a different tack. The city has been underlining in discussions that the measure would "restore its rights" to provide telecommunications service. And it's stressing that no high-dollar project is on the table -- the first words of the ballot measure now read "...

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Posted July 14, 2011 by christopher

Colorado requires a referendum before a local government can build a broadband network as a result of a 2005 law pushed by Qwest to prevent communities from building next-generation networks. So when Longmont wanted to expand its fiber ring to offer residential and business services, they put it to a vote.

They lost with only 44% supporting the measure. But now, more people understand the issue and the community is considering voting again.

We saw the same dynamic in Windom, Minnesota. Almost ten years ago, Windom held a vote to build a muni FTTH network and it failed to gain the Minnesota-required 65% supermajority. After the vote, a number of people wanted to revote because they realized they had been conned by the incumbent phone provider (ahem… Qwest) and only truly understood the issue after the vote had occurred.

City officials wanted no part of another referendum but community champions eventually prevailed and they had a second vote that authorized the community to build the network.

We'll see if Longmont follows suit. An article discussing the re-vote notes that Comcast and Qwest have dumped unprecedented sums into preventing the community from having a new choice:

The first attempt at getting that approval didn't go so well in 2009. According to city records, opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to defeat that ballot measure, the largest amount ever spent on a Longmont city election. By contrast, the city legally couldn't campaign on its own behalf, and the explanations that were out there didn't explain well, according to Longmont Power & Communications director Tom Roiniotis.

The cable and phone companies created an astroturf group called "No Blank Check" that then used standard fear, uncertainty, and doubt tactics to spread misinformation around the community. A quarter of a million dollars is a drop in the bucket to stop the only real threat of competition these companies face anymore -- locally owned community networks.

The situation in Longmont has attracted the interest of the...

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Posted June 10, 2011 by christopher

Access Wisconsin, a group of telephone providers working with AT&T to kill a network essential for schools and libraries across the state, claims that using taxpayer money is unfair competition. It is a fascinating argument from a collection of companies that rakes in various state and federal subsidies.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported these statements from Access Wisconsin this week:

"This is by far the greatest assault we've ever felt from the University of Wisconsin Extension," said Mark Weller, president and CEO of Access Wisconsin, which represents 30 mostly small, rural telecommunications providers. "It's totally inappropriate.

"When services are available through the private sector at a competitive rate and we have to compete against yet another entity that is being funded by the taxpayers, that's just not fair."

Those statements came after increasing outrage around the state following the news that their lobbyists waited until the 11th hour to suddenly insert a provision into an omnibus bill that would kill WiscNet and require the state to return multiple broadband stimulus awards expanding telecommunications services in unserved areas.

But back in February of 2010, when Access Wisconsin was receiving a similar broadband stimulus award, it had a different attitude.

“The Recovery Act grant will bring fiber optic broadband to areas where it would otherwise be too expensive to build.  There aren’t enough customers to justify the cost of the investment without the help of these funds," Weller said.  “The federal grant, along with a 20% state match, is providing the kind of infrastructure for rural schools and libraries that will meet their needs for decades.”
 
The new fiber optic broadband connections will provide new education and economic opportunities in 380 largely rural communities across Wisconsin.  Schools and libraries in those communities will gain dramatically expanded telecommunications access, while the installation of new infrastructure will help make broadband access available for businesses and residents.

...

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Posted June 9, 2011 by christopher

There are many places to find information about AT&T's war on WiscNet, a great credit to those who recognize the importance of WiscNet to schools, libraries, and local governments around the state. The best article on the subject may be from Wisconsin Tech News (WTN), with "UW faces return of $37M for broadband expansion in 11th hour bill." This post builds on that as a primer for those interested in the controversy.

Update: Read a Fact Check Memo [pdf] from the University of Wisconsin Extension Service with responses to false allegations from AT&T and its allies.

Synopsis

AT&T and its allies have long made false claims against WiscNet, setting the stage for their lobbyists to push this legislation to kill it. AT&T and some other incumbents want to provide the services WiscNet provides in order to boost their profits. WiscNet not only offers superior services, it offers services the private providers will not provide (including specialized education services). For instance, from the WTN article:

One of features that differentiates WiscNet from a private broadband provider is allowing for “bursting,” so that during isolated periods when researchers send huge data sets, they greatly exceed the average data cap. UW-Madison currently uses seven gigabits on average, and would have to procure 14 gigabits under the new legislation, even though most of the extra seven gigabits would seldom be in use, Meachen [UW CIO] said.

“We'd be paying for the fact that researchers have to send these huge data sets, and not have it take hours and hours to get to where it's going,” Meachen said. “You can't afford to pay for that extra 7 gigabits from the private sector because it's too costly. They increase your charges based on that.”

A private network would not have the necessary capacity for scientists on the UW-Madison campus, who are some of the leading researchers on next generation Internet. A previous recommendation to combine BadgerNet and WiscNet was deemed infeasible, as AT&T would own the network and would not be able to provide sufficient bandwidth at an affordable cost, Meachen said.

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WiscNet is a buying cooperative,...

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Posted May 10, 2011 by christopher

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with this space that the leading critic of MI-Connection, a cable network in North Carolina owned by local governments, has been revealed to be an employee of Time Warner Cable. Hat tip to Stop the Cap! for bringing it to our attention last night.

We have long watched massive cable/phone companies flood public meetings (both honestly and surreptitiously) with their employees to give the perception of widespread opposition to a publicly owned network. So while this is nothing new, the practice must be highlighted as something community networks should be aware of -- much like the rampant abuse of the commenting system in the Salisbury Post, where any story that mentions the community fiber network Fibrant is slammed by a few people who post under many different identities to give the impression of widespread disapproval.

MI-Connection has been plagued by problems since buying a system that was in considerably worse shape than expected, thus requiring more capital to rehab and upgrade it. An additional problem has been the image damage done by relentless critics (noted last week):

Venzon [Chairman of Board for MI-Connection] said he’s frustrated because the publicly owned company still fights an image problem.

“With the improvements we made to the system, I thought that people would be lined up out the door,” Venzon said. “I thought they’d see this as ours, this is us, and it just bugs me that we get such poor PR out there. We have not won that battle.

And now we know that a major critic of the network works for Time Warner Cable, a company vociferously opposes muni networks as a threat to their de facto monopoly. It would not be as much of a story though if he hadn't denied his employment with TWC for so long in order for his attacks on the publicly owned network to be more effective.

MI-Connection board chair John Venzon posted the...

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Posted February 1, 2011 by christopher

In a situation similar to the Frontier letters to Sibley we published last week, the cable company Mediacom has sent letters to Silver Bay and Two Harbors in Lake County to scare them into abandoning the rural county-wide FTTH network that they are building with federal broadband stimulus aid.

Interestingly, rather than sticking to the normal fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) campaign, Mediacom apparently based its threats on a draft previous version of the joint powers ordinance rather than the language actually passed by the resolutionsincluded in the current JPA. Whoops.  [See Update below]

Mediacom, perhaps you should focus on improving your networks rather than stifling potential competition.  Please send us copies of letters your community network has received from incumbent providers.

Without further ado, here is the letter [download pdf] sent to Silver Bay and Two Harbors on December 21, 2010 by Tom Larsen, VP of Legal and Public Affairs for Mediacom:


Re: Joint Powers Agreement with Lake

County Dear Mayor Johnson:

Mediacom prides itself in being one of America's leading providers of telecommunications services to small and medium sized communities. As you may be aware, Mediacom offers a highly competitive suite of high-speed Internet, cable television and phone services to homes and businesses throughout Silver Bay (the "City").

It has come to our attention that the City passed a resolution on November 15, 2010 approving a Joint Powers Agreement with Lake County (the "JPA"). Given the significant private capital that Mediacom has invested in order to make advanced telecommunications services available throughout the City, we were extremely surprised to learn that your resolution approving the the JPA includes the following finding in Section 4(e):

The Municipality hereby finds that the facilities composing the Project are necessary to make Internet and other communication services that are not and will not be available through other providers or the private market accessible and available on an equal basis to the residents of the municipality.

As...

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Posted January 26, 2011 by christopher

The fiber-to-the-farm initiative in Sibley County, Minnesota, has completed the feasibility study and the towns involved are discussing a Joint Powers Agreement. One of the impacted incumbent providers -- Frontier Communications, a rural telco famous for slow DSL) -- has started to spread the usual FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that is common whenever a massive company is about to face competition.

Though I am tempted to comment directly on Frontier's letter, I'll let the community's response stand on its own. The way they misrepresent the record of Windom should be instructive - this same misinformation strategy is used around the country.  We believe publishing these scare tactics and responses to them is helpful to everyone -- so if your project has received one, please let us know.

Frontier's Letter:

Dear Commissioners:

As a provider of telephone, internet, and video services to our customers in the Green Isle, Arlington, and Henderson areas, Frontier Communications is obviously interested in the "fiber to the home" proposal that has been presented. As a nationwide provider, Frontier is aware of other efforts by municipalities of various types to build and operate their own telecommunications network. While these proposals are always painted in rosy tones, it is important for officials to carefully review the underlying assumptions and projections that consultants make when presenting these projects. Unfortunately, history tells us that the actual performance of most of these projects is significantly less positive than the promises. Often times, these projects end up costing municipalities huge amounts of money, and negatively impact their financial status and credit ratings.

A nearby example would be WindomNet, the city-owned network in Windom, Minnesota. That network, which provides telephone, internet, and video service, began in 2005. The financial results to date have been poor; operating losses of $662,000 in 2006, $1,257,000 in 2007, $326,000 in 2008, and $93,000 in 2009. Additional borrowing by the city was required to make up those losses.

Another example is the city-owned network in Burlington, Vermont. Burlington Telecom was begun with high hopes in 2003, to offer...

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Posted October 21, 2010 by christopher

The next time you hear someone claiming that the reason US Internet is slower than international peers is because of our vast landmass with low population density, encourage them to listen to "America the Slow" on American Public Media's Marketplace Tech Report.

The title of this post comes from an anecdote in the middle of the story in which a person in NYC (the most dense area of our country) is hosting friends from France and they turn to him and say "I thought you said you had Internet?" in response for what passes as broadband there. I'm sure they laughed for hours if they found out what the host was paying for it.

Our sad state of broadband is not an inevitability of geography but a failure of policy that puts private companies first and community needs second.

And for the record, the population distribution in France is not so different from the US.

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 August 12, 2010 by christopher

Despite a coordinated campaign by cable incumbent Charter that offered little honest debate or accurate claims, the citizens of Opelika voted yes on their referendum to allow the city to build a broadband network. The City's public power utility will use the network for smart-grid services and a private company will likely contract to deliver triple-play services.

Opelika's Mayor had this reaction:

This video is no longer available.

Mayor Fuller also said:

It’s a great day for Opelika. It’s a great day for our future. It’s a terrible day for Charter,”

One gets the sense that the Mayor took some umbrage at Charter's tactics to prevent the community from building its own network.

The day before the election, Stop the Cap! ran a fantastic article about Charter's manufactured opposition to the community network.

Phillip Dampier investigated the background and claims of prominent opponents, including Jack Mazzola, who might as well have written some of the articles in the local paper about the Smart-Grid project for how often he was quoted by the reporter (who often failed to offer a countering view from anyone in support of the network).

Jack Mazzola claims to be a member of Concerned Citizens of Opelika and has become a de facto spokesman in the local press.  He claims he is “30 years old and have been a resident of Opelika for almost two years.” During that time, he evidently forgot to update his active Facebook page, which lists his current city of residence as Atlanta, Georgia.  Suspicious readers of the local newspaper did some research of their own and claim Mr. Mazzola has no history of real estate or motor vehicle taxes paid to Lee County, which includes Opelika.

Any community considering a referendum on this issue should read this Stop the Cap! post and learn from it because massive cable companies like Charter all use the same tactics in community after community. When communities do not have a response ready, they can suffer at the polls.

If you are suspicious about the viability of municipal fiber, simply ask yourself if they are such failures, why do phone and cable companies spend millions to lobby against them?  Why the blizzard of scare mailers,...

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