Tag: "competition"

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.

Posted March 24, 2011 by christopher

After a few days of false hope, the Time Warner Cable Monopoly Protection Act, H129, passed the House Finance Committee after being stripped of the amendments that would have allowed communities without access to real broadband to build their own networks.

As usual, Stop the Cap! offered the first recap of yesterday's fiasco.

Faison’s amendment was designed to open the door to someone — anyone – to bring broadband into rural areas of the state.  While Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink dawdle, large numbers of rural residents simply go without any broadband service.  Faison’s amendment was simple and reasonable — if at least half of an area is not served with 4/1Mbps service, provisions should be made to allow local communities, if they wish, to establish service themselves to get the job done.

Last week, when Faison’s amendment appeared to be headed for incorporation into the bill, industry lobbyists blanched and fled the room, raising vocal objections and demanding a week timeout before a vote was taken.  After winning their reprieve, they managed to get the Republican majority in line to throw rural North Carolina under the bus, uniformly opposing Faison’s amendment.  Two Democrats, one representing the city where Time Warner Cable’s regional division is headquartered, joined them.

In its place, they substituted a new amendment which defined broadband in the state of North Carolina as any service occasionally capable of achieving 768kbps downstream and 200kbps upstream.  That represents “well-served” among these industry-friendly legislators.

This came after an excellent exposé showing Representatives annoyed to be asked why they are pushing Time Warner Cable's bill (to the detriment of every other business and citizen of North Carolina) after taking large contributions from telecommunications companies.

This video is no longer available.

Others have taken notice as well - see this political cartoon...

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Posted March 23, 2011 by christopher

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release the Community Broadband Map and report, Publicly Owned Broadband Networks: Averting the Looming Broadband Monopoly. The map plots the 54 cities, big and small, that own citywide fiber networks and another 79 own citywide cable networks. Over 3 million people have access to telecommunications networks whose objective is to maximize value to the community in which they are located rather than to distant stockholders and corporate executives.

ILSR has been tracking telecommunications developments at the local and state level, working with citizens and businesses to preserve their self-determination in the digital age.

View the Community Broadband Map
Download the Report [pdf]
Read the Press Release [pdf]

Executive Summary

Quietly, virtually unreported on, a new player has emerged in the United States telecommunications sector: publicly owned networks. Today over 54 cities, big and small, own citywide fiber networks while another 79 own citywide cable networks. Over 3 million people have access to telecommunications networks whose objective is to maximize value to the community in which they are located rather than to distant stockholders and corporate executives.

Even as we grow ever more dependent on the Internet for an expanding part of our lives, our choices for gaining access at a reasonable price, for both consumers and producers, are dwindling. Tragically, the Federal Communications Commission has all but abdicated its role in protecting open and competitive access to the Internet.

Now more than ever we need to know about the potential of public ownership. To serve that need the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has published an interactive Community Broadband Map that gives the location and basic information for existing city owned cable and fiber networks.

The communities featured on the Community Broadband Map have overcome many formidable obstacles to build their networks.  The results are impressive: millions of dollars of community savings; some of the best broadband networks in the country offering a real choice to residents...

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Posted March 22, 2011 by christopher

On Wednesday morning, March 22, the House Finance Committee will again consider H 129, a bill from Time Warner Cable to make it all but impossible for communities to build their own broadband networks. But now, as noted by Craig Settles, the momentum is shifting.

Last week, advocates had a big victory when Representatives Faison and Warren successfully amended the bill (each with his own amendment) to make it less deleterious to communities. Unlike the sham voice vote in the Public Utility Committee, Chairman Setzer of the Finance Committee had a recorded vote, allowing citizens to hold their representatives accountable.

After these amendments passed, the TWC lobbyist signaled for an aide. Shortly thereafter, the committee decided to table the matter until this week -- when TWC will undoubtedly try to remove or nullify those amendments.

In the meantime, AT&T has announced bandwidth caps, yet another reason the state is foolish to pin its broadband future on cable and DSL companies.

Compare AT&T's movement to less-broadband with Wilson Greenlight's recent dramatic price decreases in its ridiculously fast broadband network, causing at least one couple to move there! Greenlight is owned and operated by the public power company owned by the city.

Greenlight has signed up its first residential customers with the highest Internet speed available in Wilson.

Vince and Linda Worthington, former Johnston County residents, moved to Wilson after finding out that they could have access to 40 Megabits per second Internet speeds at a lower cost than what they were previously paying.

"We always wanted the 100Mbps service," she said. "When the price came down, we jumped on it." Greenlight, the city of Wilson's fiber-optic...

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