Tag: "competition"

Posted July 21, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As Senators involved in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework are negotiating over legislative language on how to spend $65 billion aimed at expanding high-speed Internet connectivity in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country, a new joint report has been published by Common Cause and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) that details the massive influence Big Telecom has on Congress.

The 21-page report – Broadband Gatekeepers: How ISP Lobbying and Political Influence Shapes the Digital Divide – examines the political spending and lobbying efforts of the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as well as their trade associations, and connects the dots on how some of the most despised companies in America have helped create the digital divide.

The report begins by noting how “major broadband providers, both telecom and cable, have chosen not to build their networks to areas they deem less profitable and not to upgrade many existing customers left behind by outdated technology. These choices entrench the far too wide digital divide and mean Americans pay some of the highest prices for service. At the same time, the largest ISPs have used their outsized influence in Congress to block any legislation that would undermine their stranglehold over the broadband marketplace. In the 116th Congress alone, these corporations spent an astounding $234 million on lobbying and federal elections.”

That’s an average of more than $320,000 a day, seven days a week, as the report’s authors note.

America’s ‘Most Hated’ Companies Lobby to Maintain Monopoly Power

Although policymakers have proposed reforms that would close the digital divide, the report says, “the (telecom) industry is on Capitol Hill spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight against legislation that would fund the deployment of future-proof networks, promote competition, mandate higher minimum speed...

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Posted July 16, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

We have covered on numerous occasions the fiber-to-the-home boom underway in the rural hill towns of western Massachusetts. Now we are seeing a number of communities around the Boston metro area in the eastern part of the Commonwealth, as well as in other of the more populous towns and cities across Massachusetts, exploring the possibility of building their own community broadband networks.

In the rural environs of the Berkshires the demand for municipal fiber networks was primarily driven by a need for high-speed Internet connectivity in small towns with only outdated DSL or satellite-based Internet service as options. In the larger cities and towns in other parts of the state, by contrast, the driving force for better broadband has been a desire to introduce competition into a market dominated by the regional monopoly providers (Comcast, Verizon and Charter-Spectrum) that have left many communities starving for a cheaper, faster, and more reliable option. 

The towns are at different stages. Some are moving through the study and design phase. Some are stalled. Some have decided to work with third-party providers. And one is on the cusp of building a fiber network, beginning with a pilot project. Here is snapshot of nine different communities and where they stand. (It is not an exahustive list of towns in Massachusetts contemplating municipal networks). 

Agawam

Just three miles south of Springfield is Agawam, a town of approximately 28,000, home to the only Six Flags Amusement Park in New England. What Agawam residents do not find amusing, however, was when Comcast announced plans to introduce monthly data caps and associated fees for customers who exceeded those caps. It was enough to convince town officials they should explore building their own municipal broadband network.

The town formed the Agawam Municipal Fiber Task Force and charged the task force with reviewing “the feasibility of the Town constructing and operating its own fiber network, partnering with another municipal fiber network, and/or the potential of a private company...

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Posted July 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The project, which will result in an open access conduit network with Google Fiber as the first ISP operating, has seen some equipment delays (handholds and vaults) recently but remains on schedule. "The first conduit section in the city that'll be complete includes Valley High and the surrounding neighborhood," We Are Iowa writes. The first users are scheduled to be brought online later this year.

Posted July 8, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

For the past several years the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) has been considering whether to add high-speed Internet service to its portfolio of offerings after nearly a decade of the region’s residents and businesses being plagued with the poor connectivity served up by incumbent providers.

Now, with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the state Comptroller’s office having earlier this spring approved the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) business plan [pdf] to build a fiber network, the city-owned utility recently cleared the final hurdle needed to move forward with the massive project.

Unanimous Approval from Knoxville City Council

Two weeks ago, the Knoxville City Council unanimously approved the KUB Board of Commissioners proposal to build a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in one of the Volunteer State’s largest metro areas. Network construction is expected to cost $702 million and take seven to 10 years to build out, reaching 210,000 households across KUB’s 688-square-mile service area spanning Knox, Grainger, Union, and Sevier counties.

Once the network is complete, it will not only be the largest community-owned network in Tennessee – surpassing the size of EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, which served as inspiration for KUB officials – it will also be the largest municipal network in the nation.

“Now that the approval process is complete, our focus has shifted to deploying the infrastructure and implementing the processes and systems that allow us to deliver quality services to our customers. We will be providing regular updates to our customers as we make progress,” KUB officials wrote in a prepared statement to Knox News.

...

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Posted July 7, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

As the Biden Administration is working with Senate Republicans and Democrats on a proposed infrastructure deal which now includes a $65 billion federal investment to expand broadband access, the details of how that money should be spent and where those investments should be targeted have yet to be decided.

In a new policy brief, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance looks to provide clarity for policy-makers by exploring the real challenges of America’s connectivity crisis. The brief aims to clear up a common misunderstanding of exactly where the digital divide is located.

Digital Divide is Not Urban Vs. Rural, It’s Both

It does so by explaining why high-speed Internet access is not a challenge confined primarily within rural America. A lack of fast, reliable, and affordable broadband is also a major problem in urban and suburban America.

As the brief details, millions of citizens could subscribe for service right now, if only they could afford it — but they cannot. In fact, most recent municipal broadband systems were built to resolve problems with monopoly excess, not the absence of broadband. Many of the places that appear from the DC as though they have gigabit services actually have unreliable networks that are not getting the job done.

The Case for Prioritizing Local Community Efforts

The brief further elaborates on how America’s connectivity crisis has been created by uncompetitive market conditions, a dilemma that actually presents three interconnected challenges: Access, Affordability and Adoption. 

Finally, the brief makes the case for why the federal and state governments should support local governments in resolving these challenges, rather than continuing to blindly hand out subsidies to the companies with the best government affairs' staff.

Read the...

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Posted June 29, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Municipal broadband advocates in Ohio realized a major victory today when a bipartisan House and Senate conference committee released the final version of their state budget plan that added $250 million to expand broadband access in the Buckeye State and removed the anonymous budget amendment that would have effectively banned municipal broadband networks if passed into law.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the two chambers are expected to approve the final budget tonight before sending it to Gov. Mike DeWine to be signed into law ahead of the July 1 deadline. 

The vote comes after local officials, community broadband advocates, and angry residents and businesses from across the state spoke out against the last minute municipal network-killing amendment attached to the state budget proposal. State lawmakers were deluged with a flurry of calls, emails, and letters after the budget amendment was revealed two weeks ago without public discussion or debate. 

“We had a real grassroots movement here in Fairlawn. We are thrilled our residents, subscribers and businesses came together and helped us defeat this amendment,” Fairlawn Service Director Ernie Staten told us immediately following the news. “We appreciate that the State of Ohio recognizes that municipal broadband has a place in this state and we hope to continue this great endeavor.”

Staten said when FairlawnGig sent out word to the community about the budget amendment, the response from Fairlawn subscribers was fast and furious. “Over 700 emails were sent by our subscribers saying, ‘Don’t take this (municipal broadband) away!’ I think that’s amazing,” he said.

Will Municipal Networks Be Able To Access New State Grant Money?

While Staten celebrated the removal of the budget amendment, he called the victory “bittersweet,” as municipalities and electric cooperatives in the state do not have access to the proposed $250 million broadband expansion grant program that will be...

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Posted June 24, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Internet connectivity in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is, well, downright medieval by modern telecommunication standards. With the exception of a handful of homes in the more densely populated communities of St. Johnsbury and Newport, the only choice for most folks living in the rural environs of the Northeast Kingdom is between DSL and satellite.

That’s all changing now thanks to one of the state’s nascent Communication Union Districts (CUD), enabled by a 2015 Vermont law that allows two or more towns to join together as a municipal entity to build communication infrastructure. These local governmental bodies were formed to help the state reach its goal of having universal access to broadband by 2024.

In the Realm of Broadband, Fiber is King 

Formed in March of 2020, the NEK CUD has already raised $743,000 through a variety of grant programs, and, over the past year, has forged a partnership with Kingdom Fiber using COVID-relief funding to connect nearly 100 homes in the towns of Albany, Craftsbury, Greensboro, Hardwick, and Irasburg.

Now, the NEK CUD, known as NEK Community Broadband, has taken another major step on the path to bringing fiber connectivity to all residents and businesses in the 55 towns that comprise the district. Last week, the NEK CUD approved a $120 million business plan that will deploy about 2,800 miles of fiber across the region, passing 33,000 premises, according to NEK Community Broadband Chairman Evan Carlson.

“It’s mostly DSL here with 49 percent of addresses (in the Northeast Kingdom) not having access to anything 25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second) or above,” Carlson told us in a recent interview.

“I had HughesNet at one point and I was paying $150 a month. But now I have StarLink. It’s not perfect but…,” Carlson began to say, as his connection froze for about 10 seconds.

Hark! FTTH Cometh to the REAP Zone

The expensive and unreliable connectivity Carlson and his fellow NEK residents have had to deal with will change drastically once the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network construction gets underway later this year. With Request for Proposals soliciting construction and Internet Service Provider (ISP) bids due by June 18, Carlson said he...

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Posted June 16, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

News outlets in Ohio have begun to pick up on something we first reported (here and here, thanks to our local allies), sounding the alarm on an Ohio Senate budget amendment that, if passed, would effectively kill municipal broadband networks and other publicly owned and operated broadband projects in the Buckeye State.

In the days following the unveiling of the budget amendment, the law firm IceMiller released an analysis of the overarching consequences if this language makes it into the final budget, outlining the problems not only for cities, but schools, port authorities, and intergovernmental agreements. The analysis suggests that not only would it discourage future investment, but also require many existing operations to cease altogether, to the detriment of Ohio residents and businesses.

‘Set Ohio Back Decades’

This past Sunday, the Akron Beacon Journal published a story on how the proposed amendment has Summit County officials concerned that it could put the region’s celebrated municipal network FairLawnGig out of business with Fairlawn Mayor William Roth saying the proposed legislation “would set Ohio back decades and make the state less attractive for businesses and economic development.”

The Beacon Journal goes on to report that both Mayor Roth and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro are reaching out to state lawmakers and the governor's office asking that the anti-municipal network language be removed from the proposed budget and are encouraging residents to register their opposition to the amendment with their legislators as well.

‘Vigorous’ Opposition From Local Community Advocates

In conjunction with the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), FairLawnGig has issued a press release in response to the budget amendment in which Ernie Staten,...

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Posted June 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

This week on the podcast Christopher is joined by Douglas Adams, the CMO of Think Marketing (the firm which handles the marketing operations for the municipal network FairlawnGig in Ohio), Ernie Staten, Director of Public Service for the city of Fairlawn, and Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

The topic of the day is the amendment attached to the upcoming budget for the state of Ohio which, if included in the final version, would make Ohio the first state in a decade to erect barriers to the establishment, expansion, and continuing operation of publicly owned and operation broadband networks. 

Douglas, Ernie, and Angela talk about the wide-ranging consequences of this amendment, which was pushed through without any meaningful public debate, and how it would ban the continued operation of existing municipal networks like those run by the cities of Fairlawn, Dublin, Springboro, Wadsworth, and Hudson. At the same time, it would preclude the establishment of new networks, as well as stymie efforts by counties and other public entities to use existing and build new Internet infrastructure to save local governments money or deploy low-cost options to families stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide.

See our previous coverage here and here. Click here to read a new fact sheet on the benefits that municipal broadband has brought to the state of Ohio, and the widespread impact if the amendment is adopted as-is.

Read our earlier coverage of the amendement here.

Read our new fact sheet [pdf] on all the ways Ohio's community networks have brought value to the state. 

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen...

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Posted June 15, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Ohio Senate attached an amendment to the state's budget bill last week which would place significant restrictions on the establishment of new community broadband solutions. It would also, if passed in its current form, place substantial barriers on the operation and expansion of existing municipal networks and other publicly owned and operated projects.

Cities across Ohio have expanded Internet infrastructure in thoughtful, forward-looking ways. These municipal networks have created local government savings, increased speeds, promoted service competition, and powered economic development.

 Some cities have specifically addressed the affordability gap in cities, where many residents have been left behind in a broken market where large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have underbuilt networks, leaving hundreds of thousands of broadband-hungry Ohioans in the digital dust.

This fact sheet [pdf] outlines the many long-term benefits that municipal broadband projects have brought to the state. For instance:

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