Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Kudos to Richard Downey, Village Administrator for the Village of Kronenwetter in Wisconsin. Mr. Downey reminded us that we have yet to write about the fiber network in Princeton, Illinois. While we have noted Princeton in our list of economic development successes, we haven't delved into the network that serves the city, the schools, and the business community.
Princeton is home to about 7,500 people and is located in the north central region of the state in Bureau County. They have their own electric, water, and wastewater utilities and began offering broadband connectivity in late 2003. We spoke with Jason Bird, Superintendent of Princeton Electric Department, who shared the network's story with us.
In 2003, the city’s largest electric and water consumer was also the largest employer. At the time, incumbents served the community with T1 connections. The manufacturing company moved to Mexico, taking 450 jobs with it. The community was stunned.
Approximately 6 months later, Ingersoll Rand, the community's second largest employer with about 300 jobs, also considered moving away from Princeton. While lack of needed broadband was not the only reason, the Ingersoll Rand CEO let community leaders know that it was one of the influential factors. The company liked being in Princeton, and the city would have been on the top of the location list if not for the sad state of connectivity. At the time, the only commercial option was unreliable T1 connections for $1,500 - $2,000 per month. If Ingersoll Rand moved, the community would experience job losses equal to 10% of the population. Community leaders needed to act and do it quickly.
To retain Ingersoll Rand, the City Council decided unanimously to go into the telecommunications industry. They issued an RFP and encouraged incumbents AT&T and Comcast to bid; neither were interested. (Interestingly, once Princeton let it be known that they were going to build the network without them, there were some local upgrades from both companies.)
The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina
In late 2006, Wilson, North Carolina, voted to build a Fiber-‐to-‐the-‐Home network. Wilson’s decision came after attempts to work with Time Warner Cable and EMBARQ (now CenturyLink) to improve local connectivity failed.
Wilson’s decision and resulting network was recently examined in a case study by Todd O’Boyle of Common Cause and ILSR's Christopher Mitchell titled Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. This new report picks up with Wilson’s legacy: an intense multiyear lobbying campaign by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others to bar communities from building their own networks. The report examines how millions of political dollars bought restrictions in the state that will propagate private monopolies rather than serve North Carolinians.
Download the new report here: The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina
These companies can and do try year after year to create barriers to community-‐owned networks. They only have to succeed once; because of their lobbying power, they have near limitless power to stop future bills that would restore local authority. Unfortunately, success means more obstacles and less economic development for residents and businesses in North Carolina and other places where broadband accessibility is tragically low.
It certainly makes sense for these big companies to want to limit local authority to build next-‐generation networks. What remains puzzling is why any state legislature would want to limit the ability of a community to build a network to improve educational outcomes, create new jobs, and give both residents and businesses more choices for an essential service. This decision should be made by those that have to feel the consequences—for better and for worse.
This story was originally posted on the ILSR website.
Imagine going to a gas station, putting 10 gallons into your car's 12 gallon tank, and driving off only to find your needle only approaches half a tank? This scenario is quite rare because government inspects gas stations to ensure they are not lying about how much gasoline they dispense.
But when it comes to the Internet, we have found measurements of how much data one uses is unregulated, providing no check on massive companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable. And we are seeing the results -- AT&T is not open about what its limits are or how to tell when one has exceeded them.
Stop The Cap has noted that AT&T has advertised unlimited bandwidth for its DSL/ U-verse product while chiding and charging customers who exceeded certain amounts of monthly usage. Customers were quietly warned and charged $10 for each additional 50 GB over 150 GB for DSL subscribers or 250 GB for U-verse customers. Clearly, "unlimited" has several definitions, depending on whether one is a customer or an ISP.
Complaints have also come in from SuddenLink customers and others. The ISP charged usage based customers for bandwidth usage when they didn't even have power. Simlarly, AT&T customers began to complain about inaccurate meters from the beginning of the program. This from a 2011 DSL Reports story - one of many comments from AT&T customers:
AT&T's data appears to be wholely corrupted. Some days, AT&T will under-report my data usage by as much as 91%. (They said I used 92 meg, my firewall says I used 1.1 Gigs.) Some days, AT&T will over-report my data usage by as much as 4700%. (They said I used 3.8 Gig, dd-wrt says I used 80 meg. And no, this day wasn't anywhere near the day they under-reported.)
AT&T and others regularly woo their regulators and policymakers with promises to built increase investments or expand networks in return for deregulation or merger approval. A recent Gerry Smith Huffington Post article examines a familiar pattern of broken promises made by telcos, what has developed into a chronic wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am attitude by these massive corporations.
We actually have a name for this, Kushnick's Law: "A regulated company will always renege on promises to provide public benefits tomorrow in exchange for regulatory and financial benefits today."
Smith revisits promises made back in 2006 when AT&T merged with BellSouth. AT&T promised to roll out broadband to every customer in its territory by 2007. Tell that to Cedric Wiggins from rural Mississippi. From the article:
But five years after that deadline, Wiggins, 26, is still waiting. Inside his trailer, his only affordable Internet option is a sluggish dial-up modem that takes five minutes to load the online job listing sites he has visited since being laid-off as a truck driver in May. Every few months, he calls AT&T to ask when he will receive a faster connection. The answer never changes.
“They said they don’t offer it in my area right now,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do.”
Smith found that promises made to gain merger approval are traditionally broken and/or so weakly constructed that the players can comply with little or no effort. Empty promises continue to be accepted by the feds and conveniently forgotten, except people like Wiggins.
No one knows the pattern better than those on the inside:
“We have a problem at the commission, historically, with following-up on merger conditions,” said Michael Copps, who served on the FCC from 2001 to 2011, and who voted to approve the AT&T-BellSouth merger. “A lot of these conditions that get attached are not that great, and they are not always really enforced.”
An even more efficient use of water, said Bryon Horn, is to put moisture sensors into the soil beneath individual trees, like olives and almonds, so that each tree gets exactly the right amount of moisture. But that requires something that the valley lacks: wireless connectivity. In fact, even commercial cellphone coverage in the area is spotty. ... But doing so has been difficult. The larger telcos, she said, are not interested, and a consultant representing smaller telecommunications companies told Hogg and other officials that the large telcos make it almost impossible to expand to underserved areas. To buy wholesale Internet access from AT&T in the Salinas area, the consultant said, costs $136 per megabit per month compared to 50 cents per megabit per month in the city of Sunnyvale. [emphasis ours]Wireless works best where it has access to abundant wired connectivity. Just like plants need water, wireless towers need fiber to backhaul the data. Having AT&T as your only option is bad news. AT&T exists to make profits, not provide essential services at affordable rates. This is precisely why we argue that residents and businesses must have some voice in the telecom networks upon which they depend -- they are too important to entrust to massive corporations like AT&T or Comcast. The public built the roads that allow these farmers to get their crops to market and it ensured that they were connected to the electric grid. Despite entirely too many subsidies, the large providers have not only failed to offer a modern connection but are actually hindering others from doing it. It is time to stop subsidizing those companies and embrace the benefits of ownership by cooperatives or local governments that are locally accountable. From what we can tell, some in the San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium get it and are trying to solve this problem for good.