Tag: "competition"

Posted February 16, 2012 by christopher

The Heartland Institute is one of those organizations that will say anything its massive corporate funders want it to. It is embroiled in a scandal from the release of internal documents due to its work challenging the science behind climate change.

In the telecom space, Heartland's employees have encouraged laws to take decision-making authority away from communities in order to benefit the massive cable and DSL companies (like Heartland-funder AT&T).

They advocate for efforts like Georgia's SB 313 and South Carolina's H3508, saying:

  1. Muni networks are doomed to failure because of the general incompetence of government
  2. Muni networks will drive private sector providers out of the market because governments are too all powerful and have too many advantages in competition

This is why we see bills that are supposed to "level the playing field" pushed by big companies like Time Warner Cable in North Carolina last year.

If you take a gander at Heartland's telecom work, you have to wonder why the playing field needs to be leveled if they believe what they have written:

A municipal government cannot possibly hope to compete with well-capitalized broadband providers in a highly competitive market.

For those unfamiliar with Heartland, they don't use the same definitions for common words like "competitive" as the rest of us do. In Heartland's world, "competitive" means a market in which one of our funders operates regardless of how much competition exists in it.

So why do we need new legislation to make it even harder for communities to build the networks that the cable and DSL companies won't build?

Posted February 16, 2012 by christopher

Susan Crawford's op-ed in Bloomberg makes a tremendous case for publicly owned broadband networks.

She notes the importance of broadband and the failure of big cable and DSL companies to meet the growing needs of communities, just as the electrical trusts were insufficient to electrify much of America.

I'm a bit biased because she cites our work:

Today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for community broadband initiatives, is tracking more than 60 municipal governments that have built or are building successful fiber networks, just as they created electric systems during the 20th century. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, the city’s publicly owned electric company provides fast, affordable and reliable fiber Internet access. Some businesses based in Knoxville -- 100 miles to the northeast -- are adding jobs in Chattanooga, where connectivity can cost an eighth as much.

Though I encourage readers to read the full column, I love the conclusion:

Franklin D Roosevelt

Right now, state legislatures -- where the incumbents wield great power -- are keeping towns and cities in the U.S. from making their own choices about their communications networks. Meanwhile, municipalities, cooperatives and small independent companies are practically the only entities building globally competitive networks these days. Both AT&T and Verizon have ceased the expansion of next-generation fiber installations across the U.S., and the cable companies’ services greatly favor downloads over uploads.

Congress needs to intervene. One way it could help is by preempting state laws that erect barriers to the ability of local jurisdictions to provide communications services to their citizens.

Running for president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt emphasized the right of communities to provide their own electricity. “I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility a birch rod in the cupboard,” he said, “to be taken out and used only when the child gets beyond the point where more scolding does any good.” It’s time to take out that birch rod.

Posted February 14, 2012 by christopher

Many complain about gridlock in Washington, DC, but I sometimes subscribe to the cynical counter-reaction that gridlock is great. It is when the Democrats and Republicans agree that Americans should beware.

Though this may or may not be true about politics, it is certainly true when applied to two of the most hated industries in America: cable television companies and DSL companies like AT&T. When they come to agreement, you can bet that prices are going up for the rest of us.

In our coverage of AT&T's bid to limit broadband competition in South Carolina by revoking local authority to build networks for economic development, we have thus far ignored the position of the cable companies.

We took a tour through the newsletters of the South Carolina Cable Television Association over the course of 2011, which is when AT&T introduced its H.3508 bill.

Unsurprisingly, the cable companies are thrilled at the prospect of limiting competition in communities by cutting off the ability of a community to build a network when the private sector is failing to meet their needs. From the 1st Quarter newsletter [pdf]:

The SCCTA has been actively following the AT&T-backed legislation that would amend the Government-Owned Telecommunications Service Providers Act. House Bill 3508 would impose the same requirements on government-owned broadband operations that are currently imposed on telecommunications operations.

Of course, H.3508 goes far beyond applying the "same requirements." It enacts a host of requirements that only apply to public providers, which are already disadvantaged by being much smaller than companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. We have long ago debunked the myth of public sector advantages over the private sector.

The second quarter newsletter [pdf] identifies this bill as the highest priority of the cable association:

H3508, the AT&T backed legislation, has been our dominate piece of legislation in 2011.

Even after the bill was shelved...

Read more
Posted February 2, 2012 by christopher

The USA Today occasionally covered the Lafayette muni fiber network fight as Cox and Bellsouth used every dirty trick conceivable against the community to shut it down. Reporter Rick Jervis looks back in now that the network is available to everyone in town.

The battle over broadband in Lafayette is part of a growing number of clashes across the USA that pit municipalities against telecom firms for the right to deliver Web access to homes and businesses. More than 150 local governments across the country have built or are planning to build cyber networks, says Christopher Mitchell of the Washington-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit group that advocates community development and local access to technology. Mitchell says those efforts often draw opposition in the form of misinformation campaigns, lawsuits from private providers or unfavorable state laws resulting from telecom lobbying. Nineteen states either ban cities and counties from getting into the broadband business — or make it difficult.

Minor quibble: the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (and particularly my work) is not Washington-based.

Like the toy in Crackerjack boxes, we cannot have a story about community networks without at least one blatant lie from some cable company employee. No disappointments here:

"Our initial objection was, and remains, that it is an unfair advantage for your competitor to also be your regulator," says Todd Smith, a Cox spokesman. "Many states prohibit government from competing with the private sector."

I challenge Todd Smith to name one way in which LUS Fiber regulates Cox. When the local government makes rules that impact either Cox or LUS Fiber, such rules have to be non-disciminatory or they violate state and federal laws. If incumbents think the community is violating any laws, we know that they know how to hire lawyers and file lawsuits. They've done it often enough.

The story details some of the benefits to the community since LUS Fiber opened shop -- including businesses moving to Lafayette to create new jobs:

LUS Logo

Scott Eric Olivier moved his tech startup firm, Skyscraper Holding...

Read more
Posted February 1, 2012 by christopher

Local governments are often looking for low-risk options for expanding broadband access to residents and local businesses. There are not many. Seattle put some extra conduit in the ground as a part of a different project that was tearing up the streets but Comcast was the only provider interested.

The problem with a haphazard program of putting conduit in the ground is that while it benefits existing providers, it does very little to help new entrants. And conduit is inherently limited -- only a few providers can benefit from it and when used up, there is no space for more providers.

In short, more conduit may slightly improve the status quo but it does little to get us to a future where residents and local businesses have a variety of choices from service providers offering fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet.

Smart conduit policy can lay the groundwork for lowering the cost of a community network, which can get us where we want to be. It may take time, but will create benefits far more rapidly than private providers will be building next-generation networks in most of our communities.

John Brown, a friend from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has offered some tips for communities that want to develop smart conduit policies. Brown runs CityLink Telecommunications, an impressive privately owned, open access, FTTH network that connects residents, businesses, schools, muni buildings, etc.

We tend not to support privately owned networks because for all the great work a companiy like CityLink Fiber does, one does not know who will own it in 5, 10, or 20 years. However, we recognize that CityLink Fiber is a far better partner for communities than the vast majority of companies in this space.

The following comments are taken from an email he shared with me and is permitting me to republish. Direct quotes are indented and the rest is paraphrased.

Not all conduit is created equal. A 2 inch pipe will be sufficient for perhaps 2 providers. If conduit does not have inter-duct, it is much harder for multiple providers to share it. Inter-duct creates channels within the conduit that allows a provider to pull its fiber cables through without disturbing other...

Read more
Posted January 30, 2012 by christopher

We have long been arguing that the telephone and cable companies are not sufficiently investing in the connections needed by communities.

Quarter after quarter, companies offering DSL see decreases in their lines as subscribers jump to cable or fiber-optic alternatives (where available, which is not many places). Recall that AT&T's CEO himself believes DSL to be obsolete.

As this trend continues, most communities will find that a single cable company has a monopoly on high speed broadband access and those willing to settle for slower, less reliable alternatives will have a choice between DSL and wireless options. Susan Crawford has written about this, terming it the Looming Cable Monopoly.

The main reason is that cable is cheaper to upgrade to higher capacity connections than the telephone lines. Unfortunately, due to the reality of natural monopoly, the big cable companies will almost certainly continue to dominate in their communities. It is just too hard and risky for other businesses to challenge their market power.

This is why smart communities are evaluating all their options and determining if a long term public investment in fiber-optic infrastructure would generate enough benefits to justify the high upfront cost.

Posted January 29, 2012 by christopher

In the wake of a bill in Georgia to revoke local authority and substitute it with state say-so over whether a community can build a broadband network, multiple outlets have covered the situation.

As usual, Stop the Cap! was quick on the ball, offering original in-depth commentary. Phil digs into the campaign cash history to find the real motivations behind this bill:

Rogers’ legislation is exceptionally friendly to the state’s incumbent phone and cable companies, and they have returned the favor with a sudden interest in financing Rogers’ 2012 re-election bid. In the last quarter alone, Georgia’s largest cable and phone companies have sent some big thank-you checks to the senator’s campaign:

  • Cable Television Association of Georgia ($500)
  • Verizon ($500)
  • Charter Communications ($500)
  • Comcast ($1,000)
  • AT&T ($1,500)

A review of the senator’s earlier campaign contributions showed no interest among large telecommunications companies operating in Georgia. That all changed, however, when the senator announced he was getting into the community broadband over-regulation business.

Phil also refutes the supposed failures cited by those pushing the bill. Not only do such stories misrepresent what really happened, some actually cite EPB's incredible 1Gbps service as demonstrating that munis are out of touch. What else would you expect from the Heartland Institute, which made its name fighting against the radical claim that cigarettes are linked to cancer?

Government Technology's Brian Heaton also covered the story in "Georgia Community Broaband in Legislative Crosshairs."

In addition, Mitchell [me] said that SB 313’s requirement of the public entity paying the same taxes or the same cost of capital as the private sector is another red herring. He said that while the provision looks reasonable on the surface, it would critically hamstring any effort to establish government-owned high-speed broadband services.

“That’s like telling me I have to pay the same...

Read more
Posted January 3, 2012 by christopher

It's a new year, but most of us are still stuck with the same old DSL and cable monopolies. Though many communities have built their own networks to create competition and numerous other benefits, nearly half of the 50 states have enacted legislation to make it harder for communities to build their own networks.

Fortunately, this practice has increasingly come under scrutiny. Unfortunately, we expect to see massive cable and telephone corporations use their unrivaled lobbying power to pass more laws in 2012 like the North Carolina law pushed by Time Warner Cable to essentially stop new community broadband networks.

The FCC's National Broadband Plan calls for all local governments to be free of state barriers (created by big cable and phone companies trying to limit competition). Recommendation 8.19: Congress should make clear that Tribal, state, regional and local governments can build broadband networks.

But modern day railroad barons like Time Warner Cable, AT&T, etc., have a stranglehold on a Congress that depends on their campaign contributions and a national capital built on the lobbying largesse of dominant industries that want to throttle any threats to their businesses. (Hat tip to the Rootstrikers that are trying to fix that mess.)

We occasionally put together a list of notable achievements of these few companies that dominate access to the Internet across the United States. The last one is available here.

FCC Logo

As you read this, remember that the FCC's National Broadband Plan largely places the future of Internet access in the hands of these corporations. On the few occasions the FCC tries to defend the public from their schemes to rip-off...

Read more
Posted December 13, 2011 by christopher

I encourage readers to visit Doc Searls post "Broadband vs. Internet" for a discussion about things that matter regarding the future of Internet access for most Americans.

The Internet is no more capable than the infrastructures that carry it. Here in the U.S. most of the infrastructures that carry the Internet to our homes are owned by telephone and cable companies. Those companies are not only in a position to limit use of the Internet for purposes other than those they favor, but to reduce the Net itself to something less, called “broadband.” In fact, they’ve been working hard on both.

There is a difference between the Internet and "broadband." Broadband is a connection that is always on and tends to be somewhat faster than the dial-up speeds of 56kbps. Broadband could connect you to anything... could be the Internet or to an AOL like service where some company decides what you can see, who you can talk to, and the rules for doing anything.

The Internet is something different. It is anarchic, in the textbook definitional sense of being leaderless. It is a commons. As Doc says,

The Internet’s protocols are NEA:

  • Nobody owns them.*
  • Everybody can use them, and
  • Anybody can improve them.

Because no one owns it, few promote it or defend. Sure, major companies promote their connections to it (and when you connect to it, you are part of it) but they are promoting the broadband connection. And the biggest ones (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, etc) will do anything to increase the profits they make by being one of the few means of connecting to the Internet -- including charging much more and limiting what people can do over their connection, etc.

This is one reason the connections from major corporations are so heavily tilted toward download speeds -- they want consumers to consume content. Just about every community network built in the last 3-4 years offers symmetrical connections by contrast.

Last I heard, the fastest cable offering in the upstream direction was 12Mbps. Cox, our cable provider in Santa Barbara, gives us about 25Mbps down, but only 4Mbps up. Last time I talked to them (in June 2009), their plan was to deliver up to 100Mbps down eventually, but still only about 5Mbps up. That’s...

Read more
Posted December 12, 2011 by christopher

Brendan Greeley and Alison Fitzgerald have authored an in-depth exposé of the role the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played in passing a law in Louisiana designed to cripple community-owned networks ... while falsely claiming the bill was about creating a "level playing field."

This article may not have been possible without the work done by the ALEC Exposed folks at the Center for Media and Democracy.

The aptly-titled "Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law?" article starts with the background of one of our favorite community broadband champions: Joey Durel, the Republican City-Parish President of Lafayette, Louisiana.

In April of 2004, Lafayette announced their intention to do a market survey to get a sense of whether the community would be interested in a publicly owned FTTH network run by the public utility. By that point, it was not possible to introduce new bills at the Louisiana Legislature. Or at least, that is a technicality when it comes to the lobbying prowess of big cable and telephone companies (mainly Cox and BellSouth - one of the major companies that later became AT&T).

Worried about losing their de facto monopolies, they tapped State Senator Winnsboro to take an existing bill, delete all the words from it and then append their anti-community broadband (anti-competitive) language.

The lobbyist brought back to Lafayette a copy of what would become Senate Bill 877. It named telecommunications as a permitted city utility, then hamstrung municipalities with a list of conditions. It demanded that new projects show positive revenue within the first year. It required a city to calculate and charge itself taxes, as if it were a private company. Cities could not borrow startup costs or secure bonds from any other sources of income. The bill demanded unrealistic accounting arrangements, and it suggested a referendum that would have to pass with an absolute majority. It also, almost word for word, matched a piece of legislation kept in the library of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The council’s bill reads, “The people of the State of _______ do enact as follows … ”

According to Ellington, he substituted the bill after a lobbyist for several of the state’s cable companies approached him, concerned about Lafayette’s project....

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to competition