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Salisbury’s Fibrant Faces Unprecedented Demand for Service Legislators Want to Restrict

The Faith Baptist Church was told to live with Windstream's slow speed DSL or pay Time Warner Cable a $20,000 installation fee.

Despite claims from some in the state legislature that restricting fiber optic broadband development in communities like Salisbury is good for consumers and businesses, an increasing number of both are telling reporters a different story.

Faith Baptist Church, in the aptly-named community of Faith, N.C., can’t wait to sign up for Salisbury’s community fiber network — Fibrant.  They believe in a faster broadband experience the local phone company cannot deliver.

Casey Mahoney, a church member, told the Salisbury Post the church wants to ditch its slow speed DSL service from Windstream and cannot afford the $20,000 installation fee Time Warner Cable wants to charge the congregation to extend its broadband service to the church building.

If some in the state legislature have their way, the church will have a long, perhaps infinite wait for a fiber optic future.  A large number of legislators in the Republican-controlled state Senate are leaning towards voting for a bill custom-written by and for the state’s largest cable company — Time Warner Cable.  The legislation would micromanage community-owned broadband networks right down to the streets they would be allowed to deliver service.  Those terms, perhaps unsurprisingly, would not apply to the state’s largest cable and phone companies.

H.129, moving towards a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, would cement today’s marketplace for years to come — a duopoly Mahoney thinks makes Time Warner Cable’s $20,000 installation fee feasible.

He told the Post, “When you only have one company available in an area, that’s when they can say, ‘It will cost you $20,000 — take it or leave it.’ ”

Not everyone supports the cable industry’s efforts to lock down competition from community-owned providers.  Several local officials who represent underserved communities across the state are upset the legislation is being railroaded through the legislature with almost no discussion.

Misenheimer

“I am disappointed that the General Assembly is giving consideration to taking this right away from us without a single conversation taking place,” Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer complained to Sen. Andrew Brock (R), who serves Davie and Rowan counties.

Misenheimer is particularly upset cable operators want the right to restrict the service areas Fibrant can serve, and not allow the fiber network to expand service into Kannapolis.  In fact, Brock’s office has received similar communications from the Faith town board and mayors from Rockwell, Landis, China Grove, Granite Quarry, Spencer, Cleveland, and Concord — all who want to be included in the Fibrant service area.

“Isn’t it simply amazing that Fibrant is being bashed as a failure-waiting-to-happen by the sponsors of this bill while mayors across two counties are absolutely clamoring to get the service to their residents,” said Stop the Cap! reader Andy Brown who lives near Landis.  “How can Marilyn Avila and Tom Apodaca have the slightest bit of credibility on this issue when you see town leaders literally falling all over each coveting a service that these legislative-Friends-of-Time-Warner-Cable have predicted is a certain failure?”

“I want Fibrant in Landis myself, if only for the competition,” Andy shares.  “You know, the kind of competition legislators are supposed to support.”

Andy describes efforts underway to distort the record on H.129 in hopes of whipping up consumer support for it.

“There are some silly stories being told attacking community networks like Fibrant on local media websites, including the ridiculous claim communities will be required to sign up for the service if it comes to town,” Andy reports.  “These come from some of the same people who also claim fiber optic cables suffer from rot problems, wireless broadband is faster than fiber optics, and that Fibrant is part of the Obama Administration’s plan to socialize the Internet.”

“If these people want Windstream DSL or are happy paying annual rate increases far beyond the rate of inflation year after year, don’t sign up for Fibrant — but don’t dictate away that option for me,” Andy said.  “The only ‘takeover of the Internet’ I see is by Time Warner and CenturyLink.”

Salisbury’s Fibrant Proposes Near-‘Turn-Key’ Headend Network for Community Fiber Projects

Phillip Dampier December 16, 2010 Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Competition, Fibrant, Public Policy & Gov't, Video, WOW! Comments Off on Salisbury’s Fibrant Proposes Near-‘Turn-Key’ Headend Network for Community Fiber Projects

Crowell

Fibrant, Salisbury, N.C., community-owned fiber to the home network, shares advice to other communities considering building their own self-reliant, locally-owned broadband networks: work together and outsource the headend.

Christopher Mitchell from Community Broadband Networks alerted us to a video from TelecomTV interviewing Michael Crowell, Fibrant’s Director of Broadband Services.  In it, Crowell shows off Fibrant’s GPON fiber network and explains what the city has learned from the experience of building its own network.

Ironically, a significant part of Fibrant’s network came cheap thanks to Windstream.  It seems what the residents of Salisbury won was also a loss for those living in Concord, N.C.

Crowell explains Concord was served by a small independent phone company — Concord Telephone.  They had decided to build their customers an advanced fiber to the home network similar to Fibrant, until the company was sold to Windstream.  Windstream has no interest in delivering world-class fiber broadband to Concord (or anywhere else), and left Concord with dismal DSL, selling the fiber network equipment to Salisbury dirt cheap — for around 10 cents on the dollar.

But not everything has come so easy to Fibrant, says Crowell.  One of the company’s largest expenses is its headend, which receives, monitors, and distributes the hundreds of video channels Fibrant customers receive.

“What we think would be a better model going forward is for the other cities and counties to do what is called an open access network.  They build and maintain the fiber but get other providers to provide the service,” Crowell said.

Crowell proposes allowing the state’s two largest municipal broadband projects — Wilson in the east and Salisbury in the central-west part of the state, handle the headend, as well as customer service calls and billing on behalf of other communities interested in building their own municipal fiber networks.  Both cities can deliver bulk feeds of video channels to different parts of the state and that saves other communities from spending money to hire employees to monitor redundant, expensive equipment.

That is more or less what is happening further south in Opelika, Ala., where work is underway constructing a fiber to the home network.  But in Opelika, city officials have decided to let cable overbuilder Knology run the network.

Knology’s network is already up and running in nearby Auburn, according to Royce Ard, general manager for Knology.  Ard told WRBL TV:

“We met our scheduled date for installing our first Auburn test customers and the test is progressing nicely. We will begin adding our first paying customers by the end of October,” Ard said. “Initially, our services will be available in a limited number of neighborhoods, but as we build out our network we will contact homeowners and let them know when services are available in their area.”

Knology projects being able to offer service to its first Opelika customers by the second quarter of 2011.

“Knology is very excited about entering the Opelika market,” Ard said. “The technology that we are deploying in the Auburn/Opelika markets will allow us to offer consumers a much better product than they have today. This, along with Knology’s commitment to customer service, will greatly improve the overall experience for consumers in Auburn and Opelika.”

Fibrant’s Michael Crowell, interviewed by TelecomTV, walks viewers through Fibrant’s fiber network and discusses community-owned fiber networks.  (7 minutes)

N.C.’s Fastest & Cheapest Broadband Comes from Community-Owned Networks Some Want to Ban

A new report proves what Stop the Cap! has advocated for more than two years now — communities seeking the fastest, most-modern, and most aggressively priced broadband can get all of that and more… if they do it themselves.

The concept of community self-reliance for broadband has been dismissed and derided for years among small government conservatives and corporately-backed dollar-a-holler groups who claim government can’t manage anything, but when it comes to broadband in the state of North Carolina, the evidence is in and it is irrefutable — Tar Heel state residents are getting the most bang for their broadband buck from well-managed and smartly-run community-owned broadband networks.

Christopher Mitchell from the New Rules Project — part of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, gathered evidence from North Carolina’s different broadband providers and found the best broadband services come from local communities who decided to build their own fiber networks. instead of relying on a handful of cable and phone companies who have kept the state lower in broadband rankings than it deserves.

North Carolina is undergoing a transition from a manufacturing and agricultural-based economy that used to employ hundreds of thousands of workers in textile, tobacco, and furniture manufacturing businesses.  In the last quarter-century, the state has lost one in five jobs to Asian outsourcing and America kicking the tobacco habit.  Its future depends on meeting the challenges of transitioning to a new digital economy, and major cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro have risen as well-recognized leaders in engineering, biotech, and finance.

But for rural and suburban North Carolina, success has been hindered by a lack of necessary infrastructure — particularly broadband for small businesses and entrepreneurs.  It becomes impossible to attract high tech jobs to areas that are forced to rely entirely on low speed DSL service, if that is even available.

In communities like Wilson and Salisbury, long frustrated by area providers not delivering needed services, a decision was reached to build their own broadband infrastructure — modern fiber to the home networks worthy of the 21st century.

Mitchell’s report charts the benefits available to every resident, as communities with state-of-the-art fiber networks consistently deliver the most robust service at the lowest prices, all without risk to local taxpayers.  Better still, when the network construction costs are paid back to bondholders, future profits generated by the community-owned systems will be plowed back into local communities to reduce tax burdens and keep service state-of-the-art.

“Comparing the tiers of residential service from Wilson or Salisbury against the providers in the Raleigh area shows that the communities have invested in a network that offers far faster speeds for less money than any of the private providers,” Mitchell concludes.  “Whether communities in North Carolina are competing against other states or internationally for jobs and quality of life, they are smart to consider investing in a community fiber network.”

Mitchell’s report arrives just a few weeks after voters handed North Carolina’s General Assembly to GOP control for the first time in more than a century.  Both cable and phone companies in the state modestly suggest that is good news for their legislative agenda, which is an understatement equal in proportion to the historic handover of control of both the House (67-52) and the Senate (31-19).  The top items on the agenda of incoming members is a checklist of conservative activist favorites, including a war on unions, mandatory ID cards for voting, opting the state out of recently enacted health care reform, an eminent domain constitutional amendment, sweeping deregulation reform to favor business interests, and redistricting to “restore fairness” in future elections.

The state’s big cable and phone companies are convinced with a list like that, they can come along for the legislative ride and get their agenda passed as “pro-business reform.”  That means a much larger fight in 2011 for the inevitable return of corporate protection legislation banning exactly the kinds of municipal networks that are delivering North Carolina better, faster, and cheaper broadband.

Happy Rate Increase Tuesday: Time Warner Cable Back for More from North Carolinians

Phillip Dampier November 16, 2010 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Competition, Consumer News, Fibrant, Greenlight, MI-Connection, TWC (see Charter), Video Comments Off on Happy Rate Increase Tuesday: Time Warner Cable Back for More from North Carolinians

Time Warner Cable customers in North Carolina are getting rate hike letters from the cable company that foreshadows what other Time Warner Cable customers around the country can expect in the coming months.

For residents in Charlotte and the Triad region, Time Warner is boosting prices for unbundled customers an average of six percent, which will impact customers not on promotional plans or who are not locked into a “price protection agreement.”

The rate increases particularly target standalone service customers.  Those with the fewest services will pay the biggest increases.  Those who subscribe to cable, phone, and broadband service from the company will suffer the least.

A Time Warner Cable spokesman claimed the company is just passing on the cost of programming.

WXII-TV in Greensboro reported that for many customers already struggling with their bills, they don’t want to hear anything about a price hike.

“I think it’s ridiculous at this time with the economy — it’s hard to make it as it is,” one customer told the station.

“I wish there was a better option out there, but it’s about the only thing you can get,” said another viewer.

Time Warner has been developing pricing models that increasingly push customers towards bundled packages of services.  Standalone broadband service saw dramatic price increases in many areas in 2010, and the company’s most aggressive new customer promotions encourage customers to take all three of its services.

But broadband customers need not expose themselves to inflated broadband prices for standalone service.  Most Time Warner Cable franchises offer Earthlink broadband at comparable speeds at prices as low as $29.95 per month for the first six months.  When the promotion expires, customers can switch back to Road Runner at Time Warner’s promotional price.

Time Warner does face competition in some areas of North Carolina from AT&T U-verse, which offers attractive promotional pricing for new customers.  But the phone company’s broadband speeds come up short after Time Warner boosted speeds across much of the state.  The cable company now delivers Road Runner at speeds of up to 50/5Mbps.  AT&T tops out at 24Mbps, and not in every area.

When a competitor can’t deliver the fastest speeds, they inevitably claim consumers don’t want or care about super-fast broadband.

“We are focused on offering the broadband speeds that our customers need, at a price that they can afford,” said AT&T spokeswoman Gretchen Schultz.

Greenlight promotes its local connection to Wilson residents

Some North Carolina consumers are watching AT&T’s slower speeds and Time Warner’s price hikes from the sidelines, because they are signed up with municipal competitors.

Residents in Wilson with Greenlight service from the city don’t have to sign a contract to get the best prices and obtain service run and maintained by Wilson-area employees. The provider has embarked on a campaign to remind residents that money spent on the city-owned provider stays in the city.

In Salisbury, Fibrant is making headway against incumbent Time Warner as it works through a waiting list for customers anxious to cut Time Warner’s cable for good.  Fibrant customers are assured they’ll always get the fastest possible service in town on a network capable of delivering up to 1Gbps to businesses -and- residents.

MI-Connection, the rebuilt former Adelphia cable system now owned by a group of local municipalities is managing to keep up with Time Warner with its own top broadband speeds of 20/2Mbps.  The system is comparable to a traditional cable operator and does not provide fiber to the home service.  Its 15,000 customers in Mooresville, Cornelius and Davidson are likely to stay with the system, but it is vulnerable to Time Warner’s bragging rights made possible from DOCSIS 3 upgrades.  Since Time Warner does not provide service in most of MI-Connection’s service area, city officials don’t face an exodus of departing customers.

But that could eventually change.  Some MI-Connection customers have reported to Stop the Cap! they have begun to receive promotional literature from Time Warner Cable for the first time, and there are growing questions whether the cable company may plan to invade some of MI-Connection’s more affluent service areas.  Cable companies generally refuse to compete with each other, but all bets are off when that cable company is owned by a local municipality.

For most North Carolina residents, AT&T will likely be the first wired competitor, with its U-verse system.  To date, U-verse has drawn mixed reviews from North Carolina consumers.  Many appreciate AT&T’s broadband network is currently less congested than Road Runner, and speeds promised are closer to reality on U-verse compared with Road Runner during the early evening.  But some AT&T customers are not thrilled being nickle-and-dimed for HD channels Time Warner bundles with its digital cable service at no additional charge.  And for households with a lot of users, AT&T can run short on bandwidth.

“We have five kids — three now teenagers, and between my husband’s Internet usage and me recording a whole bunch of shows to watch later, we have run into messages on U-verse telling us we are trying to do too much and certain TV sets won’t work until we reduce our usage,” writes Angela.  “AT&T doesn’t tell you that you all share a preset amount of bandwidth which gets divided up and if you use it up, services stop working.”

Angela says when she called AT&T, the company gave her a $15 credit for her inconvenience, and the company claims it is working on ways to eliminate these limits in particularly active households.  For now, the family is sticking with U-verse because the broadband works better in the evenings and she loves the DVR which records more shows at once than Time Warner offers.  Their U-verse new customer promotional offer saves them $35 a month over Time Warner, at least until it expires.

“From reading about Fibrant and Greenlight on your site, my husband still wishes we lived in Salisbury or Wilson because nothing beats fiber, but at least what we have is better than what we used to have,” she adds.

WXII-TV in Greensboro reports of Time-Warner Cable’s rate hikes for the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina.  (2 minutes)

Fibrant Blows Past Time Warner Cable: 200/200Mbps Planned, 50/50 Already Available

Fibrant ruins Time Warner Cable's Speed Party by delivering faster service at a lower price, without the cable company's rate increase notice sitting in Charlotte-area mailboxes.

Residents of Salisbury, N.C. are going to get some of the state’s fastest broadband speeds as the community-owned broadband provider prepares to introduce 200/200Mbps service, leaving Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner service behind in the dust.

Time Warner Cable enjoyed a few moments in the spotlight last week announcing free speed upgrades for the Charlotte region, which includes Salisbury.  But Fibrant’s fiber to the home network is well-equipped to turn Time Warner’s temporary speed advantage on its head.

Last week, the cable operator promoted the introduction of its new maximum speed 50/5Mbps Road Runner Wideband service, which carries a monthly price of $99.95.

But Salisbury city officials were unimpressed, claiming Fibrant already offers 50/50Mbps service — they just haven’t advertised it.

Assistant City Manager Doug Paris said Fibrant’s top available speed is 10 times faster than the cable giant’s when uploading.

“We’re cheaper, and we’re faster,” Paris told the Salisbury Post.  Fibrant sells the 50Mbps service for $85 a month, about 15 dollars less than Time Warner Cable’s slower Wideband service.

City officials also weren’t surprised that Time Warner announced faster Internet speeds the day after Fibrant launched.

“We’ve seen this in every other city that has invested in fiber optics,” he said. “They are trying to match our speeds, but they can’t.”

The Salisbury Post needs a few cans for its message boards, filled with anonymous lunacy.

Time Warner Cable claimed its new speeds were not in response to Fibrant but were part of a service upgrade for the entire Charlotte area, a claim every cable company makes in response to new competition on their doorstep.

Fibrant’s upstream streams are dramatically better than those offered by Time Warner Cable, which uses an inferior network architecture not currently capable of delivering the same upstream and downstream speeds to consumers.  Cable broadband networks are constructed with the assumption most users will download far more than they upload, so the networks emphasize downstream speeds.  Time Warner Cable has dramatically increased those download speeds, but has been forced so far to limit uploads to just 5Mbps.

Fiber to the home networks like Fibrant do not suffer those limitations, and the city plans to exploit that in their marketing.

Fibrant has the capacity to provide up to 1 gigabit per second upload and download, Paris said. Forthcoming are plans offering 100/100 and 200/200Mbps service, with prices yet to be determined.

Fibrant continues to have a waiting list of several hundred area residents waiting for service, but you wouldn’t know it from the raucous anonymous postings on the Post’s website.  Virtually all of the anonymous comments about Fibrant have been negative and wildly uninformed, to the point of hilarity.  From a Korean War veteran talking about eating blueberries and living life in the Windstream DSL slow lane (and loving it) to comments proclaiming fiber optics as woefully slower than WiMax, the Internet trolls have managed to prove why an increasing number of newspapers have learned to adopt “real names-only” posting policies or have just turned the comment section off altogether.

For those fans of  Time Warner Cable, the price of that love is about to go up.

Time Warner is mailing notices to Charlotte area customers announcing broadband rate hikes for some customers this December.  Time Warner customers who bundle their services or are on price protection promotions will be exempted from the rate increases… for now.

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