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Montrose Moves Toward Muni Network -Community Broadband Bits Podcast #95

Nestled in a valley in the Colorado rockies, the city of Montrose has voted overwhelmingly to reestablish local authority over whether to build a municipal fiber network. With nearly 20,000 people, Montrose does have cable service from Charter and DSL from CenturyLink but neither service is meeting local needs.

Virgil Turner, Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement for the City, joins us in episode 95 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We discuss the need for a better network and how the big cable and telephone companies have failed to meet local needs.

Montrose has all options on the table as it now plans to engage the public and determine how to move forward with possible investments to improve their access to the Internet.

View our other posts on Montrose here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Valley Lodge for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Sweet Elizabeth."

Denver Suburb Seeks to Take Back Local Authority

Centennial is asking its voters to reclaim local authority this election. City leaders want to make better use of an existing fiber optic system but a 2005 Colorado state law pushed by a corporate telephone company precludes it. If the citizenry reclaims its local authority through referendum, the City can take the next step toward providing indirect services via its fiber network. 

We contacted City Council Member Ken Lucas to find out more about the ballot question. Centennial is a relatively young city that was incorporated in 2001 and has about 100,000 residents. Lucas told us that this ballot question is not only about using their fiber resources. The community of Centennial considers this a critical step toward maintaining a business friendly environment.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) provided grants to install the existing network for traffic control, security cameras, and public works monitoring. The City contributed only approximately $100,000 to the network, valued at $5 million. Traffic and public safety now use only two strands of the network that runs through the center of town. City leaders want to use the remaining 94 strands to improve access in the community. To see a map of the fiber and open conduit in Centennial, check out the City's PDF.

Approximately 94% of Centennial businesses and 85% of households are within one mile of the fiber backbone. Residents and business owners can now choose between Comcast or CenturyLink and rates are high. Lucas tells of one business owner who asked Comcast to provide 1 Gbps service to his building. Comcast offered to lease a line to the business at a high rate, but the customer would still have to pay $20,000 for installation.

Community leaders want to encourage more competition and, if they eventually develop the fiber, will explore open access models. Centennial knows their authority to invest in fiber infrastructure will influence economic development. City leaders want to attract high tech jobs to the Denver suburb.

The incumbents have not yet launched an expensive astroturf campaign or lobbied heavily against the ballot question as we saw previously in Longmont. This is the ballot question language:

SHALL THE CITY OF CENTENNIAL, WITHOUT INCREASING TAXES, AND TO RESTORE LOCAL AUTHORITY THAT WAS DENIED TO ALL LOCAL GOVERNMENTS BY THE STATE LEGISLATURE, AND TO FOSTER A MORE COMPETITIVE MARKETPLACE, BE AUTHORIZED TO INDIRECTLY PROVIDE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET (ADVANCED SERVICES), TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICES, AND/OR CABLE TELEVISION SERVICES TO RESIDENTS, BUSINESSES, SCHOOLS, LIBRARIES, NON-PROFIT ENTITIES AND OTHER USERS OF SUCH SERVICES, THROUGH COMPETITIVE AND NON-EXCLUSIVE PARTNERSHIPS WITH PRIVATE BUSINESSES, AS EXPRESSLY PERMITTED BY ARTICLE 29, TITLE 27 OF THE COLORADO REVISED STATUTES? 

Centennial does not want to compete with Comcast or CenturyLink - it wants to encourage other providers to compete with each other. Many communites express the same desire to improve telecommunications for their citizens without delivering the services themselves. However, many have found that they have to take an active role in order to ensure a real choice between slow DSL and modestly faster cable, each owned and operated by distant corporations.

Lucas told us that plans to use the fiber are far down the road. For now, the community wants to recapture the power the state preempted in 2005.

Shafter Network Expands To Serve Local Businesses in California

The community of Shafter enjoys savings, better public safety, and more educational opportunities with the municipal fiber network that we wrote about two weeks ago and discussed in last week's podcast. In 2006, Shafter spent $200,000 on its I-Net to serve local schools and government in the core of the downtown area. While the community had originally planned to build a FTTH network, the tumultuous economy dictated otherwise and the community adjusted its course.

The community is now expanding infrastructure to several areas closer to the edge of town in order to serve local business. With next-generation fiber infrastructure in place, Shafter expects to attract several providers interested in serving businesses over its open access network. Completion is scheduled for the fall of 2013.

A 25 mile fiber backbone ring is now under construction and will loop to two industrial areas near the edge of town. Both complexes sit very close to the two main railroad lines that run through the town and provide easy access to transport. In addition to the larger loop, one of the industrial areas, will contain a 10 gigabit ring and the city will light two separate commercial rings to provide 1 gigabit service. This phase of Shafter's project will cost $1.5 million and required equipment will cost another $600,000. The network is underground, with 99% in city road rights-of-way. The entire path travels through greenfield areas so there is almost no infrastructure to avoid or remediate. General fund dollars, rather than bonding, borrowing, or grants paid for the entire open access network.

We learned from IT Director Scott Hurlbert that oilfield services company, Baker Hughes, invested $70 million to build a campus in Shafter. AT&T serves the company now with copper lines but "they don't like it," says Hurlbert. A 2.1 million square feet Target distribution center sits nearby waiting to switch to the Shafter fiber network.

Ross Dress-for-Less is now developing a 1.7 million square feet distribution center in the area and will likely take service from AT&T and from a different provider over the Shafter fiber for redundancy. CenturyLink's longhaul fiber runs through the Union Pacific railroad line and Shafter's network will link to it for external connections. 

Hurlbert told us there will also be a separate ring in one industrial area that is only for city security cameras, traffic control and for commercial customers specifically requesting a redundant diverse path.

AT&T Lobbying Likely to Increase Wisconsin School, Library Telecom Costs

The University of Wisconsin recently withdrew from its contract with WiscNet, threatening the future of the network. Stop the Cap! reports the University bowed under pressure from Republican lawmakers and threats of litigation from the likes of AT&T, CenturyLink, and the Wisconsin State Telecom Association (WSTA). Costly litigation could interrupt UW's research and educational work and UW must consider its relationship with the legislature and the future of state funding.

Once again Republican legislators chose the powerful telecom lobby over taxpayers. WiscNet is a buyer coop that allows schools and libraries to keep their telecom costs lower by working together. Weakening WiscNet means the schools and libraries may have to pay higher fees just to maintain the same level of service. 

The telecom industry makes generous contributions to most Wisconsin lawmakers, but Republicans in particular have been enthusiastic about knee-capping any perceived threat to AT&T's monopoly in much of the state. With WiscNet in the cross hairs, ALEC legislators in Wisconsin can expect renewed campaign support. Senator Paul Farrow and Representative Dean Knudson, spearheading efforts to dismantle WiscNet, receive sizeable donations from WSTA, CenturyLink and TDS Telecom.

If WiscNet cannot recover from the loss of UW, local taxpayers will be the ultimate losers as they have to pay more to keep essential institutions connected. WiscNet provides economical broadband service to members all across the state and ample evidence suggest higher rates accompany private service. From the Stop the Cap! article:

Many of WiscNet’s members report that “going private” for Internet connectivity will more than double their costs. This was confirmed by Wisconsin’s Legislative Audit Bureau, which reported a member paying WiscNet $500 month for Internet service would face bills of $1,100 or more if provided by AT&T or other telecom companies.

But the benefits of WiscNet go far beyond higher costs (which are substantially higher than the example cited for larger institutions). WiscNet has enabled all manner of cost-sharing, including centralizing data storage. These are examples of how local governments and institutions can be responsible stewards of public dollars; unfortunately a majority of Wisconsin Legislators seem to believe the best use of public money is to pad the profits of AT&T.

We've written about these efforts in past years but it seems that AT&T is closer than ever to expanding its revenue from the taxpayers of Wisconsin, all with the blessing of state legislators who scream about wasted taxpayer dollars.

Silverton, Colorado, Breaks Ground in First Phase of Regional Network

In 2010, Silverton, Colorado, decided to build a fiber-optic loop for savings and better connectivity in rural San Juan County. At the time, Qwest (now CenturyLink) provided a microwave connection to the town of around 630 residents. After taking state money to connect all the county seats, Qwest decided to take fiber to everyone except Silverton, much to the frustration of local residents. We wanted to catch up with happenings in this former silver mining camp.

We spoke with Jason Wells, Silverton Town Administrator, who told us that Silverton's loop is part of a regional effort, the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN). Silverton's loop broke ground in April and it will cost $164,000. Silverton and San Juan County contributed $41,000 and the remainder comes from a Southwest Colorado Access Grant. Wells says public institutions will be hooked up first, then downtown businesses. Connecting the schools will come later.

The community is limited by its remote geography. At 9,300 feet above sea level, the town is one of the highest towns in the U.S. and still served by microwave technology. Wells hopes future expansion will include wiring Silverton to Durango, the closest SCAN community. Durango connects municipal and La Plata County facilities with its municipal fiber and leases dark fiber to local businesses, private providers, and community anchor institutions.

Wells connected us to Dr. Rick K. Smith, Mayor of participating Bayfield and General Manager of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG). Dr. Smith shared some history on the SCAN project.

The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments officially formed in 2009 and the first items on the agenda was establishing better connectivity in the region. Fourteen town and county jurisdictions belong to the Council to capitalize on the benefits of cooperation and coordination. Each community receives oil and gas state mineral funds and at the time each wanted to use the money for local broadband infrastructure projects. The group decided to join forces and create a regional network.

In 2010, the SWCCOG received $3 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Member communities matched with another $1 million in total. Each community will own the fiber assets and, while they are prevented from selling services to the private sector by state law unless they pass a majority referendum, they still hope to leverage their assets to attract private providers.

Silverton's fiber loop is at the top of the project list because it is geographically remote and private providers cannot justify the expense of building to such a small market. SWCCOG sees Silverton as an opportunity to prove their case and entice companies to serve businesses and link to outside networks. FastTrack Communications, located in Durango, has expressed interest in tapping into the Silverton market when the loop is complete. Plans estimate completion by the end of 2013.

Dr. Smith strongly recommends a regional approach for other communities considering broadband infrastructure investment. He credits much of their current success to collaboration between the SWCCOG member communities. Just as crucial, he says, is collaboration with private companies like FastTrack. Smith notes that SWCCOG invited large providers to participate two years ago and 25 or 30 seemed interested. Over the next two years all bowed out except a handful of local providers.

Waverly, Iowa: Community Fiber Network Possible Thirteen Years After Vote

The Waverly City Council in Iowa recently voted 5-2 to establish a communications utility and to move ahead with a feasibility study. We spoke with Diane Johnston, Waverly Light and Power (WLP) General Manager, who told us the decision to get this far started over a decade ago.

In 2000, the community passed two ballot measures that sat dormant until this year. At the time, incumbents Mediacom and Qwest (now CenturyLink) did not meet the needs of residents, who were increasingly frustrated with poor service and shoddy customer relations. Incumbents cherry-picked the local commercial segment, ignoring smaller businesses and establishments more challenging to serve. When asking for better connectivity, Johnston says local businesses "hit the wall." Incumbents flatly refused to invest in Waverly.

The 2000 ballot measures, establishing the municipal telecommunications utility per Iowa law (requiring a majority vote) and having the entity governed by WLP's board of trustees passed with 86 percent and 80 percent of the votes. Clearly the public wanted more choices but Johnston told us the time was just not right. A feasibility study, focused on phone and video service, prompted Mediacom and Qwest to make some improvements and improve customer service. As far as WLP was concerned, the problem was solved and Ordinance 970 went on the shelf.

Since 2000, businesses and residents have approached WLP about establishing the utility but the proposal did not gain traction until six months ago. When reviewing the strategic plan for the electric utility, WLP's Board of Trustees concluded that Waverly and WLP needs a telecommunications utility to stay vital.

Johnston notes that advanced metering infrastructure is essential for the future of electric services. WLP wants to be able to provide customers with the ability to monitor their electric usage, control the use of appliances, and conserve. The utilty also needs its own connectivity. Johnston and WLP recognize that access to a high speed network is critical to economic development and WLP needs economic development for healthy electricity sales. In order to supply affordable electricity for all customers, WLP's wants to continue to increase sales. A fiber ring around the city provides connectivity between substations today and will likely become part of any new project.

K-12 schools in Waverly struggle to get the capacity and speed they need, Johnston says. Administrators also want to move to a textbook-free environment and support this measure as a way to service iPads for students. Likewise, the local college sees a network as a way to offer more to students on campus and expand distance learning programs.

The community of 10,000 is 25 minutes northwest of Cedar Rapids and maintains its rural small-town feel, says Johnston. With a telecommunications network in place, she anticipates the high quality of life would draw more telecommuters and businesses.

Johnston tells us that WLP will entertain all types of business models. They want to provide access to high-speed connectivity to every home and business in the community and will work with any entity that can help realize that vision. WLP has a stellar reputation with the community, she says, and WLP will only work with partners that can ensure the same level of reliability and customer service. Johnston hopes the initiative will also improve private provider rates and service.

Next, a task force will commission an updated feasibility study. 

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.

Even After Omaha, Communities Cannot Count on CenturyLink For Connectivity

CenturyLink is a massive telephone company struggling to remain relevant as we transition to mobile phones and require connections much faster than DSL delivers. Though the Omaha gigabit announcement may seem to be a monumental shift for this company, it actually is not. It is a blip on the radar - an important blip but a blip nonetheless.

The Omaha pilot does not represent a sudden change of CenturyLink strategy or capacity. Part of West Omaha has a unique history that prompted this investment. The vast majority of communities in CenturyLink territory still have no hope for upgrades beyond the basic DSL they offer today. Sadly, this already-outdated technology will only fall further behind in coming years.

First, if you missed it, CenturyLink has announced a 1 Gbps pilot project in Omaha, Nebraska. This is considerably more newsworthy that AT&T's toothless fiber-to-the-press-release response to Austin's Google Fiber.

CenturyLink is a massive corporation in a tough spot. It operates in 38 states and in each one, subscribers are fleeing slow DSL for faster networks and moving from landlines to wireless devices. CenturyLink does not have enough revenue for the upgrades most communities need.

CenturyLink deserves some praise for this gigabit trial because it recognizes the need to upgrade old networks to offer faster, more reliable connections. And it is symmetrical, offering the same upload speeds as downstream whereas the Verizon FiOS network tends to prioritize downstream at the expense of up.

For years, CenturyLink has told communities that basic DSL is just fine. We'll probably still hear that talking point in many communities from CenturyLink's government affairs staff. But this project is an admission that America needs better networks.

Why Omaha?

Qwest Choice Service

The only source we saw reporting on the special circumstances of how Omaha was chosen for this project was Telecompetitor with "CenturyLink enters the gigabit era:"

CenturyLink spokesperson Stephanie Meisse tells Telecompetitor the 48,000 customers who will be eligible for the gigabit network were previously served by pre-DOCSIS hybrid fiber coax that needed upgrading. CenturyLink is upgrading that network to Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology to facilitate up to 1 Gig speeds. The gigabit deployment will not cover all of CenturyLink’s Omaha footprint — it will only be available, for now at least, to west Omaha, where the legacy hybrid-fiber coax network was deployed.

Before Qwest was taken over by CenturyLink, it had created a pilot project in this area called Qwest Choice TV and OnLine where it offered triple play services -- adding cable television to its DSL and telephone suite. This approach only got as far as Phoenix, Denver, and Omaha in the old Qwest areas.

To be clear, the Omaha trial is pretty limited. 48,000 households is substantial, but only represents 12% of the metro. And a specific demographic slice according to Phil Dampier at Stop the Cap:

Only around 12% of metropolitan Omaha will have access to the experimental fiber service, primarily those living in West Omaha. The network will bypass residents that live further east. The boundaries of the forthcoming fiber network are notable: West Omaha comprises mostly affluent middle and upper class professionals and is one of the wealthiest areas in the metropolitan region. Winning a right to offer service on a limited basis within Omaha is an important consideration for telecom companies like CenturyLink.

The gigabit price is pretty reasonable, in the way that only a few massive operators can make it: $80/month when bundled and $150/month for standalone.

Nebraska Seal

One unanswered question in all of this is whether the gigabit service comes with data caps, as noted by Karl Bode at Broadband Reports:

The company confirmed to me last March that they impose a 150 GB for 1.5 Mbps service plans, and a 300 GB cap for anything faster. The company also boots excessive users off of their network.

Any expectation that CenturyLink will make more investments of this nature soon are mistaken. They even candidly admit that they will have to evaluate this pilot project before considering expansion. That evaluation would happen in 2014, at the earliest. If they were to expand it, it will take another few years before they get going. In the meantime, the vast majority of CenturyLink customers will be stuck on DSL.

Let's take a look at CenturyLink's capital investment strategy. This is where we get a better sense of the companies true priorities. Thanks to Seeking Alpha, we can read the transcript of the Q4 2012 Earnings Call from mid February.

The call reveals that CenturyLink has placed a major emphasis on getting fiber to wireless towers (a cash cow) and connecting large enterprise customers with cloud services. Neither of these approaches do anything to improve residential or small business Internet access in communties. But they are a very sensible place for a firm to maximize its revenues.

Stewart Ewing, CFO, stated:

Capital expenditures are expected to range from $2.8 billion to $3 billion driven by spending in our key growth areas, data hosting will spend $325 million to $375 million, HSI [High Speed Internet] expansion and HSI capacity will spend between $350 million and $375 million, and our Fiber-to-the-tower will continue to spend about $250 million to $300 million in this area, our Prism TV with the launch of the Phoenix and one other market, we expect to spend $100 million to $150 million.

CenturyLink Map

Of the 38 states it serves, CenturyLink has announced two metro areas that are getting substantial upgrades in 2013. The first is Phoenix with a VDSL product like AT&T's U-Verse. This is faster than standard DSL but barely competitive with cable's DOCSIS 3 standard. And households even within the city get wildly different speed due to the way distance degrades the VDSL signal.

Omaha is the second -- where 12% of the metro will be upgraded to a next-generation network. If I had to put money on the next metro to get meaningful investment, it would have to be Denver because it is the third (and final) former Qwest territory community getting the television product.

CenturyLink is putting $350 million into expanding high speed Internet generally, but separately (from what we can tell) it is spending between $100-$150 million on improve Internet access in just two markets. Of those two, only 12% of Omaha is covered and the VDSL in Phoenix is barely competitive with existing cable. That should give you a sense of the scale of CenturyLink's investment dilemma: High costs and limited dollars.

Put another way, Chattanooga's EPB spent approximately $300 million over three years to deliver FTTH to 170,000 households across its 600 square mile territory. Yet another way: If CenturyLink dumped its entire 2013 capital expenditure budget into FTTH for Minneapolis and Saint Paul, it would be insufficient to bring FTTH to everyone. CenturyLink operates in 38 states.

CenturyLink just doesn't have the money to upgrade most of its communities. Will it in future years? That is a question that Phil Cusick of JPMorgan asked: "Okay. And, so we should look at CapEx as being essentially flat for the next few years?"

CFO Stewart Ewing response:

That's our thinking now. Pretty flat, we could bring it down some, cut it off a little bit depending on. It's really based on the success of these new initiatives, I mean, what we think we can drive in terms of revenue and margins going forward.

CenturyLink is not dumb or evil, it just has different priorities for investment than what communities need. The sooner local governments understand this, the better. Heck, CenturyLink itself has made this point in Minnesota:

CenturyLink Minneapolis Building

We’re a public company. We have shareholders. We have rules and commitments. If you’re smaller, the shareholders are the owners. There’s more flexibility – especially if owners/shareholders are local.

Minnesota Public Radio summed it up:

Noting that CenturyLink wants every customer it can find, Ring pointed out that the company nonetheless needs a return on investment that satisfies shareholders and meets the demands of larger commitments and fiduciary responsibilities.

The lesson is clear. Omaha is a outlier, don't count on CenturyLink to invest in better connections for your community.

And finally, I could not resist but note Julius Genachowski's final hurrah: One of the last acts of former Chairman Genachowski was to rush out a press release praising this limited pilot, though the former Chairman has ignored much more impressive citywide announcements of gigabit availability in other communities including Wilson, North Carolina; Clarksville, Tennessee; Tullahoma, Tennessee; and even a small company doing an apartment complext in Albuquerque, New Mexico: CityLink Fiber.

The federal government remains clueless in this regard, blinding by the lobbying glitz of powerful industries. The big cable and telephone companies will not solve our Internet connectivity problems. Communities are wise to depend on themselves.

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.

CenturyLink Fails Ohio Community, 911 Goes Out During Storm

The people of Warren County, Ohio, endured some rough weather in June as a 70 mph derecho whipped through this southwest county. A series of errors from CenturyLink kept 911 service inoperable for more than 15 hours. According to Stop the Cap!:

During the outage, callers initially heard nothing after dialing 911. Sometime later, someone at CenturyLink reprogrammed the equipment to forward calls from the Warren County 911 system in southwest Ohio to distant Geauga County’s 911 center in northeast Ohio near Cleveland, surprising operators.

Geauga County is located in the extreme northeast corner of Ohio, about as far away from Warren County as one can get without leaving the state. CenturyLink attributes the incident to a combination of inexperienced technicians, human error, and understaffing.

While accidents happen, the crux of this problem is in how CenturyLink responded to it.

Warren community leaders requested that CenturyLink meet with them to explain the fiasco, but CenturyLink was a no-show. Commissioner Dave Young, understandably upset, wants the county to turn over 911 services to another service provider.

“I want to switch sooner rather than later,” Young said. “The way this went down and the response we got from CenturyLink and now three weeks later we still don’t know the reason? We call our liaison and her solution to the 911 system being down is keep calling the 800 number. There’s something wrong there."

These massive carriers want to pretend they are the only ones capable of providing telecommunications services, but the reality is that many others do it better, including local governments and smaller, local private companies. The large carriers are a victim of their scale - no one knows what is going on.