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First Gigabit Network in North Carolina: City of Wilson's Greenlight

In North Carolina, Wilson's Greenlight will begin offering gigabit residential services as early as July. Greenlight began offering FTTH service since 2008 to businesses and households and now provides affordable and reliable triple play.

Along the journey, Greenlight faced a playing field tilted in favor of incumbent providerspredatory behavior from those incumbents, and dangerous legislative barriers created by companies like Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink.

From the press release:

“In January, the Federal Communications Commission issued a challenge to communities to provide gigabit service by 2015, and we’re proud to answer that challenge now.  We are excited to launch our gigabit service and allow our customers to be the first in the state to experience such high speed Internet access,” said Will Aycock, general manager of Greenlight.  “Ultra-high speed Internet will help position Wilson for the future and will provide our businesses and residents with the tools they need to succeed.”

Wilson Got a Gig

Greenlight currently serves approximately 6,000 customers in Wilson and provides service to schools throughout the larger county. The network provides free downtown Wi-Fi through the downtown area.

We published two extensive reports on the challenges confronting the Wilson community as they planned and built out the network. Carolina's Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet tells the story of the network and difficulties along the way. The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned the Competition in North Carolina describes the backlash from incumbents and the resulting state barriers, championed by Time Warner Cable and what is now CenturyLink.

While envious of the possibilities in Wilson, we congratulate Greenlight and its community for this great achievement.

SEATOA Conference Set for March 21st-22nd

This March 21-22, the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA) will be hosting the "Networking Communities for the New South" conference. The conference will be held at the Omni Charlotte Hotel.

We are excited to see Susan Crawford as the keynote speaker. From the conference page:

She will provide a broadband policy reality check, and answer – among other questions –whether current so-called “level playing field”, “free-market” policies are leaving us with a second class network that only the rich can afford.

(For a preview, listen to Susan in a recent Broadband Bits Podcast. She talked about her recent book and discussed the need for long term U.S. telecom policy change.)

Check out the schedule and list of other speakers [PDF] and start planning your itinerary. You can also register online.

Some of the issues discussed will be:

  • Public and private resources
  • How to offer services to schools and other government institutions as a way to save costs and yet build a platform for high bandwidth use
  • Info on the Research Triangle Park's North Carolina Next Generation Network, (NCNGN - sounds like NC Engine)
  • The National Public Safety FirstNET and municipal network
  • How to build, operate, and integrate social media into, local Public, Education and Government (PEG) channels, and into your organization's lobbying campaigns to obtain optimal reach

Op-Ed: NC In Bottom of Broadband Barrel

Common Cause's Todd O'Boyle and myself have just published an opinion piece in the North Carolina News & Observer to highlight the foolishness of the General Assembly revoking local authority to build broadband networks.

Todd and I teamed up for a case study of North Carolina's most impressive fiber network, Greenlight, owned by the city of Wilson and then turned our attention to how Time Warner Cable turned around to lobby the state to take that right away from communities. That report, The Empire Lobbies Back, was released earlier this month.

An excerpt from our Op-Ed:

The Tar Heel economy is continuing its transition from tobacco and textiles to high technology. Internet startups populate the Research Triangle, and Charlotte’s financial services economy depends on high-quality data connections. Truly, next-generation Internet connections are crucial to the state.

It is deeply disturbing that the Federal Communications Commission ranks North Carolina at the bottom nationally – tied with Mississippi – in the percentage of households subscribing to a “basic broadband” connection. The residents and businesses of nearly every other state have superior connections.

Read the whole thing here.

After Buying NC Legislation, AT&T Kills NC Jobs

When the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill written by the cable and telephone industry (with help from ALEC), they probably didn't expect AT&T to turn around and slash its local workforce.

And yet, that is what AT&T has done: "Hey North Carolina, thanks for that monopoly, hope you don't mind if we move a bunch of jobs down to Alabama."

We had just published our report on how Time Warner Cable and AT&T bought anti-competition legislation in North Carolina when we heard the layoff news.

Unfortunately, there is no real surprise there -- the big telecom firms are much better at slashing jobs than creating them. The increased profits from the consolidation that creates such big firms arise specifically from eliminating jobs. To AT&T, the workers in Greensboro are inefficient. After all, AT&T is a global company -- those call service jobs could be done in Birmingham or India.

If the networks serving Greensboro and surrounding communities were locally owned, particularly if owned by the communities themselves, the support jobs would almost certainly be local. That may strike AT&T as inefficient, but perfect efficiency by that definition leaves most of us unemployed.

The question for North Carolina is when it will recognize that its own best interests lie far from the best interests of Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink. If North Carolina wants to be a leader in the digital age, it has to let its communities decide for themselves if slow DSL and cable connections cut it or whether they would prefer to build their own blazing-fast, low cost networks like Wilson's Fiber Optic Greenlight.

Take a minute help us spread our graphic on Facebook today, about North Carolina's dumb decision. If you want to stay in the loop when these companies threaten states with restrictive laws, sign up on DecideLocally.com to get occasional alerts.

Kings Mountain, North Carolina, Building Fiber Network to Connect Public Facilities

Fiber optic connectivity is coming soon for public facilities in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The city has its own electric, natural gas, and water utilities and is home to a little over 10,000 people. Located along the southern edge of the state, the town is considered a suburb of Charlotte.

According to an Alicia Banks Gaston Gazette article, the City Council unanimously approved contracts to start construction and most of the city departments should be on the network before the end of the year. The city fiber optic cables amount to nine miles in length. Savings will be about $65,000 annually as the city uses its own fiber to supply phone and Internet connections rather than lease services. From the article:

“We should start seeing the savings within seven years,” Kings Mountain Mayor Rick Murphrey said. “It’s cheaper to use your own fiber optics."

Though seven years may seem like a long time to wait for savings, recall that these connections will be needed indefinitely. Further, these networks often lead to unanticipated benefits that can make the savings occur faster than forecast.

The entire project will cost $495,722 under a five-year payment plan. Also from the article:

“Taxpayers' dollars are helping to pay for this, but no increase,” Murphrey said about rates. “(Funds will also) come out of the electric, gas and water fund.”

Kings Mountain is another community choosing to use their current fiber resources to provide broadband to city facilities and save taxpayer dollars. Our recent Public Savings Fact Sheet, highlight a few of many other communities that choose this route. 

The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina

Publication Date: 
January 3, 2013
Author(s): 
Todd O'Boyle, Common Cause
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

In late 2006, Wilson, North Carolina, voted to build a Fiber-­‐to-­‐the-­‐Home network. Wilson’s decision came after attempts to work with Time Warner Cable and EMBARQ (now CenturyLink) to improve local connectivity failed.

Wilson’s decision and resulting network was recently examined in a case study by Todd O’Boyle of Common Cause and ILSR's Christopher Mitchell titled Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. This new report picks up with Wilson’s legacy: an intense multiyear lobbying campaign by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others to bar communities from building their own networks. The report examines how millions of political dollars bought restrictions in the state that will propagate private monopolies rather than serve North Carolinians.

Download the new report here: The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina

These companies can and do try year after year to create barriers to community-­‐owned networks. They only have to succeed once; because of their lobbying power, they have near limitless power to stop future bills that would restore local authority. Unfortunately, success means more obstacles and less economic development for residents and businesses in North Carolina and other places where broadband accessibility is tragically low.

It certainly makes sense for these big companies to want to limit local authority to build next-­‐generation networks. What remains puzzling is why any state legislature would want to limit the ability of a community to build a network to improve educational outcomes, create new jobs, and give both residents and businesses more choices for an essential service. This decision should be made by those that have to feel the consequences—for better and for worse.

This story was originally posted on the ILSR website.

Wilson's Greenlight Leads North Carolina in Fast Internet

Publication Date: 
December 5, 2012
Author(s): 
Todd O'Boyle, Common Cause
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Following the collapse of key industries, a town of 50,000 in eastern North Carolina had to make a hard choice. It wanted to support existing businesses and attract new ones but the cable and telephone companies were not interested in upgrading their networks for cutting edge capacity.

So Wilson decided to build its own fiber optic network, now one of the fastest in the nation, earning praise from local businesses that have a new edge over competitors in the digital economy. In response, Time Warner Cable lowered its prices and modestly boosted available Internet speeds, contributing to the $1 million saved by the community each year.

Download Carolina's Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet here.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause have just released a case study of how and why Wilson built Greenlight, a citywide next-generation fiber-to-the-home network that set the standard for connectivity in North Carolina. The report is authored by Todd O'Boyle of Common Cause and Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The network, owned and operated by the municipal utility, offer telephone, television, and Internet services to every resident or business in the city. Over 6,000 households and businesses have subscribed, a take rate of over 30% and growing. Additionally, the network has connected all of the schools with at least 100 Mbps connections. Downtown has free Wi-Fi and the library has benefited with a higher capacity connection for people looking for jobs and taking computer classes.

The Federal Communications Commission ranks North Carolina last in the nation in percentage of households subscribing to at least a "basic broadband" service, largely because Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, and AT&T have declined to upgrade their networks to modern standards. Only 13% subscribe to a connection that is at least 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream -- the minimum required to take advantage of basic Internet applications according to the FCC.

This story was originally posted on the ILSR website.

This report is the first of two. The second will be published shortly and will feature a discussion of how Time Warner Cable reacted, pushing legislation through the General Assembly to block other communities from copying Wilson's success.

Fibrant Network Gains Subscribers Despite Technical Difficulties

As we emphasize time and time again, communities build their own networks because they have to, not because they want to. North Carolina's Fibrant network in Salisbury is no exception and a recent technical headache is a reminder that no network is built without problems developing.

Fortunately, Salisbury's strong reputation for providing great, local customer service is helping as it deals with service interruptions that are the fault of the gear that runs the network. 

According to an Emily Ford article in the Salisbury Post, there have been several outages this month. While some outages are attributed to unreliable access gear, the city is still investigating to determine what other factors continue to cause problems. The network currently serves 2,160 subscribers, with 220 of them being commercial customers.

A November 9th Post article on an earlier outage, noted the problem with faulty equipment. A statement from Fibrant General Manager Mike Jury also attributed the outage to a lack of redundancy, which has since been repaired.

While Zhone has been the access gear supplier, Fibrant is now testing Calix equipment. Calix has long been a favored choice among community networks and has a very solid reputation. This is a reminder to communities of the importance of due diligence in choosing vendors -- make sure to talk to other community networks about their experiences with vendors. All equipment is subject to failure, so a key question should be how quickly different vendors respond with solutions to problems.

This technical problem comes on the heels of political problems as Salisbury has been targeted by Time Warner Cable for attacks. Readers will recall how Time Warner Cable successfully pushed the Legislature to pass H129 in 2011, a bill to neutralize publicly owned networks

Even though there have been recent outages, more people continue to take the service than to drop it. From the Ford article:

The week before the outage, 23 new subscribers signed up.

"Despite the outage, our customer base has grown," [City Manager Doug] Paris said, crediting Fibrant staff's dedication to customer service.

Jury said Fibrant's trials are to be expected, especially with a network built from scratch.

A 24-year veteran of the cable industry who took over Fibrant in March, Jury said Salisbury's network is so advanced he refers to it as "bleeding edge."

With no blueprint to follow, Fibrant is breaking new ground, he said.

 

Raleigh Plans Hobbled by State Ban on Municipal Networks

A recent article and video from Government Technology highlights the ambitious plans of Raleigh to harness the Internet to improve its attractiveness to forward-looking companies.

Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable convinced North Carolina's legislature that communities could not be trusted with the decision over whether it was a wise decision to invest in telecommunications networks.

So despite Raleigh's smart plans to build a fiber optic infrastructure that could be used to connect local businesses and spur new enterprises, it is prohibited from doing so. It can still offer services for free, which is why it can and does offer free Wi-Fi in some areas of town, but it cannot offer the services that would be most beneficial to the kind of companies that are most drawn to the Research Triangle Park area.

We look forward to a North Carolina that recognizes these decisions should be made at the local level, not by lobbyists working the state or federal capitals. But until then, we'll have to celebrate the jobs created by municipal networks in other states, where communities have the power to determine their own digital futures.

MI-Connection Embraces New Strategies, Increases Speeds for Free

MI-Connection, the North Carolina community-owned network serving Davidson, Cornelius, and Mooresville, is upgrading network speeds and unveiling a new marketing campaign. MI-Connection was formed when a few towns north of Charlotte purchased the old, dilapidated Adelphia cable network out of bankruptcy and began rehabbing it.

According to David Boraks of the DavidsonNews.net:

The company on Dec. 10 will begin selling a new top speed internet service tentatively called “Warp Speed Broadband,” though the name could change. It will offer 60 mbps downloads and 10 mbps uploads. Customers can get it for $80 to $100, depending on whether they bundle it with TV and telephone.

Existing customers also will get faster speeds Dec. 10, at no extra charge (Download speed x upload speed): 8×4 becomes 10×5, 12×4 becomes 15×5, 16×4 becomes 20×5 and 20×4 becomes 30×10.

Notice that this community network offers faster upstream speeds than most privately owned cable networks -- because they recognize the importance of empowering subscribers rather than hoping they will just consumer video and do little else.

The DavidsonNews.net article also covered MI-Connection's last quarter financial audit report. The network has faced chronic financial problems but things continue to improve. From the article:

The financial report for the quarter that ended Sept. 30 showed that the company grew revenues in all three of its businesses – cable TV, telephone and internet. Altogether, revenues were up 6.5 percent from the first quarter a year ago, to $4,114,992. Expenses fell 8.7 percent, in part because of savings on what the company pays its high-speed internet providers.

The company’s earnings from day-to-day operations continued to grow.

A new marketing plan, dubbed "Straight Talk," will appeal to local ownership and include slogans like "If you owned a grocery store, wouldn't you shop there?" "Can you create jobs just by watching TV?" and "When your boss is everyone in town, your customer service had better be good." It will be interesting to see whether or not the appeal to community spirit helps increase subscribership.

North Carolina law is especially hostile to community owned networks and MI-Connection has struggled financially, in large part due to how poorly Adelphia (a private company) had maintained essential components. Competitive attacks from Time Warner Cable have aggravated the situation. StopTheCap reported in April that, in a rare instance of private overbuilding, the cable giant has begun serving the area and appears to be making a competitive grab for MI-Connections customers.

Stop the Cap

The situation has been difficult for MI-Connection but great for all consumers in the region. From the Stop The Cap article:

Other residents in nearby Cornelius are also getting prices substantially lower than residents in cities like Charlotte, where many residents have one choice for cable: Time Warner. 

Sam, a Stop the Cap! reader in the Morrison Plantation neighborhood, noted they skipped the last few rate increases from the cable company.

“You just call and tell them the rate is too high and as soon as they find out you have MI-Connection as an alternative, they lower the price,” he said. “My niece in Charlotte can’t get the same deal even when we gave her the details — it’s only good in areas where MI-Connection operates.”

That leaves Charlotte residents paying $35-50 more a month than savvy customers further north can have for the asking.

Once again we find that competition improves affordability, even in a state with some of the toughest restrictions.

Sam, quoted in the StopTheCap article makes an astute observation about the cable company's agenda:

“It seems pretty clear to me that Time Warner isn’t hurrying to compete with Comcast or Charter — just MI-Connection and that makes me suspicious,” Sam says. “After spending all that money to ban community broadband in the state, they now seem to be trying to drive out of business the handful of companies that were exempted.”

“My niece is probably paying for this right now on her cable bill too, and once MI-Connection is out of the way, those prices will shoot right back up,” Sam concludes.