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Rochester Philanthropist Tom Golisano Acquiring Greenlight Networks

Golisano

Rochester billionaire and philanthropist Thomas Golisano is seeking expedited regulatory approval from New York’s Public Service Commission to acquire Rochester-based Greenlight Networks, LLC, a fiber to the home network provider for an undisclosed sum.

Greenlight Networks has been slowly overbuilding Charter/Spectrum and Frontier Communications’ service areas in eastern Monroe County since 2012, offering subscribers gigabit internet access. But time may be running short for Greenlight’s competitive broadband speed advantage. Charter Communications is reportedly planning to introduce gigabit service as early as April 25th throughout upstate New York, except for Buffalo.

The urgency of the transaction’s approval is clear in the companies’ filing with state officials requesting an expedited review and approval of the transaction.

“Greenlight’s […] need for working capital and the optimization of capital structure required for long-term success in the competitive telecommunications industry are matters for urgent consideration,” the application states. “Greenlight seeks Commission approval in order to avoid unnecessary delays in the completion of its network expansion projects and in order to secure valuable, committed, outside investors who share Greenlight’s vision and believe in its ability to execute on its plan.”

Greenlight’s success is likely dependent on its ability to rapidly expand its fiber optic network before its biggest competitor, Charter’s Spectrum, capitalizes on its forthcoming ability to match Greenlight’s download speeds. Greenlight receives praise from subscribers lucky enough to live in a neighborhood reached by its network. But residents also report frustration over the slow pace of the company’s fiber network expansion, particularly in suburbs west of the Genesee River that bisects the city of Rochester.

Golisano’s Grand Oaks LLC of Pittsford, N.Y. promises customers the acquisition will not result in any changes in Greenlight’s rates or its terms and conditions.

The petition claims the acquisition is in the public interest because it will offer Greenlight much-needed additional capital to accelerate deployment of its fiber network inside Rochester and beyond. Greenlight’s website suggests the company is considering expansion into the New York State cities of Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Syracuse, and the Finger Lakes Region. In Connecticut, the company is considering serving Bridgeport, Danbury, Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford (the corporate home of Frontier Communications). Grand Oak also promises to grow jobs at Greenlight and increase operational efficiency at the company.

Golisano is well-known in Rochester as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civic leader. Golisano founded Paychex, a leading national payroll service provider in 1971. After his retirement in 2004, Golisano has been actively involved in local civic causes and advocates for policies promoting improvement in the economy of western New York State.

The application is likely to be approved, but not soon enough to combat Charter Communications’ accelerated broadband upgrades across New York State. By early summer, Spectrum customers across New York State will receive 200 Mbps Standard service, 400 Mbps Ultra service, or 940 Mbps (nearly gigabit) Gigabit service from the cable operator at prices ranging from $65-125 a month. In contrast, Greenlight currently offers customers 100 Mbps for $50, 500 Mbps for $75, or 1,000 Mbps for $100 a month.

AT&T Watch: A New $15 Sports-Free Cable TV Alternative

Phillip Dampier April 19, 2018 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today announced AT&T would offer a slim-sized version of DirecTV Now offering a significant number of cable networks and live local television stations, but without expensive sports programming.

The new service, AT&T Watch, will sell for $15/month and is expected to arrive sometime this May.

The new option is expected to compete head to head with Dish Network-owned Sling TV.

 

CenturyLink Accused of Playing Fast and Loose with Campaign Contribution Laws

Phillip Dampier April 19, 2018 CenturyLink, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Rep. Trujillo — a friend of CenturyLink

Rep. Carl Trujillo (D-Santa Fe), a New Mexico legislator embroiled in a hotly contested primary for New Mexico’s state legislature, is accused of violating the state’s campaign finance laws by concealing contributions from companies including CenturyLink, the single biggest contributor to his campaign during his last race in 2016.

Denie Cordova of Alcade filed a formal complaint with the New Mexico Secretary of State on Monday.

“Mr. Trujillo failed to disclose thousands of dollars on his campaign finance reports from donors related to CenturyLink and the oil and gas industry, which is against the law,” Cordova said. “Because his failure to disclose these contributions relate to these two industries solely, I believe his failure to disclose was willful.”

Cordova tracked where Trujillo’s campaign funds originated and discovered CenturyLink, along with several companies in the oil and gas industry, may be secretly funneling campaign money to Trujillo with the help of Rep. Patricio Ruilobo, a fellow Democrat who has contributed thousands of dollars to Cordova’s campaign.

“Unopposed again this year, Mr. Ruilobo has suddenly raised over $17,000, or a third of the amount he has raised since being initially elected,” Cordova wrote. “Mr. Ruilobo has received numerous contributions from businesses who have never donated to his campaign, but are contributors to Mr. Trujillo, such as Occidental Petroleum ($2,500), Chevron ($1,000); and Encana ($1,000). Did Mr. Trujillo funnel contributions from oil and gas through Mr. Ruilobo’s campaign account? These ‘pass-through’ contributions are illegal in the state of New Mexico.”

The complaint also alleges CenturyLink’s lobbyist, Johnny Montoya, gave Trujillo free baseball tickets that were never reported on disclosure forms. But in a more serious allegation, Cordova claims both CenturyLink and Trujillo violated New Mexico law by accepting money from the telecommunications company above the corporate limit.

Trujillo’s defense of CenturyLink’s contributions also raised eyebrows.

“One campaign contribution came from a telecommunications PAC [affiliated with CenturyLink], the other came from a telecommunications [company – CenturyTel], therefore, there is no violation,” Trujillo said. “She is claiming that they are from the same company, ($500 from CenturyLink, $2,500 from CenturyLink lobbyist Katherine Martinez) and that is completely untrue.”

CenturyTel is the old corporate name for what is now known as CenturyLink. Although the two entities still exist for business and regulatory reasons, they are both essentially the same company. Corporations often skirt campaign contribution laws by making multiple donations as an individual company, through an affiliated Political Action Committee (PAC), and through personal contributions from corporate executives and occasionally employees. While each distinct contribution is reported individually on disclosure forms, politicians do the math and understand where the combined contributions are coming from.

As for the baseball tickets, Trujillo waived them off.

“That is not a campaign contribution, there is no place to amend my report, it’s all within the limits of the Campaign Finance Act, so there’s no violation there,” he told the Los Alamos Monitor.

Trujillo has been criticized by some in his district, which covers a largely rural area from Santa Fe to the northern half of the county, for being too corporate friendly, a charge Trujillo strongly disputes.

Montoya

“I am probably the number one representative or senator in the state that receives the vast majority, 90 percent of my contributions, from grassroots organizations, individuals and small businesses,” he told the newspaper. “I raised a lot of money from many small businesses and individuals within the district. Those characteristics of my campaign funding are completely untrue.”

But at least some of Cordova’s charges seem to be accurate, particularly regarding large donations from energy companies like Encana Gas and Oil, which Trujillo had to send back.

“I sent many contributions back throughout my tenure as a legislator. I have probably sent 30 to 40 contributions back,” Trujillo said. When asked why he has had to return so many corporate contributions, Trujillo answered, “Because of what we’re dealing with now. Campaigns that have nothing to grab onto make desperate attempts to make somebody look bad. People refuse to run for office because of tactics like this.”

Trujillo also turned the spotlight back on Cordova and her complaint, which he called “suspicious,” noting it was a very detailed add filed by someone who lives outside his district. A Facebook page for Ms. Cordova reveals no political leanings or obvious interest in politics.

His opponent in the primary, Andrea Romero, has herself been the subject of some controversy. In February, a complaint filed by Northern New Mexico Protects claimed Romero spent over $1,850 on a single dinner, not including $307 for alcohol and baseball tickets, during a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. Romero is also under investigation in her role as former executive director of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities — a group of towns that have banded together to deal with issues surrounding the Los Alamos National Laboratory. New Mexico’s state auditor is currently auditing the books of the coalition over financial irregularities relating to travel expenses.

Romero accused her complainant of having political connections to Trujillo and claimed the entire affair was politically motivated. Trujillo claims essentially the same, but has not directly accused Romero by name.

The larger issue for ethics in government observers is the money laundering of political campaign contributions to skirt campaign finance laws. The fact that many of Trujillo’s donors suddenly began making contributions to an Albuquerque legislator that has faced no significant opposition and has raised very little money in the past was intriguing. When that money turned into a legislator to legislator campaign contribution from Ruilobo to Trujillo, it looked suspicious.

Campaign finance reform advocates call it a shell game and a way to undermine campaign finance limits. But they admit in New Mexico it is both legal and common.

The Great 5G Giveaway: Cities and States Race to Let Big Wireless Deploy 5G on the Cheap

In 2017, negotiations between the city of McAllen, Tex. and wireless companies over the cost of placing new wireless infrastructure neared agreement at $1,500 per network node, an amount not out of line with the kind of infrastructure fees being charged in other cities where utilities want to place their equipment in the public rights-of-way. But just before contracts were ready to sign, the wireless companies broke off negotiations with city officials and began lobbying for a new Texas state law that would set the terms and conditions for placing telecommunications infrastructure statewide regardless of the wishes of individual Texas towns and cities.

SB 1004 was the kind of bill companies like AT&T love. Drafted from talking points supplied by the telecom industry and introduced by a friendly legislator — Republican State Sen. Kelly Hancock, (dubbed “THE WORST” by Texas Monthly magazine) — AT&T and Hancock partnered up to push the legislation through the state legislature, with the help of more than 100 lobbyists working with a budget of $7.8 million, according to a Texas Monitor analysis.

AT&T counts Texas as its corporate home, and company spends lavishly to have its way. It has been the largest lobbying force in the state by far for at least two decades, with 108 registered lobbyists. In second place is TXU Energy Retail, which registered just 29 lobbyists. AT&T offers politicians in the states where it provides local phone service a continuous fountain of campaign contributions. Since 2007, AT&T has spent more than $2.2 million on Texas politicians alone. AT&T donated to 175 of the 181 members of the Texas House and Senate, and its legislative achievements are impressive, winning passage of 14 of the 28 bills the company supported or wrote. Hancock counts AT&T among his top corporate donors, along with the former Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

SB 1004 will cost Texas communities a substantial amount of local control over wireless infrastructure, along with millions of dollars in pole attachment and oversight fees. Hancock, who has no background in telecommunications, arbitrarily set fee caps on wireless facilities at $20 a year for locating equipment on an existing pole and $250 a year if a company attaches equipment on something else. To observers, it isn’t just a bargain for the wireless industry, it could also means some towns and cities could be forced to spend public tax dollars to manage and monitor wireless company infrastructure should something goes awry.

McAllen is among 31 cities in Texas fighting to overturn AT&T’s state law. The city is upset because SB 1004 strips its authority to manage public rights-of-way. By bending over backwards to the wireless industry, companies can put 5G small cells and other equipment just about anywhere with little recourse. In fact, the Texas law mandates companies use pre-existing street signs, traffic garages, and street/traffic lighting as antenna locations wherever possible, which is good news for AT&T but could cause visual pollution and potential safety issues for residents. With below-market attachment fees topping out at just $250, four major national wireless companies can sprout antennas all over town, whether they create eyesores or not.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, called that an “unconstitutionally low amount of money.”

“It’s mandatory that when private companies want to make a profit using public land that they pay a reasonable rental fee for it,” Sandlin told the Texas Monitor. “Just like if AT&T wanted to run these facilities through our backyard, we wouldn’t let them do it for free.”

Sandlin adds the wireless industry wants to be given special privileges under the guise of expanding internet access in return for getting cheap access to public rights-of-way, but they don’t want to be regulated like a public utility.

If the new law stands, it is estimated that Texas cities will lose up to $800 million a year in revenue from fees — money that will probably be made up by increasing taxes or other fees.

In Tennessee, the state has gone all out to hurry the passage of a similar law in hopes of convincing wireless companies to make the state one of the first targets for 5G expansion.

Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), believes clearing a path for rapid 5G deployment will attract billions of dollars of new investment in the state.

“It’s going to transform the world as we currently know it. We’re expecting speeds anywhere from 30 to 50 percent faster as far as connectivity is concerned,” Ketron told his colleagues in the Tennessee legislature. “It opens up that bandwidth for all the data, everything that we’re doing from texting to telemedicine to even autonomous vehicles.”

House Bill 2279 and its companion SB 2504 are written almost word for word on the recommendations of AT&T and other wireless lobbyists. Like a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments, all of AT&T’s legislative priorities can be found in both bills, and not by accident. The phone company’s lobbyists have worked hand in hand with other internet providers, lawmakers, and local governments and co-ops to push the bill for rapid passage. After four months, it is nearing the governor’s signature.

The handful of critics, mostly Democrats, have been reduced to offering concern about the bill’s impact on local self-governance. Sen. Lee Harris (D-Shelby County) told colleagues, “I’m inclined to support this bill, but it does give me pause that we would intervene in these negotiations and set a price,” referring to the bill’s capped application fee of $100 per small cell installation, with a $35 annual renewal fee.

Ketron has frequently defended the bill’s cap on fees, which most observers claim are substantially lower than what wireless companies expected to pay, by claiming he wanted to prevent cities and towns from “cashing in on poles because that would be passed on to all the users through their rate fees, and I know my bill is already high enough.”

Sen. Ketron moving HB 2279 forward in the Tennessee legislature on April 11, 2018.

The potential revenue hit to municipalities would normally be enough to rally opposition, but because of AT&T’s lobbying efforts, most cities and counties in Tennessee have remained neutral on the bill, signaling a virtual guarantee it will become law. The company has worked hard to try to reassure communities the new law will be revenue neutral and be sensitive to the aesthetic needs of local communities. The bill promises that in the event a small cell damages or brings down a pole, the owner of the equipment will be responsible to fix the damage or provide an identical replacement light or pole at the company’s expense.

But based on stories from other communities that have gotten small cell technology for existing 4G LTE networks, problems remain. The biggest issue for residents is visual clutter on poles in their front yards. Some companies also install “lawn refrigerator” cabinets that house backup batteries or other equipment to keep small cells operational in the event of a power outage. Residents frequently complain about these unsightly metal boxes that can appear overnight in the public right-of-way, sometimes right in front of their home, with no warning.

Some town engineers also question the safety of some installations, particularly if multiple carriers seek to place equipment on the same poles. Some have expressed concern about what impact the extra equipment might have in a vehicle collision that brings a pole down onto another vehicle. There are also broader implications once a town surrenders authority over its public rights-of-way to state officials.

Ketron’s personal knowledge of 5G technology and his credibility to deliver on the promises and claims he has made to his colleagues is also open to question. During a brief floor session to consider House Bill 2279, Ketron frequently became tongue-twisted explaining the merits of 5G networks, their functionality, and what benefits they will offer rural Tennessee consumers.

In rambling introductory remarks, Ketron claimed, “the connectivity speed through that bandwidth what 5G brings us […] all are going to be communicating through all that bandwidth of that data.” He also promised a colleague in rural Tennessee that 5G service had a real potential to solve the state’s rural broadband problems, despite the fact the technology would be very costly to deploy in rural areas because of required fiber backhaul and the limited range of each small cell.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative believes 5G deployment will likely stop with the suburbs, unlikely to expand into rural areas because of its limited range.

“Because of this, we don’t anticipate it will ever see widespread use outside of densely populated areas,” Trent Scott, spokesman for the organization told the Memphis Daily News. “The economics of deploying current 5G technology in sparsely populated areas are going to be a challenge.”

But the idea of AT&T and other wireless companies spending billions on new wireless infrastructure in Tennessee attracts political support for the short-term jobs for installers. The future of 5G technology and its use with Tennessee’s smart grid and intelligent transportation projects of the future may explain why the bill has attracted 40 co-sponsors.

But on the local level in communities like McAllen, there is also recognition wireless companies stand to earn tens of billions from the next generation of wireless technology, and they will be able to earn that revenue at a relatively cheap cost if communities surrender their ability to leverage their publicly owned assets like rights of way. McAllen officials hoped to negotiate a new network of public hotspots to help bring internet access to those who cannot afford traditional internet subscriptions. If AT&T agreed, the city was willing to steeply discount their fees. But no companies showed any interest in the idea. With enthusiastic state legislators willing to introduce legislation tailor-made for those companies, they didn’t have to.

The Tennessee legislature debated passage of the state’s 5G-related legislation for just 15 minutes before passing it 32-1. But did members truly understand it? (14:44)

Comcast Adding Netflix Subscription as Option to Its Bundled Packages

Phillip Dampier April 16, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

Comcast will soon offer its cable subscribers the option of subscribing to Netflix as part of the cable company’s cable television packages, the company announced Friday.

It will be the first time a Netflix subscription will be bundled like a premium movie channel into a cable company’s offerings. Analysts say the move is a defense against cord-cutting, on the theory that a Netflix subscription bundled into a video package will give cable TV customers the best of cable television and streaming media. But many cord-cutters doubt it, citing Comcast’s expensive and bloated cable TV packages that require customers to pay for dozens of networks they will never watch.

“Netflix is about on-demand viewing of just the movies and shows I want to see, not what Comcast wants me to see and pay for,” said Jack Codon, who cut the cord on Comcast in 2017 at his Georgia home after his latest promotion ended. “They were reluctant to give me a better deal so I gave myself a better one by no longer paying for cable television.”

Codon now subscribes to YouTube TV for local channels and a slimmed-down TV package and has paid subscriptions to Hulu, Netflix, and CBS All-Access Pass.

“It still adds up when you subscribe to a lot of services, but my satisfaction has never been higher because I am getting services with a lot of things I want to watch instead of hundreds of channels I don’t,” Codon said. “When you flip through the channels and run into Sanford & Son, Law and Order, home shopping, and terrible reality show trash, you just get angry because I was paying for all of it. Now I pay Netflix and they spend the money on making more shows I will probably want to watch, as opposed to reruns I don’t.”

Comcast customers have been able to subscribe separately to Netflix and watch its library of content on Comcast’s X1 set-top box since 2016. But now Comcast will bundle that subscription into a package directly billed to customers. Comcast claims subscribers will appreciate the simplified billing their new Netflix bundle will offer. Pricing and exact date of availability have not yet been announced.

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