Tag: "maine"

Posted May 17, 2012 by christopher

We continue to watch the Gig.U project with interest as some universities are teaming up with providers to deliver gigabit services to selected areas, generally around high tech campuses.

One of the first project announcements has come from Orono, Maine. The University of Maine and a private company called GWI are teaming up to bring real broadband to Main Street.

The gigabit announcement came on the heels of a major announcement from Time Warner Cable - they are increasing residential speeds in Maine from 8-10 Mbps (or from 15 to 20 Mbps for those speed demons) and doubling their upstream speeds from .5 to 1 Mbps (or from 1 to 2 Mbps for those living in the fast lane).

So Orono, which is talking about speeds of 50-1000 times faster, should have quite the advantage.

We last heard of GWI due to its involvement in the Three-Ring Binder project that brought middle mile connections throughout the state to start recovering from the long-standing underinvestment from Verizon (now FairPoint). We wrote about FairPoint's attempt to kill competition before it started.

Now GWI will be building a gigabit open access network in this community that will offer much faster speeds at much lower prices than incumbent operators do. It is certainly an improvement over the status quo in the short term, as noted by the Bangor Daily News.

“We will plant the first seed in fertile economic soil,” he said. Kittredge said the Orono and Old Town area, with the University of Maine at the center, is prime real estate for getting the high-speed service off the ground and considering whether it will work in larger markets such as Bangor or rural markets in northern and eastern Maine.

For area businesses and researchers inside and outside the...

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Posted November 4, 2011 by christopher

When it comes to expanding access to the Internet across the US, the federal government has long looked first to the private sector, ignoring hundreds of years of experience showing that unaccountable private companies cannot be trusted to sufficiently invest in or govern essential infrastructure.

Inevitably, they price access to high and invest too little as they maxmize their profits -- thereby minimizing the profits of all other parts of the economy.

So let's take a little survey of the progress we see from these companies.

We have long railed against the Verizon -> FairPoint fiasco in New England that left Verizon much richer at the expense of residents and businesses in rural Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine particularly. Well, FairPoint creditors have realized the depth of Verizon's scam and are suing Verizon for $2 billion. Read the complaint [pdf].

According to the complaint (pdf), Verizon not only made out like a financial bandit up front, but took advantage of regulatory delays to strip mine the assets of anything of value, including core IP network components, business services, and localized billing and support assets required to support the three states. Verizon then billed out their support assistance for millions per month during the very rocky transition, during which time 911 and other services saw repeated outages, resulting in millions more in refund penalties.

Karl Bode is right to criticize the state authorities that allowed this fiasco to occur. Their inability to regulate in the public interest has hurt everyone stuck in the mess. While we can expect powerful companies like Verizon to try to game the system at every opportunity, there is no excuse for making it so easy for them.

Frontier Logo

As long as we are talking about Verizon shedding its rural investments, let's take a look at how Frontier is doing since it inherited thousands upon thousands of FiOS customers as part of its recent deal with Verizon. Frontier has decided the best approach is to...

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Posted March 8, 2011 by christopher

In an op-ed, Tom Evslin discusses FairPoint and their opposition to a middle mile stimulus grant that would improve broadband access around the state. FairPoint had taken over Verizon's New England lines a few years ago. Verizon had a reputation for poor service but FairPoint took that to new levels before reorganizing under bankruptcy (yet another high-profile private sector failure).

FairPoint fought a middle-mile project in Maine and was eventually bribed into silence by the Legislature. Having learned the only lesson one can learn from such an experience, they are now fighting a middle mile project in Vermont.

Unfortunately FairPoint, the successor to Verizon for landlines in Northern New England, wants Vermont to choose between protecting a badly flawed FairPoint business plan or improving the economic future of Vermont’s rural areas. The choice is stark: use the federal “middle mile” stimulus grant already awarded to the Vermont Telecommunication Authority (VTA) to bring fiber closer to rural Vermonters and make wholesale backhaul and institutional broadband affordable in rural areas of the state or forfeit the grant and leave these areas without adequate business, residential and cellular service.

Vermont should move forward with its stimulus project to expand open access middle mile connections across the state. Appeasing FairPoint yet again is not only bad for Vermont's many underserved, it would further embolden FairPoint in its fight against any competition, public or private.

The VTA was formed to improve broadband access while not providing services directly. There is no reason it should not invest in these middle-mile networks. Quoting again from Evslin op-ed:

Now President of FairPoint in Vermont, Mike Smith said yesterday in an interview broadcast on WCAX that he never meant that the VTA should build fiber networks and provide middle-mile (backhaul) service. He thought it would be directing its...

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Posted March 31, 2010 by christopher

Light Reading took an in-depth look at FairPoint's anti-competition, anti-public ownership lobbying in Maine, where it is fighting a stimulus award to a consortium that includes a public entity. We have previously covered goings-on in Maine where FairPoint is involved due to their terrible track record of offering services while pushing for rules that would prevent communities from building their own networks.

For those who are not familiar, FairPoint had bought the lines from Verizon as part of a tax-dodge called the "Reverse Morris Trust" (one loophole that might be closed before Verizon can abuse it again). FairPoint promptly went bankrupt, but not before screwing up service for thousands upon thousands of residents and businesses in New England (from months of screwed-up billing to weeks without telecom services). Now FairPoint wants to make sure many Maine residents have no choice in providers for the foreseeable future.

Carol Wilson's look at this situation is fairly comprehensive.

... Maine Fiber Co., won a $25.4 million grant to build what is called the Three-Ring Binder, an middle-mile fiber optic network that will include three fiber rings in Western, Northern, and Downeast Maine. Maine Fiber’s intent is to lease dark fiber as an open access network, and not to sell commercial services.

More details about the Three Ring Binder are available here and here.

The Maine Fiber Company is a private sector entity that has partnered with the University of Maine System. Though the company will run the network, some fibers will be reserved for the schools - this is a common private-public partnership that is mutually beneficial. This network will be open access - meaning that all can use it on equal terms (as opposed to being monopolized solely by the owner, as FairPoint does with its network). But FairPoint sure doesn't want to deal with competition in the many areas that it currently monopolizes with poor service at high prices.

It [Three Ring Binder Network] is now facing a challenge from FairPoint Communications Inc. , which bought...

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Posted February 8, 2010 by christopher

As Karl Bode recently asked, "Should Fairpoint Really Be Giving Broadband Advice?" They have been lobbying against other stimulus projects in Maine that could allow FairPoint subscribers to actually get service that works and puts communities first.

Given FairPoint's horrendous track record in New England since taking over Verizon's run-down network, I'm glad to see a local paper taking them to task for their attempts to deny broadband to significant swaths of the state.

FairPoint is demanding that Maine law prevent the university from selling access to its network to any customer outside the governmental sector. Instead, those customers would have to take their business to FairPoint.

If FairPoint could take care of the customers it already has, and if it was keeping up with its promises to serve more of the state with high-speed Internet, it might have a stronger case.

People in Maine need to realize they will remain behind in network infrastructure so long as they depend on companies like FairPoint rather than the old New England values of self-reliance. Absent public competition, FairPoint will remain the only "option" because no private provider will find profits competing in these rural areas.

Posted November 3, 2009 by christopher
  • A columnist explains why Missouri hired broadband network consultant Jim Baller to aid in expanding broadband across the state.

    That won’t be easy. Fewer than two-dozen cable and telephone companies control more than 95 percent of the country’s residential broadband market. In the past decade, the “incumbents” have shut out competitors by restricting the use of their existing infrastructure and by suing any municipality or public utility that has tried to build its own network.

    This piece offers some good history for those relatively new to community broadband.

  • Mike Masnick over at TechDirt recently asked (ironically) "But Wait, Wasn't Muni-Fiber Supposed To Take Away Incentive For Private Fiber?"

    Over the past few years, there have been numerous lawsuits by telcos against various municipalities that have decided to launch municipal fiber broadband projects. Most of these lawsuits have failed -- but the main argument from the telcos is that it's unfair to have to compete against the government, and it would take away incentives for the telcos to actually invest in infrastructure to provide for those towns. Of course, that doesn't make much sense.

    This article otherwise rehashes the Monticello post we recently ran.

  • In Maine, Fletcher Kittredge makes the case for a public-private partnership to bring affordable middle-mile access around the state. These ultra-fast connections would not connect directly to home users, but will be open to providers creating those last-mile networks. In the meantime, it will strengthen community institutions like the University of Maine system. This is a project that should be funded by the stimulus program.

  • Though the story has disappeared behind a pay-wall, the Polk County Democrat recently noted that they lack high speed Internet in the 16,000 person community...

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Posted October 27, 2009 by christopher

My colleague in Portland, Maine, and I wrote this commentary for Maine's Portland Press Herald.

Last January, as the economy spiraled downward, Time Warner did what no other company could have gotten away with under the circumstances: It imposed a price increase of as much as 5.5 percent on its Maine customers.

Meanwhile, the state's other major broadband Internet provider, FairPoint, has amassed a stunning track record of mismanagement and abysmal customer service, including leaving many customers without Internet service for weeks.

While FairPoint's predecessor, Verizon, was a better-run company, we should not forget that it too gave Maine short shrift by refusing to invest in upgrading its networks throughout much of northern New England.

When it comes to large, absentee-owned corporations, profits invariably trump community needs. Combine that with a lack of competition and you get what we now have: slow, over-priced, inadequate and often unreliable broadband service.

How can Maine's economy thrive when our basic infrastructure is so poor by global standards? Maine lags many states even as the entire United States falls farther behind other countries. In Sweden and Japan, people pay much less for connections that are many times faster. And they have many providers from which to choose.

OTHER OPTIONS

Maine ought to do what a growing number of communities across the country are doing: break their dependence on monopoly providers by investing in publicly owned broadband infrastructure.

One of the best examples is in Burlington, Vt. Burlington Telecom, a city department, built a universal, next-generation, fully fiber-optic network that offers fast broadband, cable television, and telephone services at extremely competitive rates in Vermont's largest city. While the fiber network itself is publicly owned, competitors are welcome to offer their own Internet, telephone, and cable services on the system giving subscribers a choice of providers.

Burlington Telecom makes a good financial sense.

Its infrastructure delivers ultra-fast broadband to schools and city buildings at a fraction of the cost of what these agencies would pay to lease services, saving taxpayer money. Subscriber revenues over the next 15 years will pay back the bonds used to build the network. Plus, consumers save by having access...

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Posted August 14, 2009 by christopher

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.

...

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Posted June 30, 2009 by christopher

Last year, Verizon sold all of its landline assets in New England to a tiny company named Fairpoint. Even as Verizon was starting to wire suburban and urban areas with fiber-to-the-home networks, it continued to underinvest in rural communities, where those lucky enough to have DSL generally paid a lot for slow very slow speeds.

Rather than continue ignoring these properties, Verizon sold them to Fairpoint in a deal that some questioned as fraught with problems. Fairpoint has since met expectations: it is woefully unable to provide good service to people living in New England.

More recently, Fairpoint is hinting at future bankruptcy

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company warns that if the offer does not go through, it might not be able to make its interest payments due Oct. 1.

In a worst-case scenario, it said, this could lead to "an alternative restructuring plan (that) may include a bankruptcy."

If this were a publicly owned network, it would be championed by cable and phone companies as proof that those networks fail. We are not suggesting the opposite - that this is proof that all private networks in rural areas are doomed to failure, but it does offer evidence that a purely private sector-based model in rural areas is foolhardy.

Verizon is now getting rid of more rural assets by selling them to Frontier - a company better poised than Fairpoint to handle them, but also a company known for offering slow DSL speeds with a 5GB cap.

Communities that want to keep up with the rest of the world should look to themselves to build the networks they need. The private sector is either unable or unwilling to build the necessary networks to compete in the digital economy.

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