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Our Totally Not Ironic Letter of Support for the Comcast/TWC Merger

Last week, the New York Times reported that the “outpouring of thoughtful and positive comments” Comcast has received for their Time Warner Cable proposed merger is much more than it’s cracked up to be. We are shocked, shocked, to learn that organizations receiving a lot of Comcast charity are endorsing its merger plans.

After a hasty staff meeting, we decided that for a mere $250,000 we too, could see the benefits of this monopolistic mega-merger. We know they ghostwrite many of their most favorable letters, but we want to save them the trouble, by providing our own glowing endorsement. 

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

After careful consideration,  we wish to share our strong support for the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger. Firstly, we want to make absolutely clear that our endorsement of this union has absolutely nothing to do with $250,000 generously donated to our organization, no strings attached, by Comcast. After years critiquing  their slack customer service, their perennially rising prices, and their lobbying to prevent real competition, we now think a merger between the two most hated companies in America is a way awesome idea!

We support the company’s efforts to announce gigabit speeds while charging high enough prices to ensure no one calls their bluff. We hope that the merger doesn’t distract Comcast from its efforts in Philadelphia to never pay municipal property taxes or to ensure low wage workers have no sick days in the City of Brotherly Love. 

We feel certain that this merger won't upset our swell market for cable services and that consumers will have the same level of nonresponsive customer service they’ve enjoyed in the past. In short, we think this is a “marvelous proposal,” now that we’ve got all these Benjamins! It may be bad for hundreds of millions of Americans, but we have hundreds of thousands of reasons to support it!

And let’s face it, once Comcast and Time Warner Cable morph into one monstrous godzilla, fit to swallow 2 out of 3 Americans, customers will most certainly have even MORE to gripe about, making them more receptive to our ideas for locally owned networks. Here it MuniNetworks.org, we value self-reliance, local control, and job security. Albert Einstein said that if you can’t solve a problem make it bigger. Now, you might say “that wasn’t what he meant,” but relatively speaking, Comcast is writing checks to us, not his estate [editor's note: verify Comcast hasn’t paid off Einstein’s estate].

There are at least 250,000 reasons that we now recognize how much Comcast Cares. It really is a “tremendous community partner.” We think of Comcast as being the 1% of corporations because, like Standard Oil, it gives some of its vast monopoly-generated wealth back to us in the form of pay-to-play philanthropy. You really have to look no further than their Internet Essentials program for evidence of their eagerness to do as little as possible while appearing to give a damn.  

We would go on, but now we can afford to take the whole office out to lunch. Do you know how many tikka masala lunches we can get with $250,000?! It doesn’t get much better than this at a small nonprofit working on a shoestring budget!

So, Chairman Wheeler, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, now that we’ve established what this is, we’re ready to haggle over a price.

Comcast, we’ll take the check in one lump sum rather than monthly installments. Thank you!

(In)Sincerely,

~Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance

 

Comcast's Contradictory Conundrum: Title II Tightrope

Comcast must continue to prove growth is a breeze to satisfy stockholders while simultaneously arguing that, gadzooks FCC! how do you expect us to grow under Title II?! As DSL Reports points out, contradicting itself just doesn't work:

At the time [of the FCC's proposal to implement Title II regulations], Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis proclaimed the switch to Title II introduced "higher uncertainty" into the company's broadband investment strategy. Meanwhile, top lobbyist David Cohen was quick to insist in a blog post that we'd see an immediate investment hit should the FCC proceed with its plans:

quote:

"To attempt to impose a full-blown Title II regime now, when the classification of cable broadband has always been as an information service, would reverse nearly a decade of precedent, including findings by the Supreme Court that this classification was proper. This would be a radical reversal that would harm investment and innovation, as today's immediate stock market reaction demonstrates."

DSL Reports points out that the change has not slowed down Comcast's desire to invest or innovate:

So what are we to make of Comcast's announcement that it's making a major investment to push 2 gigabit fiber to 18 million homes before the end of the year, followed by a major DOCSIS 3.1 push in 2016? While more speed to more people is a welcome announcement by any measure, Comcast's pretty clearly interested in charming the regulators currently considering the company's $45 billion acquisition play for Time Warner Cable. 

Comcast must perform a tightrope act to rival the Flying Wallendas to keep everybody happy and achieve its goal of world domination.

Oddly enough, we believe Comcast is lying about both things! Its supposed upgrade to 2 Gbps is smoke and mirrors AND there continues to be no evidence that outlawing paid prioritization will reduce investment beyond the status quo. 

Seth's Tale of Comcast Woe Perfectly Illustrates Many Internet Policy Problems

Ideally, working from home allows one to choose the environment where he or she can be most productive. In the case of Seth that was Kitsap County in Washington State. Unfortunately, incompetence on the part of Comcast, CenturyLink, and official broadband maps led Seth down a road of frustration that will ultimately require him to sell his house in order to work from home.

The Consumerist recently reported on Seth's story, the details of which ring true to many readers who have ever dealt with the cable behemoth. This incident is another example of how the cable giant has managed to retain its spotless record as one of the most hated companies in America

Seth, a software developer, provides a detailed timeline of his experience on his blog. In his intro:

Late last year we bought a house in Kitsap County, Washington — the first house I’ve ever owned, actually. I work remotely full time as a software developer, so my core concern was having good, solid, fast broadband available. In Kitsap County, that’s pretty much limited to Comcast, so finding a place with Comcast already installed was number one on our priority list.

We found just such a place. It met all of our criteria, and more. It had a lovely secluded view of trees, a nice kitchen, and a great home office with a separate entrance. After we called (twice!) to verify that Comcast was available, we made an offer.

The Consumerist correctly describes the next three months as "Kafkaesque." Comcast Technicians appear with no notice, do not appear for scheduled appointments, and file mysteriously misplaced "tickets" and "requests." When technicians did appear as scheduled, they are always surprised by what they saw: no connection to the house, no Comcast box on the dwelling, a home too far away from Comcast infrastructure to be hooked up. Every technician sent to work on the problem appeared with no notes or no prior knowledge of the situation.

It was the typical endless hamster wheel with cruel emotional torture thrown in for sport. At times customer service representatives Seth managed to reach over the phone would build up his hopes, telling him that his requests were in order, progress was being made behind the scenes, that it was only a matter of time before his Internet access was up and running. Then after a period of silence, Seth would call, and he would be told that whatever request he was waiting for was nonexistent, "timed out," or in one instance had actually been completed.

Seth usually had to be the one to make the call to Comcast for follow up. There was one notable exception, however on February 26th:

Oh, this is fun. I got a call from a generic Comcast call center this morning asking me why I cancelled my latest installation appointment. Insult to injury, they started to up-sell me on all the great things I’d be missing out on if I didn’t reschedule! I just hung up.

In mid-March, Comcast discussed the possibility of building out its network to Seth's house but he would have to pay for at least a portion of the costs; he was interested. Pre-survey estimates were up to $60,000. A week later, Comcast contacted Seth and told him that they would not do the extension even if Seth paid for the entire thing. 

Comcast was not the only provider Seth contacted. When he first learned that Comcast did not connect his home, he contacted CenturyLink. He was told by a customer service tech he would be hooked up right away but the company called him the next day to tell him that CenturyLink would not be serving his needs. They were not adding new customers in his area. 

Nevertheless, he was charged more than $100 for service he never could have received. Seth had to jump through hoops to get his "account" zeroed out. CenturyLink's website showed that they DID serve Seth's address, reports the Consumerist and, even though they have claimed to have updated the problem, the error remained as of March 23rd.

Official maps created by the state based on data supplied by providers, are grossly incorrect. As a result, Seth's zip code is supposedly served by a number of providers. While that may be true on paper, it doesn't do Seth much good. A number of those providers, including Comcast and CenturyLink (as Seth is painfully aware) do not serve his home. Satellite does not cannot the VPN connection he needs due to latency inherent in satellite Internet connections. He is using cellular wireless as a last resort now, but only as a short term solution because it is limited and expensive.

Ironically, Seth's new home is not far from the Kitsap Public Utility District fiber network. Because state barriers require the Kitsap PUD to operate the network as a wholesale only model, however, Seth cannot hook up for high-speed Internet. He would only be able to connect if a provider chose to use the infrastructure to offer services to him.

Here we have the perfect storm of harmful state barriers, corporate gigantism, and  "incumbetence." From his blog:

I’m devastated. This means we have to sell the house. The house that I bought in December, and have lived in for only two months.

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know if there’s any kind of recourse. I do know that throughout this process, Comcast has lied. I don’t throw that word around lightly or flippantly, I mean it sincerely. They’ve fed me false information from the start, and it’s hurt me very badly.

This whole thing would have been avoided if only Comcast had said, right at the start, that they didn’t serve this address. Just that one thing would have made me strike this house off the list.

I don’t know exactly how much money I’m going to lose when I sell, but it’s going to be substantial. Three months of equity in a house isn’t a lot of money compared to sellers fees, excise taxes, and other moving expenses.

So, good bye dream house. You were the first house I ever owned, I’ll miss you.

But putting all the blame on Comcast ignores the failed public policy that allows Comcast to act like this. Providers like Comcast lobbied legislators and DC to ensure no map could be created that would be useful. The carriers have refused to turn over data at a granular level that would prevent these mistakes from happening. And whether it is the states, the NTIA, or the FCC, they have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on maps that do little more than allow carriers to falsely claim there is no broadband problem in this country.

And we have utterly failed to hold our elected leaders to account for this corrupt system. Something needs to change - but it won't until people stand up and demand an end to these stories.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 27

This article is so good, it was hard not to quote the whole thing. Do yourself a favor and check out the article for yourself-- this is exactly why we can’t trust big cable and telephone companies to serve our communities. 

New Homeowner Has To Sell House Because Of Comcast’s Incompetence, Lack Of Competition by Chris Morran at the Consumerist:

Only months after moving into his new home in Washington state, Consumerist reader Seth is already looking to sell his house. He didn’t lose his job or discover that the property is haunted. No, Seth can’t stay much longer because no one can provide broadband service to his address; even though Comcast and CenturyLink both misled him into thinking he’d be connected to their networks and in spite of the fact that his county runs a high-speed fiberoptic network that goes very near to his property.

New homeowner selling house because he can’t get Comcast Internet: 

"I accidentally bought a house without cable," writes man who works at home.
by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

While Comcast, the country's biggest cable company, tells the federal government it faces so much competition that it should be allowed to merge with the second biggest cable operator, a government database designed to tell consumers what options they have for Internet service is offering inaccurate information.

The National Broadband Map lets you enter any address in the US to find out what Internet access options are available. The database shows 10 options at Seth's house, including mobile and satellite, but they're all either inadequate for home Internet service or unavailable. 

Google Fiber will leave the duopoly intact and only change the players
by Jesse Harris, Free UTOPIA

TN AG Appeals FCC Decision on Chattanooga, Wilson
(no surprises here)

Tenn. AG Wants Court to Set Aside Municipal Broadband Ruling
by Erik Schelzig, Associated Press

Tennessee fights for its right to squash municipal broadband expansion: FCC faces first lawsuit over vote to preempt state laws that limit competition.
by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Tenn. Attorney General VS. FCC
by NewsChannel 9- WTVC

Tennessee trying to overturn FCC ruling which allows EPB to expand high-speed Internet
by Andy Sher, Times Free Press

Tennessee sues FCC to stop expansion of municipal broadband
by Chris Welch, The Verge

TN v FCC - Petition for Review from TN Attorney General Herbert Slatery
Full Document: Scribd

Net Neutrality 

Internet providers sue FCC in first net neutrality cases
By Andrew Zajac and Todd Shields, Bloomberg News

The filings of both US-Telecom and Alamo acknowledge that their complaints were filed quickly, and possibly too early, because of uncertainty about procedural deadlines.

"We believe that the petitions for review filed today are premature and subject to dismissal," said Mark Wigfield, an FCC spokesman.

The FCC said its rules would take effect after being published in the Federal Register, which hasn't happened yet. 

Republicans Blast FCC's 'Politically Motivated' Net Neutrality Rules
by Wendy Davis, Media Post

AT&T Uses Title II regulation to get out of millions in fees
by Jeff Gamet, Mac Observer

 

Alabama

Gigabit internet service officially launched on areas of Sand Mountain
by Laura Christmas, WHNT News

Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative introduced an internet connection that company leaders say has the fastest speeds in the state — gigabit access — and they’re making it available on parts of Sand Mountain.

Officials say the ultra-fast internet service is the first in Alabama.

Note from ILSR: Opelika, Alabama, was the first to launch the service in the state, but we congratulate Farmers Telecomunications Cooperative for an impressive investment nonetheless.

If a Tiny Telco in NE Alabama Can Go All Fiber, Why Can’t Every Telco?
by Online Reporter

Like others that have deployed all fiber, Johnson said the gigabit service “can transform our communities through advanced learning tools, new entertainment options and telemedicine.” Like many others, he also said its all-fiber network “future proofs our investment for whatever emerging applications our increasingly device-enabled subscribers demand.”

Rainsville company launches new high speed internet service
by Tim Reid, WAAY-TV

New Hampshire

Northampton should explore additional Internet choices
by John Kapitzky, GazetteNet

New York

Municipal broadband would boost Erie County's economy, advocates claim
By Brian Meyer, WBFO, BUffalo

Tennessee

AT&T opposes municipal broadband bill
by Jamie McGee, The Tennessean

Bowling said she understands that connecting Tennesseans in low-density areas is a challenge for privately owned companies. But their profit margin concerns should not prevent municipalities with high-speed fiber networks from connecting residents. The original legislation restricting municipalities' broadband reach was filed in 1999, giving the corporate sector 16 years to reach those rural communities asking for fiber connection from municipalities, she said.

"We've got to get this essential utility if we want to make rural Tennessee economically viable and sustainable," she said. "It's absurd to think that you can compete in the 21st century without high-speed broadband."

AT&T Completes Upgrades Amid Municipal Broadband Debate
by News Channel 9, WTVC

The expansion in Tennessee comes amid a legislative and legal fight over municipal broadband. AT&T opposes pending legislation seeking to allow city-owned Internet providers from offering their product outside their normal service area.

More Broadband News

FACT SHEET: Next Steps in Delivering Fast, Affordable Broadband
by White House Office of the Press Secretary

Data Overload! The Latest Developments in Telecom Policy Matter for Apartments
by Betsy Feigin Befus, Multi-Housing News

Apartment firms say residents and prospects will not sign a lease, or renew one, without access to robust broadband. Not only is reliable Internet access a must, residents want a choice in providers.

Corporate and community operations also hinge on dependable Internet service. From online marketing and leasing to revenue management software and on-site amenities, the apartment industry needs high-capacity connectivity

U.S. Now 27th Globally With Average Speed of 33.9 Mbps
by Karl Bode, DSLReports

While cable operators have been relatively busy upgrading networks, their DSL competitors have not. In fact, companies like AT&T and Verizon have been busy backing away from markets they don't deem worth upgrading, giving cable less serious competition than ever before. So while higher speeds are great, less serious competition means higher prices and worse customer service. And when it comes to companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast, they already offer the worst customer service across any industry. Fast is great -- we all love fast connections -- but it's increasingly only a part of the conversation in an industry that often doesn't really want to seriously talk about price or availability.

Map: The state of broadband in the states
By Niraj Chokshi, Washington Post

“Many of the efforts to increase connection speeds are being taken at a local/municipal level and may not have an immediate state-wide impact upon completion, but are part of ongoing initiatives that are becoming more widespread across the country,” the company noted.

Throughout the fourth quarter a number of municipalities announced the rollout of gigabit-speed Internet, including those in Arizona, California, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Oregon.

USDA Announces Funding for Broadband Projects in Arkansas, Iowa and New Mexico

Unions Try To Pressure Verizon Into Expanding FiOS
by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

Obviously impacted by Verizon's decision to back away from its fixed-line networks, the Communications Workers of America have launched a new "Where's My FiOS? campaign aimed at putting public pressure on Verizon to expand FiOS further -- and therefore spend a little more money on installations and union employees.

"When it received its franchise from New York City in 2008, Verizon promised FiOS would be available to every NYC resident by 2014," a union flyer being circulated in the city complains. "Now the company says it’s completed its obligations. But customers in many parts of New York City still can’t get FiOS. Instead, Verizon has cut 8500 jobs in New York State and slashed its workforce in New York City by 37% over the last decade."

Orlando Sentinel Op-Ed - Local governments should make broadband choices

The Orlando Sentinel published this op-ed about local government action for broadband networks on March 11, 2015. 

Local governments should make broadband choices
By Christopher Mitchell

Community broadband must be a local choice, a guest columnist writes.

When Comcast announced plans last year to invest hundreds of millions in theme parks in Florida and California, its customers may have wondered why the cable giant wasn't using those funds to deliver a faster or more reliable Internet connection. While Comcast's Universal Studios faces competition from Walt Disney World, most people don't have a real choice in high-speed Internet access.

The Federal Communications Commission has just boosted the broadband definition from 4 megabits per second to 25 mbps. At that speed, some 75 percent of Americans have no choice in providers — they are stuck with one or none.

The rest of America is living in the future, often because their local government rolled up its sleeves and got involved. In some of these communities, the local government built its own network and others worked with a trusted partner. Chattanooga's city-owned electric utility built the nation's first citywide gigabit network, which is about 100 times faster than the average connection today.

Google is famously working with some bigger cities, whereas local provider GWI in Maine has partnered with several local governments to expand gigabit access.

However, the big cable and telephone companies have almost always refused to work with local governments. Instead, they've lobbied states to restrict the right of local governments to build or partner in this essential infrastructure.

In Florida, the law puts restrictions on local governments that do not apply to the private sector, such as a strict profitability timetable that can be unrealistic for large capital investments regardless of being privately or publicly owned. Some 20 states have such barriers that limit competition by effectively taking the decision away from communities.

In January, President Obama spoke out in favor of local governments being able to make these investments and partnerships without state interference. He was in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which has one of the oldest municipal broadband networks in the country, but it's the first city in the state with citywide gigabit access. A local business owner, whose business had been able to thrive in its hometown due to the public network and its world-class access, introduced the president.

Both Obama and the FCC are taking actions to remove barriers to local authority, but they are seeing strong opposition from some Republicans in Washington, D.C.

National Republicans may be less likely to support an effort that Obama has now championed. But they can't just oppose the president; they will have to oppose their own base, which tends to believe decisions should be made locally. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance analyzed all citywide municipal networks, over 150 communities, and found more than 70 percent reliably vote Republican.

It may be surprising, but at the local level, there tends to be little partisan divide over whether local governments should get involved in a service so dominated by big monopolies. In the city council, it is a practical matter: Do local businesses have the connections they need to be competitive? If not, how can we make sure they do?

A bipartisan group of mayors has already come together to form Next Century Cities, a collaborative nonpartisan organization that includes a diverse group of cities. Some own and operate their own networks, as in Opelika, Ala. Some are working with partners, as Kansas City does. Some, as in Ammon, Idaho, can be hard to find on a map. And then there are cities like Los Angeles that recognize they need something better also.

Fortunately, Florida's law has slowed but not stopped smart local approaches. Martin County built a fiber network that has saved millions of dollars in connections for public facilities and is used by health-care facilities. The city of Palm Coast's FiberNET has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for the community, while dramatically improving connections for the Flagler County School District and other entities.

Building a modern fiber-optic network is no theme-park ride, but hundreds of local governments have already demonstrated it is well within their capacity. And given that they have to live with the consequences of action or inaction, shouldn't it be their decision?

Christopher Mitchell is the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 20

FCC Outlines Plan To Crush Awful State Protectionist Broadband Laws: from the it's-about-time dept by Karl Bode, Tech Dirt

While net neutrality rules are designed to protect consumers from a lack of last-mile competition, the agency's moves on municipal broadband are intended to actually strike at the issue of limited competition at the root. As we've noted a few times, ISPs (with ALEC's help) have passed laws in twenty states preventing those towns and cities from deciding their own infrastructure needs for themselves. 

It's pure, unabashed protectionism: the bills do little more than protect regional duopolies from change while hamstringing local communities desperate for better service. Usually the laws are passed under the auspices of protecting taxpayers from themselves, ignoring that the bills' sole purpose is to protect duopoly revenues. 

TV and Internet Service Providers Deliver the Worst Customer Experience: Fifth Annual Temkin Experience Ratings Evaluates 293 Companies Across 20 Industries

The poster child for poor customer experience in these industries - Comcast - was not only the lowest-scoring TV service and Internet service provider, but it was also one of the lowest-scoring companies in the entire Ratings. It ranked 289th overall out of 293 companies for its Internet service and ranked 291st overall for its TV service.

Of the 17 companies that received "very poor" ratings (below 50%) across the 193 companies, five of them were from these two industries: Comcast for TV (43%), Comcast for Internet (45%), Time Warner Cable for Internet (47%), Charter Communications for TV (48%), and Time Warner Cable for TV (48%).

"Internet and TV service providers are awful to consumers. The lack of competition continues to fuel this bad experience epidemic," states Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group.

 

California

Broadband coming to Orleans by Jessie Faulkner, Times Standard

The Karuk and Yurok Tribes have been collaborating to bring the speeded-up service to the Klamath River communities of Orleans, Weitchpec, Wautec, Johnsons as well as Orick. A $6.6 million California Public Utilities Commission grant, awarded in October 2013, is financing the project. The tribes provide matching funds.

Colorado

Fort Collins eyes starting broadband Internet service by Nick Coltrain, The Coloradoan

If the city of Fort Collins made a sound while examining the possibility at offering its own Internet service, it'd be the chirps and whirrs of a 56K modem — Almost connected but with no guarantee of success. 

Minnesota

Businesses would be able to tie into countywide broadband by John Gessner, Sun This Week

Scott County has a high-speed, fiber optic network available for businesses and Internet service providers to tap into.

Neighboring Dakota County doesn’t. One result? Up to 10 companies that were wooed by Dakota County communities instead chose Scott County for its access to limitless bandwidth, according to Craig Ebeling.

Fiber Optic Project Moves Forward: KDUZ

Ten city councils and a standing room only crowd packed the United Farmers Cooperative Berdan Center on Monday for a public hearing and adoption of a tax abatement resolution to fund a loan to the Renville-Sibley County Fiber Joint Powers Agency for the RS Fiber Cooperative.

Maine

Broadband companies showing interest in Sanford by Ellen W. Todd, Sanford News

The City of Sanford, in collaboration with the SREGC, intends to finance and own a fiber-optic network connecting 80 community institutions and private enterprises — businesses, the hospital, municipal facilities, the mill complex, industrial parks, schools — in Sanford-Springvale.

Last year, the SREGC commissioned a study on the feasibility of bringing broadband (fiber-optic) communications access to the city. The company that did the study — Tilson Technology Management company of Portland — concluded that broadband access has the potential to add “between $47 and $192 million to the Sanford-Springvale region’s economic output over the next ten years.” 

Montana

Lawmakers consider issuing bonds for broadband expansion by Alison Noon, The News Tribune

New Hampshire

Editorial: Fast internet could be a boon for Concord

Creating a truly high-speed, affordable municipal internet network could be a pipe dream – or it could be a pipeline to a more vibrant Concord with a booming economy and a growing population of young entrepreneurs and knowledge workers.

New York

County touts pros of Municipal Broadband System WKBW-7

Erie County's Broadband Committee released a new report Wednesday touting the pros of building a Municipal Broadband System.

Erie County Legislator calls for faster internet by Mark Belcher, News 4 Digital Producer

“A municipal broadband network could be our generation’s great infrastructure project, like the Erie Canal or the Hoover Dam,” Burke said.

Cayuga County's high-speed Internet needs, state broadband initiatives discussed at Wednesday Morning Roundtable by Robert Harding, Auburn Citizen

According to Batman, what started out as a few towns became a larger collaboration to find a high-speed Internet service provider for the area. He said the group contacted these companies with a few ideas, including a public-private partnership. 

Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of interest in such a venture.

"It simply is not a viable alternative," Batman said. "It simply is too expensive to serve me and my neighbors without financial incentives and support."

North Carolina

Community broadband debate centered in a North Carolina town by Renne Schoof, McClatchy Washington Bureau

“You don’t realize how fortunate you are to live in an urban setting in my district until you go into a remote area and have no access to broadband or to cellular telephone,” he said.

Tennessee

Rural Tennessee counties need broadband and internet service too by Dave Shepard, Columbia Daily Herald

The battle is typical of the Big Guys (telecommunications companies) verses the Little Guys (Municipal Electric Providers). My rural district which is comprised of 3 rural counties, Dickson, Hickman, and Maury, need expanded broadband service to make us competitive for industrial and business recruitment. We need expansion of broadband service into unserved areas to help our students do homework assignments and our residents to connect to a high speed internet service for business and pleasure. This service is already available to our state’s residents in densely populated areas all over the state of Tennessee.

My rural counties and constituents need broadband and internet service too, and I plan to vote to help them get it.

BTES adopts resolution to support legislation of municipal broadband by Tammy Childress, Bristol Herald Courier

The Bristol Tennessee Essential Services board adopted a resolution Wednesday to support legislation for municipal broadband.

City County approved a similar resolution earlier this month.

Remembering David Carr, and His Writing on Monopoly Power

Stacy Mitchell, Co-Director of ILSR and Director of the Community-Scaled Economy Initiative, took a few moments to look back over the work of David Carr. Carr's work included investigating monopolies in the telecommunications space. Stacy's story, re-posted here, originally ran on ILSR.org.

What will we do without David Carr, the brilliant media columnist at the New York Times who died last week? At ILSR, we will especially miss his writing on monopoly power, Amazon, and the book business. Below we’ve excerpted and linked to a few of his best recent pieces on those subjects.

In Modern Media Realm, Big Mergers Are a Bulwark Against Rivals — July 16, 2014

Comcast’s bold strategy of acquisition kicked off a wave of defensive consolidation, fueled by a combination of fear and abundant capital in the media realm.

I talked to the head of one company that creates television and movies, who expressed a common sentiment. “When Comcast decided to get bigger,” he said, “we all had to ask ourselves, Are we big enough? We all have to think about getting bigger.”

And why not? No one is stopping them.

With big data, a Big Brother government and now big media, size creates its own prerogatives. When Amazon used its market dominance to limit access to Hachette books over a price dispute, regulators yawned. When AT&T and DirecTV propose a tie-up in response to Comcast, the market issues are just another deal point. Cable companies slowed down content from clients (which are also competitors) like Netflix, and it was treated as a business dispute.

For the most part, the current government has passed on regulating potential monopolies, and as citizens, we have become inured to the consequences of bigness.


Amazon Absorbing Price Fight Punches — June 1, 2014

Someone forgot to tell the book business that it was dead. Last Thursday afternoon, I walked over to the Javits Center in Manhattan, where a throng of people had gathered for BookExpo America, the industry’s annual campfire — so many people that I wondered if there was a free whiskey concession…

The immense space was brimming with a surprising amount of optimism: After years of downward spiral, the industry seems to have found some kind of equilibrium.

It has also watched with a mix of giddiness and anxiety as the Hachette Book Group, one of the big Manhattan publishers, has taken on Amazon in a bitter dispute over pricing. Hachette is suffering big losses because Amazon is delaying delivery of Hachette titles while also eliminating discounts. (Its authors are getting clobbered in the process.) Amazon is taking a reputational hit for not putting its customers first, which has long been its guiding philosophy.

Hachette is the first big publisher to enter talks with Amazon since the last round of negotiations, and book people have rejoiced watching the bully get sand — a heap of negative press — kicked in his face.

Amazon, beloved by Wall Street (until recently) and its customers for putting growth and low prices ahead of profits, is getting a bit of an image makeover right now, and the results have not been pretty.

On one level, this is just one corporate giant fighting with another — Hachette is owned by Lagardère of France — over the share of e-book profits. So why the fuss? The answer is that books are different from the thousands of other products Amazon sells.

As the uproar grows, Amazon is learning that while it may own the publishing industry with a 40 percent market share of all new books sold, according to Publishers Weekly, it doesn’t own the debate….

 

Growling by Comcast May Bring Tighter Leash — Sept. 28, 2014

Comcast has a long corporate tradition of smiling and wearing beige no matter what kind of criticisms are hurled at it. That public posture is in keeping with the low-key approach favored by Brian L. Roberts, the company’s chief executive, as he seeks to take over the world. It’s worked very well so far.

But in a filing submitted to the Federal Communications Commission last week in defense of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, the company lashed out uncharacteristically at its critics. And David L. Cohen, Comcast’s chief lobbyist, continued the salvo in comments to reporters and in his written remarks.

Watching Comcast’s ballistic response to opponents of its $45 billion takeover bid was a bit like watching a campaign debate go off the rails. The front-runner, ahead by 20 points, is besieged by ankle-biters who suggest he is a lout and a bully. He finally loses it and goes off on his opponents in a fury, generally acting like, well, a bully.

 

Questions for Comcast as It Looks to Grow — April 6, 2014

It is hard to say how rugged the questions will be when Comcast goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to defend its proposed megamerger with Time Warner Cable.

We do know that Comcast is feeling pretty confident about its chances. In a recent interview with C-Span, David Cohen, an executive vice president at Comcast and the man who will represent the company, said, “ I have been struck by the absence of rational, knowledgeable voices in this space coming out in opposition or even raising serious questions about the transaction.”

Really? How can the largest cable company in the country bid to buy the second-largest and gain control over 19 of the country’s top 20 markets — corralling a 30 percent market share in cable and a 40 percent share in broadband — and there be no serious questions?

 

Why Barnes & Noble Is Good for Amazon — July 14, 2013

Having a bookstore in your neighborhood, as opposed to one that is bookmarked on your browser, is an invitation. Not long ago, I was walking by an airport bookstore and thought, “What if this was the only place to buy books?” Similar to Hollywood, only the blockbusters would get shelf space…

Bookstores offer discoverability, not just the latest Dan Brown or Carl Hiaasen book on the front table, but sometimes treasures deep in the stacks, a long tail of midlist authors and specialty books. Even as the book business consolidates, the physical object displayed in an actual place will continue to be an important part of the ecosystem.

Let’s hope it survives.

 

Telecom’s Big Players Hold Back the Future — May 19, 2013

Ms. Crawford argues that the airwaves, the cable systems and even access to the Internet have been overtaken by monopolists who resist innovation and chronically overcharge consumers.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was meant to lay down track to foster competition in a new age, allowed cable companies and telecoms to simply divide markets and merge their way to monopoly. If you are looking for the answer to why much of the developed world has cheap, reliable connections to the Internet while America seems just one step ahead of the dial-up era, her office — or her book — would be a good place to find out.

 

Navigating a Tightrope With Amazon — April 29, 2012

Mr. Bissinger, who has built a franchise on journalistic excellence and rhetorical intemperance — see his Twitter account — managed to choose his words carefully when talking about how his e-book ended up as a bug on the windshield of Amazon’s relentlessness on pricing.

That may have a little something to do with the fact that he has a great big book, “Father’s Day,” being released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in just two weeks. It would be a bad time to stick his finger in the eye of a company that sells more books — including his — than any other company in the world.

“It’s a shame that the e-book was not on sale at Amazon,” he said. “Amazon is a crucial outlet for any author, and when you lose them, it’s terrifying. It’s a killer for ‘After Friday Night Lights’ because it was just gaining momentum and books have a very small window of opportunity.”

Like Wal-Mart, Amazon is big enough to set prices in certain categories. Suppliers are left to scramble to meet those objectives or pass up the opportunity to work with the largest retailers in the world. Amazon’s might when it comes to pricing will only grow as the impact of the Justice Department’s lawsuit begins to emerge. But sometimes the company’s tactical aggression lands hard on the people who supply it.

 

Book Publishing’s Real Nemesis - April 16, 2012

The Justice Department finally took aim at the monopolistic monolith that threatened to dominate the book industry. So imagine the shock when the bullet aimed at threats to competition went whizzing by Amazon — which not long ago had a 90 percent stranglehold on e-books — and instead, struck five of the six biggest publishers and Apple, a minor player in the realm of books.

That’s the modern equivalent of taking on Standard Oil but breaking up Ed’s Gas ’N’ Groceries on Route 19 instead…

But pull back a few thousand feet and take a broader look at the interests of consumers. From the very beginning and with increasingly regularity, Amazon has used its market power to bully and dictate. It leaned on the Independent Publishers Group in recent months for better terms and when those negotiations didn’t work out, Amazon simply removed the company’s almost 5,000 e-books from its virtual shelves. The Seattle Times just published a series with examples of how Amazon uses its scale not only to keep its prices low, but also to keep its competitors at bay…

After a week of watching the Justice Department and Amazon team up, I’ve learned that low prices come with a big cost. Maybe I’ll order it at my local bookstore instead.

 

Photo of David Carr by Ian Linkletter.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 20

Next week the FCC will make a landmark decision that will affect the future of community networks. Here's a roundup of stories.

Hate Your Internet Service Provider? You Should Have Feb. 26 Circled on Your Calendar by Daniel B. Kline, Motley Fool

The state of city-run Internet by Allan Holmes, Center for Public Integrity

The Center and Reveal revisited Tullahoma, Tennessee and Fayetteville, North Carolina, where state laws restrict municipal broadband growth. 

How Will the Fight over Public ISPs and Net Neutrality Play Out? by Larry Greenemeier, Scientific American

In an effort to sort through these and other issues impacting how people will access and use the Internet for years to come, Scientific American spoke with Lev Gonick, CEO of OneCommunity, an ISP for Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals and another 1,800 public-benefit organizations in northeastern Ohio. 

“The idea of local governments taking it upon themselves to improve community broadband speeds has caught on in recent years, particularly in towns and cities that host major universities craving greater network bandwidth.”

Idaho: 

Judge's ruling worsens Idaho's high school Internet headache by Bill Roberts, Idaho Statesman. We have long argued that throwing money at the biggest carriers is poor policy and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

A deadline for the loss of service looms as officials scramble for solutions.

Iowa:

Providers: Iowa's broadband expansion will take time, money by Barbara Rodriguez, News Tribune

Illinois:

Search still on for immaculate reception by Rich Warren: News-Gazette: Champaign, Illinois

“The FCC may truly blast open the cable industry to competition by overruling laws in Tennessee and North Carolina, which could create a precedent in the remaining 20 states that restrict municipal/public Internet providers. Unfortunately, huge corporations, such as Verizon, threaten to fight this in court to the bitter end.”

Maine:

Town weighing options to create a fiber optic broadband network by Robert Levin, Mount Desert Islander

The town will spend up to $20,000 to study the feasibility of constructing its own fiber optic network to link town buildings, schools and possibly private businesses and residences to high-speed broadband Internet.

Massachussets:

Baker pledges $50 million for Western Mass. broadband by Jack Newsham, Boston Globe

Missouri:

Schaefer seeks to block Columbia from creating high-speed Internet utility by Rudi Keller, Columbia Tribune

In a letter to committee Chairman Eric Schmitt, a coalition of private companies and industry associations said the bill would hinder economic growth, especially in rural areas where private companies are reluctant to invest.

“These communities should be free of artificial barriers, including the cumbersome, time-consuming, expensive, and ambiguous requirements” of Schaefer’s bill, said the letter, signed by Google, Netflix, the Telecommunications Industry Association and the American Public Power Association, among others.

Minnesota:

Broadband appetite grows in Upper Minnesota River Valley by Tom Cherveny 

Green Isle, Townships Nearing Final Phase for Fiber Project OK by Belle Plaine Herald

Ohio:

Cleveland seen pioneering a new kind of smart growth, Internet driven development: the Mix by Robert L. Smith, The Plain Dealer 

Tennessee:

TUB rural broadband gets another hearing  by Marian Galbraith

Texas:

EUB member proposes municipal-owned fiber-optic network by Matt Dotray, A-J Media

West Virginia:

W.Va. bill to build $78M rural broadband network advances by Eric Eyre, West Virginia Gazette

Oh Snap! House buckling to Frontier, Republican delegate alleges by Eric Eyre , West Virginia Gazette

“No wonder they’re called Frontier, Those are the kinds of speeds you’d expect on the American frontier in the 17th century,” Smith said in a press release.  

“I may be alienated by my party in the end, but right is right, and wrong is wrong. [Internet companies] ought to be held accountable for what they’re providing.”

Opinion:

Editorial: Let cities compete for broadband: Our view USA Today

Why should they be powerless as big companies route the information superhighway around them?

Editorial: Broadband development holds possibilities by Watertown Daily Times

Broadband is better as a public-private partnership By Ben Franske, MinnPost 

 

Internet and Education:

Technology at their fingertips, but lacking Internet

Students have access to the gadgets, but when Internet is lacking at home, they may fall behind. 

 

Comcast:

Comcast agent tells customer that data caps are “mandated by law” by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Comcast forced to clarify that "there is no law" requiring data caps.

Cable customer service “unacceptable,” says cable’s top lobbyist

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell loves cable, but facts are facts.

Comcast Ghostwrites Letters From Elected Officials to FCC

It is common knowledge that Comcast and a number of political leaders enjoy special relationships. Nevertheless, it was still a bit shocking to see the level at which Comcast's army has infiltrated the political process as uncovered in a recent Verge article.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink lawyers and lobbyists often write legislation for lawmakers to introduce. This past summer, the puppetry went one step further when Comcast crafted letters supporting the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger. Those letters were then submitted to the FCC from the offices of a number of politicians known to receive support from the cable giant. We applaud both Comcast and their pet lawmakers for their efficiency!

The Verge was also able to obtain email threads that document how lobbyists drafted letters of support and sent them on to local elected officials, who then made insignificant changes in the signature line or transferred the exact language on to official stationery before sending it on to the FCC.

We have taken the liberty of presenting some of the letters below. You can see a few email exchanges that detail the conversation between Comcast lobbyists and political staff.

The Verge spoke with Michal Copps, former FCC Chairman, who now advises at Common Cause:

"When a mayor of a town or a town councilman or a legislator writes in — we look at that, and if someone is of a mind already to approve something like this they might say: ‘ah-ha, see!’" says Copps, who is now an advisor at Common Cause and opposes the merger. "These letters can be consequential, there’s no question about that."

The comment process has been tainted because Comcast has also used gentle nudging to obtain support from organizations benefitting from its charitable foundation. Columbia Professor Tim Wu has studied the potential merger:

"I think they have failed to meet their burden of persuasion that this will make life better for the average American consumer…What does the average American consumer care about? They care about prices being too high. Comcast could have said this merger will lower prices and committed itself to lower prices but it has made no sign that it will do this." 

Wu, who reviewed the documents obtained by The Verge, said that the new information "confirms the impression that evidence that the merger is in the ‘public interest’ is simply being manufactured."

"It’s sort of become an amusement park where the fake stuff outnumbers the real stuff," Wu says. "The fact is a lot of telecom issues are pretty obscure, they often don’t get the public very excited. So what do you do? You buy it."

Apparently, these elected officials did not expect their constituents to notice that they supported one of the most unpopular proposed mergers in history. In order to set the record straight, we encourage constituents to contact them and let them know that you do not support the merger, as they claim you do.

We also suggest that you let them know that you do not cotton to the idea that they let lobbyists put words in their mouths, regardless of the issue.

Most importantly, remember this incident the next time you enter the voting booth.

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 124

Thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript of Episode 124 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Hannah Jane Sassaman on using the franchise to organize against Comcast. Listen to this episode here.

 

00:04:

Hannah Jane Sassaman: Internet Essentials is a really important example of why letting big companies like Comcast own all of the infrastructure that lets us communicate and determine the policies that let us communicate is exactly the wrong idea for the next generation.

00:20:

Lisa Gonzalez: Hello there. Welcome again to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This is Lisa Gonzalez.

Hannah Jane Sassaman, Policy Director for Media Mobilizing Project, joins Chris today. The project is centered in Philadelphia, where a significant amount of the population is trapped in the digital divide. As most of our listeners know, Comcast offered Internet Essentials a few years ago to sweeten their NBC merger proposition. The program was supposed to get more lower-income people online, but it has had dismal results. In this interview, Hannah describes how the Media Mobilizing Project discovered Comcast's immense political clout in Philadelphia that went far beyond exposition as a cable TV and Internet provider.

As the community discovered how the multibillion-dollar corporation was taking advantage of them, animosity grew, and they decided it was time to hold Comcast's feet to the fire. Philadelphia's franchise agreement with Comcast is coming to an end, and the Media Mobilizing Project saw this is an opportunity to demand Comcast finally pay its fair share. They have begun a grassroots movement to pressure local officials to require any new agreement to include more affordable services for local citizens, a requirement that Comcast pay its fair share in taxes, and that Comcast employees should receive the benefits they deserve. The Media Mobilizing Project provides more detail on the platform at its website capcomcast.org. Here are Hannah Jane Sassaman and Chris, discussing efforts to tell Comcast to support its home town.

01:58:

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. And today I'm speaking with Hannah Jane Sassaman, the Policy Director for Media Mobilizing Project in Philadelphia. Welcome to the show.

02:12:

Hannah Jane Sassaman: Thank you so much.

02:13:

Chris: I'm excited to have you on. Always like guests from Philly. I love going back there to visit friends. And I grew up in Allentown, so I'm a big fan of the cheesesteak, which is only possible to get in the Philadelphia area.

02:25:

Hannah: Next time you're here, I'll make sure you get the best one in town.

02:28:

Chris: Is that Jim's?

02:29:

Hannah: This place, Tony Luke's, that has -- puts this incredibly garlicky, oily, broccoli rub on their cold pork sandwiches, and other great stuff on their cheesesteaks. It's something that most folks out-of-town don't know about. But it's definitely the best cheesesteak and the best cold pork in town.

02:44:

Chris: All right. Well. I'm very glad to learn that. I look forward to that, next time I'm in town. And, now that we have our listeners starting to be really interested in what's going on in Philadelphia, why don't you tell us a little bit about the Media Mobilizing Project?

02:58:

Hannah: Sure. So, Media Mobilizing Project is a group that focuses on communications rights as a tool to end poverty. We live in the poorest big city in the United States. Philly is the poorest of the top ten big cities. And there's millions of people in this region that really struggle to get by. That struggle to get their kids into good schools, that struggle to get good jobs in healthcare, that are struggling against immigration issues, and many other issues. But they're isolated from each other, and it's really -- people feel really alone. So we do everything from really intensive media trainings to help people break the digital divide, to get online. We produce stories that really unite people across color lines, across communities of origin, across age. And we focus really hard, as well, on the structure of the media system that either lets us tell those stories or keeps us from telling those stories.

So, we've done everything from win $20 million for the city of Philadelphia from a big stimulus package that let us build 77 computer labs with community partners across the city. We produce very high quality video work that helps taxi workers win workman's compensation, that's helped Head Start parents -- we authorized the Head Start program to keep their kids in preschool. And we focus really hard on the relationships between things like the shuttering of our Philadelphia School District's schools, the closing of hospitals, and the ability for us to tell those stories, in the city where Comcast is headquartered. So, it's about the relationship between everyday things that we go through and our ability to connect with each other to solve the problems facing people in America today.

04:42:

Chris: Well, working in those communities, I have to assume that you're very familiar with the Comcast Internet Essentials program -- a program that, if you listen to Comcast, you know, is the solution for making sure that people that have children in the home are able to access the Internet so they can be educated and have all the tools that all the other kids have. What's been your experience, and the community's experience, with that program?

05:10:

Hannah: Internet Essentials is a really important example of why letting big companies like Comcast own all of the infrastructure that lets us communicate and determine the policies that lets us communicate is exactly the wrong idea for the next generation. So, back in 2011, as your listeners probably remember, Comcast was trying to merge with NBC-Universal -- which, you know, instinctively seems like a pretty -- pretty bad idea. It's a lot of monopolization in one industry. But executives at Comcast, led by David Cohen, the Executive VP there, told Congress that if they were allowed to merge with NBC, that they would get two million families online -- two million people online that weren't online before, with $10 a month Internet, a subsidized refurbished computer, and training to learn how to use it. Only, in 2011, something like 500 families in Philly were using it -- in a city where many, many families were eligible.

And the issue was that Comcast put a ton of barriers in front of low-income families to be able to use the service. They set it up so that if you owed Comcast any money, any back bills, or if you had old equipment at your house, that you had to pay that off, you had to return the equipment, in order to get online. They would check your credit. And these are issues that folks living in poverty struggle with all the time. The program was also only available to families where the kids were enrolled initially just in public schools. They expanded it after that to private, parochial, other kinds of schools. And those kids had to qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch programs. So that meant that millions of people that didn't qualify for those programs but still couldn't afford an unpredictable Comcast bill every month -- folks with disabilities, seniors, folks who were out of work, who needed Internet connectivity to get a job -- were just cut out of the picture, completely.

There was a really good piece, done by a reporter named Alan Holmes, who works for the Center for Public Integrity, studying the impact of Comcast's discount program's lack of availability to folks who were out of work, and to seniors, for example. And so, I think what really matters is that Comcast PRETENDS that that program really fixes the digital divide. They look at like a kind of charity. When really what we need is regulated and legislated change.

We shouldn't let Comcast have it both ways, saying: Please don't regulate us. Please let us merge with Time Warner Cable, for example. Please let us, you know, prevent cities like Pittsburgh, cities like Scranton, other cities in Pennsylvania from building their own competitive networks. Let us have a monopoly in every city where we work. Don't charge us any taxes. Comcast, you know, pushes very hard with its lobbying dollars to demand all these things. But then really doesn't actually get poor people online. Currently around the United States, only 12 percent of eligible families are using this program. And in Philly, that number is even lower: it's 9 percent. That's in Comcast's home town.

So, when we look at breaking the digital divide, and making sure everyone has the ability to advocate for their future, to learn, to apply for jobs, we can't trust big companies to do it on their own. We have to make sure that we're building the competitive market, that we are protecting communities' right to build their own solutions, to truly make that happen.

08:29:

Chris: You actually left out some other incredibly troubling details for even those who are able to figure out that there's this program out there that they could sign up for. I mean, there's the issue that Comcast just hasn't done a good job marketing it, in Philadelphia or anywhere. Oftentimes, when people call in, once they've learned about it, perhaps from a church group or something, they'll get a customer service representative who has no idea what they're talking about. And then, if they navigate the barriers, a few months later, they get one device that can connect to the Internet. You know, it's really -- the program is so incredibly limited. And, as Alan -- I believe Alan Holmes -- showed, it's still a profit center for Comcast. They're not even ...

09:09:

Hannah: That's right!

09:09:

Chris: ... losing money on it. You know, it's one of those things where -- You know, I hate to say, you know, oh, Comcast SHOULD be losing money on it. Well, the question should be, is it meeting the needs? And it's not. And on top of it, Comcast is just finding a way of sucking more money out of these communities that don't have it to give.

09:25:

Hannah: That's right. Comcast earned $18 million a year off this discount Internet program. Which is, I think, pretty disgusting. And I think the point that you brought up, Chris, about how this is really something that they're not even promoting well is quite right.

I was working with a school, a public school here in Philadelphia, named Constitution High. It's a magnet school, focused on history, focused on social studies, that in Old City, that's in the birthplace of the American democracy. It's literally a block and a half away from the Liberty Bell. I went and visited that school, and worked with a teacher there named Miranda Thompson and a number of students. And they said that Comcast had come in, in 2011, and done a huge dog-and-pony show at the school. They brought the Mayor. They brought the Philadelphia Eagles, football players. They brought a lot of cameras. They shut the second-floor bathrooms so only Comcast employees could use it, none of the kids could use it. They did this big dog-and-pony show to launch Internet Essentials. And all the students got in return were ten laptops for the school, of which -- six of which were broken the next year. I saw a pile of dead brick laptops.

And when Miranda did a survey, of over 150 students she interacts with during the day -- she just did a, you know, not a scientifically significant one, but talked with all of the kids she saw for a school day. Only three of those kids were signed up for the Internet Essentials program. And this is a school where two-thirds of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And so, what we're looking at is, Comcast's putting forward this program to try to merge with Time Warner Cable, to cover and paper over their merger with NBC. And because of the really clear analysis that -- and the great media coverage that we've gotten -- that a number of advocates and students and community advocates have gotten around the paucity of this program, Comcast has started to improve it a little bit.

Like, for example, they removed that provision that was saying that if you owed them any money that you couldn't get online. They said that if that bill was over a year old, they would cancel it. They literally called it an "amnesty." Which I found to be incredibly telling about Comcast's hubris. Comcast thinks they've got the power to grant "amnesty" to people in the United States who are poor. They literally think that they have that control. Really what we need is an amnesty from the closed, monopolized, completely-out-of-control market that prevents the Internet from being an affordable utility, like it is in millions of other communities around the world. And so, I think that there's more and more analysis, both in our everyday communities as well as in Congress and at the FCC, that we need competitive, local broadband networks, as well as strong restrictions on what Comcast can charge our communities, to make sure that everyone gets online.

12:14:

Chris: One of the challenges of having those competitive systems, of course, is that it is incredibly difficult to organize around opposition to Comcast. For whatever reason. People are furious with Comcast, they hate their cable company. And yet, it's difficult to get them to recognize that there's an alternative. You've started to do this. You've identified that there IS an opportunity to organize around. And that's the franchise renegotiation. Because Comcast needs approval from the city to be offering its services. And this is true in about half of our states that have local franchising still. So why don't you tell us a little bit about what you're working on?

12:52:

Hannah: Last year, in 2013, we noticed -- we were working with -- we work with poor people's organizations, unions, all the time. To help them tell their stories, and to help unite their stories, as I described before. We were working with a coalition that was trying to expand paid sick days -- that was trying to make sure that the 200,000 workers in Philly, that don't even have one paid day off a year -- people who work in restaurants, do child care -- get it.

13:18:

Chris: This is a tangent that I really want to just cover briefly. It's really personal to me. I worked developing film for Ritz Camera, back when there was Ritz Camera stores. And ...

13:29:

Hannah: Yeah.

13:29:

Chris: ... you know, this was an hourly job. And there was no paid sick time. If I got sick, and I took a day off of work, I was expected to have a note from the doctor to justify ...

13:39:

Hannah: Yup.

13:39:

Chris: ... So, not only did I not get paid, and I didn't earn enough to actually have medical care -- to have health insurance -- I sure wasn't going to go to the doctor if I was ill. I was going to wait a while. But this is something that a number of cities have been looking at. Health care policy is not something we typically talk about. But Comcast really inserted themselves into this debate in Philadelphia, which I just found astounding.

14:00:

Hannah: Totally, Chris. Your Ritz Cameras story is indicative of what millions of people in this country go through -- hundreds of thousands here in Comcast's home town. So, we noticed, in 2013, that the biggest lobbyist against that bill in Philly City Council, to try to kill it, was Comcast. They spent more than any other lobbyist, talking to all of the members of Council about why they didn't think it should pass. And we thought that was an outrage. And also a really important thing to tell this city: that this company that claims to be a hometown hero was fighting the poorest people's right to have even one paid day off, to take care of a sick parent, or sick child, or themselves. It's just astounding to us.

And so, we work with national groups and local organizations. We got about 60,000 petition signatures, telling our City Council to listen to us, not to Comcast. We took them around City Hall, surrounded by TV cameras. And we -- I really believe that we moved the votes of a bunch of those different City Council members to vote "yes" when they otherwise would have voted "no." We got a majority of Councilors to pass a bill, but it was one vote short of a veto-proof majority. That bill was vetoed by our mayor.

We found out that Comcast was paying about a third of the taxes that other Pennsylvania-headquartered companies were paying. Here in Pennsylvania, they pay 3.4 percent in income taxes in a state where 10 percent is the average. We found that in their big downtown headquarters, they pay basically nothing in their -- on their huge building in property taxes. Which is particularly egregious because our school district depends on property tax to survive. And after we've been, you know, starved, in our school district, by our governor, by our mayor -- we just shuttered over 20 schools here in Philly, and schools opened this year without guidance counselors, nurses, sports, arts, you know -- it's a really a really telling thing when we have a company like Comcast not supporting the city where it actually lives.

We found that the new headquarters that they're building, they're getting $40 million in subsidies, right out of the gate, to build that building. And it's not like they're going to be providing jobs to low-income Philadelphians. They're going to try to import fancy techs and, you know, world-class employees, as they describe it, from outside of our community.

And we also found that executives at Comcast were actively pushing to break our teachers union, to -- instead of Comcast paying more in taxes to support the schools, Comcast was trying to force our teachers to pay more for, you know, subsidizing a school district, which is absolutely at rock-bottom bankruptcy.

It really seemed like a perfect time to focus on how can we ask the question, what is Comcast's responsibility to the city that has given so much to it, in a time of economic crisis? But we're the fourth-biggest cable market in the country, as well as Comcast's headquarters. So we're no joke. And then, we found that Comcast's 15-year deal, that they signed with the city of Philadelphia, in order to provide cable connectivity -- Comcast, because they dig up our streets, they have to pay what's called a franchise fee to the city of Philadelphia. And what that fee is -- it's calculated based on 5 percent of their gross cable receipts, every year. So that's not broadband, and that's not voice-over-IP. It's not the triple play. It's just their cable receipts.

And they also have to provide funding and some channel space for public-access television, which is vitally important. We do a lot of work on our local access channel, PhillyCAM. But we were looking at that franchise deal, saying why wouldn't we work to make it politically necessary and possible? That if Comcast is going to get another 15-year deal, that they have to actually pay their fair share. Even though it's not legally necessary for Comcast to, for example, pay another 5 percent on top of that 5 percent in cable receipts. Or to expand that Internet Essentials program we were talking about earlier, to create promotions for millions of other people in our region to access it. Or to pay for every piece of technology in the Philadelphia public schools, and provide free connectivity to them and their families, for example, for the life of the franchise. All of these things seem morally obvious. But they're not legally required.

But we -- but the negotiation, in order to get a franchise, is just that. It's a negotiation between the city of Philadelphia and Comcast. And we're working with thousands of people across the city, we're working with members of City Council, we're working with the technical office here in the city, to say that Comcast should not get a new franchise unless it pays its fair share. Unless it really makes sure that the rates for the service that it provides are affordable. So hundreds of thousands more people get online. That the resources that Comcast provides start to meet its deep, deep profits.

Like the fact that they don't pay enough in taxes, here in Philadelphia, is egregious. And that competition is something that can happen over the next 15 years. That we open up the franchise, look at either what the legal provisions are there, or what the political realities are that prevent other competitors -- fiber, um, you know, high-speed wireless -- from coming to Philadelphia -- that we get those kicked out, so we build the competition we need, so consumers truly get an affordable, high-speed, viable service. And Comcast has to bring down their prices to match it.

So that's -- those are the demands we're going to try to attach to this franchise. We're going to be bringing hundreds of people to public hearings around this, which should be announced any day now. It should be happening before the end of 2014. And we'll be working to make sure that low-income people, that local entrepreneurs, that people who represent the schools are telling their Council members that Comcast shouldn't get a new deal unless the true communications and resource needs of the city are met. And we think that this is a model that people can follow all around the United States.

Right now, Comcast is attempting to merge with Time Warner [Cable]. They're also trying to divest from a number of cities that they've served for years. Like Detroit, for example. They're trying to pick [pull] up states in Detroit so when they -- if and when they merge with Time Warner Cable, the amount of homes that are being served by Comcast falls under a cap of around 30 percent of American homes, so the Department of Justice won't consider them a monopoly. So they're leaving cities like Detroit. They're leaving, like, the Twin Cities region. In order to get Manhattan. In order to get Los Angeles. So when those cities are looking at new franchises that Comcast is trying to ram through, so they look kosher to the Department of Justice, they should also be looking at what are the different provisions they can attach to a franchise that make Internet more affordable, that make the resources the community needs far more on the table, and that builds the future of competition, which can keep communications prices down for millions of people.

21:02:

Chris: All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show.

21:04:

Hannah: Thank you, Chris.

21:05:

Lisa: Hannah left us with a few other suggestions for communities who may be in a similar situation. She suggests capcomcast.org to review in detail some of the demands the Media Mobilizing Project is putting together for the Philadelphia franchising negotiations. They have a number of resources, including video, and a petition we encourage you to sign and submit. You should also take a moment to contact your own elected officials and let them know that you support this type of strategy to improve connectivity in your community. Hannah also recommends trying to connect your local officials to elected officials in places where community networks have already had a positive impact. We have hundreds of examples at muninetworks.org . Lastly, she suggests following events at the FCC, and commenting to show your support for proposals that encourage community networks, local control, and network neutrality.

Send us your ideas for the show. E-mail us at podcast@muninetworks.org . Follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @communitynets . This week we want to thank Jessie Evans for the song, "Is it Fire?" licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening.