Tag: "competition"

Posted May 21, 2011 by christopher

With so many community broadband stories breaking this week, I did not dig into an update to Boston seeking authority to regulate some cable rates in response to the many rate hikes they have endured from Comcast. Boston's mayor has previously complained about basic cable rate increases.

The Ars Technica story offers some good regulatory background that limits the power of Boston to do much about rates.

According to the City, Comcast's 2011 Basic Service Rate change went from $13.30 to $15.80 a month. This came in the wake of previous rate hikes—to $9.05 in 2008, to $10.30 in 2009, and to $13.30 in 2010.

That all adds up to "more than 60%, on a service that is supposed to be affordable and is identified in the industry as ‘lifeline service'," Boston says.

"In addition, when comparing Boston to neighboring communities that have rate regulation, Comcast has over-collected approximately $24 million from Boston's Basic Subscribers during the four year period from 2008 through 2011," the City's statement claims. Its own research indicates that neighboring cities that are still regulated, such as Cambridge, have cheaper rates.

This has led the Boston Globe to editorialize "If cable firms act as monopolies, cities should be able to regulate.

When the Federal Communications Commission took away Boston’s power to regulate basic cable rates almost a decade ago, the assumption was that competition for pay-TV services would hold prices down for consumers. That assumption has not panned out. Comcast Corp., the successor to Boston’s original cable franchisee, still dominates — not least because its former monopoly status conveys lingering advantages that hamper competition even now. Those advantages help explain why Comcast’s charges for basic cable — now $15.80 a month for a package of 35 channels, according to a city report — have risen by 75 percent since 2008.

We are strong proponents of public ownership (via local government, coops, or nonprofits) in part because the regulatory environment leaves communities practically no...

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Posted May 17, 2011 by christopher

As readers know, we have devoted a lot of effort to educating everyone about Time Warner Cable's Bill in North Carolina to kill local authority to build broadband networks. As time runs out for NC Governor Perdue to kill this terrible legislation with her veto pen, we have seen many more calls on the Governor to act on behalf of local businesses and residents rather than on behalf of TWC and CenturyLink.

We've written more on this legislation than almost any other topic (all of it available here), so we want to highlight other recent posts.

Some notable recent calls to action come from Larry Lessig's Rootstrikers:

North Carolina has one of the nation's most impressive community broadband movements. Locally owned, state of the art networks are delivering fast, cheap Internet across the state. Big telecom companies--Time Warner Cable in particular--are not happy with their success. They've spent millions on lobbying state lawmakers. Now, the North Carolina legislature has passed a bill that bans competition from community broadband networks. Under this legislation, local communities would be held hostage to the corporate broadband networks that have given America second-rate networks everywhere.

Josh Levy of Free Press wrote the following in Ars Technica:

Predictably, the big cable companies view these municipal upstarts as major threats. Companies like Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink may be unwilling to extend their networks to communities like Cedar Grove, but they don't want anyone else doing it either—such an incursion would pose a threat to North Carolina’s de facto cable duopoly. Ironically, the weapon these traditionally regulation-shy companies have turned to in order to fight the municipal broadband effort is regulation.

Doc Searls also weighed in:

Here’s a simple fact for Governor Perdue to ponder: In the U.S. today, the...

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Posted May 16, 2011 by christopher

Rick Karr, a correspondent with PBS' Need to Know, travels to Europe to investigate why some countries there have surpassed the US in fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet -- with a real choice among service providers to boot! Video is approximately 12 minutes.

This video is no longer available.

Additional materials from the video are available at its website.

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 May 5, 2011 by christopher

It took far more longer than expected, due to the many phone calls from concerned citizens opposing it, but Time Warner Cable's investments in the North Carolina Legislature have finally paid off. A bill that will crush its only potential broadband competition in the state is sitting on the Governor's desk. We join with SEATOA, the vast majority of businesses in North Carolina who depend on broadband, and local communities in calling on the Governor to veto it.

The NC House had to approve it again due to changes made in the Senate -- including a change that absolutely gutted the rural exemption for communities who are lacking access broadband access to the Internet. Representative Avila and other sponsors have made many promises throughout this process that they never intended to hold true to.

SEATOA has long organized to preserve local authority in this matter and reported:

We made certain Rep. Avila understood that that clarification gutted the exemption and she did not care. e-NC reports that the private sector providers are permitted to report an entire Census Block as having access to internet, if only one home in the block actually has it.  In essence, North Carolina will have no "unserved areas" or communities will have to do their own door to door surveys, an expensive and monumental feat.

But what do you expect from elected officials who calls something a "level field" while bragging that they are crafting rules (such as limited service territories) that only apply to the community networks, which already operate at a disadvantage to a $19 billion a year competitor like bill author Time Warner Cable?

When the bill passed the Senate, a newspaper in Davidson noted its unequal approach that further handicapped communities:

Davidson Mayor John Woods said Tuesday MI-Connection deserves to be treated the same as private companies.

“We strongly object to the territory limits that this bill will impose on MI-Connection which are not imposed on other broadband providers. In addition, MI-Connection would remain subject to open meeting laws, which do not apply to those other providers,” he said.

Mr. Venzon also said local governments already face other rules that put them at a disadvantage to private competitors, including the requirement to...

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Posted May 2, 2011 by christopher

As Time Warner Cable's bill to limit competition from community networks nearly finished its exciting journey through the North Carolina Legislature, it found itself in a madhouse where the sponsor of TWC's bill (Senator Apodaca) accused another Senator of allowing his children to watch adult content.

Stop the Cap! wrote up the details, including a discussion of why Senator Apodaca's amendment to deny adult programming to publicly owned networks violates federal law. This is yet another "level playing field" requirement that handicaps publicly owned networks but does not touch Time Warner Cable -- no surprise given TWC's influence with the current group of Legislators in Raleigh.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this ongoing saga is that it does nothing to help people and businesses get the access to the Internet they need for economic development, better health care and education outcomes, and more. This absurd debate is just about how fast North Carolina can walk backwards. Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink want Time Warner Cable to sprint backwards to protect the monopoly revenues. We are working with North Carolina's communities to stop it from moving backward at all. But nothing in here is helping communities to move forward and be competitive in the digital economy.

There is still time to oppose this bill - contact information here at Stop the Cap!.

Once again, we have some audio clips from the Legislature below.

Posted April 26, 2011 by christopher

North Carolina's Senate Finance Committee is poised to take away the right of communities to decide for themselves if building their own broadband network is a good idea or not. If it passes out of this committee, it goes right to the Senate Floor and will likely become law.

We have covered Time Warner Cable's bill to kill community networks in greater depth than any other story -- and now folks in North Carolina have to immediately contact their Senators to oppose this power grab from big companies like TWC and CenturyLink. You can also use this form from Free Press if you are unsure who your Senator is.

In recent weeks, we've posted excellent speeches from legislators opposed to the bill, testimony from concerned citizens, and a variety of resolutions from local governments who are fearful of this bill's impact on public safety networks needed to keep residents and businesses safe.

If you are shy, you can call before or after business hours and leave a message on their voicemail. It takes less than five minutes. Your calls make a huge difference because so few constituents ever call state legislators. Simply let them know you oppose H129 and that the state should concern itself with expanding broadband access, not restricting who can offer it.

And as I have said numerous times, those outside North Carolina should also be contacting their elected leaders -- because everyone lives in a state where powerful lobbyists are trying to preserve and expand the power of a few massive companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Progressive States Network recent covered this topic.

Two weeks ago, I wrote the following op-ed for The Wilson Times...

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Posted April 22, 2011 by christopher

Five years ago, Michigan decided to deregulate cable companies, preempting local authority to negotiate with cable companies in favor of a more relaxed statewide franchise. Many states have gone down this path in hopes of spurring competition and lowering the prices for service. All have seen very minimal gains (mostly from AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS, deployments that have gone forward as well in states that did not preempt local authority). None have seen real decreases in prices.

Michigan also created greater hurdles for the public sector (click on Michigan on our Community Broadband Preemption Map for an explanation of the legislation). In short, Michigan made a big bet that the private sector would build the networks they need to remain competitive. The results are in.

"No matter how you look at it, 70 percent of Michigan's communities still have only one cable provider four years after deregulation," said Deborah Guthrie, President of MI-NATOA, in a statement. "Even in the places where two providers offer service, if serious competition existed, prices wouldn't run up several times faster than inflation and customer service wouldn't be so poor."

Michigan's National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Administrators joined with the Michigan Alliance for Community Media (neither of which seems to have much a web presence) to note that Comcast's prices for lifeline basic have gone up 18% with other services increasing 3x the rate of inflation. Most communities remain stuck with Comcast or Charter solely, two of the most hated corporations in America.

As we educate legislators around the country, we need to keep the lessons from Michigan in mind. Legislators often know very little about telecom issues and are bombarded by lobbyist talking points - but examples like Michigan clearly show what happen when the telco and cableco lobbyists make policy.

And so long as we are discussing Michigan, it is worth noting that the City of Detroit is pushing to have Michigan's statewide franchise law invalidated. Below you'll see the pdf of Detroit's recent...

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Posted April 13, 2011 by christopher

South Carolina has been quietly debating a bill to further erode the right of communities to decide locally whether they want to build broadband networks. South Carolina already restricts the rights of communities to build these networks but HB 3508 / SB 483 will effectively make any local government ownership of telecommunications facilities impossible.

Unsurprisingly, this bill is opposed by the South Carolina Association of Counties and the Municipal Association of South Carolina. But the lead opposition to it has come from Bill Clark, an Administrator from rural Orangeburg County. On the other side is AT&T, the nation's 10th largest company.

The bill is blatantly protectionist for AT&T interests, throwing South Carolina's communities under the bus. But as usual, these decisions about a "level playing field" are made by legislators solely "educated" by big telco lobbyists and who are dependent on companies like AT&T for campaign funds. Even if AT&T's campaign cash were not involved, their lobbyists talk to these legislators every day whereas local communities and advocates for broadband subscribers simply cannot match that influence.

We see the same unlevel playing field, tilted toward massive companies like AT&T, in legislatures as we do locally when communities compete against big incumbents with their own networks. Despite having almost all the advantages, they use their tremendous power and create even more by pushing laws to effectively strip communities of the sole tool they possess to ensure the digital economy does not pass them by.

South Carolina's access to broadband is quite poor -- 8th worst in the nation in access to the the kinds of connections that allow one to take advantage of the full Internet according to a recent FCC report [pdf].

A letter from Bill Clark to Senators notes that their county has an industrial park with over 1 million sq ft of developed facilities housing two Fortune 500 companies that private companies have not served [pdf].

This comes as no surprise given the facts:

  • South Carolina is served predominately by massive private providers...
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Posted March 25, 2011 by christopher

Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOm has explained the entire reason Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink are trying to prohibit communities from building their own networks: North Carolina has some of the worst broadband in America! TWC and CenturyLink know how uncompetitive their services are! The story covers a new broadband map launched by bandwidth.com.

nc-bbchart.png

Look at these numbers!!

North Carolina has SEVEN of the worst 10 places to get broadband in the US. And these are the places in North Carolina that actually have broadband! Imagine how bad it is in the rural areas. Stunning to see the North Carolina Legislators conspiring to limit the ability of communities to invest in themselves when the private sector has no interest in next-generation networks, choosing instead to reap profits off of systems that barely meet the FCC's definition of broadband.

With such terribly uncompetitive services, of course Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink have run to the Legislature to ban the community networks that have stepped in to prevent lazy incumbents from killing the future of entire communities in the digital age. As we have been detailing (most recently here), the public is overwhelmingly opposed to Raleigh telling communities they cannot build the networks TWC and CenturyLink will not.

What more proof is necessary that the Legislators pushing H129 in North Carolina have sold out the citizens for a few massive companies that just happen to make large donations to their campaigns.

We previously charted the superiority of the community fiber networks in North Carolina, but this chart shows just how much the existing cable and DSL companies have left North Carolina communities behind.

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