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The FCC Is Our Best Shot to Restore Local Authority

For the first time in many years, we have an opportunity to repeal some particularly destructive state laws limiting investment in community networks. To be clear, this is our best shot. I've already covered the background and offered a blanket encouragement for you to post comments.

Chairman Wheeler has been looking for an opportunity to expand local authority by removing state laws that limit investment in Internet networks. The cable and telephone companies are marshalling their considerable forces to stop him. But we can, and must help.

We have spent years analyzing these state barriers for ways to restore local authority. The FCC, using its Section 706 power, is our best shot. The carriers have far too much power in the state capitals, which means that even when we have public opinion squarely on our side, the carriers easily kill state bills to restore local authority.

Anyone who thinks we have a better shot at rolling back state barriers individually in the states rather than with this FCC is wrong. Really wrong. Between Art Pope and Time Warner Cable lobbyists, there is no hope for any legislation that would threaten cable monopolies in North Carolina.

These petitions on municipal networks are not some FCC smokescreen related to the network neutrality proceeding. In fact, we at ILSR remain publicly frustrated with the FCC's failure to act more strongly in protecting the open Internet. But Chairman Wheeler, for reasons that seem somewhat personal to him, is particularly motivated to remove the anti-competitive laws passed by big cable and telephone company lobbyists. It strikes a chord with him and I, for one, am glad to see him taking action on it.

Anyone who claims action on municipal networks is some sort of trade for giving up on network neutrality is, once again, really wrong. For one thing, a trade requires two parties and I have yet to identify a single entity that would trade meaningful open Internet protections for rolling back a few barriers to municipal networks. Haven't found one. Not even us.

Further, restoring local authority on municipal networks is not a trade for the FCC later preempting local authority over the rights-of-way because once again, no one is ready to take that deal. Advocates of local decision-making authority tend to oppose preemption as a matter of course.

In the case of the current FCC proceedings, it must be noted that the FCC is actually being asked to preempt preemption, which is to say the principle remains that local authority should be respected. The FCC will remove state restrictions on local authority; no community will be required to take action it prefers not to.

This is a key opportunity. The FCC's Section 706 Authority allows it to remove barriers investment. No one is talking about creating new regulations.

For those still skeptical about these petitions, let me suggest this: If this is all some elaborate game of 3D chess masterminded by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, let's call him on it. Let's assemble a great record of how local governments can increase investment in next-generation services and states should not revoke their authority to decide for themselves how to invest or partner to improve and expand Internet access. In the worst case scenario, we will have compiled a great case for our position.

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice has posted instructions on how to file. File anytime between now and August 29. We are still working on a resource with recommendations and such for MuniNetworks.org and will publish them soon.

Chattanooga and Wilson Comment Period Open; Tell the FCC You Support Local Authority

Last week, the communities of Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, filed petitions with the FCC. Both communities requested that the agency remove state barriers preventing expansion beyond their current service areas. On July 28, the FCC established a public comment calendar for the request. It is imperative that all those with an interest in better access take a few moments to express their support for these two communities.

Opening Comments are due August 29, 2014; Reply Comments will be due September 29, 2014. That means you need to submit comments by the end of this month. If you want to reply to any comments, you can do that in September.

This is a pivotal moment in telecommunications policy. For months municipal network advocates have been following Chairman Wheeler's stated intentions to remove state barriers to local authority. Within the past few weeks, federal legislators - many that rely on campaign contributions from large providers - pushed back through Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Blackburn introduced an amendment to a House appropriations bill preventing FCC preemption if the amendment becomes law.

ILSR and MuniNetworks.org encourage individuals, organizations, and entities to file comments supporting the people of Wilson and Chattanooga. These two communities exemplify the potential success of local Internet choice. We have documented their many victories on MuniNetworks.org and through case studies on Wilson [PDF] and Chattanooga [PDF].

Now is the time to share your support for local decision-making. This is not about whether any given community should build its own network so much as it is about whether every community can decide for itself how to best expand and improve Internet access, whether by investing in itself or working with a trusted partner.

ILSR will be filing comments in support of Wilson's and Chattanooga's petitions. As a service to those who plan to express their support for local authority, we will continue to provide information, guidance, and resources throughout the comment period. In the near future, there should be a guide to help you submit comments. But if you are really enthusiastic or already know the process, here are some links.

File comments electronically for Wilson's petition at Proceeding 14-115; Chattanooga's petition is Proceeding 14-116. Petitions and exhibits are available at the filings pages or at the links below.

Local Government Groups: "We Need Local Authority"

As the FCC considers the role of local authority in expanding Internet access, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is hearing from coalitions opposing state barriers on municipal networks. On July 3, Executive Directors from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), the National League of Cities (NLC), and the National Association of Counties (NACo) sent Wheeler a joint letter of support [pdf].

From the letter:

The diversity of cities and counties in America also reflect differing values and needs. As such, Local governments should have the flexibility to address broadband and Internet access in a way that meets the needs of the people they serve.

The importance of Internet choice at the local level has never been more important. In many places in the U.S, locally-driven projects—including innovative partnerships with private sector companies—have demonstrated that local creativity and local authority is a viable means by which new next-generation broadband infrastructure can emerge.

The letter was close on the heels of a parallel Resolution passed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) at their June 22nd Annual Meeting. From the final Resolution:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the US Conference of Mayors recommends that the FCC preempt state barriers to municipal broadband service as a significant limitation to competition in the provision of Internet access.

Governing Looks at What the Comcast - Time Warner Cable Merger Could Do to Munis

The debate surrounding the proposed Comcast Time Warner Cable merger continues. The Department of Justice and the FCC ruminate over the deal while the media speculates about the future.

Governing recently published an article on potential side effects for the municipal network movement. Tod Newcombe reached out to Chris for expert opinion.

From Governing:

Partially thanks to Comcast and other cable giant's lobbying, 19 states have already passed laws that ban or restrict local communities from setting up publicly owned alternatives to the dominant provider in the area. Municipalities that pursue publicly owned broadband often cite several reasons for their efforts, ranging from lack of competition and choices in the area to a desire for faster speeds at lower costs. But Mitchell fears the lobbying power of a combined Comcast-Time Warner would choke off what little leverage remains for local governments when it comes to gaining state approval to build publicly owned broadband networks.

Unfortunately, the cable company cyclops borne out of this deal would create a ginormous lobbying monster. Comcast and Time Warner Cable wield significant political influence separately; a marriage of the two would likely damage the municipal network movement. The Center for Responsive Politics reports Comcast spent over $18 million in 2013; Time Warner Cable spent over $8 million.

Chris told Governing:

"Judging by the amount of opposition to the merger, I think people are seeing that we're at a tipping point and that there are ways they can make investments at the local level and control their own destiny," said Mitchell. "A lot of people and local businesses understand that the Internet is really important and that we can't trust it to a few corporations. But I don't see that level of understanding from most elected officials yet."

Circuit Court to FCC: You Can Restore Local Authority to Build Community Networks

As we noted yesterday, the DC Circuit of Appeals has decided that the FCC does not have authority to implement its Open Internet (network neutrality) rules as proposed several years ago.

But the court nonetheless found that the FCC does have some authority to regulate in the public interest, particularly when it comes to something we have long highlighted: state barriers to community owned networks. For example, see North Carolina and recent efforts in Georgia.

States have been lobbied heavily by powerful cable and telephone companies to create barriers that discourage community owned networks. Nineteen states have such barriers (see our map with the states shown in red), largely because communities have nowhere near the lobbying power of massive cable and telephone companies, not because the arguments against municipal networks are compelling.

For those who remember a certain Supreme Court decision called Nixon v Missouri, the Court has once weighed in the matter of state barriers to community networks. In the '96 Telecom Act, Section 253 declares "No State or local statute or regulation, or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service."

However, the Supreme Court decided in 2004 that Congress was insufficiently clear in its intent to preempt state authority - that "any" did not mean "any" but rather meant something else. In making this decision, it ignored a legislative history with plenty of evidence (see Trent Lott for instance) that suggested Congress meant "any" to mean "any."

ANYway, we lost that one. States were found to have the right to limit the authority of communities to build their own networks. But we have long felt that a different grant of authority gave the FCC the power to overrule state limits of local authority to build networks, Section 706.

Preemption Map

And this is where yesterday's decision comes in. Circuit Judge Silberman concurred in part and dissented in part - but more importantly for us, he explained Section 706. Read along with your own copy from here [pdf].

The statute directs the Commission to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans . . . by utilizing . . . price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.”

As I said, we have long felt the FCC had the power to remove state barriers that limit local authority to build fiber networks under its section 706 authority but we did not know whether the courts would read it in the same way. In describing the difference between its authority to promote competition vs. its power to remove barriers to infrastructure investment, he notes:

An example of a paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment would be state laws that prohibit municipalities from creating their own broadband infrastructure to compete against private companies.

The footnotes cites this Wired article for further information. It's "kind of a big deal."

We now have a clear roadmap: Section 706 gives the FCC the authority to remove barriers to infrastructure investment and to promote competition. Restoring local authority to build networks achieves both. The Nixon v. Missouri decision is irrelevant, based on a different section of law. And we have plenty of evidence that when allowed to build their own networks, communities can do a wonderful job... that is what we have been documenting for years.

New York Times on Internet in America, Genachowski Legacy

Eduardo Porter has an important column today in the business section of the New York Times, "Yanking Broadband From the Slow Lane." He correctly identifies some of the culprits slowing the investment in Internet networks in our communities.

The last two paragraphs read:

Yet the challenge remains: monopolies have a high instinct for self-preservation. And more than half a dozen states have passed legislation limiting municipalities from building public broadband networks in competition with private businesses. South Carolina passed its version last year. A similar bill narrowly failed in Georgia.

Supporting these bills, of course, are the nation’s cable and telephone companies.

Not really "supporting" so much as creating. They create the bills and move them with millions of dollars spent on lobbyists and campaign finance contributions, usually without any real public debate on the matter.

Eduardo focuses on Google Fiber rather than the hundreds of towns that have built networks - as have most of the elite media outlets. Google deserves praise for taking on powerful cable and DSL companies, but it is lazy journalism broadly that has ignored the networks built by hundreds of towns - my criticism of the press generally, not Eduardo specifically.

FCC Logo

The person who deserves plenty of criticism is former FCC Chairman Genachowski. From the article:

According to the F.C.C.’s latest calculation, under one-third of American homes are in areas where at least two wireline companies offer broadband speeds of 10 Mbps or higher.

We have 20 million Americans with no access to broadband. The rest are lucky to have a choice between two providers and even then, most still only have access to fast connections from a single provider.

When the National Broadband Plan was unveiled, we were critical of it and believed it would do little to improve our standing. Even its architect, Blair Levin, is annoyed at how Genachowski failed to implement even the modest proposals put forth.

Back in the NYT piece, we find this:

Mr. Genachowski contends that broadband deployment is on the right track. He points to the growing number of high-speed broadband deployments like Google Fiber and municipal projects around the country, as well as to AT&T’s announcement that it will expand the footprint of its U-verse network — the number of homes to which service is available — to 33 million. This uses fiber part of the way and, AT&T claims, can attain up to 75 Mbps.

Absurd. First of all, the supposed AT&T expansion is playing with numbers. If anyone actually gets U-Verse from this new deployment, it will be fewer than 1.5 million people but we really have no way of knowing because neither the states or the FCC really keeps track of these deployments. They just take AT&T's word for it.

As for 75 Mbps, talk about cherry picking data. Most people live far enough away from the DSLAM or have old enough copper wires that they will not even come close to that number. And this is only for downstream - the upstream capacity remains a fraction of that. This is a fantasy in a fantasy but these numbers are repeated by media sources because they come from AT&T.

I'm rather surprised Genachowski did not also take credit for AT&T's pretend fiber press release in Austin or the overblown CenturyLink pilot in Omaha. Communities engaged in the hard work of building a network received scant attention until they had a ribbon cutting where Chairman Genachowski would appear suddenly supportive and trying to take some measure of credit.

FCC Revolving Door

Genachowski likely felt more comfortable with AT&T, CenturyLink, and a few other big corporations because they share his preference for press releases rather than doing the hard work that needs to be done. We look forward to seeing which of these firms he joins as a lobbyist of some sort ... after a stint at a nonprofit to make it less obvious, of course. Wouldn't want to be as obvious as former FCC Commissioner Baker.

Lest I go too far in attacking our former FCC Chairman, we do remain thankful that once in awhile he did stand up the big corporations and meekly request a reasonable concession.. Most recently, he spoke out against legislation in Georgia to revoke local authority to build networks. For years, FCC Commission and acting Chair Mignon Clyburn has fought to preserve local authority and we were pleased to see her get some backup from the then-Chairman. He didn't actually use his power to actually do anything, but it was nice of him to think of us.

As we move forward with the new FCC under Chairman-nomineer Wheeler, we hope to see real progress on expanding fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access to everyone. Given his industry background, we cannot help but be nervous. And the utter disaster Obama has been for a public interest media and telecom agenda does not help either.

As this NYT article confirms, communities are smart to pursue their own strategies in solving this problem, not waiting for DC to sort anything out. And if DC can be bothered to take any action on telecom, it would be smart to start by removing barriers for communities that want to invest in themselves.

Utah State Auditor Reviews UTOPIA, Ignores State Role in Handicapping Network

Just this week, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General of the State of Utah released a report to the Utah Legislature on UTOPIA. The report, titled A Performance Audit of the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency rehashes prior criticisms of UTOPIA and tells the abridged story of the Auditor's understanding of UTOPIA's financial troubles.

While one can accept the report as truthful, it certainly is not comprehensive. Jesse Harris, of FreeUTOPIA notes that leaving out certain pieces of information taint the presumed impartiality of the report. From Jesse:

The Legislative Auditor General has published an audit of UTOPIA, and, as expected, it drags a fair amount of ancient history back into the spotlight.  The report concludes that additional accountability will alleviate the problems that UTOPIA has experienced, but it missed the mark on a number of points.

The Audit Scope and Objectives are spelled out in the beginning as:

Members of the Utah Legislature asked for an audit of UTOPIA so residents of UTOPIA member cities might know how the organization has used its funds. Legislators also asked for a review the organization’s general management practices. To address their concerns, we developed an audit plan to review the following areas:

  • The size and use of UTOPIA’s debt financing
  • The causes leading to UTOPIA’s current financial 
condition
  • UTOPIA’s management and board governance practices

While there are many bar graphs, pie charts, and dollar signs in the report and it seems to meet the scope and objectives, financial information alone does not explain UTOPIA's troubles. The first place to look is close to home.

From the beginning, UTOPIA has had to overcome difficult odds in a hostile legislative environment. As we note on our Community Broadband Map, the State of Utah effectively requires that community networks function as wholesale-only. The mandate puts them at a significant financial disadvantage from the beginning, severely limiting the amount of revenue they can collect early in the life of the network.

Another state law prevents community networks from bonding for more than 50% of the cost of the network. The only choice, thanks to the Utah Legislature, was to plan on using revenue from the early phase to complete further expansion of the network. The 50% rule, combined with the wholesale-only requirement prevents the robust expansion needed to breath life into a new network. Auditor staff failed to examine the effects of these two laws taken together.

The auditors gloss over efforts by the incumbents to deliberately disrupt UTOPIA. For instance, Qwest dedicated its significant might to preventing UTOPIA to access poles that it had a right to use. From the audit:

After eighteen months, UTOPIA and Qwest finally resolved their dispute over access rights. By that time, however, UTOPIA staff report that the agency’s construction contractors had moved on to other locations and the financial resources had been committed elsewhere. As a result, the financing was no longer available to complete the partially built neighborhoods. The result is a patchwork of service with some neighborhoods receiving services and with other, adjacent neighborhoods without service. 

UTOPIA Logo

It should read, "Qwest was able to delay UTOPIA's rollout by 18 months by forcing an unnecessary court proceeding. During that time, UTOPIA had little choice but to strand some of its investment and move on to areas where Qwest could not use legal tactics delay UTOPIA." The audit uses neutral language to avoid the important question of why they had a dispute to resolve -- it was because Qwest was using dirty tricks to bleed UTOPIA dry. And it worked.

There is no separation between pre-2008 and present UTOPIA. There are many examples of what hindsight can label as bad management decisions, but not enough examples of the implemented fixes. The report casually mentions a few - "stranded assets" being recovered and connected and efforts to better market the service to increase subscription rates. The Auditor could have and should have included more instances of remedial management action to give an up-to-date picture for the state legislature.

The Auditor's four recommendations revolve around management policy, practice, and greater accountability. Accountbility is always a good thing, but adopting those recommendations may or may not improve UTOPIA's financial health.

The report should have also included a recommendation to the Utah State Legislature - to remove state barriers and let local communities decide for themselves if they need, want, and can invest in broadband. Perhaps if UTOPIA was not restricted from day one, this report would not exist today.

In all, the report only considers part of the reasons for UTOPIA's struggles. There is no balancing discussion of the benefits UTOPIA has brought to its communities in return for the public money they have had to spend on the network. Those connected to the network have access to some of the fastest connections in the nation at very competitive prices. Residents and businesses can choose among more providers than literally 99% of America

None of this excuses the prior management of UTOPIA, which indeed made many mistakes. But to focus only on those mistakes only explains a piece of how UTOPIA arrived in such a deep financial hole.

Provo to Write off Some Debt of Struggling iProvo Network

Provo built a city owned FTTH network after its public power utility started connecting its substations with fiber-optic cables in the early 2000's. iProvo ultimately developed along similar open access lines as UTOPIA, but unlike UTOPIA, Provo did not actually want to operate on a purely wholesale model.

iProvo was forced into the wholesale-only model, where the publicly owned network offered wholesale services to independent ISPs that then resold service to residents and businesses. Comcast and Qwest (now CenturyLink) recognized the threat posed by municipalities building next generation networks -- particularly in communities that did not even have full DSL and cable coverage from the giant providers that long delayed upgrades, knowing that subscribers had no other options.

Comcast and Qwest went to the state legislature and did what they do best -- bought influence and pushed through laws to essentially prohibit publicly owned networks from offering direct retail services, knowing that the wholesale-only approach had proved a very difficult model to work financially.

UTOPIA had long had a vision of making the open access, wholesale-only model work (that proceeded to largely fail, for a variety of reasons -- only to start turning around in recent years) but Provo, with its public power utility, was denied its preferred model of offering services directly.

iProvo was built at a cost of $40 million and has operated in the red since, though a number of postive externalities from the network was not included in those calculations. For instance, City Departments had access to much higher capacity connections than were available previously and were not charged for them (a poor practice in our estimation). For more details on iProvo, I recommend a video of a discussion in 2011.

At any rate, iProvo was then sortof sold off to a private provider (sort of because the city is still on the hook for the debt) in large part because private providers are not as crippled by state law. Unfortunately, the network has already developed a bad reputation for many (thanks to the state law preventing Provo from being able to ensure a good subscriber experience).

And now Provo is poised to write off $5.4 million debt, one of the worst case scenarios in community networks. Electicity ratepayers will shoulder the burden:

The new "Telecom Debt Charge" is set to run 15 years — until the iProvo bond is repaid — and costs homeowners $5.35 per month and commercial customers $10 per month plus 2.3 percent of their electricity bill.

This is not a done deal - the City Council will decide the matter on January 17, so the citizens still have an opportunity to raise their voices on the matter.

The history of iProvo suggests a few things.

  1. State laws that cripple local authority to build essential infrastructure are poor public policy. Unfortunately, it is great policy for a few giant companies that use their lobbying power to restrict competition any way they can.
  2. Even with its advantages (not being crippled by state law), a private provider could do no better than the public provider. Surveying community networks nationally, which are often built it the areas hardest to serve with broadband, community networks have a better track record than the big privately owned cable and phone networks.

Border to Border Broadband in Minnesota

Minnesota's Governor Dayton has already done more for expanding broadband access in Minnesota than predecessor Pawlenty who took the "stay quiet and hope for the best" approach to expanding access in our state.

After being prodded by the legislature (including now-Lieutenant Governor Prettner-Solon) Governor Pawlenty appointed an industry-heavy "Ultra High Speed" Broadband Task Force that exceeded the expectations of many, including myself, with its report [pdf]. I give a lot of credit to a few members, especially "Mikey" and Chairman Rick King of Thomsen Reuters, for that report given the constraints of the environment in which it existed.

Minnesota's Legislature and Governor Pawlenty then created some goals for 2015 and generally ceased any work on ensuring Minnesota could meet the goals. However, some departments (like the Department of Commerce) are using that language to prod broadband providers to consider what steps they can take to get us closer. Despite my frustration, I want to recognize those who are doing all they can to expand access to this essential infrastructure.

Fast forward to this week, when Governor Dayton announced a new Task Force that is supposed to really do things (as opposed to the more common Task Force approach of creating the appearance of doing things).

I am heartened by many of the appointees. There are some terrific people, especially some terrific women who are too often under-represented in technology) that will work very hard to bring real broadband to the Minnesotans that either need their first option or a better option.

And they have their work cut out for them. The state has few options to compel investment from a private sector that sees little reason to invest in an industry with so little competition (St Paul has one high-speed provider: Comcast, and one slower, cheaper alternative - CenturyLink).

For instance, rural Kanabec County took the Ultra High Speed Task Force's recommendation and asked its incumbent to partner in providing better broadband. That went over about the same as every other community that has sought a partnership with a big out-of-state incumbent provider. At least CenturyLink did respond, not all incumbent providers have the grace to do so:

Kanabec County Logo

“After receiving your letter I requested that my management team report back to me on the costs associated with your request for a minimum 10 MB speed to every home and business within the county. For proprietary reasons I’m unable to share with you the estimated costs of meeting this goal in Kanabec County.”

The letter continued, “However, I can tell you that it represents many millions of dollars at a significant cost per household or business passed that under current business models do not generate a return on the investment.”

The Task Force will hear strong voices from within and without its members calling on it to reduce government barriers to private sector investment, whether by gutting local authority over rights-of-way or other means. I encourage it to tell the state to first, get out of the way of communities that want to build their own networks.

Any community that has the willingness to invest in itself should have that right. There is no reason for the state to prefer that massive out-of-state companies with poor track records in Minnesota build networks rather than the communities themselves. The community has a much greater incentive to invest today and tomorrow in modern technologies. Whereas private companies are looking for handouts to serve places like Sibley County, Sibley County is just looking for the state to get out of the way.

Requiring a 65% referendum for a community to build its own network is ludicrous -- and it is Minnesota law. We are the only state in the nation with a supermajority requirement for a community to build essential infrastructure. I just wrote about Longmont, where their massively successful referendum campaign got 60% of the vote -- a loser in Minnesota. Despite absolutely no support from any local leaders, Comcast was able to get 40% support by simply outspending the grassroots community broadband movement $300,000 to $5,000.

Removing this barrier to local authority for community broadband will not bring border to border broadband -- many communities simply do not want to take on the responsibility of building a next-generation networks -- but it will certainly bring us closer, and it will bring much better networks to those communities that are willing to step up and invest in themselves.

Photo by Jackanapes, used under creative commons license.

Community Networks Provide Cable/Broadband Competition That is Otherwise Unlikely

You can also read this story over at the Huffington Post.

How can it be that the big companies who deliver some of the most important services in our modern lives (access to the Internet, television) rank at the top of the most hated? Probably because when they screw up or increase prices year after year, we have no choice but sticking with them. Most of us have no better options.

But why do we have so few choices? Government-sanctioned monopolies have been outlawed since the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Unfortunately, the natural tendency of the telecommunications industry is toward consolidation and monopoly (or duopoly). In the face of this reality, the federal government has done little to protect citizens and small businesses from telecom market failings.

But local governments have stepped up and built incredible next-generation networks that are accountable to the community. These communities have faster speeds (at lower prices) than the vast majority of us.

Most of these communities would absolutely prefer for the private sector to build the necessary networks and offer real competition, but the economics of telecom makes that as likely as donuts becoming part of a healthy breakfast. In most cases, the incumbent cable and telephone companies are too entrenched for any other company to overbuild them. But communities do not have the same pressures to make a short-term profit. They can take many years to break even on an investment that creates many indirect benefits along the way.

One might expect successful companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to step up to the challenge posed by community networks, and they have. Not by simply investing more and competing for customers, but by using their comparative advantage – lobbying state legislatures to outlaw the competition. As we noted in our commentary and video last week, massive cable and telephone companies have tried to remove local authority to build networks.

These companies frequently claim they are at an unfair disadvantage when they have to compete against a broadband network owned by the local government. This claim resonates strongly with some politicians, particularly those who happen to receive a lot of campaign contributions from big telco and cable companies -- as recently demonstrated in Wisconsin. They say they just want a "level playing field."

We decided to take a deeper look. We compared Time Warner Cable to Salisbury, North Carolina -- which built one of the newest community fiber networks – to see who is at a disadvantage.

TWC v Salisbury Fibrant InfoGraphic

Big companies like Time Warner Cable have some big advantages over any community that decides to build a network. Of course, communities do not build their own networks on a lark, they do it because they need fast, affordable, and reliable networks for economic development and maintaining a high quality of life.
But a better comparison goes beyond simply the scale of the competitors in order to complete a more meaningful comparison. For that, we created our “Level Playing Field” video, attached below.

There should be no doubt that massive incumbent cable and phone companies have a monopoly on the “unfair” advantages in telecommunications. Fortunately, community networks have a host of local advantages and often superior technology with which to invest in the networks they need. The question is whether Congress and the states will protect the right of communities to choose for themselves if a local community network is necessary.

Video: 
See video