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Click! Network Rates Set to Increase to Cover Retrans Fees

Tacoma's Click! network raised prices in 2010 in order to cover increases in retransmission fees for its television feeds. Fees have continually risen for Click! and other networks and, according to Tacoma's News Tribune, will continue to rise. The market is fundamentally broken, with small providers struggling to keep up as sports programming shoots through the roof and companies like Comcast merge with content owners.

In Tacoma, the situation was so bad it led to a fee dispute between KOMO and Click! network that resulted in a channel blackout on the network. The News Tribune pursued document requests early in 2014 to obtain copies of the retransmission agreements at the center of the dispute between the network and KOMO. The documents revealed that agreements with several broadcasters rewarded broadcasters significant increases in retransmission fees. Over a six year period, KOMO's rate increased 416 percent.

In a recent update, the News Tribune reports that the new contracts include yet another significant increase:

New contracts that took effect Jan. 1 show the broadcasters’ fees are rising far faster than inflation.

No fee has increased over the years more than that of Seattle broadcaster KOMO. In 2009, the broadcaster received only 31 cents per month per home from Click. That amount has soared this year to $2.43 — a 684 percent increase.

Had the broadcaster’s fee risen equal to inflation, KOMO would earn only 34 cents per subscriber — or approximately $78,000 for all of 2015.

Instead, the new fee structure will mean Click pays about $561,000 this year. That cost is likely to be passed down to the utility’s 19,250 subscribers.

Chris Gleason, speaking on behalf of Tacoma Public Utilities, said the utility board will now have to consider a 17.5 percent rate increase for 2015. The original plan was to incorporate a 10 percent increase in 2015 and a similar increase in 2016. Four other channels are instituting similar increases:

“We don’t really have a lot of bargaining power with these broadcasters,” Gleason said. “... We do negotiate with them but there’s not a lot of leverage for us.”

Escalating fees could accelerate the trend of “cord cutters” — people who don’t have a cable subscription and who watch shows online.

All providers must contend with these increases in retansmission fees but small networks are particularly hurt because they cannot afford to buy the entities that create the fees. Comcast can hedge against increasing prices by demanding an ownership stake in the channel or buying them outright.

The largest cable companies also have more leverage - a channel is more reluctant to go dark across Comcast's millions of viewers than the 20,000 on Click!. The idea that we can have a competitive market for these services while content owners hold all the cards is misguided and we believe the FCC and Congress should be addressing these problems before more small cable companies are forced out of the market.

The Other Half of Network Neutrality - Content Neutrality

We are pleased to bring you a guest post from Levi C. Maaia, president of Full Channel Labs and a graduate research fellow at the Center for Education Research on Literacies, Learning & Inquiry in Networking Communities (LINC) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Levi is a strong advocate for local, family owned businesses and an open Internet without government or corporate gatekeepers.

The Other Half of Net Neutrality Regulation

The Internet was originally founded on principles of public service and education. In the past two decades, tremendous commercial potential has also been realized and the Internet is now the engine behind our new global economy. This potential, however, is predicated on the network’s original open and neutral methods of communication. 

Properly implemented net neutrality regulation has the potential to maintain a level online playing field for all 21st century industries, which rely on the Internet for all types of electronic communications and financial transactions. However, Chairman Wheeler's recent plan to enforce net neutrality through the invocation Title II authority ignores practices by some content providers that threaten the economic viability and expansion of affordable high-speed and gigabit access. A notable example of this practice is how online content is delivered under the ESPN3 brand.  

ESPN3 is an online-only sports television network owned by The Walt Disney Company and the Hearst Corporation. Unlike with other online video services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video – where consumers choose to pay for content and access it directly – ESPN3 streaming content is available only to customers of ISPs that pay per-subscriber fees to ESPN for each of their Internet customers. If an ISP refuses to pay these fees for some or all of its user base, all of its customers are blocked from accessing ESPN3’s online content. Through the imposition of this legacy cable TV licensing approach ESPN3 is attempting to force ISPs into negotiating content deals in the same way that cable TV providers must do for broadcast retransmission consent and cable network licensing fees.  

As cord-cutters drop their cable and satellite subscriptions in favor of online streaming, TV networks are scrambling to compensate for this lost revenue.  ESPN3 is doing so by imposing a cable TV-like payment structure on Internet delivery using a model that congress and consumers have decried for decades as inflexible and expensive. These additional costs are already being factored into Internet service pricing, as ESPN3 reaches deals with the Internet providers of tens of millions of customers. If ESPN continues to be successful with this model, we can expect that other content providers will follow suit and it may not be just the cable TV networks that adopt this method. ISPs might be compelled to negotiate per-subscriber fees for access to content across the Web.

The FCC’s Network Neutrality approach means that ISPs cannot demand payment from content owners to reach customers. However, it is silent on whether content owners can demand the ISP pay a fee for every subscriber on its system, regardless of how many subscribers actually desire the content in question.

Without content neutrality protection as part of the FCC’s regulatory approach, we may see the current a-la-carte, merit-based model of the Internet disappear in favor of a system where payment demands for content are forced on consumers by media giants. This would likely result in skyrocketing prices for Internet access akin to that of cable TV which has risen in cost more than four times the rate of inflation over the past 15 years! This could have a crippling effect on all industry, especially small businesses and startups. Practices like those by ESPN3 pose just as great a threat to broadband and fiber deployment, affordability and access as a lack of other aspects of net neutrality regulation do. 

Indeed, content neutrality is the other half of the net neutrality issue and it must be addressed. And much like the fundamental issue behind network neutrality, a few incredibly large firms with tremendous market power are the primary threat.

In 2004, Levi Maaia joined Full Channel, a family-owned broadband provider in Bristol County, R.I. Under his leadership, Full Channel successfully turned around a declining subscriber base while making its first forays into digital and high-definition television, IP telephony and renewable energy solutions.  

In 2008, he developed and launched Full Channel’s renewable wind energy initiative GreenLink through a partnership forged with sustainable energy provider People’s Power & Light. As a result, cable industry trade publication CableFAX honored Full Channel with its 2009 Top Ops Community Service Award.  In 2012, Levi formed Full Channel Labs, an online innovation and technology partner, which develops and supports advances in networking and digital technologies.

International Media Covering NextLight Strides in Longmont

Longmont's NextLight is well known in the municipal networks space; now other media markets are starting to notice the most recent network in the Centennial State. CCTV America profiled the network recently, highlighting its importance to local businesses.

CCTV spoke with a local tech business owner who had recently connected to the municipal network:

Jon Rice is a web developer for whom a reliable computer connection is critical.

“Our entire business is basically predicated on having fast, easy access to the Internet,” Rice said.

Like many other modern households, Rice describes how their home hosts multiple devices. NextLight's $50 per month gigabit tier is a necessity for both his residential and business needs.

"It's a no brainer for us; the faster the better," says Rice in the video.

Demand is high in Longmont, where the community chose last fall to bond in order to speed up FTTH deployment. In a USAToday article from last November, Tom Roiniotis, Manager of Longmont Power and Communications, described how the utility was struggling to keep up with the requests for service:

"It's a good problem to have, scrambling to keep up with demand," Roiniotis said. "This is something we're doing locally and it's a big source of community pride. The money stays locally and if you have a problem you can just drive 2 or 3 miles down the road and come talk to us. People realize it's just as important ... as reliable energy and clean water." 

Thanks to Jon Rice at the Longmont Compass who alerted us to this video and the story:

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Co-Mo Cooperative: Bringing Some of the Fastest Speeds in the Nation to Rural Missouri

Co-Mo Cooperative and the Co-Mo Connect Board of Directors recently voted to proceed with the final phases of its gigabit FTTH project. The decision assures the plan to bring to triple-play to all Co-Mo members by the end of 2016.

We checked in on Co-Mo about a year ago, when the cooperative announced it would increase speeds without increasing prices for both residential and business members. Residential fiber Internet service ranges from $39.95 per month for 5 Mbps to $99.95 per month for gigabit service; all speeds are symmetrical.

Triple-play service extends beyond the electric service territory. During the first phase of the project, the city of California (pop. 4,200) opened up city poles for Co-Mo in space that was previously used by a cable company that no longer operated in the area. The project then expanded to Tipton (pop. 3,200) and Versailles (pop. 2,500). In a story on the expansion on the Co-Mo website, General Manager Randy Klindt said:

“We’re creating this wide swath of the most advanced communications network in the country right here in rural Missouri. Part of the cooperative’s mission statement is to improve our communities, and these city projects definitely qualify. It is important the everyone in our region has access to broadband because the economic health of our cooperative members and our local towns are intertwined.”  

...

“Despite what other telecommunication companies say, it’s not only doable, but it’s happened. The broadband speeds we deliver are 100 times what the FCC now determines to be broadband in rural areas,” Klindt said.

Ookla recognized Tipton as the community with the fastest Internet speeds in Missouri in 2014 with and average of 88.86 Mbps for those who ran speed tests on the network reported Lake Expo.com. Co-Mo Connect was also ranked 18th in the U.S. of fastest ISPs with at least 100 speed tests run from subscribers.

“Our little piece of rural America is 18th fastest in the entire nation,” said Randy Klindt, general manager for Co-Mo Connect. “Just stop and think about that for a second.”

This past December Co-Mo Connect enabled a Watch TV Everywhere feature, which allows member to use devices other than TV sets to watch programming. The cooperative does not charge for the feature, but warns subscribers to be mindful of cellphone carrier's data caps and roaming charges.

Co-Mo has also recently launched a new tool using the network to help members monitor and reduce their energy consumption. SmartHub was developed by Co-Mo's technology partner, the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC). In addition to paying their bill, members can report outages and view a consumption history. The cooperative has posted a series of SmartHub instructional videos on YouTube.

The remaining phases of the project will allow Co-Mo Cooperative to bring better connectivity to a greater number of households and businesses in central Missouri. The plan will also ensure the financial success of the investment. From the Lake Expo.com article:

“What we’re trying to prevent from happening is the reverse of what happened when investor-owned electricity providers came through in the early 1900s and cherry-picked the profitable cities and left the rural areas without electricity,” said Ken Johnson, Co-Mo Connect’s president the CEO/general of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative. “We didn’t want to see all the outlying areas with this amazing communications network but have holes in the middle with the cities that got left behind.”

The city projects also are providing an additional revenue stream that wasn’t expected when the business plan was developed. That revenue comes with comparably less expense because of the larger number of potential subscribers per mile of fiber.

“That revenue is going to make the entire project more likely to succeed, all the way to the very end of Co-Mo Electric’s lines where there are very few potential subscribers per mile,” Klindt said.

So far, customers have had nothing but rave reviews:

“I love that I am saving money, first of all, and then really loving that we don't lose our signal, whether it be the TV or the Internet, when it rains,” said subscriber Diana Davis.

Added Peggy Liebi: “I love it. I’ve never had HD or a DVR before. I didn't lose signal during the really bad storms, not even once.”

We interviewed Klindt for the Community Broadband Bits podcast. At the time, he estimated members were saving over $1.5 million per year; he has since revisited the calculations and discovered members are saving even more. With 16,000 subscribers saving approximately $20 per month, members are saving around $4 million annually. The service has proved so popular, other cooperatives have approached Co-Mo for information on their decision to invest in the fiber network.

Co-Mo Cooperative has produced a number of creative videos and posted them on their YouTube channel. Below is their video, the Road to Rural Broadband:

Republican Tennessee Leader Endorses Local Authority

Republican State Senator Janice Bowling from Tennessee is once again speaking out in favor of local telecommunications authority. On Monday, she published an op-ed in the Tennessean titled "Don't limit high-speed broadband to big cities," noting that rural communities often have no choice but to build their own infrastructure to obtain fast, reliable, affordable Internet access for residents and businesses.

Bowling refers to Tullahoma, her own home town, where economic growth is strong and Internet access is affordable. Tullahoma has a history of increasing speeds without increasing rates and now offers gigabit service for around $100. Unfortunately, Tullahoma is surrounded by communities it cannot help due to the state limitations.

Tennessee's restrictive laws prevent other communities from following in Tullahoma's footsteps. She sees the way these laws hold back people in her home state:

Unfortunately, public broadband networks are impeded by restrictive state laws that limit the power municipals have in providing services. In Tennessee, a 1999 law prohibits municipalities that operate broadband networks from providing service to anyone outside of the boundaries of their electrical footprint. This means that people in rural towns and small communities are still without high-speed Internet.

They’re without educational and employment opportunities, improved modern health care, enhanced public safety or better-quality government services, among other benefits.

As a senator representing seven rural counties and a resident of a small community myself, I am speaking out for all of those who are being held hostage to 20th-century technology. Let us grow our economies, improve our governments’ performance and create jobs for in our communities. Let us have Internet choice(s).

In November, Senator Bowling spoke at the Next Century Cities event "Envisioning a Gigabit Future." Below is her presentation on the need for high-speed connectivity and local authority in rural communities.

Photo available as a creative commons work from Senator Bowling's Campaign website.

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Rochester Pursues Business Case Study for Muni Network in Minnesota

The Rochester City Council recently voted unanimously to move forward with a study on the possibilities of publicly owned broadband in this southeastern city. Rochester will then decide whether to move forward with bids to form a public-private partnership for a network, or pursue another path.

After receiving dozens of calls from his constituents, City Councilman Michael Wojcik is asking his colleagues to consider a municipal network. Rochester’s area holds a population of about 110,000, and is home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic

According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Charter Communications operates its cable TV and Internet services under a franchise agreement with the city. That agreement is up for a renewal on March 31.

Wojcik said his constituents have been angered over issues such as digital box fees, but most of the complaints are about broadband service, which Wojcik said is essential. He said Charter's recent price increase for stand-alone broadband from $55 to $60 per month makes the service unobtainable for a percentage of area families with children in school.

"Broadband is key for information for a lot of people, particularly younger generations, and going forward, it becomes more and more critical," he said.

In 2010 Wojcik asked the council to investigate options for publicly owned infrastructure, but the measure did not advance. Wojcik says he hopes that citizen outrage with poor Charter service and contract negotiations will encourage city council members to take action.

The Council invited Chris to offer expert opinion. KIMT TV covered the decision and spoke with him after the meeting: 

“I think it’s a necessary step for the Rochester City government to get involved, because over ten years of experience suggests that the private sector alone is not going to solve this problem, that if Rochester needs higher quality internet access it may have to do it itself.”

Here is vide of KIMT TV's coverage:

National Press Follows President Obama to Cedar Falls, Iowa

On January 14th, President Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to share his strategy to expand high-speed connectivity to more Americans, encourage competition, and galvanize economic development. Obama's plan centers around community networks and he announced that the next step will be eliminating barriers in 19 states that usurp local authority to invest in publicly owned infrastructure.

From his remarks [C-SPAN Video below]:

Today, I'm making my administration's position clear on community broadband. I'm saying I'm on the side of competition. And I'm on the side of small business owners... I'm on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. Nobody is going to force you to do it, but if you want to do it, if the community decides this is something that we want to do to give ourselves a competitive edge and to help our young people and our businesses, they should be able to do it.

The Obama Administration, through the Department of Commerce, recently sent a letter [PDF] to Chairman Wheeler to request the FCC use its authority to end state barriers that block local public investment. The Hill noted the letter and the President's speech together put gentle pressure on the FCC to take steps to restore local authority. The Hill also gave space to the cable industry, naturally opposed to restoring local authority after millions of lobbying dollars invested in passing anti-competitive legislation.

InfoWorld also pointed out cable industry opposition to the Obama proposal, noting that they were ready to mount a strong offense and will likely join Congressional Republicans to fight any roll-back of state barriers. A decision from the FCC on whether or not to change state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee is expected in February.

As for the incumbents, there was no love lost between the President and the big players, as Multichannel News reported:

He said in many places big companies are "doing everything they can to keep out new competitors."

…they were at the whim of whatever Internet service provider happened to be around, and and when they had problems they got stuck on hold watching a spinning icon, waiting and waiting and waiting and wondering why rates keep getting "jacked up." Ouch. 

Other national outlets that covered the speech included the New York Times, the Washington Post, Ars Technica, Fierce Telecom, and NexGov. We came across so many stories we stopped counting.

Local coverage included stories from the Sioux City Journal, the Quad City Times, the Gazette, and the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. Mayor Jon Crews told the Courier:

“This is good for attracting companies that have higher wages for technical positions,” Crews said. “Obviously to be recognized by Google and the president of the United States in two months time is pretty awesome.”

As the President noted in his speech, Google named Cedar Falls the best city in Iowa for e-commerce due to its municipal fiber optic network.

Marc Reifenrath, local business owner of a web design, development and digital strategy agency called Spinutech introduced the President:

In our early years it would have been easy to move our headquarters to another city, really anywhere. Thanks in part to its high speed internet, Cedar Falls has always made it easy for us to grow our business. Today, Spinutech has clients in all 50 states and eight countries. In talking with these clients, time and again it is proven just how fortunate we are.

Whether or not local authority is restored in the 19 states in question, it is important that local communities remember the role of vision, which the President pointed out in his speech:

Now, in Cedar Falls, things are different. About 20 years ago, in a visionary move ahead of its time, this city voted to add another option to the market and invest in a community broadband network. Really smart thing you guys did. It was a really smart thing you guys did. And you've managed it right here at Cedar Falls Utilities. And then a few years ago, you realized that customers were demanding more and more speed. All the movies, all the increased data, Instagram -- all this stuff suddenly is just being loaded up, and basically, you guys were like the captain in Jaws, where he said, “We're going to need a bigger boat.” 

 

A Transcript of the script is available at the C-SPAN video page in the transcript box below the video window.

President Obama Speaks Against Barriers to Community Networks

When we started to hear rumors that the White House was investigating community owned networks, we were excited but not sure what to expect. I have to admit that seeing President Obama - the President of the United States - saying that Cedar Falls was smart to invest in themselves was much more powerful than I ever expected (see the video below).'

President Obama will visit Cedar Falls on Wednesday to address his plans to increase access to affordable, high-speed broadband across the country. Tune in at 3:40 Eastern to the White House Briefing Room to watch the live event.

The efforts of so many people to legitimize community networks are now paying off. Belittled by the big cable companies and their paid experts, we certainly were not destined to reach this point. But we are here - and everyone now recognizes that local governments can play an important role in ensuring we all have great Internet access.

The White House has released a fact sheet with some information on what the Executive Branch will do to increase competition and restore local authority.

Laws in 19 states — some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors — have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity. Today, President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband, formally opposing measures that limit the range of options available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure, including ownership of networks. As a first step, the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens.

And the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisers have released a report discussing the important contributions of community owned networks [PDF]. You might see some familiar references in the report - we are excited to see our work contributing to national policy.

This is a great moment for everyone that has worked on these networks - from local government employees and elected officials to the activists and local business owners that have volunteered their time to make it happen in their community. This is a great moment for the principle of local self-reliance.

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"Stop Mega Comcast" Coalition; Philly Comcast Subscribers Speak Out in New Video

As days go by, an increasing number of organizations, companies, and individuals go on record opposing the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger. The DOJ has already spent significant time analyzing the proposal and the FCC has been taking comments for months. On November 3rd, a new coalition, "Stop Mega Comcast," announced that it was jumping into the fray. 

Engadget reports that the group includes both consumer groups and competitors, including Dish Network and Public Knowledge:

"This much power concentrated in the hands of one company would be frightening even for the most trustworthy of companies," Public Knowledge's CEO Gene Kimmelman said in a statement. "And Comcast is definitely not that."

Certainly the people of Philadelphia could attest to the fact that Comcast is "not that." As we reported in episode #124 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, the Media Mobilizing Project is working in Comcast's hometown to compel the cable giant to give back to a city it has already taken so much from.

Hannah Jane Sassaman described for us how the community is using franchise negotiations as leverage for better prices, better services, and more accountability from Comcast. Their project, CAPComcast, recently released this video wherein people straight from the Comcast service center describe their frustrations with the incumbent.

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Video Available: "Maximizing Fibre Infrastructure Investment in Europe"

Video of "Maximizing Fibre Infrastructure Investment in Europe" is now archived and ready to view. Our own Christopher Mitchell presented as part of this afternoon seminar on telecommunications policy.

The event, sponsored by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities (SALAR) and Stokab (The City of Stokholm IT infrastructure company) was held in Brussels on Wednesday, November 19th. Chris presented an update on private and public fiber network investment in the U.S.

The video is now archived and ready to view:

We also recommend Benoit Felton's presentation on the Stokab model:

You can watch video of the entire event at the Bambuser website or below.