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North Georgia Town Considering Fiber for Business
The City Council of the city of Commerce is considering using its existing fiber resources to offer connectivity to local businesses. At a November 3rd work session, Council members reviewed the plan and, according to the Main Street News, members voiced support for the idea.
“We’ve been actively working on this for months,” [City Manager Pete] Pyrzenski told the council. “We’ve been counseled on, we’ve talked through the options… this is a pretty viable utility for Commerce.”
“We are ready to pull the fiber,” Pyrzenski declared. “Our role is to supply the fiber. We’re not going to get into cable TV, not going to get into telephone, just high-speed Internet.”
“Businesses have been looking for an alternative,” noted Mayor Clark Hill.
Windstream now serves the community of 6,500 but there have been significant complaints and there are no other options in this north Georgia town.
The city will need to invest $70,000 for equipment and legal fees. The network plan will use an existing line and will run additional fiber to expand the reach to more commercial customers. At this point, the city estimates a 5 - 10 year payback but that period may be reduced if local businesses respond positively. The city will fund the deployment with an interdepartmental loan from their municipal electric utility. Commerce also owns a municipal gas utility.
Multiple Minnesota Projects Submit "Expressions of Interest" to FCC
We reported in February that the FCC sought "expressions of interest" from entities that want a share of Connect America funds. The agency sought feedback on the need and desire for projects across the country from entities that have not traditionally received universal service funds. The FCC received over 1,000 expressions of interest.
Minnesota leads the U.S. in proposed projects. According to a recent MPR News Ground Level article, 62 expressions of interests come from Minnesota. Projects vary in size; some focus on a small number of homes while others plan to bring services to many people.
All of the proposed projects address gaps in rural broadband service. MPR noted that several of the expressions of interest describe community experience with CenturyLink, Frontier, and Mediacom. The RS Fiber cooperative wrote:
“The communities have approached all three providers [CenturyLink, Windstream, and MediaCom] and asked them to work with the communities to build the fiber network. They all refused. Then the communities offered to put up the money to construct the network and the providers could operate and eventually own the network. None of them were interested.”
The MPR article reports the FCC will likely offer approximately $86 million to the three incumbents to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas. If they refuse, a long line of interested parties are waiting.
Minnesota's desire for broadband caught the attention of state lawmakers. A bill to earmark funds for rural broadband was introduced earlier this session and has received bipartisan support. From the MPR article:
Even if the Minnesota projects go nowhere with the FCC, they already may have had an impact here in the state.
Home Security Firm ADT Opposes Kentucky Bill to Eliminate Landlines
In February, we reported on another attempt by AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell, to eliminate plain old telephone service (POTS) in Kentucky. According to Mimi Pickering from the Rural Broadband Policy Group, AT&T's SB 99 is quickly moving ahead and may even be up for a full House vote at any time.
Kentucky has fought to save its landlines for three years in a row. Many of us only think of landlines as a way to speak with loved ones, but for the isolated, elderly, and those that face daily health hazards, a landline is also a lifeline.
We recently learned that home security firm ADT submitted a letter opposing the passage of SB 99 because many business and residential customers rely ADT's technology designed for traditional landlines. Even thought the letter is dated March 4th, it only recently came to light. The letter states:
Many of our customers, like the one who alerted ADT to this bill, rely on POTS to carry alarm signals to and from monitoring companies like ADT. Some also use POTS for their Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and medical alert services. ADT accepts that the transition from POTS is a natural progression towards new technology, and is actively working to develop best processes and an acceptable timeline where POTS is discontinued; however, the safety of everyday Kentuckians could be jeopardized if this is not done in a pragmatic, thoughtful way.
Kentuckians can weigh in on this bill by calling the toll free message line at 800-372-7181 and tell House leadership and their legislator to oppose SB 99.
Big Incumbents At It Again In Kentucky; Mimi Pickering in the Richmond Register
Yet again, lobbyists from AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell are lobbying state elected officials under the false guise of improving communications in Kentucky. In a Richmond Register opinion piece, Mimi Pickering from the Rural Broadband Policy Group revealed the practical consequences of Senate Bill 99.
Republican Senator Paul Hornback is once again the lead sponsor on the bill. As usual, backers contend the legislation moves Kentucky communications forward. Last year, Pickering and her coalition worked to educate Kentuckians on SB 88, that would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement. We spoke with Pickering about the bill in Episode #44 of the Broadband [no-glossary]Bits[/no-glossary] podcast. They had a similar fight in 2012.
In her opinon piece, Pickering describes the practical effect of this policy change:
It would allow them to abandon their least profitable customers and service areas as well as public protection obligations. But it is a risky and potentially dangerous bet for Kentuckians. Kentucky House members should turn it down.
Everyone agrees that access to affordable high-speed Internet is a good thing for Kentucky. However, despite what AT&T officials and their numerous lobbyists say, SB 99 does nothing to require or guarantee increased broadband investment, especially in areas of most need.
AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris claims that current Kentucky law prevents the company from investing in new technology. As Pickering points out, AT&T refused to build in unserved areas when offered federal funds. Those funds came with minimum obligations; AT&T was not interested.
Mark Creekmore Takes on Windstream - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #69
Small Minnesota Town, Annandale, Fed up With Slow DSL
At a chamber of commerce meeting later in the week Gunnarson added that strong broadband is a basic, essential feature of modern commerce. "New businesses expect good Internet. When you buy a car you expect tires on it. Unfortunately, our car has wooden tires," he said.The same paper published a guest editorial by City Council members to explain how little power the City has over private providers. Many people falsely believe that towns are actively keeping competition out:
We even had some people angrily ask our staff why are we keeping the competition out. So to set the record straight, the city can't do much about it because it is all private wires, equipment, operations and corporate customer service. Also, a recent call to the PUC, the Public Utilities Commission, confirms that not much can be done since broadband is not regulated. Sorry folks. As far as letting in competition, we have zero say in that. Any other provider can come in any time.
First BTOP Project Connects Rural North Georgia Communities
Back in December, 2009, Vice President Biden travelled to Dawsonville, Georgia, to officially kick off the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) program. The first award, a grant of $33.5 million, went to the North Georgia Network Cooperative. The group combined that grant with local and state funding and in May, 2012, lit the North Georgia Network (NGN).
We spoke with Paul Belk, CEO of NGN, who shared the network's story and described how it is improving economic development while serving schools and government across the region. We also recently published a podcast interview with Paul Belk.
In 2007, Bruce Abraham was the Lumpkin County Development Authority President and could not recruit new business to the region. Atlanta is only 60 miles away but companies and entrepeneurs were not willing to branch out toward north Georgia. Business leaders repeatedly told Abraham they were not interested because of the lack of broadband. DSL was available from Windstream, but businesses kept telling Abraham, "That's not broadband." North Georgia was losing jobs and there was no strategy to replace them.
Abraham found economic development representatives from Forsyth, White, Union, and Dawson counties shared the same problem. With North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, the group decided to address the problem together.
In 2008, they received a OneGeorgia Authority BRIDGE grant. They used the $100,000 award to commission a feasibility study that suggested the area had potential as a new tech hub. The study also indicated that the region's traditional manufacturing and agricultural industries would continue to dwindle. The group, determined to pursue the establishment of a new tech economy, knew the first step would be next-generation infrastructure.
Kentuckians Once Again Fighting to Keep Landlines
Last year, we reported on the failed SB 135, which would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement in the state. The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Hornback would have let AT&T decide who could receive basic telephone service and would have limited consumer protections.
Last year's bill did not become law, but a progeny, SB 88, has already [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] in the Kentucky Senate and was received in the House on February 15th. (We'd like to report what committee will hear it first but the Kentucky Legislative web has not yet published that information.) Senator Hornback is again the chief author of the bill, crafted by AT&T and its ALEC pals.
The Kentucky Resources Council (KRC) provides an analysis of SB 88 and a prognosis on how it would affect Kentuckians. KRC must be feeling deja vu, as are many organizations looking out for rural dwellers who depend on their landlines. These bills continue to be introduced year after year as large telecommunications companies spend millions of lobbying dollars, also year after year.
WMMT, Mountain Community Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky, recently reported on the legislation. Sylvia Ryerson spoke with Tom Fitzgerald from KRC, who discussed the analysis. From KRC's report on the legislation:
At potential risk is the opportunity for existing and new customers, to obtain stand-along basic telephone services from the incumbent telephone utility, or “Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS)” as it is called. Those most adversely affected by this loss of access to basic, stand-alone, telephone service are those least able to obtain affordable and reliable alternatives – those who live in rural, lower density areas, and the poor in dense, urbanized areas who have no affordable alternative priced as low as POTS.
Georgia Bill Aims to Limit Investment In Internet Networks
More Evidence for Looming Broadband Monopoly
DSLReports has accurately noted the continued decline of competition between DSL and cable providers. Heck, it seems like no large company wants to invest in the future of broadband in this country. Verizon and AT&T have chosen to focus on wireless technology, resulting in less true competition. Cable (or FTTH if you are lucky to have that option) tends to offer faster, more expensive connections and DSL is the slower, less expensive option for many.
As we noted in an earlier post, Verizon no longer offers stand alone DSL and is voluntarily losing customers to focus on their more profitable (and more expensive) fixed LTE service. Many of the companies providing DSL service simply lack the interest or capacity to invest in modern networks.
Windstream lost broadband subscribers last quarter for the first time ever losing 2,200 subscribers for a 1.36 million total. Verizon added just 2,000 net broadband users last quarter, the worst quarterly result in four years. The AP quotes Verizon as saying that the hit was due to Verizon's decision to stop selling standalone DSL.
Meanwhile, smaller telcos like Windstream, Frontier, Fairpoint and CenturyLink find themselves unable or unwilling to upgrade their networks to keep pace with faster cable speeds. That's going to result in considerably more bloodshed for the telcos as additional subscribers jump ship (assuming they have the choice), resulting in cable's domination of the U.S. residential broadband market.
Continued reliance on these companies to build the essential infrastructure our economy and citizens need is foolish. The incentives are all wrong for their model and the amount of public money it will take to bribe them into building better infrastructure would offer far higher returns when invested in models that are democratically accountable to the community -- networks owned by local governments, cooperatives, or other nonprofit organizations.