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When Do You “Need” Faster Speeds? When Competition Arrives Offering Them

broadband dead end“We just don’t see the need of delivering [gigabit broadband] to consumers.” — Irene Esteves, former chief financial officer, Time Warner Cable, February 2013

“For some, the discussion about the broadband Internet seems to begin and end on the issue of ‘gigabit’ access. The issue with such speed is really more about demand than supply. Most websites can’t deliver content as fast as current networks move, and most U.S. homes have routers that can’t support the speed already available.” — David Cohen, chief lobbyist, Comcast Corp., May 2013

“We don’t focus on megabits, we don’t focus on gigabits, we focus on activities. We go to the activity set to get a sense of what customers are actually doing and the majority of our customers fit into that 6Mbps or less category.” — Maggie Wilderotter, CEO, Frontier Communications, May 2013

“It would cost multiple billions” to upgrade Cox’s network to offer gigabit speeds to all its customers. — Pat Esser, CEO, Cox Communications, Pat Esser, chief executive of Cox Communications Inc., January 2013

“The problem with [matching Google Fiber speeds] is even if you build the last mile access plant to [offer gigabit speeds], there is neither the applications that require that nor a broader Internet backbone and servers delivering at that speed. It ends up being more about publicity and bragging. There has been a whole series of articles in the paper about ‘I’m a little startup business and boy it is really great I can get this’ and my reaction is we already have plant there that can deliver whatever it is they are talking about in those articles, which is usually not stuff that requires that high-speed.” — Glenn Britt, CEO, Time Warner Cable, December 2012

“Residential customers, at this time, do not need the bandwidth offered with dedicated fiber – however, Bright House has led the industry in comprehensively deploying next-generation bandwidth services (DOCSIS 3.0) to its entire footprint in Florida – current speeds offered are 50Mbps with the ability to offer much higher. We provision our network according to our customers’ needs.” – Don Forbes, Bright House Networks, February 2011

‘Charter [Cable] is not seeing enough demand to warrant extending fiber to small and medium-sized businesses — and certainly not to every household.’ — “Speedier Internet Rivals Push Past Cable“, New York Times, Jan. 2, 2013

Unless you live in Kansas City, Austin, in a community where public broadband exists, or where Verizon FiOS provides its fiber optic service, chances are your broadband speeds are not growing much, but are getting more expensive. The only thing innovative coming from the local phone or cable company is a constant effort to convince customers they don’t need faster Internet access anyway.

At least until a competitor threatens to shake up the comfortable status quo.

Time Warner Cable claims they are perfectly comfortable offering residential customers no better than 50/5Mbps, except in markets like Kansas City (and soon in Texas) where 100Mbps is more satisfying. Why is a glass Time Warner claims is full to the brim everywhere else in the country only half-full in Kansas City? Google Fiber might be the answer. It offers 1,000/1,000Mbps service for less money than Time Warner used to charge for 50Mbps service, and Google is also headed to Austin.

special reportAT&T scoffed at following Verizon into the world of fiber optic broadband, where broadband speeds are limited only by the possibilities. Instead, they built their half-fiber, half-Alexander Graham Bell-era copper wire hybrid network on the cheap and ended up with broadband speeds topping out around 24Mbps, at least in a perfect AT&T world, assuming everything was ideal between your home and their central office.

At the time U-verse was first breaking ground, cable broadband’s “good enough for you” top Internet speed was typically 10-20Mbps. Now that incrementally faster cable Internet speeds are available from recent DOCSIS 3.0 cable upgrades, AT&T is coming back with an incremental upgrade of its own, to deliver around 75Mbps.

It is still slower than cable, but AT&T thinks it is fast enough for their customers, except in Austin, where Google Fiber provoked the company to claim it would build its own 1,000Mbps fiber network to compete (if it got everything on its Christmas Wish List from federal, state, and local governments).

Are you starting to see a trend here? Competition can turn providers’ investment frowns upside down and get customers faster Internet access.

Wilderotter: Most of our customers are satisfied with 6Mbps broadband.

Wilderotter: Most of our customers are satisfied with 6Mbps broadband.

In rural markets were Frontier Communications faces far less competition from well-heeled cable companies, the company can claim it doesn’t believe most of its customers need north of 6Mbps to do important things on the Internet. If they did, where would they go to do them?

Where Comcast and AT&T directly compete, major Internet speed increases are a matter of “why bother – who needs them.” Comcast is more generous where it faces down Verizon FiOS. AT&T also knows the clock is ticking where Google Fiber is coming to town.

Verizon FiOS, Google Fiber, and a number of community-owned fiber to the home broadband networks like EPB in Chattanooga and Greenlight in Wilson, N.C. seem more interested in boosting speeds to build market share, increase revenue to cover their expenses, and make a marketing point their networks are superior. They respond to requests for speed upgrades differently — “why not?”

Verizon figured out offering 50/25Mbps service was simple to offer and easy to embrace. Two clicks on a FiOS remote control and $10 more a month gets a major speed upgrade for basic Internet customers that used to get 15/5Mbps service. Verizon management reports they are pleased with the number of customers signing up.

In Chattanooga, Tenn. EPB Fiber offered gigabit Internet service because, in the words of its managing director, “it could.” The community-owned utility did not even know how to price residential gigabit service when it first went on offer, but the costs to EPB to offer those speeds are considerably lower over fiber to the home broadband infrastructure.

Broadband customers in Chattanooga, Kansas City and Austin are not too different from customers in Knoxville, Des Moines, and Houston. But the available broadband speeds in those cities sure are.

LUS Fiber in Lafayette, La. changed the song Cox was singing about their ‘adequate’ broadband speeds. Earlier this year, Cox unveiled up to 150/25Mbps service to cut the number of departing customers headed to the community owned utility, already offering those speeds.

Convincing Wall Street that spending money to upgrade networks to next generation technology will earn more money in the long run has failed miserably as a strategy.

“Competitors have been overbuilding, investors are wondering where the returns are,” said Mark Ansboury, president and co-founder of GigaBit Squared. “What you’re seeing is an entrenchment, companies leveraging what they already have in play.”

With North American broadband prices rising, and some cable companies earning 90-95% margins selling broadband, one might think there is plenty of money available to spend on broadband upgrades. Instead, investors are receiving increased dividend payouts, executive compensation packages are swelling as a reward for maximizing shareholder value, and many companies are buying back their stock, refinancing or paying off debt instead of pouring money into major network upgrades.

That is not true in Europe, where providers are making headlines with major network improvements and speed increases, all while charging much less than what North Americans pay for broadband service.

UPC Netherlands is Holland's second biggest cable company and it is in the middle of a broadband speed war with fiber to the home providers.

UPC Netherlands is Holland’s second biggest cable company and is in the middle of a broadband speed war with fiber to the home providers.

In the Netherlands, the very concept of Google Fiber’s affordable gigabit speeds terrify cable operators like UPC Netherlands, especially when existing fiber to the home providers in the country are taking Google’s cue and advertising gigabit service themselves. UPC rushed to dedicate up to 16 bonded cable channels to boost cable broadband speeds to 500Mbps in recent field trials, without giving any serious thought to the cable operators in the United States that argue customers don’t need or want the faster Internet speeds fiber offers.

“We had to address it head on very recently because of the fiber (competition)” said vice president of technology Bill Warga. “The company is called Reggefiber in the Netherlands. What they’re touting is a 1Gbps service, [the same speed] upstream and downstream. We came out with 500Mbps service. We had to build a special modem because (DOCSIS) 3.1 chips aren’t out yet. We had to double up on the chips in the modem and put it out there because we had to have a competing product, if anything just in the press. That was a reaction but that tells you how quickly in a marketplace that something can move.”

Despite that, groupthink among cable industry attendees back home at the SCTE Rocky Mountain Chapter Symposium agreed that Google Fiber was a political and marketing stunt, “since the majority of users don’t need those types of speed.”

Who does need and want 500Mbps? Executives at UPC, who have it installed in their homes, admits Warga. But cost can also impact consumer demand. Currently, the most popular legacy UPC broadband package offers 25Mbps for €25 ($32.50). The company now sells 60/6Mbps for €52,50 ($48.75), 100/10Mbps for €42,50 ($55.25) or 150-200/10Mbps for €52,50 ($68.25).

Warga also admits the competition has put UPC in a speed race, and boosted speeds are coming fast and furious.

“They’ll come in and say they’re 100, or 101Mbps we’ll come back and say we’re 110 or 120, or 130Mbps,” Warga said. “It’s a bit of a cat and mouse game, but we always feel like we can be ahead. For us DOCSIS 3.1 can’t come soon enough.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Cable Broadband Speeds 1-13.flv

The Wall Street Journal investigates why cable companies are getting stingy with broadband speed upgrades while gigabit fiber networks are springing up around the country. (4 minutes)

Debunking ALEC, Broadband Edition

Not long ago, the United States led the world in broadband connectivity. Now we are in 16th place, trailing most developed nations. We need broadband policies that connect our homes, schools, and business to the 21st century economy, but we’re pursuing public policies that are putting us in a hole, helping private telecommunications providers and harming the public interest. As the old adage goes, when in a hole, stop digging.

Why is this happening? One reason is that across much of the nation, commercial broadband companies are using their political and economic clout to stifle competition, particularly from municipalities. Individually and through trade groups and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the industry is bent on shutting down existing publicly-owned broadband systems and blocking the development of new ones.

ALEC’s argument, detailed in a recent Daily Caller op-ed by John Stephenson, director of its communications and technology task force, is based on distorted and inaccurate claims that would be laughable if they weren’t part of a coordinated strategy to radically transform policy state-by-state.

Stephenson suggests that Chattanooga, one of several cities cited in his piece, made a poor decision in building the nation’s most advanced citywide broadband network – one that has helped companies create literally thousands of new jobs in recent years. In fact, contrary to Stephenson’s claims that municipal broadband drive up property taxes and depresses municipal credit ratings, S&P just upgraded the Chattanooga public utility’s bond rating, stating, “The system is providing reliable information to the electric utility on outages, losses and usage, which helps reduce the electric system’s costs.”

The larger point is that those who want to revoke local decision-making authority for broadband often justify their position by insisting that they want to protect taxpayers from mythical threats. The only impact Chattanooga’s system has had on taxpayers has been to create more jobs, lower electricity bills, and enhance choices in the market. Indeed, Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber service is saving the public money. After a recent storm knocked utility customers offline, EPB’s fiber-optic Smart Grid brought those uses back online more quickly, saving the public an estimated $1.4 million in repair costs.

It’s no surprise that such nonsense emanates from ALEC, which acts as a clearinghouse for corporately-sponsored model legislation that puts corporate profits ahead of the public interest and often public safety. ALEC is backed by some America’s biggest telecommunications firms, including Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable. Through ALEC task forces, corporations craft model bills and find compliant legislators to introduce them as if they were the legislator’s own. As Common Cause and its allies have documented, ALEC’s influence is pervasive: from privatizing education to limiting voting rights with restrictive Voter ID bills, and endangering public safety with “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, no aspect of public policy goes untouched.

ALEC’s attack on local decision-making authority is consistent with its efforts to benefit big companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T that want to restrict choices for residents and businesses. So far, the big cable companies have all but crushed competition in the private sector and have been attempting to stop communities themselves from building the essential infrastructure in which these companies have been slow to invest.

But the arguments used to revoke local authority are based on misleading or outright false claims. Stephenson even tries to scare readers, claiming (with no proof) that Marietta, Ga. lost $24 million on a municipal network. What actually happened was documented in a report from 2005. Marietta had a wholesale-only network using a far different business model than the one followed by most publicly owned broadband systems.  It was on a path to operate in the black when it was privatized for ideological reasons. Stephenson’s $24 million loss figure ignores all the revenues it generated as well as additional spillover benefits. That’s fuzzy math.

Stephenson’s claim that LUS Fiber lost money every day last year preys on reader ignorance of telecom business models. Any high-capital investment could be said to lose money “every day” in the early years. Long term investments take time to break even – after which, they make money “every day.” Verizon’s FiOS “lost” money every day for many years but is regarded by many as a smart long term investment.

Publicly owned networks overwhelmingly help public safety, schools, libraries and other community anchor institutions. While AT&T has been caught ripping off taxpayers by overcharging schools for their connections, Lafayette, LA. dramatically increased the capacity of school and library broadband connections at nearly the same price AT&T charged for far lower quality services. Lafayette’s network is one of the most advanced in the nation and has attracted hundreds of new jobs while saving millions for the community by keeping prices lower, as documented in our report Broadband at the Speed of LightIn response to Lafayette’s investment, Cox Cable prioritized that community for its upgraded cable network – compounding local benefits.

Lafayette isn’t alone – consider rural Chanute, KN., which connected its schools and the local community college with a gigabit wide area network at only $250 per location per month. The city’s municipal fiber network has helped preserve jobs that were at risk of leaving because the cable and telephone company were not meeting the needs of local businesses. Additionally, the network pays a franchise fee to the general fund every year.

And then there’s Wilson, N.C. Stephenson claims its fiber-optic network might be obsolete before it is paid off – a ludicrous scenario given the strong consensus the fiber-optic is and will remain the gold standard in networking for decades. Regardless, the network is generating benefits today – lower prices for consumers and the best connection available for the hospital and schools. Oh, and their network is operating in the black also.

These benefits are some of the reasons that the FCC’s National Broadband Plan called on Congress to ensure that all local governments could build networks. No one has suggested that every government should do so – but it should be a local choice, and that is what ALEC has been trying to remove. Largely thanks to ALEC, 19 states limit local authority to build networks. Rather than foster competition and innovation, these policies introduce new barriers to connectivity and deny choice to consumers. It is beyond time to remove these restrictions and let local communities decide for themselves if a network is a smart public investment given their unique situation.

This piece courtesy of the Common Cause Blog. The article was coauthored by Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He directs their Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. He is also editor of http://www.muninetworks.org/. Follow him @communitynets. 

Lafayette’s Fiber to the Home Network Creates High-Tech Haven in South-Central Louisiana

Phillip Dampier September 27, 2012 Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Consumer News, LUS Fiber, Public Policy & Gov't, Video Comments Off

Lafayette, Louisiana has never sit still for private companies bypassing the heart of Cajun country. When electric companies refused to wire the city, the community elected to do it themselves. When Cox Cable and AT&T said no to providing the kind of cutting-edge broadband that would allow Lafayette to protect its reputation as an entrepreneur-driven community, publicly owned utility LUS constructed a fiber to the home broadband network for every resident and business. Today, LUS Fiber has helped transform the parish, with half the unemployment rate of the rest of the country and an attractive place for digital economy jobs. It has even helped curtail well-educated recent graduates moving away in search of high-tech employment.

“There really is no infrastructure more important in the 21st century economy than fiber,” said Geoff Daily, executive director of Fibercorps, a non-profit group promoting digital economic development in Lafayette.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/FTTH Council -- LUS Profile 9-24-12.flv

Watch how LUS Fiber has transformed the lives of students, attracted new high-tech business, and promoted job growth with broadband infrastructure most cable and phone companies simply won’t provide.  (9 minutes)

 

 

Competition Works: Cox Business Unveils 80-100Mbps Broadband to Compete with LUS in Louisiana

Cox Communications has launched two new broadband tiers for business customers in the Acadiana region around Lafayette, La., offering speeds of  80 and 100Mbps.

With LUS Fiber providing community-owned fiber to the premises symmetrical broadband in the area, Cox Cable has been at a speed disadvantage, but hopes it is now better positioned to attract and keep commercial customers in southern Louisiana. LUS Fiber offers business customers speeds of 10/10, 50/50, or 100/100Mbps.

Cox’s new speeds, made possible with DOCSIS 3.0, are part of a $12 million upgrade the cable operator has underway in the state. Acadiana is the first Cox market in the country to get the new speeds. Other Cox markets will see upgraded speeds later this year or in early 2013.

Publicly Owned LUS Fiber Launching Gigabit Broadband for Lafayette, Louisiana

Your Internet Service Provider keeps telling you there is no need for faster broadband speeds, but no matter how many times they say it, you still don’t believe them.

Neither do the folks at LUS Fiber — Lafayette, Louisiana’s publicly-owned fiber to the home broadband network.

In a state dominated by AT&T and cable companies like Cox, Louisiana has never experienced super-fast broadband.  But now they will.  LUS Fiber today announced 1Gbps broadband is now available in the Hub City.

Businesses will now have access to affordable broadband at speeds 20,000 times faster than dial-up.  Residential customers used to getting 1-12Mbps from phone company DSL or up to 50Mbps from Cox can put the slow lane behind them forever.  LUS Fiber can deliver upload and download speeds as fast as 1,000Mbps.

“Gigabit service from LUS Fiber is one of the most robust Internet offerings on the market today,” says Terry Huval, Director of Lafayette Utilities System and LUS Fiber. “We built this community network with a promise to the people of Lafayette that we will work hard to provide them with new opportunities through this unique, state-of-the-art fiber technology, and that’s just what we’ve done.”

That puts Lafayette on the map with Chattanooga, Tenn., as the two fastest operating fiber broadband networks in the country selling to both residential and business customers.  Both are publicly-owned networks private companies like AT&T have lobbied hard to banish.

In fact, Louisiana’s record on broadband outside of Lafayette is decidedly poor.

An $80 million federal grant to fund much-needed improvements to the state’s Internet infrastructure was returned in what one public official called Gov. Bobby Jindal’s special favor to Big Telecom companies like AT&T.

Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell publicly berated the Republican governor for intentionally interfering with the project until time ran out and the government withdrew its funding.

The cancellation of the project has proved embarrassing because it was the first time a state lost federal broadband grant money.

The state’s Division of Administration eventually scrapped plans for the public broadband network and replaced it with a proposal to use grant dollars to purchase long term institutional broadband contracts from private providers.  AT&T is the dominant local phone company in Louisiana — the same company that has steadfastly refused to provide DSL service across rural Louisiana. The new proposal would have not delivered any broadband access to individual Louisiana homes, only to institutions like schools, libraries, and local government agencies.

Lafayette Municipal Fiber Provider Filing Complaint Against Cable Co-Op Over Access

LUS Fiber is a municipally-owned provider competing in Lafayette, Louisiana

Lafayette Utility Systems’ LUS Fiber has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission accusing the cable industry co-op of blocking the company from getting the favorable discounts and access to cable networks its competitor Cox Cable receives.

LUS Fiber Director Terry Huval said the blockade against LUS Fiber could ultimately cost the city millions and deny subscribers access to popular cable networks.  Huval accused its rival, Cox Cable, of being behind the repeated denials of membership for the Louisiana municipal cable system.

The municipal provider issued a news release stating that its complaint to the FCC originally was joined by municipal providers in Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., but the National Cable Television Cooperative has since admitted those systems, while keeping LUS Fiber out.

“The NCTC opened membership to two other municipally-owned telecommunications companies that are very similar to our own Lafayette operation and in the same week refused to admit us on the same terms and conditions,” Huval said. “The only difference among the three systems is that our major cable competitor is NCTC’s largest member as well as a member of NCTC’s board of directors.”

LUS Fiber's primary competitor is Cox Cable

The NCTC is critically important to many medium and small sized cable companies who together collectively bargain access and the best possible volume discounts for hundreds of cable networks and broadcasters.  Those discounts are substantial, considering only Comcast gets larger discounts than the NCTC’s group membership.  NCTC membership also frees members from the tedious one on one negotiations cable systems would otherwise be required to conduct to obtain and maintain agreements with cable programmers.

Keeping LUS Fiber out means the municipal provider could be left charging higher prices than Cox charges for cable-TV in Lafayette.

Federal law appears to be on the side of LUS Fiber as part of the 1992 Cable Act that consumer groups fought for:

It shall be unlawful for a cable operator, a satellite cable programming vendor in which a cable operator has an attributable interest, or a satellite broadcast programming vendor to engage in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices, the purpose or effect of which is to hinder significantly or to prevent any multichannel video programming distributor from providing satellite cable programming or satellite broadcast programming to subscribers or consumers.

The NCTC operates a spartan website at nctconline.org

As someone who personally was involved in the passage of that legislation, the ironic part is we were fighting -for- the NCTC back then.  Of course, those days the cooperative was made up of wireless cable providers, utility co-ops, municipal co-ops, and other independent cable systems that were constantly facing outright refusals for access to cable programming or discriminatory pricing.  Satellite dish-owners were also regularly targeted.  NCTC was a friendly group in the early 1990s but has since become dominated with larger corporate cable operators, especially Cox Cable and Charter Communications.

LUS builds a compelling case:

NCTC and its dominant members have not only grown significantly in size and power, but they have become increasingly anti-competitive themselves. They are now undermining Congress’s pro-competitive intent by using denial of membership in NCTC as an anticompetitive device to insulate NCTC’s existing members from competition by new entrants.

Specifically, in 2007 and 2008, NCTC imposed a “moratorium” on new members, claiming that it needed time to review its membership policies. In late 2008, NCTC supposedly lifted the moratorium, posting new application procedures on its website. These procedures, NCTC stated, would ordinarily result in admissions within 60-120 days. LUS promptly applied for membership, furnishing all of the information that NCTC required. In reality, NCTC only lifted the moratorium for private-sector cable operators, including Cox and Charter. For LUS and other municipal cable operators, NCTC’s claim to be open to new memberships turned out to be little more than a deceptive sham.

In short, as of April 2010, despite publishing procedures suggesting that new members would be admitted within 120 days, NCTC had not admitted a single new public communications provider during the year and a half since it supposedly lifted its moratorium.

Without access to programming at competitive prices, no one would consider switching to a municipal provider that charged higher prices than the incumbent.  The NCTC’s increasingly secretive and erratic admission of new municipal members provides ample ammunition for those on the outside looking in to accuse the group of unfair practices.

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