Tag: "salisbury"

Posted November 9, 2010 by christopher

As we wrote last week, Salisbury's Fibrant -- the newest community fiber network in the country -- launched last week and immediately saw Time Warner Cable respond with an upgrade to its cable plant that allowed it start advertising even faster speeds - a 50/5 tier of broadband (whether they actually deliver that to anyone, I doubt and will wait to see).

Fibrant was "only" advertising (and delivering) 15/15 and 25/25 speeds, so some suggested that TWC had taken the top honors away... though for people who know much about telecom technology, most of us will gladly take a 25/25 on fiber-optics over a supposed 50/5 on an old, unreliable coax network.

Nonetheless, Fibrant didn't break a sweat, and announced that they were already offering a 50/50 plan though they did not advertise it. I'm not sure why it was not advertised -- though if the reason was to hold a trump card ready in response to TWC's gimmicks, it was a smart move. And Fibrant's 50/50 plan at $85 is cheaper than TWC's 50/5 plan.

Though community fiber networks consistently offer better experiences and lower costs, the big incumbent providers are well versed in gimmicks -- communities must keep that in mind as they plan their own networks. This may mean creating higher tiers of service that many only interest a select few, if that, to remind the populace of the technical superiority of the public network.

Salisbury has since announced that both 100/100 and 200/200 plans are in the works from their network. A 200/200 will be the fastest plan in North Carolina -- though one wonders how the results of the election will impact the future of community fiber networks in the state. Unable to beat community fiber networks in the market, TWC has repeatedly pushed for crippling laws against communities that would dare create competition against TWC. After the 2010 election, North Carolina has a more conservative state government that may find TWC's lobbying more persuasive.

In the meantime, TWC is yet again increasing rates to subscribers, as noted by Stop the Cap!. We'll see if Fibrant is able to shield the community from future rate increases as...

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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...

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Posted October 25, 2010 by christopher

Fibrant has decided to offer premium adult content to subscribers that choose to receive it. Salisbury's approach and response offer a window into the benefits and responsibilities inherent in building a triple-play network that offers services directly.

As a gesture to those who are publicly opposed to such content being available, the channel listings do not show up to the subscriber by default -- which is to say that you cannot even see the scrambled channel unless you take action to tell Fibrant you would like the option of purchasing adult content.

The reason for offering the adult content? Much like the reason most community networks get involved in television at all: it helps pay the bills. The margins on premium content are high and competitors also offer these options locally.

However, a number of people are morally opposed to such content -- this has been a particularly sensitive issue in both Utah and the South more generally. Opponents to community networks generally take this opportunity to rally some opposition to the network in general.

Years ago, we wrote about a similar situation in Burlington, Vermont, because they carried the Al-Jazeera English international news channel.

The lesson we draw from these situations is that running a community fiber network is not all about creating economic development and educational opportunities. There are many issues that may be confronted, and some are messy First Amendment discussions. When a community takes responsibility for its future, it really has to take responsibility for its decisions.

When Comcast or Time Warner Cable chooses the channels, these problems may lurk under the radar because no one expects TWC or Comcast to take community needs or desires into account when they choose their channel lineup.

But when the network is owned locally and accountable to the public, the public has a voice in the decisions governing the network. Controversy on adult content on television may well subside over time, as few are actually proposing to censor the same content delivered via words, photos, and video over the Internet. The Salisbury Post editorialized a similar point:

While there’s no perfect choice here, there is this reality: Even if...

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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...

...
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Posted September 24, 2010 by christopher

The nation's newest community fiber network (FTTH) is launching in Salisbury, North Carolina, in the next month. Fibrant, a $29 million project financing by general obligation bonds, is slightly behind schedule but way ahead of the cable and DSL competition.

The City Council has approved the network's pricing in anticipation of hooking up customers in October. Some 70 people have been testing the network, but it will soon be available to everyone in the community. The basic tier of broadband speeds is 15Mbps and they have a second tier at 25 Mbps. The network is capable of much faster speeds but these are the tiers they will start with, making them the fastest basic tier available in North Carolina.

They are offering over 460 television channels, of which 100 are HD. HD quality over fiber-optics tends to be the highest quality viewing experience (though not everyone can tell, depending on their level of obsession with picture quality) but the first year or so of video service on Fibrant may suffer from occasional problems as they iron out the quirks of the new system. Reports of the broadband and voice services are tremendously positive.

They have made it clear that they cannot get into a price war with incumbents (Time Warner Cable and AT&T) and cannot beat the "promo" prices these companies offer for the first x months. However, Fibrant's rates are 7-10% lower than the regular rates of the incumbents and will come with local, superior, customer service.

Big companies like Time Warner Cable often claim they are at a disadvantage relative to these municipalities but the reality is that the massive scale of national cable and phone companies give them many more advantages to offer lower prices for their services (which tend to also be lower in quality).

“If you get deal you can’t refuse from someone else, just thank Fibrant for it because you wouldn’t have gotten it if we hadn’t been here,” Clark [Fibrant Marketing Director] said.

Fibrant aims for a 30% take rate (4400 subscribers) by the end of year 3 and a positive cash flow in year 4. Pricing and channels lineups are available at the end of this Salisbury Post article. Subscribing to the service has no installation fee...

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Posted August 30, 2010 by christopher

A local news story from WCNC in North Carolina has caught national attention among some tech news sites. As reported by WCNC, Fibrant will start beta testing its community fiber network next month (which answers a question we have been wondering -- just what is happening down there?). We have covered Salisbury previously here.

The video:

This video is no longer available.

Senator Hoyle still relies on his two mutually exclusive talking points: "cities should not do this because they are terrible at it" and "it is not fair for cities to do this because they will crush private providers who are unable to compete." Of course, if cities really did fail at this with any sort of regularity, they would not pose a threat to private providers.

But that is not what caught the interest of Ars Technica, Tech Dirt, and DSL Reports.

This is:

When the I-Team asked him if the cable industry drew up the bill, Senator Hoyle responded, "Yes, along with my help."

When asked about criticism that he was "carrying water" for the cable companies, Hoyle replied, "I've carried more water than Gunga Din for the business community - the people who pay the taxes."

Big companies like Time Warner employ a lot of smart accountants to avoid paying even their fair share of taxes -- perhaps Senator Hoyle should not confuse them with the many small businesses that do pay their share.

From Ars Technica's "Who writes pro-cable Internet legislation? Cable does":

Yikes. In Hoyle's defense, this sort of practice is not uncommon—legislators often work with interest groups on particular pieces of legislation or on letters that go out under their name. But letting those who stand to benefit financially sit down and actually draft the bill protecting their interests, then bragging about how you carry more water for them "than Gunga Din...

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Posted May 21, 2010 by christopher

The latest attack on publicly owned broadband networks in North Carolina now has an official name - S1209: No Nonvoted Local Debt For Competing System and will apparently be debated in committee next week.

This bill is meant to stomp out any competition from community-owned broadband networks - the only real threat to Time Warner and other absentee-owned incumbent operators in the state. Not only would this bill create high hurdles for communities that want to build broadband networks, it also could prevent existing networks from upgrading or expanding. The community-owned networks in Wilson and Salisbury are the most advanced broadband networks in the state.

It is not clear, but the law may even bar communities from building networks with federal funds, as under the broadband stimulus projects, for instance. A coalition of local governments, concerned citizens, and private businesses (some noted here) are coming together to stop this attempt to keep North Carolina locked into the last-generation networks of AT&T and Time Warner.

In previous years, similar efforts to prevent community networks all suggested that local governments derived unfair advantages because they could finance their networks with tax dollars (though very few community networks have taken that approach). Now the same people are arguing that local governments should only be able to finance networks with taxpayer-backed bonds - a dead giveaway that those pushing to limit community broadband have no higher principle than protecting incumbent operators from competition.

As we have chronicled in coverage of North Carolina, several newspapers have come out against this bill - most recently the Winston-Salem Journal:

The Journal has long argued that government borrowing without a vote of the people is both unwise and unconstitutional. But that is borrowing backed by the "full faith and credit" of the borrower, in this case, the people of the jurisdiction involved. So, if that is what the telecoms want, we support them.

But that protection is already written into the state constitution...

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Posted May 20, 2010 by christopher

This video is no longer available.

Posted May 7, 2010 by christopher

Time Warner, AT&T, and other incumbents have radically changed their strategy to prevent broadband competition in North Carolina via new restrictions that are being debated in the Legislature currently. This switch in strategy offers more proof that they stand on no principle aside from protecting their monopoly.

The famous HB 1252 in North Carolina is back... but different. In the past, the telcos and cablecos have argued that municipal broadband networks are unfair to them because the city could use tax dollars in some way to build the network (ignoring that most publicly owned networks do not use any tax dollars). Now, these companies are pushing a bill to require financing backed by taxpayer dollars. Seems like an odd switcheroo.

As one might expect from companies like AT&T and Time Warner, who have no respect for the public process, the bill was kept top secret until debated in committee, giving only the side filled with monied interests and lawyers an opportunity to prepare. The bill (that we have made available here as there is no official version yet) would not just place significant restrictions on new publicly owned networks, but would also handcuff existing networks like Salisbury and Greenlight in Wilson.

To reiterate, this bill will damage the most advanced broadband networks available in North Carolina today. Sounds like North Carolina wants to take up Mayor Joey Durel in Lafayette on his offer to welcome the businesses moving from North Carolina to Lafayette with a big pot of gumbo.

Fascinating that after an FCC Commissioner noted that the US Broadband Plan recognizes the right for communities to build their own broadband infrastructure, North Carolina is deciding it prefers to preclude any broadband competition, sticking with its last-century DSL and cable. Just fascinating.

The Salisbury Post has been watching and recently published a scathing editorial against the bill. This is one paragraph, but the whole editorial is well worth reading.

Yet, if the HB 1252's intent becomes reality, such areas will be severely hobbled in their near-term ability to tap into the broadband revolution. Private...

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Posted April 26, 2010 by christopher

After focusing on the North Carolina battle at the Legislature (regarding whether cities should be allowed to choose to build their own broadband networks or if they should solely have to beg the private sector for investment), I wanted to check in on Salisbury, which is building a FTTH network.

Salisbury has persevered through many obstacles, including finding financing for the project in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Depression. They will begin serving customers this August.

After choosing the name "Fibrant" as the name of the network, they have established a slick web presence at fibrant.com. The site has a a blog, but is rarely updated currently.

Earlier in the month, the local paper discussed the ways in which the fiber network will aid public safety. The short answer is video, video, video.

Video can be used for security cameras (both in public places and in private homes) as well as to give officers better situational awareness when they arrive on a scene. But wireless video access is often the key - both so officers can stream video in the cruiser and because wireless video cameras are easier to place (no pesky wires to run) and move around.

Though wireless video is helpful, it creates of a lot of data that is best moved across fast, reliable, wired networks. This is why fiber-optic networks and wireless are better understood as complements than substitutes. A robust fiber architecture greatly eases the problems incurred by creating a wireless network because the wireless nodes will be more efficient if all are tied into a fiber network. Rather than streaming data across the entire city to send a single feed to a cruiser, a local access point will stream it across a smaller footprint.

"They are potentially looking at helmet cams," Doug Paris said, assistant to the city manager. "Those who are sitting outside (the structure) will be able to see what's going on inside."

It would make little sense for the fireman to have wires coming out of their helmets. But that wireless signal from the helmet probably won't propagate to the fire hall or police station. Instead, a wireless access point near the fire can grab the signal and make it available to anyone...

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