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Windstream’s Plans for 2013: We’re Nearly Done Expanding Broadband, Time to Cash In

windstreamlogoWindstream has announced the increased broadband investments that expanded DSL service to about 75,000 more homes and businesses and brought fiber connections to cell towers are nearly complete and the company intends to dramatically cut spending on further enhancements by the end of 2013.

Jeff Gardner, Windstream’s CEO, told investors on a conference call last week the company’s highest priority in 2013 is preserving its current dividend to create value for shareholders. Not on the priority list: improving broadband infrastructure to support video streaming services, further expanding broadband in areas it now bypasses, and boosting the quality of service it delivers to current customers.

Gardner called the company’s increased investment in 2011 and 2012 a result of “finite opportunities that provide[d] attractive investment returns.”

But most of that spending will come to an end next year.

gardner“We expect to substantially complete our capital investments related to fiber to the tower projects, reaching 4,500 towers by the end of 2013,” said Gardner. “In addition, we will finish most of our broadband stimulus initiatives […] to roughly 75,000 new households. As we exit 2013, we will see capital spending related to these projects decrease substantially.”

That could be bad news for communities in places like Wayne County, Mo., which suffers with inadequate broadband from the company. In some areas when local broadband traffic reduces DSL speeds to a crawl, area businesses are occasionally forced to shut down for the day.

Broadband and business services now account for 70% of Windstream’s revenue, but it has come with a price: increased investment, that Wall Street considers negative to the company’s value. To satisfy analysts and shareholders, Gardner made it clear improving the balance sheet is a major priority. He said he will continue to direct excess free cash flow first to preserve the company’s shareholder dividend, and then direct much of the rest to debt repayment.

That does not mean Windstream will end all investments in its business. The company now spends 12.4% on ongoing capital investments and will continue to do so, but much of the spending will cover network upkeep and supporting more profitable business services.

“Over the last four years, our acquisitions have been very targeted on businesses that are growing in the strategic growth areas that we’re focused on, and we’ve really changed the mix very significantly here, away from the consumer business toward the enterprise space, and I think that puts us in a very different position with respect to the stability of our revenue and OIBDA over time,” Gardner added.

Windstream plans to bring back its "price for life" promotion this year.

Windstream plans to bring back its “price for life” promotion this year.

Gardner noted Windstream is well-positioned to take advantage of the fact it has few competitors, which reduces pressure to invest and improve its networks to stay competitive.

“Our residential customers remain concentrated in very rural areas where there is less competition, which has contributed to a more stable consumer business,” Gardner admitted.

He added that those rural customers will have to rely on the company’s satellite partner Dish Networks for video services. Windstream will not build a “capital-intensive facilities based technology” to support online video. In contrast, CenturyLink has invested in Prism, a fiber-to-the-neighborhood service in several of its larger markets, to offer triple play packages of broadband, phone, and cable TV. Windstream has no plans to follow.

Despite investments in 2011 and 2012 to improve broadband service and speeds, Windstream’s DSL services have not kept up with its cable competitors.

During the last quarter, Windstream lost 2,000 broadband customers and 23,000 consumer voice lines (a 4.5% decline year over year).

To stem the tide of customers moving away from the phone company, Windstream is trying to sell value-added Internet support services, online backup, and faster speeds to maximize profitability. It will also add new customers made possible from federally funded broadband stimulus projects.

Windstream customers can expect to see increased promotional activity this year to win or keep their business:

  • Covering the costs of switching from another provider to Windstream;
  • A return to the “price for life” promotion, which promises stable rates as long as a customer stays with the company;
  • A substantial introductory discount on satellite TV when bundled with Windstream’s own services.

Former Bresnan Execs Conspire With Private Equity Firm to Abandon Broadband in Rural Kansas

Phillip Dampier February 19, 2013 BCI Broadband, Bresnan, Consumer News, NewWave Communications, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Video Comments Off on Former Bresnan Execs Conspire With Private Equity Firm to Abandon Broadband in Rural Kansas

allegianceMore than 20 cable systems across Kansas will be terminating television and broadband service after a private equity firm, working with former Bresnan Cable executives, deemed them unprofitable and not worth upgrading.

Residents of Conway Springs (pop. 1,250), Chetopa (1,125), Sharon (158), and Harper (1,473) are among those who will find their cable and broadband service discontinued in the coming weeks. Abandoned cable subscribers are being told to buy satellite dishes to continue watching television. No immediate broadband solution was available.

Allegiance Communications, which provides cable TV, broadband Internet, and VOIP telephony services to rural and mid-size markets in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas was acquired last month by former executives at Bresnan Communications, itself bought out by Cablevision Industries. The deal was largely financed by BBH Capital Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm.

The purchase by BCI Broadband orphaned nearly two dozen cable systems that Allegiance owned and operated, but were excluded from the sale. Subscribers are being notified they are about to be switched off permanently in letters signed by Allegiance executives.

Several Bresnan former executives are behind BCI Broadband.

Several former Bresnan Cable executives are behind BCI Broadband.

The service will leave rural Kansans without broadband service, cable television, or an alternative to AT&T and other independent phone companies operating in the state.

“This was not an easy decision for us, nor is it one that we came to hastily. The costs of doing business in Conway Springs can no longer be profitable,” Allegiance wrote in its letter, according to KSNW-TV.

Local officials in affected communities are rushing to find an alternative, appealing to providers like Southern Kansas Telephone to see if they can pick up where Allegiance left off, but the phone company has yet to respond.

Allegiance claims the outdated cable systems served few subscribers and the new owners were not interested in investing funds to upgrade them.

BCI Broadband is a new company run by former executives forced out of Bresnan Communications when the company was sold to Cablevision. BCI Broadband claims it wants to invest in system upgrades to improve service to remaining subscribers.

“Historically when we have purchased cable systems and invested in upgrading to the latest technology in markets like Shawnee, that has inevitably led to more customers and the need for more staff,” said Shawn Beqaj, vice president of public and government affairs for BCI Broadband. Beqaj was the former vice president of public affairs at Bresnan.

There has been an accelerating trend of industry consolidation among rural cable operators, particularly by private equity firms that are interested in the stable earnings cable operators usually generate.

GTCR, through its portfolio company Rural Broadband Investments LLC , separately announced its plans to acquire NewWave Communications Co., in what it hopes is just the first of a series of acquisitions. NewWave’s purchase was financed by debt capital from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., and Goldman Sachs Bank USA.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KSNW Wichita Small towns losing cable service 2-7-13.mp4

KSNW-TV reports more than 20 Kansas communities will lose television and broadband service when Allegiance Communications switches off the cable systems. (2 minutes)

Taxpayers Fund Charter Cable’s Corporate Welfare Move to Connecticut, Where New CEO Already Lives

Phillip Dampier October 10, 2012 Charter, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

Charter Communications’ new CEO Thomas Rutledge loves Connecticut so much, he is moving the company’s executive headquarters to a new facility in Stamford — just minutes from his tony estate in New Canaan —  at taxpayer expense.

Rutledge has been running Charter, based in St. Louis, largely from Connecticut and a temporary executive suite in New York City since he accepted the position days after quitting as Cablevision’s chief operating officer in December, 2011.

But instead of relocating to St. Louis, Rutledge will force about 100 employees to quit or move to Connecticut, with taxpayers picking up the tab. Charter blamed the move, in part, on the downsizing of St. Louis’ airport which company spokesperson Jessica Hardecke said hampered the ability of the company’s employees to visit its cable systems in 25 states.

Under the terms of the corporate welfare deal, Charter will receive a 10-year loan of $6.5 million financed at 2%, with principal payments deferred for three years. If Charter meets modest job milestone requirements, the loan’s balance will be transferred to state taxpayers who will pay it back in part or in full, depending on Charter’s job growth performance. The company has promised to add up to 200 jobs in Stamford, which will earn them an added bonus. The package allows Charter the opportunity to access up to $2 million in grant funding — $1 million for each additional 50 corporate jobs they bring to Connecticut. The company can also receive $1 million in grants if it adds 100 jobs. The grants are capped at $2 million.

News reports indicate Charter is eyeing 70,000 square feet of premium office space in a 15-story high rise in downtown Stamford shared with UBS Financial Services and Harmon International.

Rutledge has a long history of stubbornly sticking close to home. While an executive at Cablevision, he refused to move closer to the company’s headquarters on Long Island, requiring the cable company to provide a helicopter service that flew him back and forth from Connecticut every day.

Rutledge

Rutledge could have self-financed the entire move out of his personal compensation. His four-year pay package at Charter is worth about $90 million, according to recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Two other former senior executives who left Cablevision to join Rutledge at Charter may have known Rutledge would never move to Missouri. Neither Charter’s chief operating officer or chief marketing officer have put their New York City-area homes up for sale. Now they don’t have to.

St. Louis officials were shocked by the decision, and were fuming about the company’s surprise announcement Oct. 2, because nobody gave them an opportunity to make a counteroffer to get Charter’s executives to stay.

Steve Johnson, executive vice president for economic development at the Regional Chamber and Growth Association, wasn’t given a chance to change Charter’s mind either. “You never want to lose corporate headquarters and the cachet that goes with them,” Johnson says. “But I’m not sure there was anything we could do to influence this one.”

County Executive Charlie Dooley was more succinct: “I don’t believe [Rutledge] wanted to come to St. Louis.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KMOV St Louis Charter Moving to Conn 10-2-12.mp4

KMOV in St. Louis reports local officials were unpleasantly surprised with Charter’s sudden announcement, but were partly mollified with promises Charter would hire an additional 300 modestly paid customer service workers in St. Louis (without any taxpayer incentives) between now and the end of the year. (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KTVI St Louis Charter Moving Headquarters Out of St Louis Area 10-2-12.flv

KTVI in St. Louis notes Charter’s executive exit from Missouri has become a political issue, with Republicans complaining the state has to do even more for businesses to keep this from happening again. (2 minutes)

Enabling Corporate Bullies: Big Cable Loves Fewer Rules, Weakened Oversight

“We know where you live, where your office is and who you owe money to. We are having your house watched and we are going to use this information to destroy you. You made a big mistake messing with TCI. We are the largest cable company around. We are going to see that you are ruined professionally.” — Paul Alden, TCI’s vice president and national director of franchising to an independent consultant hired to review competing cable operators for Jefferson City, Mo., in a historical example of cable industry abuse

The Federal Communications Commission last week voted unanimously to expire rules that required cable operators to make their programming available on fair and reasonable terms to competitors. Big mistake.

We have been here before. Let us turn back the clock to the days before the FCC and Congress mildly reined in the cable television industry with the types of pro-consumer regulations Chairman Genachowski and others have now let expire. Why were these rules introduced in the first place? Because years of industry abuse heaped on consumers and local communities took their toll, with high prices for poor service, outrageous corporate bullying tactics, and endless litigation to hamper or stop consumer relief.

How long will it take for the industry to resume the same abusive practices that forced the FCC and Congress to finally act once before?

The Central Telecommunications. v. Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI): The Poster Child for Cable Industry Abuse

Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) was the nation’s largest cable operator. Later known as AT&T Cable, the company was eventually sold to Comcast.

Back in the 1980s, before the days of direct broadcast satellite competition like DirecTV and Dish, and years before telco-TV was allowed by law, the cable industry totally dominated the video marketplace. The only challenges came from incredibly rare competing cable TV providers or three million home satellite dish owners or wireless cable subscribers.

The industry’s only check on unhampered monopoly growth came from local authority over cable operations through the cable franchising process. If a cable company got out of control or did not offer the programming or service a community found adequate, it could offer a franchise to another company, effectively kicking bad actors out of town.

In Jefferson City, Mo., the local cable operator during the 1980s was Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI). It had acquired the franchise in the city by buying out the original provider in the late 1970s. TCI had been buying a lot of smaller cable operators around the country under the direction of then CEO John Malone. By 1981, it had grown to the largest cable operator in the country, and few dared confront the well-heeled operator, which had a legal budget greater than the operating budgets of some communities TCI served. TCI was later acquired by AT&T Cable, which in turn sold its cable systems to Comcast, which continues to operate them to this day.

In 1980, Jefferson City officials decided it would be prudent to make sure they were getting the best cable service possible, so as TCI’s franchise agreement reached expiration, the city issued a “request for proposals” offering other cable companies a chance to bid for the right to serve the community of around 38,000. For TCI, this was tantamount to a declaration of war, and the cable company meant business. Malone equated anything threatening a permanent cable franchise for TCI as something like an act of government theft. In books later written about the events in Jefferson City, even some TCI executives admitted they were “horrified by the sleaziness” of the kind of hardball tactics involved, comparing them to a “B-movie.”

TCI revealed it would stop at nothing to keep competitors away from their territories and drag out years of litigation. Central Telecommunications, Inc., v. TCI Cablevision, Inc., revealed exactly how far TCI was willing to go:

From: Cutthroat: High Stakes & Killer Moves on the Electronic Frontier, By Stephen Keating

Cajole the mayor into canceling competitive bidding. In early 1980, after Jefferson City made it known TCI might get some competition, the company quickly met with the mayor hoping to persuade him to renew TCI’s franchise without a competitive bid process, so as to avoid a “frontal attack” by competitors.

Threaten the independent consultant. In December, 1980 the city hired Elmer Smalling, an industry consultant, to independently evaluate various bids from cable operators willing to serve Jefferson City. TCI immediately began publicly attacking his qualifications in a way the court later found to be defamatory. The court case documents Paul Alden, TCI’s vice president and national director of franchising, making personal threats against Smalling.  A sample:

“We know where you live, where your office is and who you owe money to. We are having your house watched and we are going to use this information to destroy you. You made a big mistake messing with T.C.I. We are the largest cable company around[.] We are going to see that you are ruined professionally.”

It got worse for Smalling. At this same time, Warner-Amex (another large cable company now known as Time Warner Cable) was a client of Smalling’s. Alden contacted Warner-Amex about Smalling. Following the threats, Smalling lost Warner-Amex as a client.

City Attorney Thomas Utterback later wrote a memo to the City Council in which he described TCI as a “relentless corporate bully.”

Threaten would-be competitors. On several occasions, from January of 1981 to the summer of 1981, Alden repeatedly telephoned Robert Brooks, chief operating officer of Teltran, a company which submitted a bid for the city’s franchise, and threatened him that unless Teltran withdrew from the bidding process, TCI would make trouble for Teltran in Columbia, Missouri, where it operated a cable television franchise. Teltran subsequently dropped out of the bidding process on the ground there was a “distasteful environment” in Jefferson City.

Another competitor, Central Telecommunications, became a defendant in a TCI lawsuit challenging the city’s right to request proposals from other cable companies. TCI argued it now had a 1st Amendment right of free speech to serve Jefferson City residents regardless of the wishes of city officials. In a wide ranging series of subpoenas, TCI demanded the bank handling Central’s financing turn over a “very wide range of potentially confidential records,” which according to Central was an effort to destroy its financing agreement with the bank.

Malone

Threaten customers. TCI warned customers that unless it won the cable franchise for Jefferson City, it would immediately shut off its cable system and leave customers without service, potentially for years, until Central built its own system from scratch. TCI officials said “it would not sell ‘one bolt’ of its system to whoever received the new franchise and that it would ‘rather have [its system] rot on the pole’ than sell it to a competitor at any cost.”

TCI’s system manager in Jefferson City told elderly residents of a senior citizens’ home that TCI would cut off service if denied a franchise, and the residents would be without television for two years pending construction of a new system because the concrete walls of their residence would not allow reception of over-the-air stations.

Lie, Lie, and Lie Some More. In one City Council meeting, Alden wildly claimed that TCI was the nation’s largest distributor of satellite dish antennas, with “an exclusive” right to sell in the state of Missouri. TCI promised that if the city renewed its franchise agreement, it would keep satellite dishes out of Jefferson City. If the franchise was not renewed, Alden promised to “flood the city with satellite dishes,” denying the city franchise fees. Alden later admitted both statements were untrue.

Threaten the mayor’s office. Although the mayor has never disclosed exactly what TCI threatened him with, the public record shows in March 1981, Alden called the mayor and threatened to turn the system off unless TCI’s franchise was renewed. TCI also filed an expensive lawsuit against Jefferson City regarding the way it handled its request for proposals.

By the fall of that year, TCI was meeting with city attorney Utterback in secret negotiations to renew its cable franchise, in direct violation of the city’s request for proposals  which required all negotiations to be open, as well as Missouri’s “sunshine laws.” By next spring, the mayor had privately notified council members he would veto any franchise renewal awarded to anyone other than TCI, which he later admitted was a condition imposed by TCI during its secret negotiations.

On January 25, 1982, the City Council provisionally awarded the franchise to… Central Telecommunications. TCI immediately refused to pay the city the prior year’s franchise fees, in excess of $60,000. It also reminded the mayor of his obligations to TCI as part of the secret franchise renewal negotiations held the prior fall. On April 20, 1982, the City Council passed the ordinance awarding a franchise to Central. The vote was six in favor and four against. The mayor vetoed the ordinance. The council then deadlocked five-to-five on awarding a franchise to TCI and the mayor cast the deciding vote in favor of that company. The next day, TCI dismissed its lawsuit against the city and paid the withheld franchise fees.

In the end, several courts upheld tens of millions in damages for Central Telecommunications, TCI’s lawsuit was dismissed at the company’s request, Mr. Alden was summarily dismissed by TCI after Malone referred to him as a “loose cannon,” and Jefferson City was stuck with several additional years of lousy service from TCI.

But TCI’s “bad corporate citizen” practices would come back to haunt the cable juggernaut, eventually failing to win assignments for two $800 million orbital slots for a direct broadcast satellite service the company proposed. After the Jefferson City experience, even the FCC could not, in good conscience, reward TCI with satellite slots it wanted for a “competing satellite service” it would sell through its own cable companies.

The memories of FCC officials are evidently short. Giving cable operators an inch has historically bought them a mile, paid for by consumers. Mandating easy to understand rules requiring cable operators sell programming to competitors on fair and reasonable terms is sound policy whether there is competition or not. Removing those rules or watering them down only promotes the kind of mischief that, when unchecked, leads to these kinds of horror stories. History need not repeat itself.

AT&T and Time Warner Cable’s Unnecessary Temper Tantrum in Kansas City

Phillip “You Guys Need a Timeout” Dampier

AT&T and Time Warner Cable are complaining they have gotten a raw deal from Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Ks., in comparison to the incentives Google was granted to wire both cities with gigabit fiber broadband.

“It’s time to modernize our industry’s rules and regulations…so all consumers benefit from fair and equal competition,” read a statement from AT&T.

“There are certain portions of the agreement between Google and Kansas City, Kan., that put them at a competitive advantage compared with not just us but also the other competitors in the field,” said Alex Dudley, a Time Warner Cable spokesman. “We’re happy to compete with Google, but we’d just like an even playing field.”

The Wall Street Journal seemed to suggest Google was getting the keys to both cities, with grants of free office space and free power for Google’s equipment, according to the agreement on file with the cities. The company also gets the use of all the cities’ “assets and infrastructure”—including fiber, buildings, land and computer tools, for no charge. Both cities are even providing Google a team of government employees “dedicated to the project,” says the Journal.

The Google Fiber project was so desired that the local governments rolled out the red carpet. In Kansas City, Mo., for instance, the city is allowing Google to construct “fiberhuts,” small buildings that house equipment on city land at no cost, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The cities are discounting other services, as well. For the right to attach its cables to city utility poles, Google is paying Kansas City, Kan., only $10 per pole per year—compared with the $18.95 Time Warner Cable pays. Both cities have also waived permit and inspection fees for Google.

The cities are even helping Google market its fiber build-out. And both are implementing city-managed marketing and education programs about the gigabit network that will, among other things, include direct mailings and community meetings.

Several cable executives complain that the cities also gave Google the unusual right to start its fiber project only in neighborhoods guaranteeing high demand for the service through pre-registrations. Most cable and phone companies were required by franchise agreements with regional governments to build out most of the markets they entered, regardless of demand.

But the Journal missed two key points:

  1. Time Warner Cable has been granted the same concessions given to Google on the Missouri side, and AT&T presumably will also get them when it completes negotiations with city officials on the matter.
  2. Both cable and phone companies have the benefit of incumbency, and the article ignores concessions each had secured when their operations first got started.

The Bell System enjoyed a monopoly on phone service for decades, with concessions on rights-of-way, telephone poles and placement. AT&T was a major beneficiary, and although the AT&T of today is not the same corporation that older Americans once knew, the company continues a century-long tradition of winning the benefit of the doubt in both the state and federal legislature. AT&T has won statewide video franchise agreements that give the company the power to determine where it will roll out its more advanced U-verse platform, and enjoys carefully crafted federal tax policies that helped them not only avoid paying any federal tax in 2011 — the company actually secured a $420 million “refund” subsidized by taxpayers.

Cable operators also won major concessions from local governments under pressure from citizens eager to buy cable television. At the time, cable companies were granted exclusive franchises — a cable monopoly — to operate, an important distinction for investors concerned about the value of their early investments. Local zoning and pole attachment matters were either negotiated or dealt with legislatively to allow cable companies the right to hang their wires on existing utility poles. Franchise agreements permitted the gradual roll-out of cable service in each franchise area, often allowing two, three, or more years to introduce service. It was not uncommon for neighborhoods on one side of town to have cable two years before the other side could sign up. That sounds awfully familiar to AT&T U-verse today.

Google’s proposal to build a revolutionary broadband network delivering 1Gbps deserved and got the same type of treatment then-revolutionary phone and cable service won back in the day.

Time Warner Cable also won much the same treatment Google is now getting, and the cable operator has gotten $27,000 in fees refunded and will avoid another $100,000 in permit fees going forward. Time Warner Cable and Google will both receive free traffic control services during network construction — not that Time Warner Cable plans much of a change for customers in either Missouri or Kansas.

AT&T will likely also receive the same treatment, although it would be hypocritical of them to complain that Google gets to pick and choose where it provides service. Large swaths of Kansas City and suburbs are still waiting for U-verse to arrive, and many areas will never get the service. Cable operators had to wire a little further, but also benefited from years of monopoly status and network construction expenses paid off years ago when there literally was no competition.

Those paragons of virtue at Goldman Sachs are appalled Google has such a good relationship with Kansas City officials more than happy to have the gigabit speeds neither AT&T or Time Warner Cable would even consider providing.

Google’s rights “appear to be significantly more favorable than those cable, Verizon or any other fiber overbuilders achieved when striking deals with local governments in the past,” Goldman Sachs analyst Jason Armstrong told the Journal. “We’re surprised Time Warner Cable hasn’t been more vocal in its opposition.”

But then the cable company has secured most of the same benefits Google has, so why complain at all?

In fact, city officials had to browbeat Time Warner to modernize its network in ways it would have not done otherwise without the new agreement.

Both AT&T and Time Warner have every right to be concerned. Their substandard networks and high prices (along with a lousy history of customer service, according to national surveys) put them at a competitive disadvantage if Google does not make any major mistakes. Neither cable or phone company has made any noise about upgrading service to compete, and should customers begin to leave in droves, then both companies may actually have something to cry about.

The Wall Street Journal’s report on the concessions granted to Google wanders off into the Net Neutrality debate for some reason, and misses several important facts reviewed above.  (3 minutes)

Kansas’ Fiber Broadband Cup Runneth Over: New SureWest Projects Compliment Google

Phillip Dampier September 5, 2012 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Google Fiber & Wireless, SureWest Comments Off on Kansas’ Fiber Broadband Cup Runneth Over: New SureWest Projects Compliment Google

Did you miss out on Google Fiber’s forthcoming gigabit broadband network in Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri? Kansans may not be out of luck, as provider SureWest aggressively continues work to expand its own fiber to the home network in several Kansas City suburbs and nearby communities.

SureWest, which believes strongly in fiber service, is busy laying fiber in conduits in Fairway, Mission, Roeland Park — all in Kansas. It also offers service in Lenexa, Overland Park, Shawnee and parts of Kansas City, Mo.

With all of this fiber, some Kansans may soon be able to choose between two competing fiber to the home providers.

SureWest General Manager of Kansas City operations Matt Zuschlag says SureWest’s fiber broadband service, which tops out at 50/50Mbps, will work just as well as Google’s gigabit (1,000Mbps) service because most web sites don’t need super fast speeds to load equally as fast. Even some bandwidth-intensive applications will not be able to take full advantage of Google’s fiber speeds because the networks currently supporting them were not designed to deliver sustained gigabit speed to end users.

SureWest works good enough for communities like Prairie Village, which is asking the company to wire its community for fiber service, regardless of where Google expands next.

SureWest competes with traditional cable and phone companies — Time Warner Cable and AT&T in the case of northern Kansas, and sells traditional triple play packages of phone, Internet, and television service.

But SureWest says its fiber network is always laid underground, which the company says offers improved reliability. Google Fiber is being installed largely on overhead lines alongside other utility services. SureWest says going underground allows it to skip the delays associated with obtaining pole use permits.

 

Fact Check: Time Warner Cable’s $25 Million Fiber Upgrade: For Business Use Only

Despite glowing media reports about Time Warner Cable’s announcement it is investing $25 million to expand its fiber optic network in parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, in fact the fiber expansion is part of a previously-reached franchise agreement with New York City officials and will only be available to large business customers that can afford the asking price.

Time Warner Cable’s press release, which generated favorable media coverage in The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News, focused considerable attention on fiber upgrades for the Brooklyn Navy Yard, since reborn as a modern tech-friendly business park.

TWCBC also announced that the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, a 501(c)(3) organization, will receive a state-of-the-art Time Warner Cable Learning Lab in its Employment Center, located inside the massive complex and accessible to the public.

“We are very pleased to work with the City of New York to make significant investments to ensure that this city has the technology infrastructure to successfully compete in a worldwide marketplace,” said Ken Fitzpatrick, President of Time Warner Cable Business Class, East Region. “Our fiber optic network provides dedicated Internet access at incredible speeds and high-bandwidth capabilities to serve the communications needs of any business.”

Time Warner Cable was required to make its investment in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as part of its franchise agreement with NYC officials.

Time Warner Cable did not, however, provide this investment out of the goodness of their heart. They were required to under the terms of the current franchise agreement the company signed with city officials:

[Time Warner Cable] will install, at its own expense, the fiber optic and coaxial cables and related facilities and equipment needed to provide its service to the buildings and occupants throughout the Brooklyn Navy Yard facility.

Time Warner Cable is also extending its network to more commercial establishments throughout the city, in keeping with its previously-announced interest in expanding services to business customers. Nothing new to see here either.

That did not stop Bloomberg News from comparing Time Warner’s network expansion with Google’s gigabit network in Kansas City:

Time Warner Cable Inc. will expand fiber-optic lines to businesses in New York, a move that boosts Internet speeds as much as 20 times and provides an East Coast counterpoint to Google’s ultrafast network in Kansas City.

The company faces a threat from Google more than 1,000 miles away in Kansas City, where the Internet-search giant is building a fiber-optic network as a test project. Time Warner Cable is the main broadband provider for the area, which spans parts of Missouri and Kansas. While Google’s network will be available to both companies and households, Time Warner Cable’s New York fiber network is focused on businesses.

Google’s network initially will only be sold to residential customers, which are the primary targets for the service. Time Warner Cable’s fiber backbone network primarily works in tandem with its coaxial cable network and does not provide a fiber to the premises connection except for the company’s largest corporate customers.

Time Warner Cable Business Class sells different speeds and services to commercial clients. Most choose speeds considerably lower than 1,000Mbps because of the cost.

What was missing from the coverage is the fact ordinary residential Time Warner Cable customers in New York City will not benefit from these fiber upgrades — they are targeted only to commercial clients. Residential customers will continue to receive the same hybrid fiber-coax service they always have from the cable company.

If New York customers want fiber service, they will have to buy it from Verizon, assuming FiOS has made its way to your borough and neighborhood.

Four Telcos-Four Stories: The Big Money is in Commercial Services — Today: CenturyLink

Four of the nation’s largest phone companies — two former Baby Bells, two independents — have very different ideas about solving the rural broadband problem in the country. Which company serves your area could make all the difference between having basic DSL service or nothing at all.

Some blame Wall Street for the problem, others criticize the leadership at companies that only see dollars, not solutions. Some attack the federal government for interfering in the natural order of the private market, and some even hold rural residents at fault for expecting too much while choosing to live out in the country.

This four-part series will examine the attitudes of the four largest phone companies you may be doing business with in your small town.

Today: CenturyLink — Our Commercial Customers Deliver 60% of Our Revenue; Our Attention Follows Accordingly

“Business customers now drive about 60% of our total operating revenues,” CenturyLink CEO Glenn F. Post III told investors in March. “Our focus on delivering advanced solutions and data hosting services to businesses are key factors in improving our top line revenue trend.”

With residential customers departing traditional landlines at an average rate of 5-10 percent a year, keeping customers has become an important priority for a number of phone companies, especially those who have plowed millions into mergers and acquisitions to build their businesses. For the past several years, CenturyLink has been acquiring small, regional independent phone companies, a former Baby Bell, and a competing landline provider Sprint used to think would be an important part of its business.

Century Telephone’s original customers were mostly cobbled together from acquisitions from other phone companies, including names like GTE, Central Telephone Company of Ohio (part of Centel), Pacific Telecom, Mebtel and GulfTel. But the biggest expansion of the company would come from acquisitions of Sprint-spinoff Embarq and former Baby Bell Qwest.

Today CenturyLink operates one of the nation’s largest independent phone companies, and serves markets large (primarily on the west coast) and small (rural communities primarily in the southeast, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin).

CenturyLink’s revenues have often been uneven, mostly because of its acquisitions, landline losses, and the effects from competition in its larger markets. While CenturyLink’s acquisitions grew the company, they also saddled it with landline networks that have proved inadequate to meet the growing needs of customers. With a disconnect rate running between 6.4% this quarter and 7.6% in the same quarter a year ago, residential customers are leaving their voice lines behind in favor of cell phones and broadband customers are departing for faster speeds available from cable operators.

These “legacy services” lost the company $124 million in revenue — an 8.1% decrease over the past quarter. As customers depart, so do CenturyLink employees that used to handle the old landline network.

To make up the lost revenue, CenturyLink has gotten more aggressive in other areas of its business:

  • Increasing focus on business/commercial and governmental services, including managed hosting, cloud computing and other commercially-targeted broadband initiatives;
  • Deployment of fiber to cell towers as a growing revenue source;
  • Limited, but ongoing rural broadband expansion;
  • Development of Prism TV — a fiber to the neighborhood service targeting residential customers.

CenturyLink calls these their four key initiatives towards revenue stability, stable cash flow, and growth.

In the business services segment, CenturyLink sees enormous revenue potential selling businesses access to data centers, co-location services, and ethernet-speed broadband. Last year, CenturyLink acquired Savvis, an important enterprise-level service provider and owner of 50 data centers. Phone companies like CenturyLink are also in a race with large cable operators to be the first to offer cell phone companies access to “fiber-to-the-tower” service to support exploding data growth on 4G wireless networks.

Faster DSL, Fiber to the Neighborhood-Broadband Key to Keeping Residential Customers Happy

CenturyLink’s network map showing both its own service areas, and infrastructure obtained from the acquisition of Qwest.

For consumers, CenturyLink has been moderately aggressive in some areas boosting speeds of its DSL services. The company claims 70% of their DSL-capable landline network provides speeds of at least 6Mbps. At least 55% supports 10Mbps or higher; over 25% can manage 20Mbps or faster.

The company’s Prism TV service, a fiber to the neighborhood upgrade comparable to AT&T U-verse, is now available to nearly 6.3 million homes and apartments in eight cities. By year end, CenturyLink says it will increase that to 7.1 million homes.

Prism represents a significant portion of CenturyLink’s investment in its residential business. So far, the results have not proven a major threat to the competition. CenturyLink added 15,000 Prism subscribers in the first quarter, but the company only has 8% of the market. Cable and satellite providers continue to dominate. But the company says Prism is helping to keep the customers they already have.

CenturyLink says it now taking Prism TV west into former Qwest territory, starting in and around Colorado Springs, Col.

Customers will likely be offered 130 channels starting at $59.99 a month with a free set top box (new customers typically receive a $20 monthly discount for the first six months of service).

The phone company will compete with Comcast, which sells 80 channels for $56 a month (new customers get a $26/mo discount for the first six months).

With CenturyLink providing a better deal, at least for television service, Colorado City officials hope the competition will bring down rates, at least for new customers. That may be exactly what happens, predicts Mark Ewell, a senior account executive with Windstream Communications.

“We could see some pressure on Comcast’s rates. I would like to see Comcast adopt a price model that doesn’t go up after a promotional period,” Ewell told The Gazette.

“CenturyLink is likely to be more of a threat to the satellite providers like DirecTV and Dish because they have a much higher market share in Colorado Springs than they do in most other markets because so many customers left Adelphia [acquired in bankruptcy by Comcast] when it had its financial problems. Those customers have already shown a willingness to leave the cable television provider and try another service.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CenturyLink Prism TV.flv

CenturyLink shows off its new Prism TV offering in this company-produced video.  (2 minutes)

CenturyTel acquires Embarq and changes its name to CenturyLink to reduce the emphasis on its traditional landline business.

CenturyLink’s arrival in the triple-play business of phone, Internet, and television service could be the first serious competition Comcast has gotten outside of satellite providers. WideOpenWest had a franchise to provide service in 2000 but never did. Falcon Broadband won a franchise in 2006, but only provides service to around 1,500 customers in the Banning Lewis Ranch, Black Forest, and Falcon areas. Porchlight Communications received a franchise in 2007, installed service for 500 customers but ultimately never charged them. Porchlight’s IPTV service never worked properly with its chosen set top boxes. That fatal flaw put the company out of the cable business, and the company turned the porch light off for good, abandoning its franchise.

Rural Broadband: Unless the Government Delivers More Subsidies, Rural Customers Will Continue Waiting

In late July, CenturyLink announced it would accept $35 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s new Connect America Program (CAP) to deploy broadband to homes and businesses in rural, broadband-deprived parts of its service area.

CenturyLink has the capability to extend broadband to 100 percent of its customers, but not the willingness to invest the money to make that happen, critics contend. CenturyLink freely admits it applies a financial test when considering when and where to expand its DSL broadband service into its most rural service areas.

In short, the company must recoup its costs of deploying broadband within a certain time frame, and be confident that a certain percentage of customers are going to sign up for broadband service, before it will agree to make the investment. Virtually all of CenturyLink’s current service areas have already met or failed that test, which leaves an indefinite group of broadband “have’s” and “have-nots.”

To shake up the status quo, the FCC proposed to shift Universal Service Fund money, collected from all phone customers, away from landline service towards rural broadband deployment. This invites CenturyLink, and other phone companies, to run those financial tests again. With urban customers footing part of the bill, theoretically more homes should squeak past the return on investment test.

In fact, more homes will finally get CenturyLink broadband — around 45,000 in semi-rural and suburban areas where the costs to provide the service are not as great as in truly rural areas.  The FCC is offering to cover just short of $800 per household to cut the costs of deploying rural Internet access.

But CenturyLink complains the money is not nearly enough to solve the really-rural broadband problem.

“In very rural areas where we really have the greatest need for support, this amount, on a per-location basis, will not be enough to allow us to really do an economic build-out,” Post told investors this spring. “So we’re still in the process really of evaluating our opportunities….”

That will leave CenturyLink likely spending considerably more upgrading its urban landline network to support Prism TV instead of supplying rural broadband service.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CenturyLink History.flv

Jeff Oberschelp, vice president and general manager of CenturyLink of Nevada discusses the past history of CenturyLink and where phone companies are going in the future in this company-friendly interview.  (6 minutes)

Kansas City Media Introduces, Explains, and Confuses Google Fiber for the Uninformed

Believe it or not, Google Fiber has not always been headline news in Kansas City. Outside of a few stories in early spring about zoning and installation matters, local media (particularly television) has mostly given back page treatment to Google’s new fiber network since the city was first chosen in March, 2011.

That all changed last Thursday when television, radio, and newspaper reporters flooded a converted yoga studio in midtown Kansas City to attend Google Fiber’s unveiling. Many stations aired live reports on-site and devoted time during their afternoon and evening newscasts to explain what the service is all about, starting with what it will cost — $70 a month for 1Gbps service (or paying a flat $300 for 5/1Mbps service for the next seven years). Adding television brings the final price to $120 a month. Google considers landline phone service a dead-end business, and won’t bundle a telephone option, but customers can use Google Voice to make and receive most calls for free.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KMBC Kansas City Google announces details of Google Fiber service 7-26-12.flv

KMBC reports on the introduction of Google Fiber, what it will cost Kansas City residents, what it means for the city as whole, and when and how service will be installed.  (3 minutes)

Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James said Google Fiber was more of an opportunity than a gift for Kansas City.

“We now have an opportunity to take a giant step and if we don’t it’s all on us,” James said.

KCUR Radio in Kansas City explores some of the public policy and institutional changes Google Fiber can bring the area with the advent of gigabit broadband. Mike Burke, Missouri co-chair, and Dr. Ray Daniels, Kansas co-chair of the Mayors’ Bistate Innovation Team talks about what changes Google Fiber could bring to health care, education, government, and more.  The Mayors’ Bistate Innovation Team recently released a report titled “Playing to Win in America’s Digital Crossroads,” a playbook for capitalizing on ultra-high-speed fiber in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. (Some of the specific details discussed in the program turned out to be outdated after last Thursday’s announcement introducing the service.)  (June 6, 2012) (52 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Some in the media seemed disappointed Google spent a considerable amount of time selling the entertainment-oriented element of its service — namely the television lineup and the equipment that comes with it, and less on the educational and transformational nature of gigabit broadband. But many in the audience didn’t need an explanation of what 1,000/1,000Mbps service will mean for them.

Reviewing the coverage shows a predictable response:

  • Those under 30 want it today and won’t think twice about paying $70 to get it;
  • Those running businesses that depend on the web also want it, and are slightly perturbed Google will only sell to residential customers at first;
  • Families with young children want the service because they feel it will be a game-changer for their children’s education and future career;
  • Income-challenged residents are concerned about the cost, but are happy to discover Google has an affordable option for them to participate in the wired world;
  • Older residents seem preoccupied with the price and consider the television lineup even more important than broadband speed;
  • Schools, libraries, health care, and non-profit groups are thrilled with the prospect of getting free or deeply discounted service;
  • Incumbent providers are putting on a brave face, relying on what they feel is excellent customer service, local ties to the communities they service, and a current customer base that may be reluctant to switch.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KCTV Kansas City Introducing Google Fiber 7-26-12.mp4

Google Fiber has arrived in Kansas City, and neighborhoods will compete to see who gets the gigabit broadband service first. KCTV in Kansas City reports. (3 minutes)

Google Fiber’s free 5/1Mbps service is another embarrassment to big cable companies like Comcast which offer less service for more money.

The Kansas City Star needlessly fretted about the remaining digital divide of Internet “have’s” and “have-not’s,” as Google launched a competition between neighborhoods to determine where to install the service first.

So far, many poorer urban core neighborhoods are expressing interest in Google fiber at a slower rate than middle- and higher-income neighborhoods.

It’s important now for efforts to reach out to help the lower-income neighborhoods rally so the access doesn’t become a new dividing line.

The newspaper is concerned by Google’s fiber map showing many minority, inner-city neighborhoods have yet to receive a single commitment from a resident willing to pre-register for the service. But Google is not running a competition to exclude anyone. It is surveying interest to ensure it has a working business model to sustain its fiber broadband operation. Overshadowed by the gigabit broadband announcement is the fact Google is also including a real solution for the income-challenged — an entry-level 5/1Mbps broadband option that will cost just $300 (payable in $25 installments) that guarantees service with no additional payment for seven years.

That is a broadband solution far superior to the afterthought programs on offer from Comcast and a handful of phone companies that only deliver a fraction of the speed, at a higher price, to those who meet a byzantine set of requirements. It is yet another embarrassment for Kabletown, which would not have even offered the service had the government not made it a condition for approving the mega-merger of NBC-Universal and Comcast.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KCTV Kansas City Neighborhoods Compete for Fiber 7-26-12.flv

KCTV visits some of the neighborhoods competing to be the first to get Google Fiber. Reaction from residents varies from those willing to canvas neighborhoods to get people to pre-register to others who will consider switching providers only if the price is right.  (4 minutes)

One Star columnist likened Google Fiber to a public works project that threatened to go bad pitting neighborhoods against one-another, rich against poor:

The more educated, middle- to upper-income neighborhoods in southwest KC and in midtown were signing up for first crack at the service.

Meanwhile, the neighborhoods without as many computers and without the income to afford the $70 or $120 proposed monthly charges for Google Fiber were signing up at far slower rates.

None of that means Google Fiber won’t be a big success.

But let’s not pretend there won’t be winners and losers with this advance in technology.

If Google Fiber narrows that digital gap – and makes more information available more quickly to more people to help boost the economy of KC – that’s all for the good.

However, being able to hook up eight computers in a house so people can be more entertained doesn’t set my world on fire.

Let’s remember Google Fiber is intended to be a for-profit business run by a for-profit corporation. Star columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah might have been more comfortable had he advocated for a community-owned broadband solution committed to serving every neighborhood, everywhere. Google Fiber is not that, at least not now. The alternatives from AT&T and Time Warner Cable have not solved the digital divide either. Giving away effectively-free 5/1Mbps broadband for seven years might.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KCTV Kansas City Fiberhoods 7-26-12.mp4

Google’s Fiberhoods are likely to win fiber service for the more high-tech areas of Kansas City, among the first to pre-register. Google’s Kevin Lo explains those areas most committed to getting the service will also win free fiber connections for their neighborhood’s schools, health care facilities, and public safety buildings.  KCTV reports. (3 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KCTV Kansas City Benefits of Google Fiber 7-26-12.mp4

KCTV explores what Google Fiber could mean for local schools who can utilize the faster connections for distance and remote learning.  (3 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WDAF Kansas City Customers Put Google Fiber to the Test 7-28-12.flv

WDAF in Kansas City covers Google Fiber’s weekend “Open House,” inviting residents to experience what gigabit broadband is really like, and letting them see and sample the company’s broadband and television service.  (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KSHB Kansas City Northland business owners react to Google Fiber limitations 7-26-12.mp4

KSHB in Kansas City covers the reaction of local business owners elated and frustrated by the arrival of Google Fiber, which will open the door to new online innovation once Google begins selling to commercial customers (and if you are lucky enough to work in a Google Fiberhood.)  (2 minutes)

6 University Towns Will Get Gigabit Broadband Through New Public-Private Partnership

Phillip Dampier May 24, 2012 Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video Comments Off on 6 University Towns Will Get Gigabit Broadband Through New Public-Private Partnership

Six college towns will benefit from the nation’s first multi-community broadband gigabit deployment, thanks to $200 million in capital funding to get the broadband networks off the ground.

The Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program leverages local government, universities, private capital, and the public to jointly support and foster the development of new fiber optic networks.

The new program claims it will offer competitively-priced super-fast broadband through projects that will cover neighborhoods of 5,000-10,000 people and communities up to 100,000 in size.  Selection of the six winning communities will be announced between this fall and next spring.

“Gigabit Squared created the Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program to help select Gig.U communities build and test gigabit speed broadband networks with speeds from 100 to 1000 times faster than what Americans have today,” the company said in a statement.

“The United States is behind in the world for Internet speed,” said Mark Ansboury, Gigabit’s president and co-founder. “The goal is to help get us out front for a platform of innovation.”

That platform is certainly not forthcoming from the country’s largest broadband providers, who according to Ansboury have been pulling back on wired infrastructure upgrades in recent years, shifting focus to more profitable wireless networks.

Gigabit Squared defines the next generation of broadband Internet in terms of speed, declaring 2,000Mbps (2Gbps) as the target to achieve.

The winning projects will be sponsored by Gig.U members, which include:

  • Arizona State University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Colorado State University
  • Duke University
  • Florida State University
  • George Mason University
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Howard University
  • Indiana University
  • Michigan State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • Penn State University
  • University of Alaska – Fairbanks
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado – Boulder
  • University of Florida
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Louisville
  • University of Maine
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Montana
  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • University of New Mexico
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Washington
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wake Forest University
  • West Virginia University

Blair Levin, executive director at Gig.U, believes private American telecom companies will always be constrained from delivering world class broadband comparable to South Korea or Japan because of Wall Street opposition to the investment required to construct them. In the eyes of investors, today’s slower networks, in their estimation, do just fine.

Gig.U believes that they have a solution, at least for towns with a sizable university system that can serve as host of the next generation broadband network:

First, any community that wants its residents to have access to a network that delivers world-leading bandwidth can do so. The barrier is not technology or economics. The barrier is organization; specifically, organizing demand and improved use of underutilized assets, such as rights of way, dark fiber, or in more rural areas, spectrum. The responses identified a multitude of ways local communities can improve the private investment case by lowering investment and risk, and increasing revenues for private players willing to upgrade or build new networks without budget outlays from the local government.

Second, the responses confirmed that university communities have the easiest organizing task and greatest upside. Their density, demographics and demand make the current economics more favorable for an upgrade than other communities. For example, the high percentage of the population in university communities living in multiple dwelling units makes the economics of an upgrade far more favorable than for communities composed largely of single-family homes. With the growing importance of Big Data for the economy and the society, university communities are the natural havens for such enterprises to be born and prosper. Through the Gig.U process, our communities are already exploring more than a half-dozen paths to achieve an upgrade; paths that will be replicable for others and will deliver a major step forward in providing America a strategic broadband advantage.

Outside of a handful of upstart private competitors like California-based Sonic.net, most fiber broadband expansion come from private companies like Google — building an experimental fiber-to-the-home network in Kansas City, community-owned broadband services coordinated by local town or city government, co-op telecommunications companies owned by their subscribers, or municipal utilities.

While those efforts are typically committed to the concept of “universal service” — wiring their entire communities — the Gig.U project targets funding only for networks in and around university campuses.

The New America Foundation builds on Gig.U’s premise in its own recent report, “Universities as Hubs for Next Generation Networks,” which argues affordable expansion of broadband can win community support when the public has the right to also benefit from those networks. While Gig.U’s approach suggests the project will target fiber broadband directly to the homes qualified to receive it, the New America Foundation supports the construction of mesh wireless Wi-Fi networks to keep construction costs low for neighborhoods targeted for service.

An earlier project in Orono and Old Town, Maine may afford a preview of Gig.U’s vision, as that collaboration between the University of Maine and private fiber provider GWI is already in its construction phase. For those lucky enough to live within range of the fiber project, broadband speeds will far exceed what incumbents Time Warner Cable and FairPoint Communications deliver. FairPoint has fought similar projects (and GWI specifically) for years.

Will private providers object to the Gig.U effort to win local governments’ favor in the six cities eventually chosen for service? History suggests the answer will be yes, at least to the extent local cable and phone companies demand the same concessions for easy pole access, reduced pole attachment fees, and easing of zoning restrictions and procedures Gig.U project coordinators expect.

Levin has stressed Gig.U projects are based on university and private funding sources, not taxpayer dollars. That may also limit how much objection commercial providers may be able to raise against the projects.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WABI Bangor Orono Maine Getting Faster Service 5-16-12.flv

WABI in Bangor previews the new gigabit broadband network being constructed in Orono and Old Town, Maine.  (2 minutes)

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