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Corrected: Massachusetts Mad: Comcast Blasted for Rate Increases from Springfield to Boston

Courtesy: WCVB Boston

Correction: In an effort to concatenate two stories regarding Springfield, we erred in reporting about Springfield’s move to sell its municipal cable operation to Knology.  That story referred to Springfield, Fla., not Springfield, Mass.  We appreciate one of our readers bringing this to our attention, and we regret the error. –PMD

Comcast customers in Massachusetts are hopping mad over the latest round of rate increases from the state’s largest cable operator — the second in 10 months in some areas.  Higher cable bills for customers will start arriving by early spring.

City officials in Boston expect eastern Massachusetts customers will face up to 2.9% more for basic service this spring.  In western Massachusetts, Springfield city officials finally resolved a prolonged legal battle with the cable operator and granted the company a 10-year franchise renewal that preserves senior discounts for existing customers.

Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino said an examination of Comcast’s cable rates over the past few years proves deregulation “has failed” consumers across greater Boston.  Menino says basic cable rates have increased by 80 percent in the three years since the city’s rate control agreement expired.

Menino wants restored authority to regulate cable rates, and has asked the FCC for permission to bring back the city’s oversight powers.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCVB Boston Cable Rates Going Up For Some Customers 1-17-12.mp4

WCVB in Boston talks with city mayor Tom Menino about the latest round of rate increases for Comcast customers.  Some Boston locals are responding by dumping cable television altogether.  (2 minutes)

Comcast basic service will rise another 4.9 percent this spring, bringing the mostly local-broadcast-channel cable service to $16.58 a month.

The only other major cable provider in Boston, RCN, which serves mostly apartment buildings and other multi-dwelling units, is not planning to increase its prices on the lowest price tier. However, RCN already charges more than Comcast — $17.50 — for comparable service.  Other RCN customers face general rate increases this spring.

Verizon says it has no plans to increase prices in Boston either.  That statement was deemed ironic by some, considering the fact the phone company has never provided FiOS fiber-to-the-home cable service inside the city of Boston.

All affected providers blame increasing programming costs for the rate hikes.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WGGB Springfield Cable Rates Going Up 1-18-12.mp4

WGGB in Springfield led a recent evening newscast with news Comcast and competing satellite providers are increasing rates in western Massachusetts, with local residents increasingly questioning the value of their cable-TV services.  (2 minutes)

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

Phillip Dampier December 16, 2010 Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Competition, Fibrant, Knology-WOW, Public Policy & Gov't, Video Comments Off


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Salisbury Discusses Motivation Behind Fibrant on TelecomTV 12-16-10.flv

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

Opelika Endures Silly Opposition to Municipal Broadband: Zombie Appliances, Internet Takeovers, Socialism

Citizens of Opelika, Beware!  Your city government wants to take over control of your appliances, censor and control the Internet, and plant the red flag of socialism at the new Kremlin building — the Opelika City Hall on South 7th Street.

Welcome to another classic battle against municipal broadband competition.  All of the usual players have assembled, and the opposition has a overstuffed bag full of tricks — many old, some new, to convince Opelika that bringing additional cable competition to the region is just the worst thing… ever.

The proposal: to spend $33 million dollars, financed by revenue bonds (not taxpayers), to build a fiber to the home platform to deliver 21st century broadband service and competition to incumbent, recently-bankrupt Charter Cable.  The city of Opelika itself would probably not get into the cable business directly.  It proposes to work with Knology, a credible cable overbuilder already providing cable and broadband services in Alabama, to manage the day to day operations and handle customers.

Why: (from the City of Opelika website) “For many years now – not only during Mayor Gary Fuller’s Administration, but during Barbara Patton’s Administration before him and even Mayor Freeman’s administration before her – numerous complaints were received from citizens about the high prices and poor service they were receiving, while others have complained that they can’t get any cable service in their neighborhoods at all.  After years of trying to get other cable/Internet providers to come into Opelika and give Charter Communications competition – to no avail – we decided that the best way to give our citizens competitive services was to offer competition ourselves.”  No surprises there.  Large cable operators have never challenged one another in their respective markets.  Why ruin a good thing by launching a price and services war?

The vote: A referendum on the question will be held this Tuesday, asking citizens to support the project.

Opposition to the project from some quarters has bordered on hysteria, especially from a so-called “consumer grassroots group” and a local website, Opelika’s Smart Grid, that has tried to scare residents into believing city officials are on the verge of taking control of residents’ air conditioners and ovens, unleashing Big Brother on a scale even the most paranoid haven’t even considered.

Stop the Cap! investigated the group claiming to represent the citizens of Opelika, and we came away with more questions than we originally asked.

The local media has accepted, without much challenge, the representations made by these groups opposed to the municipal project.  Few questions have been asked about who belongs to the groups and how they are financed.  As Stop the Cap! has seen over the past two years, opposition to municipal broadband projects usually comes from coordinated campaigns — a direct attack by lobbyists for the cable and phone companies, and efforts by political groups to demagogue such projects hoping to pick up citizen opposition on philosophical grounds.  If Americans for Prosperity, the Heartland Institute, Digital Society, or FreedomWorks is involved, you’ve got political astroturf in action.  Since many of these political groups are on the payroll of phone and cable operators, it’s just one more way to achieve the same thing — protection for America’s broadband duopoly.

Who is “Opelika’s Smart Grid” and the Concerned Citizens of Opelika?

Stop the Cap! has researched both “groups” and discovered they are essentially one and the same.  Some of the members of “Concerned Citizens” are also the authors, and primary participants on “The Opelika Smart Grid” website.  They are strongly anti-government, and their opposition to municipal services borders at times on the paranoid.  Neither group has more than a handful of loosely-associated members, but they do bring along those who share a common, mostly Libertarian/anti-government philosophy.  Think “tea parties against municipal broadband.”

Domain name records show the website was first registered July 4th, 2010 by William Mayfield who lives on 9th Street in Opelika.  Mayfield’s concern about the project’s capability to deliver “smart grid” technology to the local electricity provider prompted him to launch into some pretty far-out conspiracy theories about the implications of the project (taken from Google web cache):

The so-called smart-grid is a government controlled power and information distribution system that combines and monitors the activities of internet, phone and power usage of the customer.  This is the vision of socialists like Al Gore and would be a huge step forward for the watching “big brother”. We need to fight this very hard, very quickly.

[…]In government speak motivate = force. And if they determine that you are not worthy of receiving power for whatever reason, like being a reformed Christian, I can assure you they’ll find authority in the “Patriot Act ” to turn your lights out. While this may sound like borderline paranoid ramblings, keep in mind that history shows that the state always takes every chance to increase its power and ultimately uses that power against its own people. Let’s don’t give them the opportunity here.

Mayfield’s tentative writings on his Citizen 10/Limits on Government blog didn’t stay public for long.  That blog has since gone private and is now unavailable without an invitation.

Privacy is a major concern, not just for Mayfield, but for virtually all of these “concerned citizens” online.  Almost nobody is willing to divulge their real names.  In fact, very little about who backs and runs these groups has been disclosed.

Jack Mazzola claims to be a member of Concerned Citizens of Opelika and has become a de facto spokesman in the local press.  He claims he is “30 years old and have been a resident of Opelika for almost two years.” During that time, he evidently forgot to update his active Facebook page, which lists his current city of residence as Atlanta, Georgia.  Suspicious readers of the local newspaper did some research of their own and claim Mr. Mazzola has no history of real estate or motor vehicle taxes paid to Lee County, which includes Opelika.

The Smart Grid ‘Death Panels-Fear Factor’

Mayfield’s website spends most of its time scaring residents about the implications of municipal fiber as it relates to their electric bills, also ranting about the Kyoto Protocol, carbon footprints, government control of appliances, and socialism generally.  While appealing to anti-government and climate change skeptics, average residents pondering the mayor conspiring to turn off their air conditioners from his office might be a bit too over-the-top, so wild claims about spending increases and municipal broadband failures are included as well.

Most of the arguments made by “The Opelika Smart Grid” website and Concerned Citizens of Opelika obfuscate the larger and more important discussion about municipal broadband.  They have gained plenty of media attention with their claims and accusations, generating considerable controversy that has little to do with the actual proposal.  For cable and phone companies that oppose the project, that represents a gift that keeps on giving.  When city officials and proponents of the project are forced to spend time and energy debating and debunking some of the wilder claims, that’s time lost selling the project and successfully explaining it to constituents.  For many voters, demagoguery breeds doubt and delivers “no” votes.

Ultimately, for most Opelika residents, the real debate is over competition to area cable and phone companies, not whether Big Brother is going to tell you when you can use your hair dryer.

The Very Wrong Arguments Against Municipal Fiber

Mayfield’s website attempts to indict municipal fiber projects with a mix of incomplete storytelling, selective editing, and questionable sourcing.  The larger argument from the group is that municipal fiber projects always fail leaving taxpayers holding the bag.  But the examples provided tell a different story, ranging from ‘comparing apples and oranges,’ condemning systems facing the same financial challenges private providers are coping with during The Great Recession, or even attacking the viability of systems not even operating yet.

Some examples they mention and the part of the story they don’t:

  • The systems in Provo and Memphis didn’t serve a single residential customer.  They were commercial service providers only serving business customers;
  • The Burlington system got caught up in the banking crisis and is trying to restructure and refinance its operations;
  • The attack on the Bristol municipal fiber system comes from The Heartland Institute, a classic political astroturf operation and an outdated 2007 piece from a political blog.
  • The system in Davidson has been written about here before — it is not even municipal fiber.  It’s a formerly bankrupt Adelphia cable operation that required substantial rebuilding — spending the same sums Time Warner Cable and Comcast would have spent had they bought it.  The investment now has a chance to pay dividends… for residents, not Time Warner Cable, going forward.

The website even attacks a municipal fiber system in Salisbury, North Carolina that has yet to begin service.  Calling the project a failure is just a bit premature.  The “Smart Grid” folks were hard pressed to find credible sourcing for their attack on Fibrant, but finally settled for some fact-starved nonsense generated from, of all places, the John Locke Society.  What’s next — Atlas Unplugged: Ayn Rand’s Treatise on Synchronous Broadband?  The group attempted to downplay the connection to the John Locke folks by linking to a content aggregator– Scribd, instead.  Now that we’ve mentioned it, they could have credited us as well.

If you are suspicious about the viability of municipal fiber, simply ask yourself if they are such failures, why do phone and cable companies spend millions to lobby against them?  Why the blizzard of scare mailers, robocalls, astroturf opposition groups, and lawsuits — all to stop what many opponents continually claim are competitive and operational failures?

The answer is, most municipal projects, like co-ops and community owned utilities, are more than viable.  Ask the residents of Wilson, North Carolina who are enjoying the benefits of municipal broadband and cable service even if they don’t become customers.  Time Warner Cable didn’t raise rates on the residents of Wilson this year — the only place in the state not to face relentless rate hikes, all because of that community’s municipal provider keeping their competitors honest.  Those who do become customers enjoy far faster and more reliable broadband service than either the cable or phone company provides in the region.

Chattanooga, Tennessee is a lot closer to Opelika than Provo is, yet somehow “The Opelika Smart Grid” website missed the success story of EPB, a municipal provider delivering the fastest broadband service in the southern United States.  Folks in Lafayette, Louisiana have lots of nice things to say about their municipal provider — LUS Fiber, as well.

Who is Paying for All This?

One important clue that astroturf is being rolled over the municipal fiber debate is the lack of public disclosure about who is financing the muni-broadband haters.

Residents vaguely know the state’s cable companies are bankrolling some of the opposition in the media, taking out full page ads attacking the proposal in the local media “paid for by the ACTA.”  It’s up to readers to discern “ACTA” stands for the Alabama Cable Telecommunications Association, the cable industry’s lobbying group in the state.  Full disclosure that isn’t.

As far as “Opelika’s Smart Grid” website and the “Concerned Citizens” group, funding sources are more murky, if only because they go out of their way not to be specific.

Stop the Cap! posted a comment asking some questions about the website’s funding sources and backers as well as questioning some of their information.  Those questions have not been made public, much less answered, despite subsequent comments written after our own submission.  What are they hiding?

Another matter of concern come from the fact these “grassroots” groups have the ability to finance expensive radio ads.  They claim they are paid for by “concerned local citizens.”  That could easily include Charter Cable, the local phone company, or their representatives.  We don’t know because the owners of the website won’t say who those people are.  In a tight economy, would you be handing over hundreds, if not thousands of your hard-earned dollars to fight for Charter Cable and AT&T by paying for radio ads?  The cable and phone companies and their lobbyist friends sure would.

With no disclosure of real names, no direct statement that there is no industry money or involvement in these opposition websites, and way-too-convenient shared sourcing of “facts” with earlier industry “dollar-a-holler” movements, it would be a major mistake to simply give these “groups” or their arguments the benefit of the doubt.

As we’ve repeatedly uncovered in our own reporting, consumers do that at the peril of their wallets, learning only later they were suckered into opposing competition that could deliver significant savings and better service.

Knology Buys Sunflower Broadband for $165 Million; Lawrence Journal-World Has a Messiah Moment

Knology, a West Point, Georgia-based cable overbuilder, has acquired Sunflower Broadband in Lawrence (Douglas County), Kansas for $165 million cash.

Knology has been buying small, independent cable operators across the south and midwest to build its footprint and become a larger player in the heavily integrated cable television and broadband marketplace.

The company expects to acquire Sunflower partly from its own cash reserves and the balance from low interest loans.

Knology praised Sunflower Broadband’s advanced infrastructure — it has already deployed DOCSIS 3 broadband upgrades and uses a modernized hybrid fiber-coaxial cable network.  Sunflower spends between $8-9 million annually in capital expansion, a level comparable to Knology.

The purchase of Sunflower opens additional potential purchasing opportunities for Knology in the region to add other cable companies to its portfolio.

Lawrence residents were treated to gushing, emotional coverage of the sale in the pages of the Lawrence Journal-World this morning.  A sample:

In the beginning there was the vision. Forty-five years later, it was a spectacular reality. Today, the baton is being passed to a new owner.

One reader said the newspaper had a Messiah Complex.

Employees were informed this morning, but most will not know what impact, if any, will come from the sale until it closes in the fourth quarter of 2010.

The impact of the sale is drawing mixed reviews from Lawrence residents, some concerned about the loss of another locally-owned and operated business to an out-of-state “conglomerate,” while others believe the sale offers the potential for better service without irritating usage limits.

A Lawrence computer repair expert, “Dr. Dave” recognized the impact of Internet Overcharging schemes on Lawrence residents in a thorough analysis of the then-potential sale:

Sunflower stands apart from most Internet Service providers with its bandwidth caps. Knology and other suitors of Sunflower do not have these artificial limits. We’ll be free to use the internet at whatever speed we choose to pay for without fear of limits and overages. Online backups, security updates, and videos will be accessible without the worry of nasty additional fees.

Additionally, because our newspaper and television providers will be separated, the Journal World will be able to more accurately and fairly report news in Lawrence. No longer will they be limited by their vested interest in the cable company. Media consolidation is generally against FCC rules, but the loophole is that Sunflower is not seen as a “media” company. The loophole will be closed and growth of both companies will be natural and organic and both companies will be made stronger. We as citizens will trust the newspaper to accurately report the news and the Journal World will be restored to its role as watchdog for the citizens it serves. If the cable company isn’t acting in our best interest, I would trust the Journal World to report on it. Knology won’t be able to slack off and reduce the quality we’ve come to expect from Sunflower–the newspaper will see to that.

Knology claims it will get $5 million in “synergies” from the merger, much coming from volume discount programming purchases, a switch to Knology’s billing systems, and potential layoffs.  However, since Sunflower Broadband’s operating area does not overlap existing Knology service areas, the impact on jobs may prove limited.

One impact subscribers may not miss is the end of Sunflower’s Internet Overcharging schemes.  Sunflower is one of a handful of cable operators placing arbitrary limits on their customers’ broadband usage.  Usage caps, speed throttles, and overlimit fees are all imposed on Sunflower’s customers.

Knology has never imposed similar schemes on their customers.  Now may be a good time for Sunflower customers to let Knology management know they want an end to Sunflower’s profit-padding usage limits, especially considering AT&T U-verse, increasing competition in Lawrence, does not limit usage either.

Notorious Usage-Capping Sunflower Broadband Close to Sale to Knology; Caps Could Be History

Courtesy Ben Spark

The days may be numbered for Sunflower Broadband

A Kansas cable system notorious for Internet Overcharging is nearing a deal to be acquired by a cable overbuilder that does not usage cap broadband customers.

Sunflower Broadband, an independent cable system providing cable, phone, and broadband service to 30,000 Lawrence residents, is expected to be acquired by Georgia-based cable overbuilder Knology, which has been on a buying spree of late.  The asking price – $127 million dollars, according to a report in the cable trade journal Multichannel News.

Sunflower has been overcharging their broadband customers for years with schemes like usage caps and a flat rate service plan that delivers speed throttled broadband service to customers.  Sunflower has remained a hot topic for Stop the Cap! because we hear so many complaints from their long-suffering customers.  In fact, no independent cable operator has generated more reader complaints than Sunflower Broadband, almost all targeting the company’s unjustified usage caps.

Broadband Reports reminds us Sunflower was among the first to implement the idea of low caps and high overages ($2 for each additional gigabyte).  Customers also routinely complain about Sunflower’s stingy upstream speeds, maxed out at just 1Mbps for their $60 Gold tier.

None of the details about Sunflower Broadband’s impending sale can be found in the local newspaper — the Lawrence Journal-World or the local “Channel 6″ news operation.  That’s ironic, considering the same parent company that owns Sunflower Broadband, The World Company, also happens to own the newspaper and Channel 6.  It took a cable trade publication based hundreds of miles away to break the story — not exactly a shining moment for journalism in Lawrence, especially considering an LJWorld reporter need not break a sweat to chase the story.

Part of the reason for the sale may have been AT&T bringing U-verse competition to Lawrence.  U-verse does not have customer unfriendly usage limits.  With AT&T ready to usher away many of Sunflower’s customers, management may have decided now was a good time to sell.

The good news for Lawrence residents is that none of Knology’s cable systems engage in Internet Overcharging schemes, so Sunflower’s usage caps may be gone after the sale.

Still, some Lawrence residents are concerned about the implications of a Knology takeover.  The Lawrence Broadband Observer is among them:

I browsed Knology’s corporate web site and was actually pretty unimpressed. To put it mildly, Knology is well behind Sunflower both geographically and technically. Knology offers service in rural areas much smaller then Lawrence, like Storm Lake, Iowa and Dothan, Alabama. They also offer service in a few towns that are equal or larger then Lawrence like Charleston, South Carolina.

Technically, Knology is well behind Sunflower in what they offer customers in other cities. Top internet speeds (albeit cap-free) are only in the 8-10 megabit range, five times slower then Sunflower’s new DOCSIS 3 offerings. On the television side, while it varies from city to city, Knology generally offers only 30 or so HD channels, which is less then half of what Sunflower offers. Knology offers a rudimentary DVR, but nothing like Sunflower’s multi-room options.

Perhaps Knology is interested in buying Sunflower to learn how to offer more advanced services, knowledge they can take to their other markets. I don’t know, but it seems like this is a case of a large buggy-whip manufacturer buying out a smaller company that makes automobiles.

Most of Knology’s network of systems have been acquired from other companies and providers.  Technically, they are a cable “overbuilder” because they do overlap other providers in some areas, such as Knoxville, Tenn., where they compete with Comcast.  In many communities, they are most common in rental parks and apartments.

Knology’s customers in other cities have usually suffered some transitional glitches (Knology uses a more “advanced e-mail system” they eventually forced their PrairieWave customers to join), but overall they have usually increased broadband speeds in their markets and add lots of new HD channels.  Knology is aggressively deploying DOCSIS 3, something Sunflower already has, so few changes should be expected there.  They do not have a history of downgrading customers.

Clues about the impact of a Knology buy can be found in communities like Rapid City, S.D., who saw their cable system switched from Black Hills FiberCom to PrairieWave to Knology.  Rapid City residents first saw changes to the cable system’s technology and billing.  That was followed by the introduction of new services and packages, and then finally the name change to Knology.

With the anticipated sale, existing Sunflower customers (and ex-customers) might want to impress on the new owner that Internet Overcharging schemes like usage caps and throttled speeds are unacceptable, and you want an immediate end to both.

Remember too it could be worse — Mediacom could have been the buyer.

Severe Weather Knocks PCL Cable Offline in Parts of Northern Alabama

Phillip Dampier May 20, 2010 Consumer News, Knology-WOW, PCL Cable Comments Off

Severe thunderstorms have knocked out several utilities for residents in parts of Alabama tonight including PCL Cable, broadband, and telephone service.  A large number of PCL customers in Decatur and Athens have lost service tonight.

Customers trying to get answers from PCL Cable are getting the usual result when major service outages strike: endless busy signals.

PCL Cable was acquired by Knology Cable last November.  For the record, Knology was answering their customer support lines with no hold time this evening in Huntsville.

A power outage in northern Madison County caused by the thunderstorms moving through the area tonight knocked out power for 600 customers, but service has since been restored.

Knology Buys Out PCL Cable: $7.5 Million & Another Headache for Charter Cable

Phillip Dampier November 11, 2009 Competition, Knology-WOW 7 Comments
PCL Cable's logo and website are both basic barebones

PCL Cable's logo and website appear behind the times

Knology, the company that competes with other cable and phone companies by overbuilding their service areas, has purchased the assets of Private Cable Co. LLC, which serves Athens and Decatur, Alabama for $7.5 million, creating new competitive headaches for bankrupt Charter Cable, which serves both communities.  The company said it expects to close the deal by the end of 2009.

Acquiring PCL Cable, which serves areas adjacent to existing Knology service areas, would seem a natural fit.

Decatur City Councilman Gary Hammon said he expects the acquisition to benefit Decatur residents, especially because PCL Cable appears to have frozen operations in place and not expanded their reach.

pclinternet“PCL hasn’t put any money into Decatur in the last five years,” Decatur City Councilman Gary Hammon told The Decatur Daily. “There are a lot of places in the city where you have Charter cable or no cable. I think competition sharpens the sword.”

PCL Cable’s website appears outdated, outlining a service package that offers fewer channels than many larger cable systems, and a broadband service promoting unlimited access for 5Mbps and 10Mbps tiers of service.  The “full package” includes about 100 channels with no need for a set top box for $93 a month (or $73 if bundled with telephone and/or broadband service).  The last status updates were published in August 2008.

The incumbent cable operator in PCL Cable’s service area is Charter Cable, which also competes with Knology in several southeastern cities.  The buyout, and eventual conversion of PCL Cable into Knology’s family of services, means additional competition for Charter Cable in the two Georgia cities.

Knology Vice President of Communications Tony Palermo talked with The News about the purchase:

Decatur, Alabama

Decatur, Alabama

Palermo said it was premature to predict whether the company would expand PCL’s limited footprint in Decatur.

“It’s pretty early on,” Palermo said. “Coming out of the chute, we’re looking at bringing the (existing) PCL footprint into our fold.”

He said Knology already has optical fiber running to PCL, which provides data services.

“Within a relatively short period of time, we’ll be able to bring up products and services to the level of what we’re offering in Huntsville,” Palermo said, to businesses and residents already within PCL’s footprint.

He said the acquisition gives Knology the ability to increase its revenue with investments already made in Huntsville.

“The first step for us is to get the deal done,” Palermo said. “The second step is to transition over to our network and our method and our ways of doing business. That will include checking on the integrity of the distribution network.”

Only after that, Palermo said, will Knology look at expansion in Decatur.

“We will not go in immediately and do any kind of construction work,” he said.

KnologyLogoAT&T provides telephone service in Decatur and is on the list for U-verse service at some point in the future, but like Knology, has no immediate plans to roll out service.  AT&T received a video franchise from the city of Decatur to provide service.

Even with immediate service expansion still out of reach in many parts of the community, Palermo is still excited about the prospects for the future.

“Anytime there is good strong competition,” Palermo said, “that always results in goodness for the consumer.”

[Correction: Article adjusted to reflect Decatur and Athens are in Alabama.]

Auburn, Alabama Approves Knology Application to Build Competing Cable Company

Auburn, Alabama

Auburn, Alabama

Residents of Auburn, Alabama will one day have a choice for cable television service.  Incumbent cable company, Charter Cable, which has been in bankruptcy, will eventually face competition from Knology, a cable “overbuilder” servicing more than a dozen cities in the southeastern U.S.

The Auburn City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday night to begin a non-exclusive cable franchise agreement with Knology, based in West Point, Georgia.  The cable company already serves several other Alabama communities including Dothan, Huntsville, Lanett, Montgomery, and Valley, and expects approval to construct a system in nearby Opelika shortly.

The decision to bring competition to the city of 56,000 was an easy one because residents demanded more choice:

“Thank goodness this has finally happened.  It is time that people in this area had a choice regarding their cable.  Charter has provided poor customer service as well as poor cable and internet service for years.  I am surprised that my internet has stayed up long enough for me to type this!” — psych1

This makes my day, now all we need is for satellite to have rights to the local channels and we’ll truly have the competition and choice we deserve…this is a huge step though!” — Matt

I will dump Charter the second Knology is here.” — lp95

Now we just need this in Opelika. I hate Charter with all my being.” — jackburnt

“Thank Goodness!  Charter is surely the worst cable company in history. I hope nobody reading this fell for their BS “contract” pricing lately.  They knew this was coming and tried to tie folks down for at least another year. This is truly a victory for the people of Auburn.” – tboone

“I am glad to see competition is coming in,” Ward 1 council member Arthur L. Dowdell told the Opelika-Auburn News. “I wish there was more coming in.”

One question remains on the table — When will Knology commence service in the area?

Chad S. Wachter, general counsel for Knology, said he didn’t know when Knology will be available for city residents.

“We’ll provide those answers with the city when we get them,” he said.

Ward 7 council member Gene Dulaney, the News noted, encouraged Wachter to build as fast as possible.

Charter Cable representatives followed the usual playbook cable operators use when competition is imminent.

Skip James, Charter’s director of government relations, addressed the council during citizens’ communications to express the company’s support for competition.

“We competed with Knology in the past and we will continue to in the future,” he said.

KnologyLogoKnology provides customers with cable television, telephone and broadband services.  Most of their systems offer broadband at around 8Mbps and there doesn’t appear to be a limit.  Knology is quietly upgrading their systems to DOCSIS 3 to provide “wideband” service, cable’s designated turn of phrase for next generation broadband speeds.  But the company is also following a familiar pattern of not spending the money to upgrade where competitive pressure doesn’t exist.

Knology chairman and CEO Rodger Johnson told investors during a 1st quarter 2009 earnings call that the company was prepared to upgrade, but isn’t going to jump the gun.

“We are enabling our markets to deliver Docsis 3.0 when we decide the time is right to push the trigger,” Johnson said. “A very expensive piece of that proposition is the transition of the cable modems to 3.0 cable modems. We will make that move at the time that we’re feeling competitive pressures to move to a 3.0 environment, but not until that time.”

Johnson should be careful about waiting too long.  Pinellas County is one of Knology’s service areas in Florida, and it has Verizon FiOS and Bright House Networks fighting for customers in an upgrade war Knology cannot win with slower broadband.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Knology -- Choices Ad.mp4

Knology “Choices” Ad (30 seconds)

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