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Comcast Prepares to Launch All-Out Attack on C Spire’s Irritating Competition in Mississippi

comcast crushThe sleepy deep south isn’t often a battleground for an all-out broadband competition war, but Ridgeland, Miss.-based C Spire, a regional cell phone company with fiber broadband aspirations, has gotten too big for its britches and Comcast is preparing to demonstrate its size and resources can run even a home state provider into the ground.

C Spire is building a statewide fiber-to-the-home network, city by city, on its pre-existing fiber backbone which extends to C Spire’s cell towers across the Magnolia State. As the fiber network expands, talk of doing something in a “Mississippi Minute” will be a thing of the past as C Spire prepares to deliver gigabit broadband speeds far in excess of what competitors like Comcast, AT&T and Cable One are prepared to offer.

Communities already on the construction list include: Batesville, Clinton, Corinth, Hattiesburg, Horn Lake, McComb, Quitman, Ridgeland and Starkville.

But C Spire’s network caught the attention of Comcast earlier this month when it announced Jackson, the state capital, was going to get fiber service.

C Spire is following Google Fiber’s model, attempting to get enough residents in a neighborhood to pre-register with a refundable $10 deposit. Online pre-registration for the service began in Jackson last month, and several hundred residents applied even before the fiber network expansion was announced, ready to tell Comcast to take a hike.

Jackson neighborhoods that reach sign-up levels set by C Spire will be the first to get the new generation of fiber services, the company says.

“Gigabit infrastructure can create a new economic reality for the city of Jackson,” Duane O’Neill, president & CEO of the 2,100-member Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, told the Mississippi Business Journal. “In the handful of U.S. cities where this infrastructure is deployed and widely available, it has generated thousands of jobs, millions of dollars of new investment, boosted home values and improved the overall quality of life.”

c spire fiberC Spire’s plans could cost Comcast a significant number of cable customers across Mississippi, and it isn’t taking that lightly.

Departing from its usual tradition of focusing new technology on large northeastern cities, Comcast will begin saturating Jackson with its Wi-Fi hotspot service, starting with 200 public hotspots slated for launch before the end of this year. The company only had a handful of Wi-Fi hotspots in Jackson before. Jackson will also get significant cable service upgrades, including the introduction of a new “smart home” service, a cloud-based service integrating Comcast’s cable, Internet, and home-security.

Comcast says it has plans to turn Jackson into a “truly connected city,” and if that means competitively disconnecting C Spire from its nascent fiber customer base, all the better.“This is the kind of threat that would frighten competitors,” said industry observer Jeff Kagan. “Comcast can be a heavy-duty competitor when they want to be. So why is Jackson and other Mississippi cities getting this kind of attention from Comcast and C Spire? I think it’s a matter of competition and C Spire’s aggressive move in the state of Mississippi played a role in the Comcast decision to turn up the heat.”

Kagan also expects Comcast will cut prices to undercut C Spire. That would be consistent with Comcast’s customer retention policies that dramatically lower rates for customers threatening to leave. Rate-cutting will benefit consumers, but if Comcast engages in below-cost predatory pricing, those savings will be short-lived.

“It’s starting to look like that old nursery rhyme, Jack and the Beanstalk,” said Kagan. “Watch out Jack, the Giant is waking up.”

If that battle becomes cut-throat, C Spire’s fiber aspirations may end up nothing more than pipe dreams if the company retreats, deciding it cannot survive in a battle with Comcast, the Giant of all cable companies.

Miss. Taxpayers Pay for “Sweetheart Deal” With AT&T; Competitive Bids and Public Scrutiny Prohibited

att loveAT&T couldn’t have gotten a better deal for itself if it tried.

Mississippi state officials that awarded AT&T a 10-year State Master Contract, compelling the majority of state government offices to do business only with AT&T, have just given the phone company an early two-year extension without allowing for any public discussion or competitive bidding.

In 2005, when the contract with AT&T was first signed, it was unlikely most government offices, schools, and libraries would be able to find any bidder other than AT&T. The state contract spells out a series of requirements that critics contend were tailor-written with the full knowledge only AT&T could offer the full menu of required services. Nearly 10 years later, and more than a year before the contract was up for renewal, the state suddenly granted AT&T a two-year contract extension, potentially exposing taxpayers to overpriced, taxpayer-funded broadband services.

Interested members of the public who want to examine the state contract for telecommunications with AT&T have run headlong into a roadblock erected by a Hinds County judge who ruled it was off-limits for public inspection and has since been sealed under court order. To this day, only government customers of Mississippi’s Department of Information Technology Services, the agency in charge of the state government’s broadband, are allowed to see the document.

Mississippi-welcomeThe state contract comes at a significant cost to taxpayers if Marvin Adams’ figures are correct. Adams, who works for the Columbia School District, suspects a lot of money has been frittered away because of the lack of competitive bidding. Only the state’s schools and libraries have the option of either securing a contract with AT&T or requesting bids from competitors like Ridgeland-based C-Spire, which supplies fiber and wireless connectivity.

Adams says AT&T’s contract with the state costs taxpayers $5 per Mbps. But AT&T also charges a “transport circuit charge” of between $10-45 per Mbps. Adams said his colleagues have seen competitive bids averaging $6 per Mbps and the transport circuit charge is included in that price.

The Mississippi Watchdog delivered the understatement of the year when it called AT&T’s contract with Mississippi “lucrative.” Attempts to modify the contract have met with fierce opposition in Jackson, the state capital. Senate Bill 2741, a modest measure that would have compelled school districts to seek competitive bids before signing a multi-year contract with a provider, died in committee earlier this year.

AT&T has close political ties in several southern states. The company co-authored an article with Gov. Phil Bryant and donated at least $42,500 to his various campaigns for political office. In 2012, Bryant signed a bill into law removing most of Mississippi’s remaining regulatory authority over AT&T.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant

Next door in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal also maintains close ties with AT&T. The company has funneled more than $250,000 to his wife’s charitable foundation – the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children, which also takes substantial contributions from oil and chemical companies, the insurance industry and defense contractors. The New York Times reported back in 2011 that telecom companies like AT&T were increasingly contributing to politically connected charities they could use in campaigns to influence legislation and regulation. Companies can write off their unlimited charitable giving while politicians take credit for the work done by the non-profit groups while also quietly understanding exactly where the money is coming from.

C Spire Announces Nine Mississippi Cities as Finalists for Gigabit Broadband

C Spire has announced the nine Mississippi cities that will be finalists for the nation’s first and only statewide 1Gbps broadband fiber to the home Internet service.

The nine communities participating in the first phase of the gigabit fiber broadband initiative include: Batesville, Clinton, Corinth, Hattiesburg, Horn Lake, McComb, Quitman, Ridgeland and Starkville. These cities and towns were among 33 municipalities that submitted formal applications late last month.

Competing cities developed aggressive campaigns featuring rallies and town hall meetings, local celebrations, door-to-door canvassing, mobilization of neighborhood groups and homeowner organizations, dedicated websites, social media campaigns and even stadium and freeway billboard advertisements to get C Spire’s attention.

cspire packages

C Spire also announced pricing for its Internet and related digital television and home phone services. Pricing for 1Gbps Internet access will be $80 a month, $100 a month for combined Internet and home phone, $140 a month for Internet and digital TV and $160 a month for the entire package. C Spire Wireless customers will receive an extra $10 monthly discount on all packages.

The finalist cities were selected by a C Spire review panel that considered factors like proximity to the company’s fiber optic infrastructure, community mobilization capabilities and incentives to speed up the construction process and reduce overall costs.

“We are truly impressed with the overwhelming show of support for C Spire’s Fiber to the Home deployment and the tremendous interest and demand for making this service a reality for the residents in these communities,” said Hu Meena, president and CEO of C Spire. “The positive response we’ve received only strengthens our determination to bring 100-times-faster Internet, and the limitless possibilities that come along with it, to as many people as we can because we know that this service has the power to transform our state into a hub for technology investment and economic growth.”

The nine finalists for C Spire's gigabit broadband network.

The nine finalists for C Spire’s gigabit broadband network.

Meena said C Spire plans to continue working with the cities that were not selected in the preliminary round and will share best practices and improvements that promise to make the process easier, faster and better for later challenges.

“We want to ensure that all of our communities remain actively engaged in the process and keep the demand and excitement alive for upcoming phases,” he said.

The finalist communities will next compete to see which can pre-register the most homeowners in designated fiber neighborhoods. Those that reach their targets will get fiber service first.

As soon as neighborhoods reach their percentage goals in an individual city, C Spire plans to begin construction in those areas – so there is a possibility that work could start in more than one community at the same time, said Gregg Logan, senior vice president of C Spire Fiber.

Residents will be asked to make a $10 refundable deposit and provide credit card information when they pre-register. The website also will feature detailed, interactive maps of neighborhoods in cities showing progress each one is making toward turning their fiberhood “green” and qualifying for build out of the service.

Logan said C Spire hopes to start turning up 1 Gig service in the first C Spire Fiber neighborhoods by the middle of next year.

Mississippi’s C Spire Wireless Plans to Offer Gigabit Fiber to the Home Service

Phillip Dampier September 24, 2013 Broadband Speed, C Spire, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off

C_Spire_Fiber_to_the_Home_graphicC Spire, a wireless phone company serving the southeastern United States today announced ambitious plans to deploy a gigabit fiber to the home network in the state of Mississippi, now considered to be one of the worst states for broadband speed and availability.

C Spire Fiber to the Home was introduced by company executives at a news conference this morning attended by community leaders. C-Spire intends to build a fiber network offering 1,000/1,000Mbps broadband, telephone and television service at a competitive price starting in 2014 in select communities in the state.

“As a brand that’s been pushing the envelope of innovation our entire existence, it’s only natural for us to want to provide the ‘what’s next’ to the customers we serve,” said Hu Meena, president and CEO of C Spire Wireless. “The ‘what’s next’ is now here and we’re ready to release the power of 1 Gig fiber to communities that want to experience the immediate and lasting benefits of 100 times the speed and 100 times the opportunities.”

C Spire will use its existing 4,000 miles of fiber optic infrastructure now providing backhaul connectivity to the company’s cell tower network and its commercial customers. An additional 1,500 miles of fiber is scheduled for installation next year.

The cell phone company will follow the lead of Google Fiber, giving Mississippi communities a chance to compete with one another for C Spire’s fiber network. C Spire will be accepting applications from neighborhoods, towns and cities in the state presenting their best case why they should be the first to get fiber to the home service. The communities that want it most, and move quickest, will get it first, promised company officials.

rfiC Spire claimed its proposed fiber to the home network will expand faster and deeper into Mississippi than Google Fiber’s limited network in Kansas City and nearby suburbs.

“While we know some of the tangible benefits that fiber offers to individuals, families, businesses and entire communities, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with 100-times-faster Internet,” Meena said. “Similar to the transition from dial-up to broadband, no one could fathom that people would one day be able to shop online, download software and watch endless hours of video on YouTube. The undiscovered potential of fiber is what’s most exciting and compelling about our plans.”

Competing communities will be expected to explain how they intend to cut as much bureaucratic red tape as possible to win consideration. The company’s “Request for Information” (RFI) document prominently mentions “streamlined construction,” “advantageous access to public rights-of-way,” and “an attractive local franchise agreement” as the types of help most needed from local governments.

C Spire will likely not entertain franchise proposals that require the company to serve every possible resident. C Spire’s fiber business plan depends on rolling out the service only to neighborhoods where enough demand exists.

Other conditions:

  • C Spire will not give away free service to schools or government buildings;
  • Sizable local participation in the pre-registration process is required;
  • The RFI hints that communities might be in a better position to win if they waive permit fees, issue permits within five business days, offer tax waivers, don’t require a local office for customer interaction, waive any “unacceptable ordinance provision or regulation as requested by C Spire,” and aid in rallying sign-ups for the fiber service.

Competitors, including AT&T, CableONE, Suddenlink, and Comcast may raise questions about local governments committing to rally for sign-ups. Some of those competing providers may also complain about their own franchise agreements, which often require widespread service deployment whether there is established demand for service or not.

C Spire is among a handful of companies that have recognized their existing fiber-to-cell-tower and institutional fiber broadband networks are underutilized and have the capacity to support both commercial and residential broadband applications.

C Spire is expected to announce the winning communities later this year or in early 2014.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/C Spire Fiber to the Home 9-24-13.mp4

C Spire introduces Fiber to the Home service and explains the transformational benefits fiber broadband can deliver users. (2 minutes)

Corr Wireless Acquired By AT&T; Wireless Industry Consolidation Continues

corrAT&T Mobility will acquire 21,000 Corr Wireless subscribers and spectrum owned by the Alabama-based wireless carrier in a private transaction between Corr’s parent company C Spire Wireless and AT&T.

Corr was acquired by Mississippi-based C Spire (formerly Cellular South) in February 2010 as the carrier sought expansion into northeastern Alabama and western Georgia. But Corr’s network has never been upgraded beyond 2G service, and the Corr has traditionally positioned itself as a value priced feature phone provider. As its competitors have moved beyond 3G into 4G service and now pitch mostly smartphones, Corr has fallen behind.

attCorr’s coverage area has not been a priority for larger carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T. The acquisition, which includes multiple PCS and 700MHz “C-Block” licenses, will bolster AT&T’s weak coverage in the region, which includes Huntsville, Oneonta, Decatur, Cullman, Hartselle, and Arab, Ala.

AT&T is expected to decommission much of Corr’s older equipment and replace it with 4G LTE service.

Customers may not have to immediately upgrade their phones. Corr Wireless, like AT&T, operates a GSM network.

 

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