Tag: "competition"

Posted November 17, 2010 by christopher

Today, we at MuniNetworks.org have released the first of a series of regional broadband comparisons examining the benefits of community networks. We decided to start with the Minneapolis / St Paul area, where we live and work. Read the Analysis [pdf]
Read the Press Release
Our analysis, "Twin Cities Broadband No Match For Community Network," compares the available broadband plans in Minneapolis and St. Paul to small town Monticello, located 45 miles NW of Minneapolis. Monticello, as we have frequently discussed, has built a publicly owned FTTH network (which then pushed its telco incumbent to invest in much faster connections as well). Despite Comcast's much touted DOCSIS 3 upgrades and Qwest's "Heavy Duty" DSL, neither comes close to the value of Monticello's services. These companies have continued to use last-generation DSL and cable technologies with significant downfalls, including much slower upstream speeds than downstream -- a limitation particularly damaging to small businesses and people attempting to work from home. Qwest advertises "fiber-optic fast" but its speeds come nowhere near Monticello's actual fiber-optic network. Further, Qwest's actual speeds are often far below their claims due to limitations with DSL technologies. Comcast offers faster speeds than Qwest, even advertising a 50 Mbps downstream speed that appears to rival Monticello's until you consider the Comcast cable architecture rarely delivers promised speeds because entire neighborhoods have to share bandwidth. Both providers struggle to deliver fast upstream speeds, whereas Monticello's network services all include upstream speeds just as fast as the downstream speeds. When it comes to prices, Monticello's are lower, despite the faster speeds they offer. Minneapolis residents have access to a low-cost Wi-Fi network, but in that case, the low cost reflects the slower available speeds and significantly lower reliability. Our analysis also includes Clear, a new Wi-Max provider, to discredit any claims that 4G wireless will somehow change the fundamental dynamic at work in the Twin Cities: Comcast and Qwest are content to deliver 2nd rate speeds at inflated prices. Wireless provider have...

Read more
Posted November 5, 2010 by christopher

In North Carolina, Salisbury has launched the state's second FTTH network, as communities continue to build the next-generation broadband infrastructure in which their massive incumbent providers decline to invest. We have offered in-depth coverage of Fibrant as they prepared to launch the new services. As of Tuesday, Nov 2, the network softly launched, which is to say they will slowly ramp up the number of paying customers as they gain experience and confidence. Stop the Cap! also covered the launch with extensive coverage as well as both praise and criticism for Fibrant's approach.

Some of the 115 early, free testers of Fibrant became the first paying customers Monday, with the utility scheduling installations for 200 other residents on a waiting list.

A local group has posted a number of videos about Fibrant, including a recent one that compares Fibrant's speeds to the pathetic offering of Time Warner Cable (see bottom of this post). In a totally unrelated development (or so Time Warner Cable would have us believe), TWC has rapidly increased its broadband tiers in the region. In this, TWC has joined Comcast in downplaying the role competition has in forcing incumbent investment. If you believe TWC, competition plays no role in their investment decisions, a fascinating approach to succeeding in an area they constantly claim is a very competitive market.

The cable giant’s new download speed can reach 50 megabits per second, twice as fast as Fibrant’s 25 Mbps. However Time Warner’s fastest upload speed — 5 Mbps — is still slower than Fibrant’s best upload speed of 25 Mbps and standard upload speed of 15 Mbps. Time Warner is more expensive.

Of course, as the video shows, TWC's actual broadband differs significantly from its advertised speeds. I would like to see a speedtest comparing the new TWC offerings -- though I wonder if they have instituted the...

Read more
Posted November 4, 2010 by christopher

Two cities, located on opposite coasts, have recently cried out for cable competition in their communities.

A few weeks ago, SunBreak ran a story under "Why Comcast Needs Competition...Badly." The post describes a significant outage in Seattle and Comcast's slow response to fix the problem.

You may think to yourself, Hey, come on, it's 90 minutes out of your day. But what I think about is how much time cumulatively was wasted in Seattle this morning, much of it simply because people would not have been sure where the problem was. An early, all-hands-on-deck announcement from Comcast would have been a big help. It seems slightly insane that a company that provides internet service isn't very good at using the internet.

The folks at Sunbreak apparently were not aware that the City is still slowly considering building a network to ensure everyone in the community has affordable high speed broadband access (which would likely be far more reliable than Comcast's network). After I noted this in the comments, they reprinted one of my posts about Seattle's deliberations.

Meanwhile, the folks in Scranton, Pennsylvania, (immortalized in the television show The Office) have been asking when they get the faster broadband now available in Philly, Pittsburgh, and parts of the Lehigh Valley. The answer came bluntly from Stop the Cap: Sorry Scranton, You’re Stuck With Comcast Cable… Indefinitely

An article from the Times Tribune explains why the private sector fails to provide competition:

"Offering out television service is expensive, too expensive for most smaller telephone companies," said telecom industry analyst Jeff Kagan. "So many are reselling satellite service to keep customers who want one bundle and one bill."

Because of that, satellite television providers, who were never a formidable challenge to conventional cable...

Read more
Posted November 3, 2010 by christopher

Wilson's Greenlight community fiber network is ahead of schedule. They continue to operate ahead of the business plan, despite a few difficulties that offer lessons to up and coming community networks.

We recently covered the fallout from their application to the broadband stimulus program where they had to disclose network information to their competitors.

Fortunately, that was not the only news last month from North Carolina's first all-fiber citywide network. They also surpassed 5000 subscribers and remain 6-9 months ahead of their business plan in take rate, according to the Wilson Times.

The number of customers is expected to reach 5,300 by the end of the fiscal year if the current trend continues, according to Dathan Shows, assistant city manager for Broadband and Technical Services. The city's current business plan calls for Greenlight to reach 5,000 customers by the end of the third full year of operation, which will be June 2011.

This is not the first time the network has exceeded projections; the network was built faster than expected and quickly jumped out ahead of take rate expectations.

One of the reasons Greenlight may be growing is its attention to local needs, as illustrated by the network finding a way to televise local football matches that otherwise would not have been available.

However, the Wilson Times story goes into much greater detail regarding the competition from Time Warner Cable. As we regularly see, Time Warner Cable is engaging in what appears to be predatory pricing to retain customers and starve Greenlight of new subscribers.

A lesson to other community networks, Wilson is documenting the deals TWC uses to keep subscribers. All communities should keep these records.

"Time Warner Cable's market tactics include anti-competitive pricing that interferes with Wilson's ability to secure customers through normal marketing," the application [for broadband stimulus] states. "TWC offers below-market rates to customers seeking to switch to Greenlight, locking them...

Read more
Posted October 18, 2010 by christopher

As Salisbury prepares to officially launch its publicly owned FTTH network offering triple-play services, it offers lessons for other communities that want to follow in its footsteps. As we wrote a month ago, Fibrant has candidly admitted it cannot win a price war with incumbents. Companies like Time Warner Cable have a tremendous scale advantage, which allows them to price below cost in Salisbury because the large profits from all the non-competitive markets nearby can subsidize temporary losses.

On October 10, the Salisbury Post ran a story "Fibrant can't match cable company specials." Alternative possible titles for the article could have been "Cable Co cuts prices to drive competition from market," or "Time Warner Cable admits customers pay different prices for same services." Interestingly, when Fibrant unveiled its pricing originally, the headline read "Fibrant reveals pricing" rather than "Fibrants offers speeds far faster than incumbents."

A lesson for community networks: do not expect the media to cover you fairly. The big companies have public affairs people with relationships with the press and they often buy a lot of local advertising. This is not to say all local media is bought off -- far from it -- but local media will have to be educated about the advantages of community networks.

Quick question: When you hear this quote, who do you first think of?

"We always work with customers to meet their needs and budget."

The cable company, right? Well, that is Time Warner Cable's claim in the above Salisbury Post article. Later in the article, a local business owner expressed a different sentiment: "Time Warner has the worst customer service I have ever dealt with."

The business owner goes on:

“Fibrant may have these same kind of issues, however I can actually go to the source to deal personally with someone who is vested in the community, not spend two hours on the phone and never solve the problem as I do with TWC,” he said.

“Even if pricing is higher, I would make the change. Price is important, but quality and service is tantamount.”

Speaking of the services...

...
Read more
Posted October 15, 2010 by christopher

In all the talk of the need for competition in broadband (or in the mobile space), there is remarkably little attention paid to the difficulties in actually creating competition. A common refrain from the self-interested industry titans (and their many paid flacks) is: "keep the government out of it and let the market decide."

Unfortunately, an unregulated market in telecom tends toward consolidation at best, monopolization at worse. Practicioners of Chicago economics may dispute this, but their theories occur in reality about as frequently as unicorn observations. In our regulatory environment, big incumbents have nearly all the advantages, allowing them to use their advantages of scale to maintain market power (most notably the ability to use cross-subsidization from non-competitive markets to maintain predatory pricing wherever they face even the threat of competition).

The de-regulatory approach of telecom policy over the past 10 or more years has resulted in far less competition among ISPs, something Earthlink hopes to change with a condition of the seeming inevitable NBC-Comcast merger. Requiring incumbents to share their lines with independent ISPs is one policy that would greatly increase competition - but the FCC has refused to even entertain the notion because big companies like AT&T and Comcast are too intimidating for the current Administration to confront.

In the Midwest, Windstream is cutting 146 jobs as part of its acquisition of Iowa Telecom. When these companies consolidate, they can cut jobs to lower their costs... but do subscribers ever see the savings? Not hardly. The result is less competition, which leads to higher prices. Consider that Comcast is the largest cable company, but they are known better for their poor record of customer service than low prices enabled by economies of scale.

We need broadband networks that are structurally accountable to the community, not private shareholders located far outside the community. The solution is not more private companies owning broadband infrastructure, but more private companies offering competing services over next-generation infrastructure that is community owned by coops, non-profits, or local governments.

Photo by...

Read more
Posted September 20, 2010 by christopher

Though this article may appear on first glance to be unrelated to broadband networks that put community needs first, Susan Crawford discusses the damaging effects of large scale companies like Comcast using market power to prevent competition. Scale is a very important part of any discussion about competition and broadband policy.

The Comcast/NBCU merger is aimed right at competition — avoiding any series of steps that might result in having dumb (but big) pipes serving the areas where Comcast now has dominion, and avoiding having Comcast’s pipe itself made dumb. If the merger goes through as Comcast proposes, the new NBCU will have the power in Comcast’s market areas (where it routinely has a 60 percent-plus share of local pay-TV customers) to raise other pay-TV providers’ (satellite, small cable, telephone, nascent online distributors) costs of doing business substantially.

This will mean, among other things, that competing aggregators of online video who don’t have reasonable access to crucial NBCU content (particularly sports) won’t have the power to constrain Comcast’s prices. Comcast ties access to online video content it controls to a cable subscription, and Time Warner does the same thing with its content. Many of the other pay TV providers will cooperate in this plan, which goes by the nickname “TV Everywhere”. This means that independent online aggregators don’t stand a chance — because consumers will be used to getting highly-branded online video for “free” as part of their bundle from their ISP, they won’t be willing to pay for an independent service.

For those who hope that technological change will unseat the market power of an even larger Comcast, think again:

Wireless? Well, the laws of physics tell us that wireless just doesn’t have the capacity of a fast wired cable connection. It will be a complementary service, not a substitute. Wireless is much less efficient in its use of spectrum and faces much harsher signal environments than signals do inside a controlled cable environment, and so the overall number of bits that can be conveyed in a given amount of time in a mobile environment is much lower than that possible in cable systems. We love mobility, but for watching live video, we’ll still prefer wired cable.

The giant cable operators generally do not compete with each other in major metropolitan areas in the US. (The one exception is New York City, which is so...

Read more
Posted September 5, 2010 by christopher

We previously covered Qwest's admitted attempts to drive out competition in Utah, but the story has continued with the personal story of another subscriber forced to leave his independent service provider for Qwest's services.

I called XMission and they said the speed problem was with Qwest. I called the Utah PSC and got an expert on the line who explained the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He confirmed Qwest being able to choke out other ISPs on substandard speed-limited connections, while Qwest offers much higher speeds than our earlier DSL if Qwest is ISP. We sadly switched, after calling XMission and commiserating with them about this monopolistic practice. The PSC acknowledged this seems anti-competitive, but it’s the law. Who made such a law for Utah!?

As we have said on numerous occasions, without community broadband networks, the future of broadband competition is quite bleak... at least in the U.S. Canada's telecom regulator has shown far more courage than our FCC.

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...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to competition