Tag: "competition"

Posted March 1, 2011 by christopher

As the North Carolina Legislature considers HB129 and S87 to greatly limit community broadband networks (we analyzed the bill here), it is worth taking a step back to understand why companies like Time Warner Cable provide broadband that is unreliable and comparatively both slow and costly without having other companies come in to offer a better product. The problem is basic economics: the problem of natural monopoly.

Ever wonder why you generally don't have a choice between two major operators like Comcast and Time Warner Cable? They have carved up the market due to the costs and difficulty of directly competing with one another.

Some folks have a choice of cable companies -- RCN and Knology, for instance, have been successful overbuilders in a few regions (though they went through troubles far worse than most public networks that have been termed "failures").

But for the most part, overbuilding an incumbent cable company is all but impossible -- especially for a private sector company looking for a solid return on investment inside a few years. In the face of a new cable entrant, massive companies like TWC start lowering prices, offering cash or other enticements, and lock both residents and businesses into contracts to deny the entrant any subscribers.

Companies like TWC can do this because they have lower costs (through volume discounts for gear, content, and even marketing synergies as well as because they long ago amortized the network construction costs) and can take losses in one community that are cross-subsidized by profits from non-competitive areas. New entrants, both private and public, have higher costs as well as a learning curve.

This is why we have so little broadband competition. Without competition, the few providers we have invest less and charge more, which is other countries are rapidly surpassing us (not because we have large rural areas, nonetheless a popular straw man).

In the face of this reality, communities have built their own networks for a variety of benefits, including creating competition or changing the dynamic of a duopolistic "market." Massive incumbent providers responded by claiming competition from communities was unfair and using their lobbying power to...

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Posted March 1, 2011 by christopher

A coalition of private companies, including Alcatel-Lucent, American Public Power Association, Atlantic-Engineering, the Fiber to the Home Council, Google, Intel, OnTrac, Telecommunications Industry Association, and Utilities Telecom Council, have released a letter opposing HB129/S87 in North Carolina. The bill would create considerable barriers to community broadband networks and public-private partnerships, effectively outlawing both given the restrictive language. We examined this bill here>. This the text of the letter they released:

February 25, 2011
via email

Representative Thom Tillis
Speaker of the House
Room 2304
16 West Jones Street
Raleigh, NC 27601-1096

Senator Phil Berger
Senate President Pro Tempore
Room 2008
16 W. Jones Street Raleigh, NC 27601-2808

Dear Representative Tillis and Senator Berger:

We, the undersigned private-sector companies and trade associations, urge you to oppose H129/S87 (Level Playing Field/Local Competition bill) because it will harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper work force development and diminish the quality of life in North Carolina. In particular, this bill will hurt the private sector in several ways: by curtailing public-private partnerships, stifling private companies that sell equipment and services to public broadband providers, and impairing educational and occupational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.

The United States continues to suffer through one of the most serious economic crises in decades. The private sector alone cannot lift the United States out of this crisis. As a result, federal and state efforts are taking place across the Nation to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and jobs, especially in economically distressed areas. North Carolina has been the beneficiary of these efforts, as MCNC, with its $148 million award, is now building a state-of-the-art fiber optic network that will cross 106 counties and make available low-cost, internet connections to numerous high-cost, low-density, communities that the state’s private providers have...

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Posted February 22, 2011 by christopher

As part of the effort to stop the bill that will codify Time Warner Cable's monopoly in North Carolina, we published a press release today (previous coverage of the bill here):

While the rest of the world is working to become more innovative and competitive, the North Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that will stifle innovation, hurt job creation and slow economic development. The Bill, H129/S87 will effectively prevent any community from building a broadband network and impose onerous restrictions on existing networks, including Wilson’s Greenlight and Salisbury’s Fibrant. Greenlight and Fibrant are the most technologically advanced citywide networks in the state, comparative to the best available in the U.S. and international peers, according to a study released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) in November, 2010.

This bill will protect the aging networks of incumbent cable companies—furthering their effective monopolies—that have refused to invest in newer, faster technologies.

“This bill is a job and competitiveness killer. I don’t know why North Carolina wants to protect old technology, but if they want to get on the information super highway in a horse and buggy—the world is going to pass them by,” said Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative.

The bill says it is an act to “protect jobs,” a claim that puzzles Mitchell. “Community owned networks create jobs both directly and indirectly – and there is no evidence they have resulted in the elimination of any jobs.”

You can now Sign a petition showing your support for community networks in North Carolina - please make sure this link circulates among any contacts you have in NC!

Posted February 17, 2011 by christopher

As we predicted, Time Warner Cable is pushing a new bill in North Carolina to limit competition and local authority to build broadband networks (Save NC Broadband is alive again). H129 purports to be An Act to Protect Jobs and Investment By Regulating Local Government Competition with Private Business - [download a PDF of the bill as introduced].

This bill is another example of state legislators refusing to allow communities to make their own decisions -- imposing a one-size-fits-all policy on communities ranging from the metro area of Charlotte to small communities on the coast and in the mountains. Many of the provisions in this bill apply tough constraints on the public sector that are not applied to incumbent providers, but this analysis focuses only on a few.

Let's start with the title:

An Act to Protect Jobs and Investment by Regulating Local Government Competition with Private Business

There is no support anywhere in this bill to explain what the impact of community networks is on jobs. Nothing whatsoever. There is a claim that "the communications industry is an industry of economic growth and job creation," but ignores the modern reality that that the communications industry goes far beyond the private sector. In fact, the recent history of massive telecommunications providers is one of consolidation and layoffs. It is the small community owned networks that create jobs; larger firms are more likely to offshore or simply cut jobs.

Certainly all businesses depend on communications to succeed. Unfortunately, they are often limited to very few choices because the of the problem of natural monopoly. This is why many communities have stepped up, including three in North Carolina (two of whom offer the offer the most advanced services in the...

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Posted February 9, 2011 by christopher

In South Carolina (the state TWC Forgot), AT&T is pushing harsher restrictions on any publicly owned broadband system in an attempt to derail one or more broadband stimulus projects. South Carolina already greatly restricts community broadband networks, likely one of the reasons no incumbent there bothers to upgrade in a similar time frame as the rest of the country.

This should be seen a significant overreach -- AT&T is trying to shut down County efforts to improve middle mile access -- whereas most preemption tends to heavily restrict community last-mile networks. This is a whole new world of anti-competitive policy to favor AT&T (not dissimilar from what AT&T wants to do in Wisconsin and Fairpoint did in Maine).

The bills would force Oconee County to follow guidelines as a broadband service provider that would likely cripple the county’s current three-year project to construct 245 miles of broadband cable, county administrator Scott Moulder said.

...

Oconee County’s goal is to be a so-called “middle mile” provider, Moulder said, essentially providing a network that would allow private broadband providers to extend their service into areas they aren’t serving. In most cases, those are areas where the private providers have found it is not financially feasible to install their own infrastructure.

AT&T, Moulder said, has been asked to be a partner in the project as a retailer, but the company’s current actions are a rebuff.

The Oconee project is meant to attract additional independent service providers to invest in projects, not the County itself. But that hardly matters to AT&T, which wants to preserve the present lack of competition in order to maximize their gains at the public expense.

The Bill, S 483 is viewable here and contains the same old tired arguments claiming...

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Posted February 2, 2011 by christopher

Durham's Herald Sun published our op-ed about community broadband networks in North Carolina. Reposted here:

Who should decide the future of broadband access in towns across North Carolina? Citizens and businesses in towns across the state, or a handful of large cable and phone companies? The new General Assembly will almost certainly be asked to address that question.

Fed up with poor customer service, overpriced plans and unreliable broadband access, Wilson and Salisbury decided to build their own next-generation networks. Faced with the prospect of real competition in the telecom sector, phone and cable companies have aggressively lobbied the General Assembly to abolish the right of other cities to follow in Wilson and Salisbury's pioneering footsteps.

The decision by Wilson and Salisbury to build their own networks is reminiscent of the decision by many communities 100 years ago to build their own electrical grids when private electric companies refused to provide them inexpensive, reliable service.

An analysis by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (http://tiny.cc/MuniNetworks) compares the speed and price of broadband from incumbent providers in North Carolina to that offered by municipally owned Greenlight in Wilson and Fibrant in Salisbury.

Wilson and Salisbury offer much faster connections at similar price points, delivering more value for the dollar while keeping those dollars in the community. For instance, the introductory broadband tiers from Wilson (10 downstream/10 upstream Mbps) and Salisbury (15/15 Mbps) beat the fastest advertised tiers in Raleigh of AT&T (6/.5 Mbps) and TWC (10/.768 Mbps). And by building state-of-the-art fiber-optic networks, subscribers actually receive the speeds promised in advertisements. DSL and cable connections, for a variety of reasons, rarely achieve the speeds promised.

Curbing innovation

The Research Triangle is a hub of innovation but is stuck with last-century broadband delivered by telephone lines and cable connections. In the Triangle, as in most of the United States, broadband subscribers choose between slow DSL from the incumbent telephone...

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Posted January 22, 2011 by christopher

As previously noted on both Fiber Evolution and Joho the Blog, Brough Turner (creator of netBlazr) created a slide showing the state of broadband competition in one of our largest cities: Boston.

Commercial Broadband Competition

The building on the right has a bunch of carriers who are competing. But only Verizon serves the building on the left with dedicated access (a committed information rate as opposed to the standard "up to" connections most residents and many small businesses use).

Thanks to Brough for circulating the slide.

Posted January 21, 2011 by christopher

Dave Burstein of DSL Prime is interviewed on a recent episode of America's Report on TelecomTV.

This video is no longer available.

Posted January 16, 2011 by christopher

The Economist has again editorialized about US telecom policy, in this case specifically about network neutrality.

This debate is loudest in America, uncoincidentally the developed market with the least competitive market in internet access. Democrats, who are in favour of net-neutrality rules, insist regulation is needed to prevent network operators discriminating in favour of their own services. A cable-TV firm that sells both broadband internet access and television services over its cables might, for example, try to block internet-based video that competes with its own television packages. Republicans, meanwhile, worry that net neutrality will be used to justify a takeover of the internet by government bureaucrats, stifling innovation. (That the internet’s origins lie in a government-funded project is quietly passed over.)

They take a fairly middling approach, regarding the network neutrality rules as decent, arguing that some measure of discrimination should be allowed and could be beneficial (one wonders if they truly thought deeply about this: before YouTube, connections would have been optimized against streaming traffic and YouTube may never have succeeded).

In any event, they answer their own question: the real problem in the U.S. is lack of competition among Internet service providers.

These details are important, but the noise about them only makes the omission more startling: the failure in America to tackle the underlying lack of competition in the provision of internet access. In other rich countries it would not matter if some operators blocked some sites: consumers could switch to a rival provider. That is because the big telecoms firms with wires into people’s homes have to offer access to their networks on a wholesale basis, ensuring vigorous competition between dozens of providers, with lower prices and faster connections than are available in America. Getting America’s phone and cable companies to open up their networks to others would be a lot harder for politicians than prattling on about neutrality; but it would do far more to open up the net.

Unfortunately, they do not consider another remedy: local ownership that is accountable to the public. This approach can offer both competition (via open access) as well as ensuring general network management puts community needs...

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Posted January 6, 2011 by christopher

Frontier has been bitten by the same disadvantage many communities face when building their own networks -- little market power means having to overpay for everything. When Frontier bought millions of Verizon rural lines, it bought a few FiOS connections as well. But not enough to gain any bargaining power with channel owners. So Frontier had to raise the costs of its video services up for 46%. Lest anyone feel too sorry for Frontier, they are doing just fine. It is their customers who suffer. But it is a reminder that the issue of scale and market power are barriers to all competition, not just community networks. If we want to have real competition in this country, the Congress and the FCC need to stop ignoring the problems caused by massive players distorting the market. This unregulated market is an invitation for big players to join together and screw everyone else.

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