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Cleveland Residents File Digital Redlining Complaint Against AT&T
Large, corporate providers like AT&T have to make shareholders happy, which is why they shy way from investing in regions where they don’t expect much profit. Routinely, those areas include sparsely populated rural communities and urban neighborhoods traditionally considered low-income. Often low-income neighborhoods also include a high percentage of people of color. Attorney Daryl Parks of ParksCrump, LLC, recently filed suit with the FCC on behalf of three residents in Cleveland who are victims of AT&T's "digital redlining."
The Data Tells The Story
In March, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Connect Your Community (CYC) released a report on digital redlining in low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland. “Digital redlining” refers to AT&T’s investments in infrastructure, which improve connectivity in areas where they serve, except for neighborhoods with high poverty rates. CYC and NDIA analyzed form 477 data submitted by the telecommunications company and noticed a pattern. The revelations in that report helped the plaintiffs understand their situation and choose to ask the FCC to look deeper into AT&T's questionable business practices.
The event that inspired the analysis was the AT&T DirecTV merger. As part of the merger, AT&T agreed to create a low-cost Internet access program for customers under a certain income level. The speed tier was only 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) download, but AT&T infrastructure investment in Cleveland lower income neighborhoods was so outdated, residents could not obtain those minimal speeds. As a result, they were deemed ineligible for the program.
The complainants are three African-American residents in Cleveland’s lower income neighborhoods who can’t take advantage of the affordable program mandated by the merger because they can only access speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps download or less. Without the infrastructure to connect at higher capacity, they’ve ended up paying higher rates for slower Internet access.
In a press release on the complaint, Parks stated:
Court Sides With Louisville: One Touch Make Ready Is A-Ok
Louisville has overcome a tall hurdle in its efforts to bring better connectivity and more competition to the community through local control. On August 16th the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky supported the city’s one touch make ready (OTMR) ordinance. AT&T challenged the ordinance in court, but their arguments fell flat and court confirmed that the city has the authority to manage its rights-of-way with OTMR.
AT&T’s claim based on state law asserted that the city was overstepping its authority by enacting the OTMR ordinance because it was impinging on Kentucky Public Service Commission jurisdiction. AT&T attorneys argued that, according to state law, the PSC has exclusive jurisdiction over utility rates and services, but the court found that argument incorrect.
Within the state law, the court found that the OTMR ordinance fell under a carve-out that allows Louisville to retain jurisdiction over its public rights-of-way as a matter of public safety. The ordinance helps limit traffic disruptions by reducing the number of instances trucks and crews need to tend to pole attachments. The court wrote in its Order:
AT&T narrowly characterizes Ordinance No. 21 as one that regulates pole attachments. But the ordinance actually prescribes the “method or manner of encumbering or placing burdens on” public rights-of-way. … It is undisputed that make-ready work can require blocking traffic and sidewalks multiple times to permit multiple crews to perform the same work on the same utility pole…. The one-touch make-ready ordinance requires that all necessary make-ready work be performed by a single crew, lessening the impact of make-ready work on public rights-of-way. … Louisville Metro has an important interest in managing its public rights-of-way to maximize efficiency and enhance public safety. … And Kentucky law preserves the right of cities to regulate public rights-of-way. … Because Ordinance No. 21 regulates public rights-of-way, it is within Louisville Metro’s constitutional authority to enact the ordinance, and [the state law granting authority to the PSC] cannot limit that authority.
This is the central hub for ILSR’s research on Internet access around the Appalachian United States. We have compiled federal statistics on broadband availability and federal subsidies for large Internet Service Providers. We've created detailed maps of 150 counties in Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia.
We've also created Rural Toolkits for Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia. These toolkits offer a big picture look at connectivity on a regional and statewide level. They also provide action steps for folks to learn more and get involved.
Remember these three key details when reading through this information:
Internet access: if you can get online, check email, and browse the web.
Broadband: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently defines this as speed of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH): a high-speed fiber-optic connection directly to the home. This type of technology can support speeds of more than 1,000 Megabit-per-second (Mbps).
Appalachia can get better Internet service, but the big companies aren’t going to do it. Cooperatives and small towns are stepping up and delivering world-class Internet service.
This information covers the entirety of the state – all 120 counties.
Rural Toolkit: This toolkit provides the basics of how to get started. From what is broadband to the details of federal funding, this toolkit has got you covered. At the back, it includes a statewide fact sheet, which is also available separately.
Statewide Fact Sheet: Did you know that three Internet Service Providers get more than $327 million to spend on rural Kentucky? Did you know that they aren’t required to build high-speed networks offering broadband?
Roosevelt Institute Argues for Better Broadband Policy - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 258
As the telecommunications and broadband market has become more and more consolidated, it has drawn more attention, leading to more attention from people that actually care about functioning markets. Enter the Roosevelt Institute and their report, Crossed Lines: Why the AT&T-Time Warner Merger Demands a New Approach to Antitrust.
Roosevelt Institute Senior Economist and Fellow Marshall Steinbaum and Program Director Rakeen Mabud join us to talk about the failing broadband market and what can be done at both the federal and local levels.
Marshall focuses more on the federal level and antitrust while Rakeen discusses local solutions that local governments can implement. We talk about the FCC, the FTC, the history and future of competition in telecommunications, and how local governments can make sure low-income Internet access projects stay funded in the long term.
This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Christopher Comments on North Carolina Broadband Access Map in State Scoop
State Scoop - May 26, 2017
Crowdsourced broadband mapping helps North Carolina clean its data
A new tool released by the state's technology agency is being used to refine coverage data reported by the FCC and open the way for new funding opportunities.
North Carolina's state technology agency launched a new tool for measuring broadband speeds across the state Wednesday as part of long-term infrastructure planning that could bring new connectivity to rural areas.
A fact sheet published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance shows that North Carolina has a deeply stratified rural-urban divide when it comes to broadband. Christopher Mitchell, ILSR's director of community broadband networks, blames the state's regulations for the disparity.
"The state perversely discourages investment from local governments and cooperatives," Mitchell writes in a 2016 report summary.
A 1999 statute limits the ability of electric cooperatives access to capital for telecommunications, while a 2011 law limits the power of local governments build internet networks.
In an email to StateScoop, Mitchell said North Carolina is "far too focused on AT&T and Charter. It is a real shame."
Disputes over how to fund the state's rural broadband efforts have been an ongoing debate in recent years. A plan sketched by former Gov. Pat McCrory had theoretically positioned all residents in the state with connectivity by 2021. Mitchell argues that the state is ignoring some of its best options by depending on a private market that has thus far consistently failed to serve certain areas of the state.
Famous Actors And Fast Access: FTTP Coming To Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills may be known for mansions and upscale shopping, but within a few years, it will also be known for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The city is investing in a citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network for all homes and businesses, including apartments and condos, inside the city.
"90210" Wants Something Better
The city (pop. 35,000) is a little less than six square miles and they receive electricity from Southern California Edison (SCE). AT&T and Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) provide Internet access throughout the community but a 2014 survey as part of the city’s feasibility study indicated that 65 percent of respondents would “definitely or probably” switch to services from the city, if the services were offered. As part of the survey, 25 percent of respondents also want video and voice bundles; 86 percent feel using the Internet at home is important.
While incumbents offer fiber connectivity in commercial areas of Beverly Hills, local businesses report that rates are expensive and they must pay for the cost of construction, which is also a big expense. At a recent City Council meeting when the Council approved funding for the project, the Mayor and Members expressed the need to be an economically competitive city. With Santa Monica, Culver City and Burbank nearby (all communities with municipal networks), Beverly Hills wants to be able to attract businesses looking to relocate or hold on to the businesses that need affordable and reliable gigabit connections.
Nuts And Bolts To Networking
TN Broadband Bill Hits Local And National Media
When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.
Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:
"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."
Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:
To be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.
The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):
"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.
TechDirt Gets Personal
Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 247
This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 247. Ken Demlow of Newcom Technologies chats with Christopher Mitchell about what happened in Nashville and why poles are important for fiber. Listen to this episode here.
Ken Demlow: There's all that kind of communication that not only can improve what happens in electric and what happens in water, but also just such better communication with your customer, and it's all good stuff.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 247 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Ken Demlow, Sales Director of Newcom Technologies joins Christopher this week to talk about several topics. In addition to discussing engineering and design and how it relates to telecommunications networks, Ken shares how Newcom is taking advantage of new technology to offer communities the best results. Christopher and Ken also get into the details of smart-grid and some benefits and uses that you might not necessarily think of right away. The guys spend some time on what happened in Nashville when Ken worked on the Google Fiber project. He shares his inside perspective. You can learn more about Newcom at nucomtech.com. Now, here's Christopher with Ken Demlow from Newcom Technologies talking about engineering and design, smart-grids, and pole drama in Nashville.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with Ken Demlow, the sales director of Newcom Technologies. Welcome to the show.
Ken Demlow: Thank you. Good to be here.
Christopher Mitchell: Ken you're one of my favorite people at these trade shows. We're here at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and as you know, I contrived an excuse to have you on because I think you're a fun person to talk to.
Ken Demlow: Thank you. That's better than I deserve, but thank you.
Christopher Mitchell: I think we're going to start with just a brief explanation of what Newcom Technologies does.
Holland, Michigan, Will Expand Pilot To More Of Downtown
In January 2016, Holland, Michigan, made commencing fiber-optic Internet access to residential neighborhoods its number one goal for fiscal year 2017. They’re a little behind schedule, but the town is now moving forward by expanding a pilot project in order to serve a larger downtown area.
It's Really Happening
The Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) held an informational meeting on March 13th to answer questions from the community and share plans for the potential expansion. About a year ago, we reported on the results of a study commissioned by the city in which, based on a take rate of about 40 percent, 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) connectivity would cost residents about $80 per month. Small businesses would pay approximately $85 per month and larger commercial subscriber rates would run around $220 per month. The update on the plan confirms those figures, noting that the four businesses that tested the pilot services had positive experiences. As a result, BPW feels it’s time to expand to more of downtown.
"If it goes really well we hope to be able to expand the service out as far into the community as we can," said Pete Hoffswell, broadband services manager at BPW.
The expansion is planned for construction in June and July, with service testing in August. Actual delivery would be in September, BPW estimates.
BPW will use a boring technique to place conduit and fiber below ground so there will be minimal disruption. No streets will be closed. Next, BPW will get construction bids, evaluate them, and present them to the City Council for approval.
Not An Impulse Decision
Holland has had dark fiber in place for decades for the municipal electric operations. Later BPW extended it to schools and businesses that needed high capacity data services. After years of incremental expansions, the network is now more than 150 fiber miles throughout the city.
New Report: AT&T Digital Discrimination in Cleveland
A new report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Connect Your Community concludes that the telecom giant AT&T has redlined low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland. The company has cherry-picked higher-income neighborhoods for new technology investments and skipped over neighborhoods with high-proverty rates.
AT&T’s Digital Redlining, uses publicly available data from the FCC and the American Community Survey to expose how AT&T has failed to invest in low-income communities in Cleveland.
See With Your Own Eyes
Read the report and explore the interactive maps on digitalinclusion.org. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Connect Your Community spent six months uncovering how AT&T has systematically passed over communities with high poverty rates. The five maps paint a stark picture of the digital divide.
The extent of AT&T’s failure only came to light after the AT&T and DirecTV merger. As part of the merger, AT&T had to create an affordable Internet access program for low-income residents. The lowest speed tier in the program was 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) download for $5, but many low-income communities in Cleveland were considered ineligible; infrastructure in their communities only allowed access to speeds that maxed out at about 1.5 Mbps download. (Read more in "AT&T Gets Snagged in Giant Loophole Attempting to Avoid Merger Responsibility")
Public Data Can Share Some Insights
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Connect Your Community noticed a pattern and began investigating. The FCC Form 477 data used in the report provides maximum speeds and technology by each census block, which typically overstates the quality of service actually available to households.