Tag: "competition"

Posted July 21, 2012 by lgonzalez

Time Warner Cable's announced intention to expand its usage based billing for broadband has recently received a little media attention. The company currently uses tiers for customers in parts of Texas, allowing customers to sign on to a plan which limits the amount of usage per month. If they come in under the plan amount (currently 5 gigabytes), they get a $5 dscount. If they go over, they are charged $1 per gigabyte over the tier limit.

One commentary we find particularly insightful is from Susan Crawford, "The Sledgehammer of usage-based billing." Crawford not only addresses TWC's billing change, but critiques New York Times' "Sweeping Effects as Bradband Moves To Meters" by Brian Stelter.

Crawford points out several statements in Stelter's article that sound rational on paper, but are actually "holes" in the fabric of reality. Based on what we have seen from companies like Time Warner Cable, we concur.

Stelter justifies Time Warner's decision to shift to usage-based billing based on the fact that its competitors are doing it. Crawford points out that:

Time Warner does not have competitors among cable companies – if by competition you mean a cable distributor that could constrain Time Warner’s pricing or ability to manage its pipe for its own purposes. Time Warner’s DOCSIS 3.0 services do compete with Verizon’s FiOS, but FiOS is available in just a tiny part of Time Warner’s footprint. The major cable distributors long ago divided up the country among themselves.

The Stelter article raises the issue of high usage and congestion, their connections to the usage tier billing model, and claims that there is no other way to handle high usage. Crawford calls out this error as it relates to the new billing plan:

Cable distributors have a choice: They could maintain the 90+ % margins they enjoy for data services and the astonishing levels of dividends and buybacks their stock produces, or they could rearchitect their networks to serve obvious consumer demand. But they are in harvesting mode, not expansion mode. And no competitor is pressuring them to expand.

Stelter quotes Comcast...

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Posted July 12, 2012 by lgonzalez

Last week, South Carolina's General Assembly passed H3508, the ALEC and AT&T bill we previously warned you about. AT&T, ALEC, and cable companies pushed this bill to limit broadband competition and revoke local authority to decide if public investments in broadband infrastructure are wise.

H3508 is one of the worst pieces of legislation we have seen. States usually incorporate language that "grandfathers in" existing projects as a way to avoid legal challenge and federal scrutiny of their anti-competition legislation. In South Carolina, however, crafty drafting puts one county BTOP project in the cross hairs while permitting two other projects to continue.

Below is a roundup of media coverage of the bill. We will soon release our analysis of the supposed "exemptions" to this bill but in the meantime, this coverage explains several of the problems with South Carolina's latest Monopoly Protection Act.

Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar contacted Jim Baller, a preeminent telecom attorney and expert in broadband issues:

"States have different ways to achieve the same end—discourage, delay, or derail public broadband initiatives," wrote Jim Baller, a telecom lawyer based in Washington, DC, in an e-mail to Ars on Thursday. He noted that similar bills were introduced in Minnesota and Georgia this year, the former of which has led to a "study bill," while the latter did not make it out of committee.

"In some ways, the South Carolina bill is worst of all because it does not grandfather existing projects and would retroactively undermine federal stimulus grants that Orangeburg and Oconee Counties have received,"  he added.

Ars Technica Logo

Farivar also looked into the chief author and found:

Public records show that in 2011, AT&T, itself an ALEC member, contributed $1,000 to the coffers of...

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Posted June 29, 2012 by christopher

Monticello faced a number of key decision moments throughout the history of its FiberNet. Given the recent changes in management and decision not to make up the different between debt service and revenues, some may be wondering if proceeding with FiberNet was the smart decision.

It was 2008 and the economy hadn't entered its death spiral. Monticello had overwhelmingly voted by a 3:1 margin for the local government to bond for and build the network.

When Monticello was beginning to sell its bonds, the incumbent telephone company (TDS) filed a lawsuit against the City, with the extremely dubious claim that Monticello did not have the authority to do what other cities in Minnesota had done. Courts later tossed it, finding that the TDS suit had no merit and making TDS reimburse Monticello for some of its costs due to the frivolous suit.

But the goal was never to win the lawsuit, it was to delay and harass. Monticello had to wait a year to begin building its network. Though TDS had previously maintained that its DSL was just fine for the needs of residents and busineses, it began pulling permits to significantly upgrade its DSL to a FTTH product. (TDS has steadfastly maintained, while investing more in Monticello than any other Minnesota community, that community networks result in less investment from incumbents.)

At any rate, Monticello had a decision. It faced an expensive court case and the City's action was apparently driving TDS to improve its poor network. Monticello could have backed down in the face of TDS' bullying.

And if it had? From what we have seen elsewhere, this is our best guess:

TDS Telecom Logo

TDS could have delayed its upgrades or changed its mind entirely when the economy tanked. If it continued with upgrades, it would likely have made some token investments but not lowered its prices because the threat of actual competition was removed. It certainly wouldn't have unveiled broadband tiers that were superior on speed and price to those in Minneapolis / St Paul metro area.

If they had unveiled a high-speed option like the 50/20 Mbps package, they likely would have priced it sufficiently high that few took it and then would have used that as...

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Posted June 8, 2012 by christopher

Monticello has been all over the muni broadband news lately, in the wake of a letter it sent to bondholders [pdf] alerting them that the City would no longer make up the difference between the revenues produced by the system and the debt payments. This came shortly after the company managing the network decided to step down.

Over the next year, the reserve fund will make up the difference while the City and bondholders come to some sort of an agreement.

The Star Tribune today published a good synopsis of the situation:

City administrator Jeff O'Neill said that the city has no intention of abandoning FiberNet's 1,700 customers, including about 130 businesses.

"This system isn't going anywhere," he said. "We're not going out of business."

Despite the problems, he said the city has one of the fastest Internet systems in the country that has driven down prices and improved services by providing competition.

The article also notes that prior to the City-owned network, the telephone company (TDS) provided very poor DSL service that was harming area businesses with slow and very unreliabile phone and broadband services. Without FiberNet Monticello, we don't know how many businesses would have been forced to relocate to be competitive in the digital economy.

We decided to dig a little deeper to get a sense of what Monticello has received for its investment and difficulty. We previously examined the prices charged by Charter cable in town and found that households taking that deal were saving $1000/year.

monticello-goodbadugly_0.jpg

We also noted that Charter was almost certainly engaging in predatory pricing. After talking with other networks, we would guess that Charter is losing between $30 and $50 (conservatively) per subscriber per...

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Posted June 6, 2012 by lgonzalez

If you live in Boston, Baltimore, Albany, Syracuse, or Buffalo, you won't be getting FiOS from Verizon. Absent any public investment, you will likely be stuck with DSL and cable... like 80% of the rest of us.

Not long after Verizon announced it would cease expanding FiOS, we learned that Verizon was coming to an arrangement with the cable companies that would essentially divide the broadband market. Verizon won't challenge cable companies with FiOS and the cable companies won't challenge Verizon's "Rule the Air" wireless domain.

For a while now, the FCC has reviewed a potential deal for a Verizon purchase of Comcast's wireless spectrum. The possible deal involves multi-layered questions of anti-competitive behavior, collusion, and corporate responsibility. 

Along with many other interested parties, such as the Communications Workers of America, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and  the five towns are publicly opposing the deal. They have expressed their derision to the FCC but whether or not they will influence the result remains to be seen.

From a FierceTelecom article by Sean Buckley:

Curt Anderson, chair of the Baltimore City Delegation to the Maryland House of Delegates, expressed...outrage on the agreement the telco made.

"Under this transaction, Baltimore will never get a fiber-optic network, and the city will be at a disadvantage," he said. "The direct job loss will be the hundreds of technicians that would be employed building, installing and maintaining FiOS in the area. The indirect costs of this deal are even higher: the lack of competition in telecommunications will raise prices and reduce service quality.

And:

The deal, said Albany Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, "is not in the best interest of those who need to get and stay connected the most and is "a step backwards in bridging the digital divide."

Though these five cities...

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Posted June 3, 2012 by christopher

Susan Crawford was one of the featured presenters at Freedom to Connect 2012 and her presentation was noted by Tech Dirt:

To support her thesis, Crawford presented some stunning numbers. In the last two years, Comcast market share has grown from 16.3 million subscribers to 18.5, a 14 percent growth. Time Warner Cable has grown 10 percent, from 9.2 to 10.7 million customers. Meanwhile, DSL subscribers have plummeted: AT&T and Verizon market share is down 22 and 21 percent respectively.

So, while it's good to be Comcast, it's not good to be an American citizen. Without competition, there's no drive to improve the service. The average speed of an Internet connection in the United States is around 5Mbit/s. An astoundingly low number if you look at other western countries. South Korea, for example, has an average of 50Mbit/s. And faster connections are starting to be implemented around the world.

Posted May 31, 2012 by christopher

In an unsurprising result, voters in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, chose not to build their own FTTH network. The margin was 58% against, 42% for. According to that article, the opponents (bankrolled largely by national cable company Cox) outspent proponents by 3:1.

We previously covered this plan and were concerned that the number one reason identified for proposing the network was to diversify revenue for the local government. Quite frankly, that is a poor reason to go head to head against massive companies like Cox and CenturyLink.

The biggest benefits of community networks tend to be the hard to quantify -- aggregate savings to the community from lower prices from all providers in a competitive environment, increased economic development, better customer service from a local provider, etc. These networks are built to be financially self-sufficient, but we caution against expecting them to be a piggy bank for the local government.

Unlike the successful Longmont approach, where those advocating for the community network engaged others who had been through similar fights elsewhere, it seemed like Siloam Springs preferred not to ask for help. Meanwhile, Cox tapped its nationwide resources to oppose the network, with misinformation like this:

Siloam Springs Opposition

Download the full size flyer here.

Communities that want to build community networks should engage the wider community of community broadband supporters and be prepared for flyers like this one. And when seeking local support, make sure you find messages that resonate. Make sure you read about the grassroots movement in Lafayette in our recent report or how Chattanooga had hundreds of community meetings to explain its plan.

These networks face stiff opposition from entrenched opponents that want to be the sole gatekeepers to the Internet -- ensuring a real choice means doing real organizing.

Posted May 30, 2012 by christopher

In a surprise move, HBC has announced it will end management of FiberNet Monticello, though the actual time frame has not been announced. FiberNet Monticello is a FTTH network approximately 45 miles northwest of Minneapolis. HBC has been operating the publicly owned network, offering triple play services, since inception.

FiberNet Monticello has had a particularly rough road since citizens overwhelmingly voted to build it to create a locally owned alternative to cableco Charter and incumbent telco TDS. TDS landed the first blow against the network with a frivolous lawsuit. Though the courts tossed it out, the proceedings took a year and slightly added to the interest rate Monticello had to pay on its debt.

Since then, TDS invested in its own FTTH connections and Charter engaged in a vicious bout of predatory pricing in their attempt to drive competition out of Monticello.

Throughout it all, the City and HBC worked together to deliver the best broadband and customer service in the area. However, the network has not met its revenue targets (largely due to time lost from the lawsuit) and that has led to discussions about how to ensure the network would become financially self-sufficient as rapidly as possible.

HBC's performance in Monticello has actually been impressive given the anti-competitive tactics of Charter and TDS. If you want to know why we have no cable or broadband competition in America, look no further than the refusal of state and federal agencies to investigate predatory pricing tactics used to deny subscribers to FiberNet Monticello.

Regardless, elected officials in Monticello were not happy with the status quo (covering FiberNet shortfalls from the liquor store fund) and new management will offer an opportunity to chart a new course. Though HBC has decided to withdraw, FiberNet Monticello retains most of its staff and may even be better motivated to meet this challenge. From the City's press release (also below in full):

The City of Monticello would like to express appreciation to HBC for the key role they played in successfully developing and delivering high quality and reliable video, voice and internet service to the community. The HBC legacy in Monticello includes the development of a well-trained FiberNet Monticello staff and the establishment of a strong and loyal customer base, which...

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Posted May 16, 2012 by christopher

One of the reasons we so strongly support local, community owned broadband networks over European-like regulations on private companies is that large institutions regularly game the rules. We wrote about this last year, when Free Press called on the FCC to stop Verizon from ignoring the rules it agreed to for using certain spectrum.

Senator Franken, who has taken a strong interest in preserving the open Internet, has just reminded the FCC that creating rules does no one any good if it refuses to enforce them.

Not only has Comcast announced that its own Netflix-like service does not count against its bandwidth caps, some researchers found evidence that Comcast was prioritizing its own content to be higher quality than rivals could deliver. Comcast has denied this charge and proving it is difficult. Who do you believe? After all, Comcast spent years lying to its own subscribers about the very existence of its bandwidth caps.

The vast majority of the network neutrality debate centers around whether Comcast should be allowed to use its monopoly status as an onramp to the Internet dominate other markets, like delivering movies (as pioneered by Netflix). Comcast and many economists from Chicago say "Heck yes - they can do whatever they like." But the vast majority of us and the FCC have recognized that this is market-destroying behavior, not pro-market behavior.

So when Comcast was allowed to take over NBC Universal, it agreed to certain conditions imposed by the FCC to encourage competition. But the FCC has a long history of not wanting to enforce its own rules because it can be inconvenient to upset some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Plus, many of the people working in telecommunications policy for the federal government will eventually make much more money working for...

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Posted May 15, 2012 by christopher

Susan Crawford on the importance of government policy. People who are concerned about the future of the Internet need to pay attention or the cable and telephone companies will take over the Internet (or at least access to it). Not because they are evil, but because what is best for them (or what they think is best for them in the short term) is not what is best for the rest of us or the vast majority of businesses that depend on access to the Internet.

 

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