Home » TDS Telecom » Recent Articles:

Wisconsin Republicans’ War on Broadband: No Cheap Internet for Schools, Libraries

Wisconsin Republicans are outraged AT&T and CenturyLink are not able to charge taxpayers and students more than double the price for broadband in schools and libraries.

Wisconsin Republicans are outraged AT&T and CenturyLink are not able to charge taxpayers and students more than double the price for broadband in schools and libraries.

Wisconsin taxpayers and students could face substantially higher taxes and tuition fees because Republicans prefer AT&T and other commercial Internet Service Providers deliver high-speed Internet access to schools and libraries, even if prices are more than double those charged by the existing non-profit, cooperative provider.

Last week, under growing pressure and criticism from Republican legislators and the potential threat of private litigation, the University of Wisconsin withdrew its contract with WiscNet, fearing a costly backlash that could interrupt the school’s educational and research missions.

Republicans in the state legislature forced a competition ban in the 2011-2013 budget directly targeting WiscNet, an institutional broadband provider serving 300 public schools, state agencies, and 15 of 17 Wisconsin library systems. They consider WiscNet a direct competitive threat to the business interests of AT&T and other telecommunications companies.

The loss of business from UW has raised questions about the ongoing viability of WiscNet’s operations, and has encouraged critics to continue the campaign against public broadband.

“Isn’t it a sad day when political pressures from telephone company lobbyists keep us from working together,” asked WiscNet Wire. “It’s frustrating, yet fascinating.”

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.

Republicans have complained WiscNet’s close ties to the state university system and its efforts to resist the Walker Administration’s efforts to dismantle the institutional fiber network’s current operational plans border on unethical.

Cheerleading the Republicans are providers including AT&T and CenturyLink, both filing their own respective complaints (AT&T) (CenturyLink). Joining them is the Wisconsin State Telecom Association (WSTA), which represents Wisconsin’s independent rural phone companies like Frontier Communications.

WiscNet Connecting People Logo_0William Esbeck, WSTA’s executive director, has been on WiscNet’s case for years. He said WiscNet’s recent victory in a procurement process to supply Internet service across the UW system was proof the bidding was rigged.

“The UW simply created a ‘request for proposals’ that matched what WiscNet was already doing,” said Esbeck.

Republican legislators joined Esbeck threatening hearings and unspecified repercussions for the “civil disobedience” on display by university officials attempting an end run around the Walker Administration.

“There have been repeated, flagrant violations of state law — intentional deception at a level that I just am flabbergasted by, even today — and no accountability for it whatsoever,” said state Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson), at a recent budget committee hearing. Among Knudson’s biggest campaign contributors: the WSTA and CenturyLink.

In a May 23 letter sent to UW System president Kevin Reilly, state Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) accused UW officials of “mismanagement and unethical behavior,” saying they’d shown disdain for the legislature and contempt for the laws and directives it passed, reported Bill Lueders, the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Among Farrow’s biggest campaign donors: TDS Telecom and the WSTA.

Both Farrow and Knudson are also known members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate financed group that produces anti-public broadband draft legislation for introduction by the group’s members. Both CenturyLink and AT&T are sponsors of ALEC, AT&T in particular.

The Walker Administration has given the UW System an extra six months to sever all ties with WiscNet.

Share

Minnesota’s War on Broadband: Competition Killing Bill Introduced in Legislature

Sen. Linda Runbeck, a dues-paying member of ALEC, a corporate funded pressure group that advocates for legislation advantageous to ALEC's corporate sponsors.

Rural Minnesota is facing a full frontal assault on community broadband, courtesy of a state representative so proud of her involvement in a corporate front group, she’s actually a dues-paying member.

State Sen. Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines) introduced HF 2695, a bill to prohibit publicly-owned broadband systems:

A bill for an act relating to telecommunications; prohibiting publicly owned broadband systems; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 237.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA: Section 1. [237.201] PUBLICLY OWNED BROADBAND SYSTEM; PROHIBITION.

(a) Notwithstanding section 475.58, subdivision 1, other state law, county ordinance, or any authority granted in a home rule charter, a city or a county may not use tax revenues raised within its jurisdiction or issue debt to construct, acquire, own, or operate, in whole or in part, a system to deliver broadband service.

(b) Notwithstanding sections 123A.21, 123B.61 to 123B.63, 125B.26, and 475.58, subdivision 1, no school district or service cooperative may use state revenues, tax revenues raised within its jurisdiction, or issue debt to construct, acquire, own, or operate, in whole or in part, a system to deliver broadband service.

(c) For the purposes of this section, “broadband service” means a service that allows subscribers to access information from the Internet by means of a physical, terrestrial, non-mobile, or fixed wireless technology.

(d) This section applies to a system to deliver broadband service whose construction begins after the effective date of this section, but does not apply to:

  1. the city of Minneapolis, St. Paul, or Duluth; or
  2. the maintenance or repair of a system delivering broadband service whose initial construction began before the effective date of this section, provided that the geographical area in which the system delivers broadband service is not expanded as a result of the maintenance or repair.

EFFECTIVE DATE. This section is effective the day following final enactment.

The public broadband option delivers the most bang for the buck, which is why some providers want to see it banned.

Runbeck is a dues-paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive corporate front group that lobbies lawmakers to introduce business-friendly legislation, often on the state level.  Runbeck told the Minnesota Independent via email that she paid $100 for a two-year membership in the organization, and says she’s never used ALEC’s “model legislation,” bills that are sometimes written by corporate members of the group and that pop up in state capitols across the country.

But Runbeck’s sudden interest in banning community broadband coincides with similar efforts in states like Georgia and South Carolina backed by big cable and phone companies.  Runbeck’s bill would directly target rural Minnesota, where broadband is the least robust, while exempting Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth (and incumbent phone and cable companies) from the bill’s provisions.  Runbeck’s bill also constrains existing public broadband services from expanding, an important matter for providers still rolling out service to additional neighborhoods in their communities.

Community broadband is already hampered in Minnesota by laws that make such projects difficult to approve and build.  When projects do break ground, incumbent providers do everything possible to throw up roadblocks to delay or abort the progress being made.  In Monticello, TDS Telecom filed nuisance suits against that city’s public broadband network before finally deciding to upgrade service themselves.  Mediacom and Charter, two major Minnesota cable operators, have objected to public broadband projects that don’t even serve communities they’ve wired.

When the networks are in operation, providers like Charter work to undercut them by selling service at prices so low, they’re predatory.  But when competitors are driven out, prices rise… quickly.

 Runbeck’s $100 membership in ALEC is paying dividends, if you are a big incumbent cable or phone company. Consumers will pay much more than that if broadband competition is curtailed.

 

Share

Verizon Wireless Shoots Itself in the Foot With $2 “Convenience Fee,” Now Rescinded

Verizon Wireless became the Bank of America of late 2011 when it attempted to impose a $2 “convenience fee” on select customers who prefer to pay their monthly phone bills online or through an automated telephone attendant.  It’s just the latest experiment in customer gouging — the same kind of toe-in-the-water strategic experimenting that unleashed ubiquitous baggage fees on airlines, low balance fees on checking accounts, and the increasingly-common practice of charging customers extra to mail them their monthly bill.

An entire industry of consultants pitch their creative talents to companies like Verizon who want “a little extra” from captive customers.  These specialists sell their expertise identifying the most vulnerable (and least likely to leave), who will grin and bear just about any kind of abuse heaped on them. Many income and resource-challenged consumers are left feeling powerless to protest and reverse unwarranted extra charges.

The consultant gougers-for-hire made millions for large banks when they figured out how to score the biggest bounced check and overdraft fees (simply pay the biggest check first, opening the door to $39 bounced check fees for all the little checks that follow).  Verizon’s $2 fee targeted customers who couldn’t afford to let the company automatically withdraw their monthly payment, or didn’t trust the company to do it correctly.  Even more, Verizon’s fee would target more desperate past-due customers who needed to make a fast payment to avoid service interruption.  Consumer advocates wondered if Verizon was successful charging these customers more, would they expand the fees to cover all online or pay-by-phone payments?

We’ll never know because the public outcry and intensive media coverage during a slow holiday week combined to force Verizon into a fourth quarter revenue retreat, rescinding the fee 24 hours after announcing it.  But Verizon may be pardoned if they feel they were unfairly singled out.  That is because other telecommunications companies have been charging certain customers bill payment fees of their own for years:

Verizon's evolved position on the $2 convenience fee (Courtesy: WTVT)

  • Stop the Cap! reader Larry writes to share TDS Telecom, an independent phone company, charges a $2.95 “third party processing fee” when accepting payments by phone.  “In its place you either have to revert to U.S. Postal Service, or agree to electronic billing for on-line payment access.”
  • AT&T charges a $5 bill payment fee for “certain customers.”
  • Sprint/Nextel not only has its own $5 bill payment fee for those paying at the last minute,  it also forces customers with spotty credit to sign up for auto-pay to avoid a mandatory surcharge.  Want a paper bill?  That’s $2 extra a month.
  • Comcast charges a $5.99 payment fee, but only in certain states.
  • Time Warner Cable charges fees ranging from an “agent assisted payment” fee ($4.99) to a statement copy fee ($4.99) in some locations.

While Verizon has agreed to drop its latest new charge, the company’s carefully-named bill-padding extra fees attached to monthly bills remain.  In addition to breaking out and passing along all government fees and surcharges, Verizon also bills customers administrative and regulatory recovery fees that, for other companies, would represent the cost of doing business.  These latter two go straight into Verizon’s pocket, despite the implication they are third party-imposed mandatory surcharges.

Had Verizon called their new $2 “convenience” fee a “business efficiency accounting recovery fee,” would they have snookered enough consumers to get away with it?

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WTVT Tampa Verizon cancels planned 2 bill-pay fee 12-30-11.mp4

WTVT in Tampa says Verizon did a complete 180 on its $2 bill payment “convenience fee.”  (3 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Verizon Dumps Fee 12-30-11.flv

CNN hints the FCC’s potential involvement in Verizon’s business may have had something to do with the quick shelving of the $2 fee.  (2 minutes)

 

Share

TDS Telecom: Losing 5.5 Percent of Its Landline Customers Every Year

TDS Telecom, the Madison, Wisc. independent telephone company serving about 1 million landline customers in rural and suburban communities in 30 states, is losing 5.5 percent of those customers every year, as consumers increasingly drop their landline telephone service.

In second quarter financial results reported to investors this week, TDS noted it is increasingly dependent on selling DSL broadband and managed data services to stabilize long term revenues and minimize line losses.  Like many independent phone companies, TDS’ largely rural service areas offer the opportunity of delivering broadband service to areas unserved by cable broadband, and unlikely to find robust cell phone or wireless data coverage.

Vicki Villacrez, TDS’ chief financial officer, reports the phone company now has a 60 percent penetration rate for residential landline customers taking DSL service.

TDS is losing more than 5% of their landline customers a year, which limits potential growth.

“High speed data subscribers grew 6% year-on-year.” Villacrez said. “We continue to attract healthy levels of new customers and they are taking higher speed. Over 80% of our data subscribers are taking speeds of three megabits or greater and 16% are taking greater than 10 megabit speeds.”

Because TDS customers are migrating to faster speeds, where available, the company’s average revenue per subscriber has remained stable at $37 per month.  That comes from a combination of the higher prices some customers pay for better service minus line losses, customer defections and retention offers delivering discounts to those threatening to switch providers.

TDS is also adopting similar strategies other phone companies are trying to hang onto customers: marketing their own triple play package of voice, broadband, and television service.  Like most smaller phone companies, TDS delivers voice and data over their existing copper wire network and relies on a resale arrangement with DISH Network to provide satellite television.

About 26 percent of TDS customers are enrolled in the company’s triple play package, up 2,700 customers in the quarter.

But the company’s cost control measures also signal TDS’ unwillingness to invest noticeably in expanding their DSL footprint to additional customers, or dramatically improve their existing network.  The company admits it plans to limit investment in new residential customers, and consolidated cash expenses were down 2.1% for the period, reflecting reduced spending.

Where is TDS willing to invest?  In data center assets and future acquisition opportunities.  TDS intends to broaden its presence in managed hosting and will continue to explore mergers and acquisition opportunities with other small, independent phone companies.

Share

Water Tower Fire Wipes Out WiMAX and Cell Phone Service on Madison, Wisconsin’s West Side

Phillip Dampier May 20, 2010 Consumer News, TDS Telecom, Video 1 Comment

This empty water tower in Madison, Wis. caught fire Friday as workers began painting preparations, disrupting wireless communications services on the city's west side for months. (Photo: WMTV Madison)

A water tower fire on Madison’s west side has wiped out WiMAX broadband service for at least 150 fixed wireless broadband customers, leaving them cut off for so long, provider TDS Telecom is canceling their service and assisting customers in switching providers.

A Madison utility manager said workers Friday were preparing to paint the 100,000-gallon tower in the 2700 block of Prairie Road when insulation around communications cables caught fire.  Smoke was visible from the empty water tower for miles, and several nearby homes had to be evacuated because of fears of a potential collapse.

City engineers have since deemed the tower safe, but the real impact will be several months of interrupted broadband and cell service from several area providers who depended on the tower as an antenna site.  The tower was particularly crucial to TDS Telecom, which depended on its strategic location to deliver its wireless broadband service in western Madison.  It will take several months to restore service.

“Based on our discussions with the City, we anticipate it could take a very long time to repair the damaged tower,” states DeAnne Boegli, TDS National Public Relations Manager. “Since this is the only viable tower location TDS can use to serve these homes, and because temporary solutions are not available, our customer’s best option is to select another facilities-based communications provider.”

TDS will assist all 147 impacted customers in changing their service without penalty and remove the equipment from customer homes at their request and convenience. The company is also providing the customers a month’s service credit.

“Unfortunately, this accident has left us with no reliable or timely restoration options. TDS understands communications services are critical to our customers and we want to get them transitioned as quickly as possible, even though it means they must select another provider,” said Boegli.

Affected cell phone companies are trying to establish temporary cell tower sites to improve service in the area while repairs get underway.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WMTV Madison Water Tower Fire Wipes Out WiMAX 5-14-10.flv

WMTV-TV in Madison broke into regular programming to deliver a special report on the fire.  We’ve also included some raw video of the fire.  (11 minutes)

Share

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • Scott: Perfectly example of why I still don't subscribe to cable or satellite. The only channel I *might* watch out of that entire lineup is Comedy Central....
  • James Cieloha: CableOne, Service Electric, GCI, Buckeye and other NCTC members are being forced by Viacom to add the Epix movie channels in order to carry the cable ...
  • Dave Hancock: I don't know where AP lives, but in MOST areas of the country MOST people do not have any choice for High Speed Internet (15mbps or above) - it is the...
  • tacitus: That doesn't sound right. Are you in some sort of contract? Where in the country is this?...
  • AP: Good luck cutting cable if you live in an area that has one cable, internet, and phone company like I do. If you want internet or phone with the cable...
  • Dave Hancock: Soon the rest of the cable companies will follow Verizon's lead and start limiting the input bandwidth to their systems (ex: Netflix) to discourage su...
  • Milan in Austin: Cable TV is an obsolete product! I suggest everyone seriously consider dropping cable television. I cut the cord in August of 2013, and don't miss ca...
  • gsuburban: I have to agree that Verizon is not interested in providing its customers with a "clear pipe" due to the politics of peer-to-peer data sharing or what...
  • Scott: Not good, that takes away all your leverage in the situation. If you're holding the money you can work through the BBB or try and negotiate with the ...
  • Hudson Mohawk Press: We knew it couldn't last forever. Starting this month Time Warner Cable of NYC is charging Earthlink Internet customers a $5.99 modem lease fee. The w...
  • Eric: Frontier still sucks..Their service still sucks..they are still a ripofff...
  • punki: Thanks Scott, unfortunately mine is already paid......

Your Account: