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Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network Saves Millions for Taxpayers
Austin, Texas, with a little over 820,000 people, is home to several centers of higher ed, the Southwest Music Festival, and a next generation network known as the Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network (GAATN).
It was also the second metro area selected by Google for the Google Fiber deployment. But before they got Google Fiber, a local partnership had already connected key community anchor institutions with limitless bandwidth over fiber networks. The network measures its success in terms of cost avoidance, and averages out to a savings of about $18 million per year combined for its 7 member entities.
In 2011, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) named GAATN the Community Broadband Organization of the Year. Today, GAATN also serves the City of Austin, the Austin Indepedent School District (AISD), Travis County, local State of Texas facilities, Austin Community College (ACC), the University of Texas at Austin (UT), and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).
GAATN's bylaws prevent it from providing service to businesses or individual consumers. Texas, like 18 other states, maintains significant barriers that limit local public authority to build networks beyond simply connecting themselves. As a result, local entities must tread lightly even if they simply want to provide service for basic government functions.
We Need Video Reform, Let D.C. Know What You Think
Time Warner Cable subscribers across the country who enjoy CBS programming are out of luck. The two media giants have reached an impasse in their fight over retransmission consent so several major markets are now missing out. CBS has also taken the fight one step farther, blocking TWC broadband subscribers from accessing CBS.com video content.
Public Knowledge as launched a campaign to end this viewer lock-out. From their recent call to action:
It doesn't matter whether CBS or Time Warner Cable is the bad guy here. The only one losing here is you, the viewer.
Some members of Congress are standing up to the media giants. The bipartisan "Television Consumer Freedom Act," [PDF] co-sponsored by Senators John McCain and Richard Blumenthal, takes the first steps at fixing this mess.
But an army of special interest lobbyists likes things the way they are, and they don't care that you are caught in the middle. For this bill to move forward, your members of Congress need to hear from you.
For more detail on how we got here, read Harold Feld's recent Policy Blog on the PK website. PK makes it easy for you to inform your D.C. represenation that you want video reform.
You can also look up your U.S. Representatives and your U.S. Senators to contact them directly via phone or email.
FCC Decides Not to Collect Key Data For No Good Reason
The FCC does not have a good sense of what is happening outside DC in terms of broadband availability and data. This has been a conscious choice - it has refused calls (even those made by the FCC itself) to collect useful data that would lead to data-driven policies to encourage the investment we need.
Not only has the FCC refused to collect data, it refuses to take action as companies like Time Warner Cable refuse to tell potential subscribers what the cost of service is. We have first hand experience along these lines - our goal was to document actual consumers prices for Internet access beyond promotional pricing. When we asked Time Warner Cable sales reps for prices after introductory deals expire, they would not quote a price. They would not give an estimate or provide any examples.
If you are looking for evidence of a failed market, we submit that when a seller can refuse to quote the price that one will pay in 7 months for the service, or even ballpark it, with impunity, the market is busted. Time Warner Cable isn't worried about driving customers away - it many areas of the country it is only real option for not too slow Internet access. So it does as it pleases.
We also contacted the FCC and asked staff where we could find information on the actual prices of broadband. The person on the other end sounded defeated as her voice dropped. "Oh, we don't collect that," she said, "We don't know any one who does. Have you tried calling the providers?"
Call us old fashioned, but we think it's crazy. Even though Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, etc. are some of the largest corporations in our country, affecting the household finances of tens of millions of Americans, their prices for connectivity are masked in a Cloak of Invisibility with the tacit approval of the regulatory body charged with protecting the public.
The Free Press documents a recent missed opportunity to rectify past decisions that have led to a data black hole:
Medina County Offices Will Connect With Community Network
The newly completed Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN) in Ohio will soon add Medina County government as the next customer.
The Medina-Gazette reports the County Commission recently voted unanimously to enter into a five-year agreement with MCFN and drop Armstrong Cable. County Administrator Chris Jakab says the county will save $600 per month. Currently Medina County pays $3,300 per month and the new monthly fee will be $2,700 per month.
Apparently, Armstong Cable did not take the news well. At the County Commissioners meeting, Armstrong questioned the decision:
Minutes after the commissioners unanimously approved changing service providers, Armstrong’s General Manager Karen Troxell disputed Jakab’s figures.
Troxell said the Armstrong bill is made up of a $2,474 fiber-optic lease and an $826 Internet fee. She said the new agreement only covered the fiber-optic lease. She said the county still would have to pay for Internet access, which would bring the total bill to more than $3,500.
“I think this decision needs to be rethought,” she told the commissioners. “Or I need an explanation as to why you’re willing to pay more money for these services.”
Jakab said Troxell was mistaken, saying the fiber network’s $2,700 fee includes a $300 fee for Internet access.
The community recently celebrated completion of its 151-mile network, owned by the Medina County Port Authority. Last summer, the Highland School District connected to the network when its contract with Time Warner Cable ended. The move saves the school district approximately $82,000 in annual connectivity fees.
Business and community leaders began planning for the network 10 years ago as a way to spur economic development and create a more competitive telecommunications environment. A Port Authority revenue development bond issue and a stimulus grant administered by OneCommunity paid for the $13.8 million project.
Accusation of Corruption in Favor of Time Warner Cable in North Carolina General Assembly
Veteran North Carolina legislator Rober Brawley resigned as Chairman of the state Finance Committee, reports local WRAL. According to WRAL's @NCCapitol blog, the Republican from Iredall read his resignation letter during a recent floor debate. He criticized Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, questioning Tillis' ethics and accusing him of special legislative favors specifically for Time Warner Cable.
One bone of contention was a bill introduced by Brawley to expand the service area for the municipal cable network MI-Connection in Mooresville. From the letter as quoted in the article:
"You slamming my office door shut, standing in front of me and stating that you have a business relationship with Time Warner," Brawley wrote. "MI Connections is being operated just as any other free enterprise system and should be allowed to do so without the restrictions placed on them by the proponents of Time Warner."
Stop the Cap covered the background of that bill in its article about this accusation:
Medina County, Ohio, Celebrates Fiber Network Completion
Community leaders in Medina County, Ohio, recently celebrated the completion of the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN). Loren Grenson of the Medina Gazette reported on the celebratory breakfast event where officials proclaimed, “The monopoly is dead. Long live the fiber loop."
Local businesses already rave about the county owned MCFN, which offers Internet access, data tranport, and dark fiber leasing. From the article:
Automation Tool and Die in Brunswick is one of 20 entities already tied into the fiber network. The network provides better service to the company’s four buildings in Brunswick’s Northern Industrial Park, said Jacob Mohoric, company IT manager.
“It’s a blazing-fast Internet connection at all four of our buildings at an effective cost,” Mohoric said.
Company co-owner J. Randy Bennett said the network provided the first decent bandwidth for his company since it moved to Brunswick in 1983.
“We had no good bandwidth source and we paid through the nose for what we did have,” Bennett said.
Last July, the Highland School District was near the end of an expensive contract with Time Warner Cable. The network was not complete, but enough MCFN infrastructure was in place to connect the schools for Internet and phone service. Highland Schools now pay about $82,000 less per year for connectivity.
Community leaders began working on the project over ten years ago. After years of planning, the Medina County Port Authority (MCPA) secured $14.4 million in bonds and a $1.4 million stimulus award. The stimulus funding is part of a 2010 grant to nonprofit OneCommunity, charged with extending fiber to 22 Ohio counties. OneCommunity will manage the network.
The 151-mile asset belongs to the MCPA but the entire community considers itself an "owner." Bethany Dentler, executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corp., also spoke at the celebration:
Op-Ed: NC In Bottom of Broadband Barrel
The Tar Heel economy is continuing its transition from tobacco and textiles to high technology. Internet startups populate the Research Triangle, and Charlotte’s financial services economy depends on high-quality data connections. Truly, next-generation Internet connections are crucial to the state. It is deeply disturbing that the Federal Communications Commission ranks North Carolina at the bottom nationally – tied with Mississippi – in the percentage of households subscribing to a “basic broadband” connection. The residents and businesses of nearly every other state have superior connections.Read the whole thing here.
Susan Crawford on Bloomberg TV
Six minute interview from Susan talking about the failure of policy in America to expand access to fast, affordable, and reliable networks.
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.
[no-glossary]Download[/no-glossary] 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.
AT&T, Others Overcharge Subscribers Based on Secret Bandwidth Meters
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.)