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In early November, Founder and President from The Broadband Group, Tom Reiman, appeared on Fox Business to discuss partnership opportunities that may indicate a shift in perspective.
Reiman discussed the recently announced partnership between CenturyLink and the city of Springfield, Missouri, where the national company has decided to work with the municipal utility. The ISP and the utility will expand the publicly owned fiber infrastructure and CenturyLink will offer services via the network.
The arrangement is a major shift in the traditional approach that large companies have taken until now: preferring to own and operate their own infrastructure and to serve primarily densely populated regions with high-quality Internet access. Rural areas have typically been forced to rely on, at best, DSL from national companies such as CenturyLink.
Reiman discussed how The Broadband Group reasoned with CenturyLink by highlighting the ease of entry into a market where infrastructure and opportunity already exists. It also became apparent to CenturyLink that the company needs to move forward and improve services in order to stay financially viable in a market in which subscribers’ demands continue to follow innovation.
We spoke with Reiman in 2016 about the partnership in Huntsville between the city and Google Fiber, which is similar to the Springfield partnership. He and Stacy Cantrell from Huntsville Utilities described the arrangement in episode 191 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.
As the seasons change, we're fondly remembering past team members from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and their creative contributions to our Halloween stories. Scott, Kate, and Hannah have moved on to other paths in their careers, but we'll always treasure their contribution to our 2016 celebration of movie monster madness. A special hat tip to our Development Director John Bailey, who pointed out this Halloween morning that "Munis are 'ghoul!'" Check it out:
Much like the the bone-chilling flicks celebrating eerie entertainment that dwells in the depths of our dark imaginations, monster cable and DSL Internet service providers strike terror in the hearts of subscribers…if they survive. Mesmerizing fees, hair-raising customer service, and shockingly slow connections can drive one to the brink of madness.
In celebration of Halloween 2016, our writers each selected a national ISP and reimagined it as a classic horror character. The results are horrifying! Read them here…if you dare!
This shocking film tells the horrific tale of a mad scientist in his quest to create the world’s largest telecommunications monopoly monster. The scientist’s abomination runs amok, gobbling up company after company, to create a horrifying monster conglomerate. Watch the monster terrorize towns across America as it imposes data caps, denies people access to low-cost programs, and refuses to upgrade infrastructure. What nightmare lies ahead? Will the townsfolk and their elected officials unite to stop the monster, before it acquires Time Warner? Watch and find out!
The Mummy From Last CenturyLink
City Utilities (CU) in Springfield, Missouri, recently announced that over the next four years, they will expand the community’s fiber optic network. CenturyLink will lease dark fiber on the Springfield infrastructure in order to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to residents and businesses in Springfield and in areas beyond the city. In addition to the great news about this sizeable expansion, experts feel optimistic to see a national ISP working with a pioneering municipal network.
Working with CenturyLink First, Then Others
CU will spend around $120 million to add more than 1,000 fiber miles to their existing 700-mile fiber infrastructure. SpringNet has provided connectivity to local businesses since the late 1990s and has helped spur economic development in Springfield.
CenturyLink, as the first Internet access provider to lease dark fiber on the publicly owned network, and Springfield expect to begin connecting residents and businesses by the spring of 2020. According to CU General Manager Scott Miller, the 15-year arrangement with CenturyLink will fund much of the expansion and rates will not increase for current CU customers.
Miller estimates that CU will complete the expansion within three years. Because the CenturyLink agreement is not exclusive, CU hopes to lease excess capacity to other Internet access companies or businesses. In addition to encouraging options for Springfield, CU wants to deploy more fiber throughout the community to facilitate 5G technology, which requires ample fiber to support high numbers of small cell sites.
Over the past several months, we’ve recounted trials and tribulations as we tried to obtain a telephone power cord from CenturyLink. The saga has taken us through the horrors of Halloween to an odd fall Groundhog Day, and now we’re happy to report that our hero recently celebrated an early Christmas. The phone power cord has finally arrived.
In order to memorialize the event, we recorded John opening the package from CenturyLink. Against all odds, it WAS the correct cord.
All He Wanted Was A Phone Cord
As a recap, the CenturyLink Saga actually began on August 22, 2018, when our Co-Director and head of the Energy Democracy Initiative, John Farrell, contacted our Internet access and VoIP provider to request a phone cord. If you read the first story in the series, you’ll remember that a phone he ordered for a new hire came with no power cord in the box. Seems like a simple request, but is there such as thing as a "simple request" when dealing with a massive, inefficient bureaucracy such as CenturyLink?
What He Got Was A Trip on A Hamster Wheel
From that moment on, John was mindlessly shuffled from sales associate to “help” desk, and eventually routed back the first person he reached out to for help. When he expressed his frustration on Twitter, CenturyLink was all over the problem, tweeting that they could help him if he would just direct message him. He obliged, only to be sent through the same maze once more after being ignored after some weeks. The final response, after CenturyLink had wasted John’s time was, “We don’t provide power cords for the phone. I apologize.”
He Had to Let the World Know
In the U.S., Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year. Families and friends come together to catch up, to eat tons of food, and to appreciate their good fortune. It's a time to count our blessings and laugh at a few of the characters common to every family. This year, we've imagined some of those characters at Thanksgiving Dinner in the world of telecom...
Thanksgiving would be just another TV dinner without someone willing to wake up at 4 a.m. to put the bird in the oven, prep the potatoes, and bake the pie. Just like Mom, Greenlight in Wilson, North Carolina, has gone above and beyond for the community. In addition to providing an important economic development tool and creating an innovative program for folks who might struggle a little with Internet access bills, Wilson connected their neighbor Pinetops. In much the same vein, we know that if the next door neighbor was alone on Thanksgiving, Mom would invite them over for turkey and pumpkin pie.
He’s that uncle you don’t want to get stuck next to at the dinner table. Uncle Comcast will spend the entire time talking up his newest business venture while he ignores your aunt’s repeated request to pass the mashed potatoes. When you finally get a chance to talk he suddenly has to leave the table to take a call from one of his many lawyers. You’re a little worried he’s working on scheme to swindle grandma out of house and home in order to monopolize the inheritance.
Cool Aunt Ammon
Halloween is less than a week away, but our horrifying tale of customer service terror is quickly turning into science fiction in which we are caught in an never-ending loop bending time and space. Time for a quick update.
As a refresher, our Halloween story relayed the difficulties ILSR has had in recent months with CenturyLink, which provides Internet access and VoIP service to our Minneapolis office. When we received a new phone for a new employee, there was no AC power cord in the box. After running on a human hamster wheel for months, one of our Co-directors, John Farrell, who had been shuffled from department to department at the ISP in search of a cord had been told that he could continue to try to get one from the company or just buy one on Amazon.
It didn’t take long for CenturyLink to reach out to us, once we shared our story via Twitter, telling us that they were “saddened” by our negative experience with the phone power cable and letting us know that, if we would reach out to them, they’d be happy to help.
Anxious to get the conversation out of the public sphere, CenturyLink employees managing the Twitter account requested we direct message them, which we did.
It didn't take long for the nightmare to start all over again as we were looped into an endless version of "Groundhog Day," repeating ourselves and once again being passed from one customer service representative to the next. We've blocked out their names, because we realize that it isn't their fault that the behemoth that they work for is too massive to work efficiently. Over the course of several days, we interacted with several different people, each not completely aware of what the other had been up to in order to tend to our issue.
After sharing the DMs displaying the endless cycle with our Twitter followers, CenturyLink once again asked us put a lid on the conversation. We yielded, but they would not accept our surrender.
Ghastly ghouls, horrific monsters, and vile flesh-eating creatures roam the earth this night of Halloween, but none evince the evil that has of late entered the halls of ILSR. One of our own has faced the torture of an entity bent on pushing him over the precipice of human endurance, twisting his psyche with the torment of nonsense, and claiming his head for their own.
On past Halloweens we’ve written fun, spooky content about scary telecom monsters and frightening tricks; this year we relay the haunting, dramatic tale of John Farrell and The Legend of CenturyLink Hell.
The Hamster Wheel of Phone Cord Purgatory
Unlike Icabod Crane of gothic New England lore, John's head has stayed firmly attached at the neck, but recent encounters with the office Internet service provider have lead him to that dark place where so many others have accidentally strayed - into the no man's land of customer service decapitation.
It all began with a new phone for the office. John, newly appointed Co-Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the head of the Democratic Energy Initiative, had ordered phones from ILSR’s Internet access provider in the past. CenturyLink, which provides VoIP, had provided the physical phones before with no issue, but this time there was no power adapter included in the package. Thinking the oversight would be easily remedied was John's first mistake ... and the first step on his journey into hell.
John reached out to the sales associate who he had worked with when ILSR switched from Comcast to CenturyLink’s fiber service. He explained that the new phone ILSR received didn’t include a power adapter and asked them to order one. To John's surprise and dismay, the sales associate told John that they couldn’t order a solo adapter and referred John to the Mac Desk at CenturyLink. He reached out to the sales people at the Mac Desk, but the answer he received was cold comfort that stirred an uneasy feeling in his bowels.
If you haven’t already taken a look at our most recent report, now is your chance to get some insight before you download it and dive in. Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom, written by our Hannah Trostle, recently left ILSR to attend grad school, and Christopher Mitchell, transforms FCC Form 477 data into a series of maps that reveal a sad state of competition in the U.S. broadband market. For episode 317 of the podcast, Hannah and Christopher discuss the report and the main findings.
Hannah and Christopher provide more insight into the main findings of the report, which analyzes where competition exists and where large national providers fail to invest. The result ultimately creates densely populated areas with more competition for broadband (as defined by the FCC) than rural areas. Due to their de facto monopolies, the top national providers capture huge segments of the population.
Hannah and Christopher also talk about the quality of the Form 477 data and the need for better benchmarks, we learn about why Hannah and Christopher felt that it was time to take the data and turn it into a visual story. You’ll learn more about their methodology in developing the maps and their analysis. Hannah, who created the maps that make the foundation of the report, shares some of the surprises she discovered. The two talk about the Connect America Fund and the policies behind the program and how the results have aggravated lack of broadband in rural America and how cooperatives are picking up the slack where big corporate ISPs are failing rural America.
If you want to learn more about how cooperatives are running circles around the big ISPs in rural areas, download our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era.
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.
For years, national cable and telecom companies have complained that they work in a tough industry because “there’s too much broadband competition.” Such a subjective statement has created confusion among subscribers, policy makers, and elected officials. Many people, especially those in rural areas, have little or no choice. We wanted to dive deeper into the realities of their claim, so we decided to look at the data and map out what the large carriers offer and where they offer it. In order to share our findings with policy makers, local elected officials, and the general public, we’ve created a report that includes series of maps to illustrate our findings and our analysis, Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom.
Choice: The Ultimate Prize
Whether it’s a brand of breakfast cereal, a model of car, or an Internet Service Provider (ISP), those who purchase a good or service know that when they have more options, the options they have are better. The FCC defines "broadband" as connectivity that provides speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload; our report fouces on service where ISPs claim to offer this minimum threshold.
When it comes to ISPs, subscribers often have a faux choice between unequal services, such as one telephone company offering slow DSL and one cable company that offers faster cable Internet access. People in rural America often have even slimmer options because cable ISPs don’t provide broadband in less populated rural areas. In other words, the market has spoken and the market is broken.
It took an extra year for a community in Minnesota to finally see high-quality Internet service. Balaton spent an extra year in connectivity purgatory while Frontier delayed a much-needed project. To learn more, we connected with the Balaton and Marshall Economic Development Director Tara Onken and Woodstock Communications Vice President and General Manager Terry Nelson.
Balaton: An Underserved Community
Balaton, is a small town of 600 people in Lyon County, located in the southwest area of the state. Balaton’s Internet service is dismal; residents have access to satellite, fixed wireless, or DSL. Satellite is unreliable, and the fixed wireless services’ max speed is 5 - 10 Mbps. DSL service varies based on how far the home is from the central office. In some places in town, DSL should be able to reach broadband speed -- 25 Mbps (download) / 3 Mbps (upload), but in reality, DSL is slow and unreliable because it is based on old copper lines.
In 2016, the small private company Woodstock Communications decided to improve connectivity in Balaton. Woodstock already had service to a few local businesses and other members of the community were asking for service. When the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program grant applications opened, the company requested a grant of about $413,000.
The goal was to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service of 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps), upload and download, to the underserved residents -- 40 times faster than broadband. FTTH is the fastest, most reliable technology available but also most capital-intensive. It’s available to only about 25 percent of the U.S. population.