Tag: "competition"

Posted October 6, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

The Minnesota Independent took Pawlenty's Administration to task last week for its decision to give more money to the telecom company front group Connected Nation. To be clear, this is not the money for infrastructure (yet - time will tell how the state encourages the feds to allocate the grants). This was the mapping money.

Peter Fleck, of PF Hyper blog, put it well:

“My understanding is that we have allowed the companies that have not provided the needed broadband coverage in our state to steer the broadband mapping process itself because of a stated need for confidentiality. That need is questionable,” said Fleck.

“And it puts the state in a position where if the maps show there is no problem with broadband coverage, then we won’t need legislation, regulation, or any other policies and it creates the risk that the telecom industry can continue to provide inadequate coverage to underserved areas — usually areas of low-density and low-income. And because of the inadequacy of these maps, eventually we will have to undertake broadband mapping again at taxpayer expense. To me, this is an irresponsible use of public money.”

The story also quotes me and links back to our story on Connected Nation in Minnesota.

I want to note that states and federal agencies can demand more in terms of better maps and data transparency. It is somewhat disingenuous to lay the blame solely at the doorstep of this telecom-front organization when elected officials refuse to demand more from an industry that has long retained legions of lobbyists. Make no mistake, Connected Nation's conflict of interest is a serious problem, but we need our elected officials to stand up to the telecommunications companies and demand better mapping data. We had higher hopes from the NTIA, but clearly that was misplaced.

More recently, Sharon Schmickle of MinnPost wrote about plans for a publicly owned network in Cook County, Minnesota. It touches on the major issues that many communities face when deciding whether to build...

Read more
Posted October 2, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

At a general discussion yesterday at the NATOA National Conference down here in New Orleans, I was stunned to hear someone from the muni world accept the idea that some municipalities do not want to compete with the private sector. I say stunned, not because I'm surprised to hear that some towns do not want to provide telecommunications services in competition with the private sector, but because towns "compete" with the private sector in many ways that go unnoticed.

Police and education are two examples in which every community provides services in competition with the private sector (security guards and private schools). Most communities have libraries - taking sales away from hard-working bookstores. Some towns provide municipal golf courses or public swimming pools. There are many ways in which it is acceptable for the public sector to "compete" with the private sector.

The problem with accepting the blanket statement that the public should not compete with the private sector is that it 1) is factually inaccurate and 2) suggests that to provide telecommunications services would be a substantial deviation from the historic role for municipal and local governments.

The truth is that local governments have long stepped in, where necessary, to ensure the community has everything it needs to be successful. Interestingly, this has included both municipal liquor stores and lumber yards in many remote communities. Properly posed, the question is not whether communities should deviate from their historic role of avoiding competition with the private sector, but whether telecommunications falls into that area that communities have long elected to serve when a community need is unmet.

This is a question with which most communities will wrestle, but they should do so on honest terms. Though providing telecommunications services in some communities may be novel, they have long "competed" with the private sector in other generally accepted areas. Communities will come down on both sides of providing services and time will tell if they made the right decision for their community.

Posted August 14, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

FairPoint's lobbyists in Maine have gone on the offensive, arguing that another group attempting to get stimulus funds is competing unfairly. FairPoint, you may remember, has already accomplished the improbable: it took over the dilapidated networks in New England from Verizon and made them worse. The charge of unfair competition, even if it were true, would be silly because FairPoint has proven it cannot provide these important services.

Karl Bode put Fairpoint in its place:

Even if the company was competing directly with UMS, at least Maine residents could be certain the University will even exist a year from now. But as it stands, Fairpoint isn't competing with the University of Maine. They're competing with a public private partnership of which the University is only a member. Applications for Federal funds are open to public entities and private companies. Given recent history, giving taxpayer dollars to somebody other than the regional dysfunctional incumbent might not be the worst idea in the world.

Bangor Daily News argues that rural Maine cannot afford to fight over who will expand broadband access. Unfortunately, Bangor Daily News' why-can't-we-all-just-get-along approach ignores the very real damage Fairpoint has already done to the state. Their suggestion that these competing networks just "be merged" seems like a call for open access but ignores the need for Fairpoint to maximize profits (right after it gets out of bankruptcy) rather than invest in communities.

The larger point is ominous: the idea that large institutions should suffer with whatever crummy service Fairpoint provides (at the high prices they will provide it) in order that Fairpoint can expand its poor DSL service to rural areas, misses the important point that Fairpoint cannot and will not offer the services that Maine needs. As Mayor Joey Durel of Lafayette suggested, maybe Maine should just send its jobs down to Lafayette, where they are building the necessary infrastructure for the future.

...

Read more
Posted July 31, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a national broadband strategy. FCC invited comments and then invited replies to those comments in summer 2009. The Free Press Reply Comments deserve to be singled out for revealing some of the lies of large telecommunications companies like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Qwest, and others. It also describes many of the ways that these companies harm the communities that are dependent on them for essential services. I've highlighted some passages below that show the ways in which these companies put profit above all else. These companies claim that regulation discourages investment and deregulation (allowing a higher degree of concentration or larger monopolies) encourages increased investment in better networks - an incredibly self-serving claim that Free Press shows to be false on pages 13-29.

Competition -- meaningful and real competition -- and not regulation is the primary driver behind investment decisions. Where meaningful competition exists, incumbents are compelled to innovate and invest in order to maintain marketshare and future growth. Where competition is lacking -- such as it is in our broadband duopoly -- incumbents will delay investment, knowing full well they can pad their profits on the backs of captured customers who have no viable alternatives. (Page 14)

Regulations like open access and non-discrimination encourage competition and should be strengthened. Free Press offers an in-depth explanation of how Verizon has dumped millions of customers on other companies that clearly could not handle the burden.

Verizon began the purging of less lucrative areas with the sale of Verizon Hawaii to the Carlyle Group in 2005, a company that had no previous experience in operating telecommunications services. By Dec. 2008, the company, now called Hawaii Telecom, had lost 21% of customers and filed for bankruptcy. (Page 26)

Verizon then sold most of their New England lines to Fairpoint, which is currently heading for bankruptcy. Fairpoint's customers are not the only ones suffering - the independent companies that resell services over that infrastructure are also suffering because Fairpoint is utterly unable to meet its obligations.

Most recently, Verizon announced that it intends to sell-off mostly rural areas in...

Read more
Posted June 26, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Anyone who tells you that UTOPIA is a "success" or that it is a "failure" is probably minimizing important problems or victories for the network. The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, like so many other things in life, is a mixed bag.

For those new to UTOPIA, it is a large multi-community full fiber network that operates by only selling wholesale access to service providers. Due to a law designed to protect incumbent service providers under the guise of protecting taxpayers, UTOPIA cannot offer any services itself and is strictly open access.

For a variety of reasons - that have not and likely will not be repeated by other communities - the network has not yet met expectations. The costs have been greater than expected and the network does not yet cover its entire intended territory (some 16 communities and 140,000 people).

However, where it does operate, it is blazing fast. The service providers offer the fastest speeds at the lowest prices (see a service comparison). It has offered a tremendous competitive advantage to the businesses and communities in which it operates.

Last year, Lawrence Kingsley wrote "The Rebirth of UTOPIA" that explored where the network went wrong and how it has also succeeded. Perhaps most notably, he notes that the churn rate (people switching to other networks) is ridiculously low at .5% - a common trait to community owned networks.

Last month, Geoff Daily reported on how UTOPIA is "Transforming Failure Into Success." They have greatly improved their marketing practices - which has historically been a large barrier to success. This is an important lesson for all - even though there are very few competitors in the broadband market, they do fight fiercely for subscribers. Broadband is competitive like boxing, not like a marathon.

But the news coming out of Utah is not all cheery. Jesse, the resident UTOPIA expert, has recently explained some of the current financial problems and their origin.

Perhaps the most important lesson to take away from UTOPIA is that plans always go awry. I have yet to find a community that did not have unexpected problems along the way to building their networks. Communities that take...

Read more
Posted June 11, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Chattanooga, Tennessee is predicting it will offer FTTH in its entire service area by next year. The public power company has used fiber-optics in the past to manage its electrical operations and has been planning to offer a full FTTH network for awhile.

"There are two primary components to building this system. One component is taking longer than we thought and the other is happening much faster than we anticipated", said Harold DePriest, President and CEO. "The end result is that services will be available to the entire cities of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Red Bank by summer of 2010."

DePriest says once in place, EPB's fiber optic network will be the largest of its kind in the country.

However, Chattanooga has suffered the same problem that has plagued other publicly owned broadband projects around the country: incumbent telco and cableco lawyers. Comcast has sued Chattanooga in multiple courts in an attempt to limit competition (see here, here, here, and here for a few examples). As with these cases across the country (from Monticello, MN to Bristol, VA, to Lafayette, LA), the incumbents have lost the cases but successfully slowed the build-out, which hurts the community while padding company profits for an extra couple of years.

The network will offer symmetrical speeds of 10-50Mbps while keeping costs lower than the standard prices in the market.

Posted June 10, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Larry Press takes a rather quantitative approach to demonstrating that the deregulatory telecommunications policies of the past few decades have failed to produce the desired outcomes. We are currently at a key turning point in history: the policies we enact today will have repercussions throughout the entire decade. Fiber is replacing copper, the question is who will own it because owners make rules.

During the last 25 years, telecommunication has moved away from government–owned or regulated monopolies toward privatization with competition and oversight by independent regulatory agencies — PCR policies. We present data indicating that PCR has had little impact on the Internet during the last ten years in developed or developing nations, and discuss the reasons for this. We then describe several ways government can go beyond PCR, while balancing needs for next generation technology, decentralized infrastructure ownership, and immediate economic stimulus. We conclude that there is a need for alternatives to the expedient action of subsidizing the current Internet service providers with their demonstrated anti–competitive bent. The decisions we make today will shape telecommunication infrastructure and the industry for decades.

Posted May 18, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

F.A.Q.

  1. What exactly is a Community Fiber Network?
  2. Who offers services?
  3. What does public ownership mean?
  4. Why publicly owned? Aren't private companies more efficient?
  5. I heard there is tons of dark fiber available - why do we need more fiber?
  6. What if a better technology comes along in a few years?
  7. Doesn't fiber break easily?
  8. Don't existing companies already have fiber networks?
  9. DOCSIS 3, isn't that as good as fiber?
  10. Should government compete with the private sector?
  11. Do we really need faster connections?
  12. Symmetric? Asymmetric? Huh?
  13. Why not wireless?
  14. What happened to the whole muni-wireless thing?
  15. What about WiMAX?
  16. What about broadband over powerlines?


Answers

  1. What exactly is a Community Fiber Network?

    A Community Fiber Network is a community-owned broadband network that uses fiber-optic cables to connect all subscribers. It can offer phone, television, and Internet access. The capacity on the network is so great that it could offer tens of thousands of television channels while allowing thousands of people to talk on the phone while still offering Internet access at faster speeds than a cable modem system or DSL currently offer.

  2. Return to top

  3. Who offers services?

    In some communities, the local government (Monticello) or public power utility (Chattanooga) has a department that provides video, phone, and Internet services. In others, the network is only open to private service providers who compete for customers on equal terms (this would be an open network, Report: Open...

Read more
Posted May 18, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

We consider how government-owned enterprises affect privately owned rivals. Specifically, we compare the types of markets that municipally owned telecommunications providers in the United States serve to the types of markets that competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) serve. We find that CLECs focus on potential profitability while municipalities appear to respond to other factors, such as political considerations or the desire to provide competition to incumbents. As a result, municipal providers tend to serve markets that CLECs do not. We also find that the presence of a municipal provider in a market does not affect the probability that a CLEC also serves that market. Our results suggest municipalities may not pose a significant competitive threat to CLECs and do not preclude CLEC participation.

Posted May 18, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

There are 2,007 municipalities across the United States that provide electricity service to their constituents. Of these, over 600 provide some sort of communications services to the community. An important policy question is whether or not public investment in communications crowds out private investment, or whether such investment encourages additional entry by creating wholesale markets and economic growth. We test these two hypotheses – the crowding out and stimulation hypothesis – using a recent dataset for the state of Florida. We find strong evidence favoring the stimulation hypothesis, since public investment in communications network increases competitive communications firm entry by a sizeable amount.

Pages

Subscribe to competition