Tag: "franchise"

Posted July 17, 2012 by christopher

The fourth episode of Community Broadband Bits features Kevin Kryzda from Martin County, Florida. We discuss their county-owned network that is saving millions of dollars for the community -- as detailed in our case study published last month.

Activists that want to encourage publicly owned broadband in their communities should familiarize themselves with the cost savings and advantages from Martin County's approach. Though Martin County is serving schools, libraries, and public safety, it does not serve residents and businesses with services directly. However, this could be the first step for other communities before they do offer such services to everyone.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via a different tool using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can download the Mp3 directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music.

Posted June 28, 2012 by lgonzalez

Arlington County, Virginia is taking advantage of a series of planned projects to create their own fiber optic network, ConnectArlington. The County is moving into phase II of its three part plan to improve connectivity with a publicly owned fiber network.

Some creative thinking and inter-agency collaboration seem to be the keys to success in Arlington. Both the County and the Arlington Public Schools will own the new asset. Additionally, the network will improve the County Public Safety network. Back in March, Tanya Roscola reported on the planing and benefits of the ConnectArlington in Government Technology.

Arlington County's cable franchise agreement with Comcast is up for renewal in 2013. As part of that agreement, the schools and county facilities have been connected to each other at no cost to the County. Even though there are still active negotiations, the ConnectArlington website notes that the outcome is uncertain. The County does not know if the new agreement will include the same arrangement. Local leaders are not waiting to find out, citing need in the community and recent opportunities that reduce installation costs. 

Other communities, from Palo Alto in California to Martin County in Florida, have found Comcast pushing unreasonable prices for services in franchise negotiations. Smart communities have invested in their own networks rather than continue depending on Comcast.

Like schools all around the country, Arlington increasingly relies on high-capacity networks for day-to-day functions both in and out of the classroom. Digital textbooks, tablets, and online testing enhance the educational adventure, but require more and more bandwidth and connectivity. From the article:

Through ConnectArlington, Arlington Public Schools will be able to take advantage of Internet2 for distance learning. At no cost, students will be able to communicate with teachers and access electronic textbooks and online courses from wireless hot spots.

The...

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Posted October 28, 2011 by christopher

A common misconception is that local governments award exclusive (or monopolistic) franchises to cable companies and that is why the US has so little cable competition.  However, no local government has done this since the 1996 Telecommunications Act 1992 Cable Act made the practice illegal.

But even before the '96 Telecom Act '92 Cable Act, local governments tended to award non-exclusive contracts to cable companies because they wanted more competition, not less -- as illustrated in this article about Cox preparing to renew its franchise agreement with New Orleans.

Federal laws and Federal Communications Commission decisions also have sharply curtailed the city's negotiating ability.

Even if other companies were seeking permission to provide cable to local customers, said William Aaron, a legal adviser to the council on telecommunications issues, council members could not arbitrarily refuse to renew the Cox franchise. The council could do that only on the basis of certain limited criteria, such as that the company has not lived up to the terms of the 1995 agreement.

Cox has had a nonexclusive franchise to operate in Orleans Parish since 1981, meaning that other companies also can apply to provide cable services, though none has done so. The franchise was renewed in 1995.

For years, state and federal policies have limited local authority to require just compensation for access to the valuable right-of-way because the cable and telephone companies pretended that they would invest more and create competition if local authority were preempted.

Local authority has been significantly preempted in many communities without any real increase in competition or lowering of prices. No surprise there - another victory for companies better at lobbying than providing essential services.

Posted May 4, 2011 by rita-stull

This is the first in a series of posts by Rita Stull -- her bio is available here. The short version is that Rita has a unique perspective shaped by decades of experience in this space. Her first post introduces readers to the often misunderstood concept of the Right-of-way, an asset owned by the citizens and managed mostly by local governments.

yarn1.png

In the process of knitting a baby blanket, a whole ball of yarn became tangled into this mess. . . .

. . . reminding me of the time, in the early eighties, when I was the second cable administrator appointed in the U.S., and found myself peering into a hole in the street filled with a similar looking mess—only made of copper wires, instead of yarn.

yarn2.png

Why talk about yarn and copper wire in the same breath on a site dedicated to community broadband networks? Because it was the intersection of ‘art and cable’ that got me started in the ‘telecommunications policy’ arena, the same kind of thinking that continues today in our tangled telecom discussions: Is it content or conduit, competitive, entertainment, essential, wireless, landline, gigahertz, gigabits?

I transferred from the Recreation Department to launch the city’s cable office as an experienced government supervisor with a Masters in Theater. My employer and I thought cable TV was the ‘entertainment’ business and I had the requisite mix of experience and skills to manage one of the first franchises awarded in 1981.

Yikes. Imagine my surprise on discovering that cable was a WIRE LINE UTILITY using PUBLIC LAND, which each citizen pays TAXES to buy, upgrade and maintain! And, our three-binders-thick, cable franchise was a ‘legal contract’ containing the payment terms for use of our public rights-of-way, as well as protection of local free speech rights. I was thirty years old, a property owner who had never thought about who owned roads, sidewalks and utility corridors.

Rights-of-way are every street plus about 10 feet of land on each side. That land belongs to everyone in the community. Rights-of-way are a shared public asset—sometimes called part of our common...

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Posted January 30, 2011 by christopher

In 2006, this short documentary helped to stop a push from incumbent providers to gut local authority over telecommunications and cable.  Unfortunately, several states then gutted that same local authority, leading to higher prices for consumers and, surprise surprise, no real increase in competition.  

Posted January 24, 2011 by christopher

It's 2011 and time for Qwest to renew a push to gut local authority in a number of states - Idaho and Colorado to start. An article for the Denver Post explains the argument:

Phone companies say state-level oversight of video franchising fosters competition because it is less cumbersome for new entrants to secure the right to offer services.

Many states have also eliminated the condition that new video competitors must eventually offer service to every home in a given municipality, a requirement placed on incumbent cable-TV providers.

Gutting local authority is the best way to increase the disparities between those who have broadband and those who do not. Qwest and others are only interested in building out in the most profitable areas -- which then leaves those unserved even more difficult to serve because the costs of serving them cannot be balanced with those who can be served at a lower cost.

The only reason that just about every American living in a city has access to broadband is because franchise requirements forced companies to build out everyone. Without these requirements, cable buildouts would almost certainly have mirrored the early private company efforts to wire towns for electricity -- wealthier areas of town had a number of choices and low-income areas of town had none.

In Idaho, those fighting back against this attempt to limit local authority are worried that statewide franchising will kill their local public access channels - a reality that others face across the nation where these laws have passed.

The channels, which are also used to publicize community events, provide complete coverage of Pocatello City Council, Planning and Zoning and School District 25 board meetings, as well as candidate forums before elections.

Without these local channels, how could people stay informed about what is happening in the community? Local newspapers are increasingly hard to find. In many communities, these channels are the last bastion of local news. 

This fight over statewide franchising goes back a number of years, but the general theme is that massive incumbent phone companies promise that communities would have much more competition among triple-play networks if only the public...

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Posted December 4, 2009 by christopher

My friend, Geoff Daily at App-Rising.com, has questioned the wisdom of running fiber to all anchor institutions.

There's been a lot of buzz around the benefits and relative viability of wiring all community anchor institutions (schools, libraries, hospitals, etc.) with fiber as the way to get the best bang for the broadband buck. But recent conversations with my fiber-deploying friends have led me to worry that doing this could be a big mistake.

...

The reason is simple: if you build a network to serve community anchors, then those institutions won't be available to serve as anchor customers for a community-wide deployment. Without those community anchors as customers, the economics of deployment, especially in rural areas, becomes much harder and may actually make robust, sustainable broadband impossible in some areas.

This is a question I have wrestled with also, in trying to help communities understand the real impacts of decisions they make on whether to build their own broadband network.

My first reaction is on philosophical grounds - public institutions like schools, police departments, etc., do not exist to prop-up the business models of cable or telephone companies. Large entities like municipal and county governments should own their own network because it will save them money and expand their capabilities. When will the tea-party protesters start protesting government paying exorbitant fees to telephone companies for slow T-1 lines and the like? After all, these are our tax dollars and they should be spent wisely.

My second reaction is that I seriously doubt removing these institutional networks will impact the business model significantly. Maybe it would have last decade, but now we know that Comcast and probably many more have ">massive margins in their broadband operations. Losing the libraries and schools will do little to their bottom lines. Even if it takes a bit out of their profits, they won't go missing meals.

But really, the answer is more complicated. Many municipalities already get "free" services from their cable company as a part of the video...

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Posted December 1, 2009 by christopher

It looks like Palo Alto should move quickly on expanding its publicly owned fiber-based I-NET - as the city renegotiates the cable franchise with Comcast, the private cable company is trying to rip-off taxpayers with exorbitant prices for community anchor tenants.

California is one of several states to recently take negotiating power on cable television franchises away from communities and grant it to the state. Historically, communities negotiated a free or reduced rate for connectivity to schools, public safety buildings and other key community anchors in return for access to community Right-of-Way - an essential permission necessary to build a cable network.

However, as these agreements come up for review, the regulatory landscape is significantly different than it was when they were negotiated in the past. Federal and state decisions have limited the power of communities to gain concessions from cable companies as they continue to raise prices and post large profits.

In response, many communities have embarked on smart efforts to build their own fiber-optic networks connecting key institutions. These networks often save money while greatly increasing available bandwidth, allowing local governments to be more efficient and use cutting-edge applications. In some communities, these Institutional Networks have formed the backbone of next-generation networks that extend full fiber-to-the-home network access to businesses and citizens. Palo Alto has not yet connected all the necessary buildings with its network and still depends on Comcast for bandwidth to those areas.

Communities should beware - network ownership means power. The network owner can decide what price to charge schools - prices that must be paid with tax dollars. Communities building their own networks have slashed these prices and reduced pressure on the tax base. They don't have to worry as much when cable franchise negotiations are up again - like Palo Alto is now.

Joe Saccio, deputy director of Palo Alto's Administrative Services Department, said Comcast's proposed rates for I-Net would essentially enable the cable company to bill the communities twice for the fiber network. The network's construction was funded by cable subscribers and according to the staff report, Comcast has already largely (if not completely) recouped those costs.

"It's felt...

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Posted August 27, 2009 by christopher

Folks who are mostly interested in broadband are probably unfamiliar with video franchising laws. Many people still apparently believe that cable companies are able to get exclusive franchises from the city (granting them a monopoly on providing cable television). However, that is not true and has not been true for many years.

Most cable companies still have a de facto monopoly because it is extremely difficult to overbuild an existing cable company - the incumbent has most of the advantages and building a citywide network is extremely expensive. This is not a naturally competitive market; it is actually a natural monopoly.

However, most people want a choice in providers (something that goes beyond a single cable company and a satellite option or two depending on whether you rent/own and your geographic location. In talking with many local officials and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers (NATOA), it seems that almost every local government wants more competition in its community too.

This is where telephone and cable company lobbyists have stepped in - more successfully at the state level than at the federal level. They have convinced legislators that the barrier to more competition is local authority over the franchise (the rules a company agrees to in return for the right to use the community's Right-of-Way in deploying their network). These rules include red-line prohibition (you cannot refuse to serve poor neighborhoods), an affordable "basic" tier of service, local public access channels, broadband connections at public buildings, etc.

Some states have listened to the lobbyists and enacted statewide franchising - where local communities are stripped of the authority to manage their Right-of-Way and companies can offer video services anywhere in the state by getting a state franchise from the state government. Every year, we gather more data that this practice has hurt communities, raised prices, and barely spurred any competition. Most of the competition it is credited with spurring came from Verizon's FiOS deployments, which would have occurred regardless of state-wide franchise enactment.

This touches directly on broadband because the statewide franchises often give greater power to companies like Verizon to cherry-pick who gets next generation broadband. Wealthier neighborhoods will increasingly get access to faster...

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Posted July 24, 2009 by christopher

A recent editorial in the Boston Globe caught my attention - Fiber-optic nerve. It seems that Boston is tired of waiting for private companies to build modern broadband networks in the city.

The editorial suggests that as Verizon has started building its FTTH FiOS in New York City, D.C., and some of the Boston suburbs, it may be a withholding the network from Boston due to the Mayor's efforts to change a state law that has exempted telecom companies from paying a number of taxes. Verizon denies any connection. From the editorial:

Menino is right to insist that telecommunication companies pay their fair share of taxes. In Boston, the exemption shifts more than $5 million a year onto the property tax bills of homeowners, say city officials. But tensions between Verizon and the mayor can be costly in many ways. City cable providers Comcast and RCN, for example, don’t offer the speedier fiber-optic connections into customers’ homes available from Verizon in 98 Massachusetts cities and towns. The new and faster broadband speeds - both downstream and upstream - offered by Verizon to Internet customers therefore remain beyond the reach of Bostonians, as do FiOS-related incentives on products such as mini netbooks and camcorders. Cable and Internet competition is alive and well in the suburbs, but flat in Boston.

Verizon has previously threatened to withhold its investments in states that do not sufficiently deregulate -- after turning its back on the New England region by offloading its customers on the totally unprepared Fairpoint company, Verizon pushed franchise "reform" in Massachusetts. Franchise "reform" is when states agree to preempt local communities that selfishly want to regulate the quality of service offered by providers - things like requiring some local channels and thresholds for customer service. As Karl Bode noted in the link above:

While these bills are promoted as a magic elixir that will bring competition and lower TV prices to a region, when people go back to investigate whether these bills actually helped anybody (which is amusingly rare), data indicates that TV prices increased anyway and consumers got the short end of the stick. State lawmakers are usually no match...

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