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How Big Telecom Smothers Municipal Broadband 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-even-trust-the-huge-soulless-corporations-anymore dept.
Rick Zeman writes: The Center for Public Integrity has a comprehensive article showing how Big Telecom (aka, AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Time Warner) use lobbyists, paid-for politicians, and lawsuits (both actual and the threat thereof) in their efforts to kill municipal broadband. From the article: "The companies have also used traditional campaign tactics such as newspaper ads, push polls, direct mail and door-to-door canvassing to block municipal networks. And they've tried to undermine the appetite for municipal broadband by paying for research from think tanks and front groups to portray the networks as unreliable and costly."
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How Big Telecom Smothers Municipal Broadband

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  • Re:This Just In! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday August 29, 2014 @12:23PM (#47785137) Journal

    "people"? You misspelled "legislators" - in 2003/4, Qwest (now CenturyStink) and Comcast went nuts and brib^M convinced Utah legislators to abandon the UTOPIA multi-city municipal broadband project, then they began slathering on lawsuits and threats thereof [freeutopia.org].

  • by sjbe (173966) on Friday August 29, 2014 @12:41PM (#47785275)

    There is only one reason for the government to step in: make it easier for smaller ISPs to start shop.

    So you don't think the government should step in if the big guys are abusing their monopoly? You don't think the voters in a municipality should be allowed to decide for themselves if they want the government to establish broadband services for their own use? I know it's a popular meme to presume that governments are nothing but incompetent but the reality is that sometimes the government is the best way to get something done. If the existing ISPs find it not worthwhile to serve a population I see no credible argument why the local government couldn't fill that role if the taxpayers want them to. Might not be economically ideal but sometimes perfect is the enemy of good enough.

    I'd love to start a small ISP in my area, but it is practically impossible.

    Out of curiosity, why? It's a pretty tough way to make a buck. The margins in being an ISP are pretty thin unless you are able to obtain some form of monopoly. If there is any competition the margins plummet but costs don't. Huge fixed costs, lots of customer service, maintenance, etc. Maybe it's your passion but I've started a number of businesses and that is a seriously difficult business to get into. I can introduce you to several people who have actually tried to start an ISP and failed in spite of being well funded.

  • by BobandMax (95054) on Friday August 29, 2014 @12:51PM (#47785351)
    The answer is pretty easy. Eliminate the ability of cities, counties or states to create monopolies. In jurisdictions where there is no monopoly and multiple offerings exist; prices are lower, service is better and customers are more satisfied.
    http://www.pcworld.com/article... [pcworld.com]
    http://cbpp.georgetown.edu/wp-... [georgetown.edu]
    http://www.uspirg.org/reports/... [uspirg.org]
  • "monopolies" (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 29, 2014 @02:10PM (#47785997)

    Given a few common, yet unproven, assumptions about how markets operate. ISPs operate a lot like utilities in terms of fundamental market behaviors, and the prevalence of natural monopolies. Organizing the structure of the market to allow smaller competitors, to me, is one way a government could help. Not the only way.

    Close, but not quite IMHO.

    The ISP component does not have to be a monopoly: and by "ISP" I mean the routing of packets. What tends to be monopolistic in practice is the cabling, whether fibre, twisted pair, or co-ax.

    I think that separating the part of current incumbent telcos and cablecos into separate entities, one which runs the physical stuff and the other which runs the packet routing (and telephone and television signals) would go a long way to improving things. At the very least forcing the incumbents to provide access like they have to do in Canada would be the very minimum for a proper functioning ISP market.

    Ideally the company that runs the ISO Layer 1 and 2 stuff would completely separate and a nonprofit. Whether that entity is publicly owned or a private company is a minor point.

    But separating physical access and network service (even by a "Chinese wall" with-in the current mega-corps) is the key point that needs to happen. Everything else is shuffling deck chairs.

  • by Frobnicator (565869) on Friday August 29, 2014 @03:07PM (#47786399) Journal

    So you don't think the government should step in if the big guys are abusing their monopoly? You don't think the voters in a municipality should be allowed to decide for themselves if they want the government to establish broadband services for their own use? I know it's a popular meme to presume that governments are nothing but incompetent but the reality is that sometimes the government is the best way to get something done. If the existing ISPs find it not worthwhile to serve a population I see no credible argument why the local government couldn't fill that role if the taxpayers want them to. Might not be economically ideal but sometimes perfect is the enemy of good enough.

    My region (the 2M people metro area) is going through municipal broadband fights. They started the fights back in 2002.

    The group got an initial rollout in a few of the smaller cities, roughly 11,000 people got hooked up. Then the entrenched monopolies kicked in. Some highlights:

    * Lawsuits from both the incumbent megacorps on cable-based and phone-based Internet on the claim that it was unlawful and anti-competitive for a state agency to compete with an established business. The lawsuits took several years and cost millions. The judges and the appeals court found that government is allowed to provide services, similar to how they provide municipal trash services and still businesses compete; nothing prevents the cable and phone companies from competing if they want.

    * Every year state legislators keep introducing new bills prohibiting government agencies from competing with existing businesses, or requiring that governments cannot provide information services to the public without high fees and those fees should go to education, or that any group providing Internet services have so many billions in assets to mitigate risk of disaster, and other variations. Invariably a little research shows the legislators get money from the phone and cable companies, and the company lobbyists vocally support them. The municipal fiber groups have needed to spend several million dollars to fight these as well.

    * In a few cities installation was unexpectedly stopped again when some of the smaller cities discovered their own contracts with the megacorps demanded that they couldn't build their own systems until after a multi-year vetting process with the megacorps plus giving them another multi-year opportunity for megacorps to adjust prices and to improve their infrastructure. Basically the smaller city and town governments signed deals for their own cheap Internet that block municipal fiber within their limits for a decade or more. Since then the FCC and other groups have urged cities to be more careful in the contracts they sign.

    * Incumbents even got the federal government to drop contracts. In one case they had a contract with the federal government for a $66M under the RUS. After the municipal system had invested and contracted based on that contract it was unexpectedly cancelled. Investigation showed the federal contract was cancelled because the federal RUS system was threatened by the megacorps. A chain of 'smoking gun' emails were discovered where Comcast and CenturyLink demanded the RUS cancel the contract or the two megacorps would act against it; a lawsuit on tortious interference is ongoing, but the cost will be several more million before any ruling will follow, in the mean time the municipal system is out the $66M plus all the interest they need to pay on the emergency loan they had to take out to avoid defaulting on the expenses.

    * Because the megacorps have forced the municipal fiber system to spend hundreds of millions on lawsuits and illegally-broken contracts, and because the redirected money has resulted in higher interest rates and longer-term loans costing over $500M to date, they are leveraging it and constantly sponsoring print ads, billboards, and TV ads (on their own cable networks) making nonspecific claims about how the municipal fiber has collected so m

  • Re:um (Score:5, Informative)

    by sam_nead (607057) on Friday August 29, 2014 @03:22PM (#47786495)
    Soros hasn't funded them in the last decade. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org] "They are not journalists" - they won a Pulitzer...
  • Re:um (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 29, 2014 @04:34PM (#47786937)

    Ah yes, the age-old "if you can't attack the message then attack the messenger". The article was well researched and correct. Deal with it.

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