Tag: "competition"

Posted August 31, 2010 by christopher

Last year, when the Berkman Study (pdf) by Harvard (commissioned by the FCC) revealed the secret behind impressive broadband gains in nearly every country over the past decade, we hoped the FCC would learn something from it. Maybe it did, and maybe it didn't -- what is clear is that it did not have the courage to embrace pro-competition policies.

Canada's telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has shown more courage in confronting powerful interests that want to monopolize the future of communications.

They have decided to require the big telecom carriers share their network with independent ISPs in an open access type arrangement.

Until this decision, the established telecom companies could "throttle" third-party services, by slowing them down or limiting downloads.

In Canada, these huge companies also claim that such regulations will decrease their investment in next-generation networks, likely a hollow threat. Regardless, it is a strong argument for public ownership of essential infrastructure. How many communities should be denied next-generation communications because some massively profitable global company is having a snit with the regulator?

Far better for communities to be self-determined, by building their own networks. When networks are run as infrastructure, they are open to independent service providers, just as the roads are open to shipping companies on equal terms.

Canada's regulator has made a difficult decision - but as Karl Bode reminds us, let's wait to see if they actually enforce it.

Posted August 9, 2010 by christopher

A few thoughts on the Google-Verizon talks and behind closed doors FCC stakeholder meetings with industry...

First, neither the FCC nor Google is likely to defend the interests of the vast majority of us and the communities in which we live. Companies like Verizon don't dump millions in lobbyists and lawyers on a lark - they do it because that level of spending gets them access and action. Google, its don't-be-evil mantra notwithstanding, remains a company that looks out for its interests first.

And Google's interests may well be ensuring that its content is always in the "fast lane" despite their historic approach of pushing for an open internet where no business can simply pay to get get a higher level of service from an ISP.

This is not an "abandon all hope" post about network neutrality. The FCC has substantially changed course on this issue many times (largely due to massive public pressure - thank you to Free Press for organizing so many folks), so I still have hopes that it will enact regulations to preserve the open internet.

However, these regulations are certainly not the best approach. It is a messy approach to solving a problem that fundamentally comes down to the fact that network owners operate essential infrastructure in the private interest rather than the public interest.

We don't have to worry that national bakeries are going to be prioritized over local bakeries in access to the roads they need to make their deliveries. UPS, FedEx, and the US Post Office do not have to engage in separate agreements in every community over who gets to use the roads and what speeds they can travel on them. When it comes to roads, the rules apply to all like vehicles equally (which is to say that all big trucks are treated like big trucks and passenger cars are treated like passenger cars).

If I lived in Chattanooga, Monticello, Lafayette, Brigham City, Bristol (TN or VA), Wilson, perhaps soon Opelika, or dozens of other communities with publicly owned broadband networks, I would be watching this ongoing network neutrality fight with a rather bemused expression because my network is democratically accountable to the community and that offers far greater accountability than anything that will...

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Posted July 23, 2010 by christopher

A Qwest sales person admits on tape that Qwest is trying to eliminate competition by purging the network of independent ISPs. Listen to the conversation here.

Customer: "Qwest is trying to eliminate competition?"

Customer Service Rep: "In a way."

Undoubtedly, Qwest will (if it has not already) disavow this quote and suggest the CSR just didn't know what she was talking about. But they are clearly trying to remove competition - something we have witnessed in the Twin Cities of Minnesota as the good ISPs (for instance, IP House) are slowly strangled because they are not permitted resell the faster circuits. Additionally, I believe allegations that Qwest deliberately allows more congestion on lines they resell than lines where they are the sole retailer.

Our office uses IP House and we have never had anything but good experiences with them. But we need a faster services, so we can choose between slightly faster options with Qwest or much faster options with Comcast. We have no choice but to take service from a crappy massive company if we want to maintain productivity.

Some would claim that we have additional choices because USIW runs a Wi-Fi network in Minneapolis (subsidized by the City) but the network's speeds cannot compare to Comcast and it is far less reliable than the wired network alternatives (though Qwest's reliability in some areas may actually be worse).

I found this story via the Free UTOPIA blog but it links to the original source on Xmission - a UTOPIA service provider and DSL resellter.

Posted July 21, 2010 by christopher

Last month, Mark Sullivan wrote a column expounding on the obvious: deregulation of broadband service providers has failed to produce the promised competition, Americans pay more for less than peers in other countries, and this is an area where smart government policy would benefit everyone.

When it comes to broadband, I’m a socialist. Why? Because broadband service in the United States is currently provided by a cableco/telco duopoly, and, as such, is slower and more expensive than in most of the developed world, studies show. Because I don't believe the FCC can fix that lack of competition within the current regulatory framework, despite the ambitious goals set forth in its National Broadband Plan. Because a reasonably-priced alternative to cable or telco broadband might be just the thing to bring competition to the industry and spur U.S. broadband cost and quality to world-class levels. Because our connectedness increasingly dictates our our economic standing in the world: Broadband is as important to us as the interstate highway system--a public works project--was to Eisenhower-era America.

Good column.

Notice that the commenters at the bottom pile on against the idea - though they clearly have little idea what they are talking about. There has been no discussion of the government taking over networks owned by the private sector and there is little reason to believe local government would be more likely to violate privacy than a company motivated solely by profits ... in fact, I would argue the private sector is considerably more likely to violate privacy than local governments.

As for Brett Glass, his comments long ago proved that he lives in a fantasy world. In his small town, there are 9 broadband competitors! Well, at least we know where the competition is - it surely is not present in my community.

Posted July 16, 2010 by christopher

A recent article discussing testimony from the President of the industry trade group, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) reminded me once again that Congress and the FCC have utterly given up on true broadband competition for millions of of Americans.

As with the broadband stimulus funds being handed out by the Commerce Department, NCTA is concerned that the USF money not go to overbuild its members. "It would be a poor use of scarce government resources to subsidize a broadband competitor in communities--including many small, rural communities -where cable operators have invested risk capital to deploy broadband services," McSlarrow says.

This seems like a common sense argument. Why would we want to subsidize broadband for those who already have a single option (underserved) when others have no choice at all (unserved)? Unfortunately, building networks to solve the problem of the unserved is all but impossible without simultaneously serving some who are underserved. This is because the unserved are often in areas so remote and expensive to serve, there is no sustainable business model to serve only them.

So the idea that we could somehow only target the unserved with networks is extremely suspect. Unless we want to endlessly subsidize networks in these areas (which companies like Qwest emphatically want because they would likely collect those subsides endlessly), we need to encourage sustainable networks that reach across those already served, underserved, and unserved.

He added that it also might discourage the incumbent from continuing to risk that capital. "Government subsidies for one competitor in markets already served by broadband also might discourage the existing provider from making continued investments in its network facilities.

I certainly respect this argument up to a point. But when it comes to essential infrastructure, we know that most existing providers (particularly absentee-owned massive companies) are delaying investments in network facilities anyway because the lack of true competition allows them to delay making the investments more common in our international peers (where true competition exists, often as a result of smarter government policies than we can muster here). The principle of self-...

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Posted June 28, 2010 by christopher

In an editorial about the LUS Fiber lawsuit against NCTC, the local Lafayette paper made the following observation:

We've had our own reservations about LUS Fiber to the Home, based on concerns about a government enterprise encroaching on a market in which private-sector entities were already providing service. But LUS has, from all available evidence, enhanced the competition in the local marketplace in terms of both price and technology.

Those who claim community broadband networks decrease competition and incumbent investment do so against all empirical evidence.

Posted June 21, 2010 by christopher

Powell, a small community in Wyoming, has bought its own network from the investors who financed it [Powell Tribune], eighteen years ahead of schedule. For a short history of Powellink, see Breaking the Broadband Monopoly.

The decision, unanimously agreed to by City Council, came from the realization that the City's reserves were earning very little interest while they were paying a higher interest rates to those who financed the network. So they decided to invest in themselves.

Under the new agreement, Powellink will become a fifth enterprise for the city, joining the electric, water, waste water and sanitation enterprises. The other four enterprises will loan Powellink the $6.5 million, and payments from service providers using Powellink — such as TCT — will go back to the enterprises to pay off the loan.

City Administrator Zane Logan had previously told me that he thought Powellink was a much better approach to attracting jobs to the area than the approach frequently used by communities - tax breaks to companies in return for creating jobs. In the Powell Tribune article, he explained how this approach allows Powell to be more self-reliant.

Logan said he believes the new agreement will help Powell during a difficult economic climate. The state cut its funding of cities and towns this year, and sales tax revenues are down.

“We’re trying to help ourselves and not be dependent on the state,” he said. “The Legislature is saying cities need to take care of themselves, and I like to think that Powell is doing that.”

Local cooperative TCT had the right to another four years of exclusive operation as the sole service provider but gave that up, meaning the network will now be open access. In return, TCT does not have to guarantee revenue to the City (as it agreed to do in each year it was an exclusive service provider).

These changes come about as Cablevision bought Bresnan, the cable incumbent that had radically lowered rates to compete with Powellink. It will be interesting to see how Cablevision continues or changes company policy in Powell.

Photo courtesy of Ernie Bray...

Posted June 15, 2010 by christopher

Lafayette Utilities System has filed a complaint with the FCC following what seems to be a rather arbitrary decision by the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to deny Lafayette as a member. This is a crucial issue for communities that want to build fiber-optic networks, so we will dig in and offer an in-depth explanation.

It all starts with the business model. Fiber-optic networks are fantastically expensive and are expected to be financed entirely with revenues from subscribers. Though communities typically want fiber-optic networks for the broadband capacity, they find themselves having to offer cable television services also to ensure they will attract enough subscribers to make the debt payments on the network.

Unfortunately, cable television services are the most difficult and expensive part of the triple-play (broadband, telephone, cable tv). A community network has to sign deals with different content providers in order to put together its channel lineup. Even a community network with 100,000 subscribers has little power over the companies with channels like ESPN, the Disney Channel, Discovery, MTV, Food Network, and others. Thus, it will have to pay more for those channels than massive networks like Comcast that have many millions of subscribers and therefore a stronger negotiating position. LUS has noted that video programming is the "largest single on-going cost" it incurs in the network.

Enter the NCTC. By forming a cooperative, many small providers (public and private) were able to gain negotiating power over content owners and even hardware manufacturers to cut costs to members by buying in bulk. In recent years, the size of NCTC rivaled that of major national providers like Charter and Cox cable. All three parties stood to gain by bringing Cox and Charter into NCTC in 2009. The addition grew NCTC significantly -- only Comcast has more subscribers currently.

The advantages of NCTC are quite significant and worth reiterating because it is a reminder of the ways in which massive private companies have the playing field tilted in their direction. Without access to NCTC, communities have to pay more for the same content and equipment (NCTC savings may start at 15%-20%. From the complaint:

NCTC market power also enables it to obtain much bigger, better, more flexible, and less costly packages, than any individual small cable...

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Posted June 4, 2010 by christopher

It's fast and it's symmetrical. Chattanooga, the nation's largest muni FTTH network will be offering the fastest residential package in the country by the end of the month: 150 Mbps.

Chattanooga's Electric Power Board (EPB) is ahead of schedule in the fiber rollout, planning to offer triple-play services to all 145,000 residential customers in its electrical territory by the end of the year. Dave Flessner at the Chattanooga Times Free Press covered this story and the paper posted a short audio clip of EPB President Harold DePriest at the press conference.

EPBFi is up to almost 10,000 customers, a number expected to double by the end of the year.

Comcast is responding to this aggressive muni network:

Comcast Corp. remains Chattanooga's biggest video provider and has also increased the speed of its Internet offerings and the number of high-definition television channels and movies it provides for its subscribers.

Tennessee, home to the famous Tennessee Valley Authority that brought the electrical grid the mountains long neglected by the private sector, continues to value public ownership of infrastructure:

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey likened EPB's broadband expansions to what the Tennessee Valley Authority brought to the region during the Great Depression.

"What is happening today is equivalent to electricity coming to the valley in the 1930s," he said.

I'm guessing this 150Mbps plan is the first of more impressive announcements to come out of Chattanooga as they take advantage of this key community asset. The 150 Mbps press release is available here.

The article also noted a major economic development win in Bristol Tennessee - a $20 million newspaper printing plant that would not have been possible without their muni network. This testimonial is located toward the bottom of the page.

Hyatt [company VP] acknowledged that the high-speed data transfer and reliable fiber optics were the main reasons for locating the facility in the park. This service is essential as companies move deeper into the information age, especially with...

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Posted May 13, 2010 by christopher

UTOPIA, the open access FTTH network in several cities of Utah, has been seeking some $20 million to continue adding new subscribers to the network. The cities involved seem to be on board, committing to the funding following recent successes.

Mayor Mike Winder, of West Valley City - one of the UTOPIA cities, makes the case for digging deeper to lend money to the network:

UTOPIA's good news is that since June 2008, it's added over 3,500 new customers and reached about 10,000 subscribers, the number of service providers on the network has grown from three to 12, and national voices — from Google to the New York Times — are trumpeting the virtues of an open-fiber network.

The plain and simple fact is that these towns have already committed to the project; they are vested in its success. Now under better management, perhaps his whole town will have access to fastest speeds available in the country:

Only 23 percent of my city has UTOPIA fiber, and there are homes and businesses that want access to the speed of light. After weighing the issue for months, I've concluded that we need to bring UTOPIA fiber to the rest of West Valley City, and just as importantly, to grow UTOPIA to profitability. I will be encouraging my council and my colleagues in UTOPIA cities around the state to join me in charging forward.

A press release from UTOPIA announces ambitious plans:

The new plan anticipates adding about 20,000 more customers over the next several years. “We’ve known for a long time that UTOPIA needs a much larger customer base, and a good mix of business and residential customers, to make the books balance,” says Murray Mayor Dan Snarr. “Our cities are already obligated to the network for years to come, so we need to grow to critical mass rapidly, based on a plan to ensure long-term financial health.”

And Orem's mayor reiterated UTOPIA's philosophy (noting that the NY Times have called for open access networks):

Governments build roads, and allow FedEx and UPS to compete on...

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