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"This is by far the greatest assault we've ever felt from the University of Wisconsin Extension," said Mark Weller, president and CEO of Access Wisconsin, which represents 30 mostly small, rural telecommunications providers.
On June 1, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an oxford-style debate over the proposition: "Governments should neither subsidize nor operate broadband networks to compete with commercial ones."
Jim Baller and I spoke against the proposition while Rob Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach defended it during the 2 hour, 15 minute session. I was unable to be in DC and thus participated by the magic of modern telecommunications.
This is a long but valuable and unique discussion. We left talking points behind, actually responded to the points raised by the other side, and presented both sides of this debate in a reasonable manner. In short, this is exactly the kind of discussion we would elected officials to consider before legislating on the matter. But it very rarely happens -- nothing even remotely close to it occured in North Carolina when Time Warner Cable pushed its bill through the Legislature to enact a de facto ban on muni networks in the state.
You can watch it here.
Sign up for a live webcast (or if you are in DC, please attend) of Jim Baller and Christopher Mitchell engaging in an Oxford-style debate on the subject of community broadband with Rob D. Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach on June 1 at 9:00 EDT.
The statement to be debated is: "Governments Should Neither Subsidize nor Operate Broadband Networks to Compete with Commercial Ones." Guess which side Jim and I will take?
“Essentially this bill is a cable monopoly protection bill,” said Doug Paris, assistant city manager of Salisbury, N.C., another city with its own broadband service. “It protects Time Warner Cable and ensures they will continue to do what they’ve been doing for decades, which is serving where they want to serve and not serving where they don’t want to serve.”And though it may be tacky to quote myself, I do quite like the quote…
Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit economic and community development consulting group, agreed and said that there is “almost no chance” another community in North Carolina will be able to build a new broadband network under the law. “The Legislature, in passing laws like this, shows just how out of touch they are,” Mitchell said. “It’s very clear to me that North Carolina’s legislators don’t understand the difference between a slow DSL connection and a modern, reliable fiber-optic connection. They don’t understand that what Time Warner [Cable] and CenturyLink are selling isn’t helping communities be competitive in the modern era.”I hope communities and activists around the country have taken note of the power incumbents wield and are starting to talk to elected officials to educate them and build the relationships necessary to counteract all the money in politics.
According to the City, Comcast's 2011 Basic Service Rate change went from $13.30 to $15.80 a month. This came in the wake of previous rate hikes—to $9.05 in 2008, to $10.30 in 2009, and to $13.30 in 2010. That all adds up to "more than 60%, on a service that is supposed to be affordable and is identified in the industry as ‘lifeline service'," Boston says. "In addition, when comparing Boston to neighboring communities that have rate regulation, Comcast has over-collected approximately $24 million from Boston's Basic Subscribers during the four year period from 2008 through 2011," the City's statement claims. Its own research indicates that neighboring cities that are still regulated, such as Cambridge, have cheaper rates.This has led the Boston Globe to editorialize "If cable firms act as monopolies, cities should be able to regulate.
When the Federal Communications Commission took away Boston’s power to regulate basic cable rates almost a decade ago, the assumption was that competition for pay-TV services would hold prices down for consumers. That assumption has not panned out. Comcast Corp., the successor to Boston’s original cable franchisee, still dominates — not least because its former monopoly status conveys lingering advantages that hamper competition even now.
North Carolina has one of the nation's most impressive community broadband movements. Locally owned, state of the art networks are delivering fast, cheap Internet across the state. Big telecom companies--Time Warner Cable in particular--are not happy with their success. They've spent millions on lobbying state lawmakers. Now, the North Carolina legislature has passed a bill that bans competition from community broadband networks. Under this legislation, local communities would be held hostage to the corporate broadband networks that have given America second-rate networks everywhere.Josh Levy of Free Press wrote the following in Ars Technica:
Predictably, the big cable companies view these municipal upstarts as major threats. Companies like Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink may be unwilling to extend their networks to communities like Cedar Grove, but they don't want anyone else doing it either—such an incursion would pose a threat to North Carolina’s de facto cable duopoly. Ironically, the weapon these traditionally regulation-shy companies have turned to in order to fight the municipal broadband effort is regulation.Doc Searls also weighed in:
Here’s a simple fact for Governor Perdue to ponder: In the U.S.
Rick Karr, a correspondent with PBS' Need to Know, travels to Europe to investigate why some countries there have surpassed the US in fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet -- with a real choice among service providers to boot! Video is approximately 12 minutes.
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Additional materials from the video are available at its website.
Venzon [Chairman of Board for MI-Connection] said he’s frustrated because the publicly owned company still fights an image problem. “With the improvements we made to the system, I thought that people would be lined up out the door,” Venzon said. “I thought they’d see this as ours, this is us, and it just bugs me that we get such poor PR out there. We have not won that battle.And now we know that a major critic of the network works for Time Warner Cable, a company vociferously opposes muni networks as a threat to their de facto monopoly.
We made certain Rep. Avila understood that that clarification gutted the exemption and she did not care. e-NC reports that the private sector providers are permitted to report an entire Census Block as having access to internet, if only one home in the block actually has it. In essence, North Carolina will have no "unserved areas" or communities will have to do their own door to door surveys, an expensive and monumental feat.But what do you expect from elected officials who calls something a "level field" while bragging that they are crafting rules (such as limited service territories) that only apply to the community networks, which already operate at a disadvantage to a $19 billion a year competitor like bill author Time Warner Cable? When the bill passed the Senate, a newspaper in Davidson noted its unequal approach that further handicapped communities:
Davidson Mayor John Woods said Tuesday MI-Connection deserves to be treated the same as private companies. “We strongly object to the territory limits that this bill will impose on MI-Connection which are not imposed on other broadband providers. In addition, MI-Connection would remain subject to open meeting laws, which do not apply to those other providers,” he said. Mr. Venzon also said local governments already face other rules that put them at a disadvantage to private competitors, including the requirement to operate under the N.C. Public Records Law.