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Mooresville, N.C. Revokes Time Warner Cable’s Easement Agreements; Possible Trespass Cited

Mayor Atkins

Mayor Atkins

A North Carolina community concerned about alleged abuse of homeowners’ private property rights by Time Warner Cable has revoked all of the company’s easement agreements, exposing the cable operator to lawsuits from residents.

Mayor Miles Atkins observed Time Warner crews burying fiber optic lines on the property of local residents, well outside of the rights-of-way established by the local government along town-maintained streets.

The Charlotte Observer reported Atkins also personally witnessed crews burying cables outside his home — on a street where there is no right-of-way for utility companies.

Like many towns in North Carolina, Mooresville never established rights-of-way on older streets where above-ground utilities were installed decades earlier. Agreements with the owner of the utility pole governs the cables attached. In Mooresville, this generally includes electric, telephone, and two cable companies — Time Warner Cable and the community-owned MI-Connection, formerly owned by Adelphia Cable. Most rights-of-way and easement agreements in Mooresville cover buried cables.

Mooresville senior engineer Allison Kraft notified Time Warner Cable that the town has revoked all of its easement agreements with the company until Time Warner can prove it placed its buried cables only within the approved town rights-of-way.

If the cable company is found to have placed cables without permission on a homeowner’s private property, the resident can sue for damages and force the company to remove the offending line.

mooresvilleOne Mooresville resident was suspicious of the town’s motives, however.

“I’m sure the town’s ownership of a competing cable company had nothing to do with their decision,” said Mooresville resident Scott Turner.

But Charley Patterson is happy the town is taking action, suggesting utility violations of easement boundaries are rampant.

“During the building of our church’s new parking lot, we found not one but several utilities that had buried cable in areas well out of the easement boundaries,” Patterson wrote. “There were seven utilities with buried cable. Our construction progress was dramatically impacted trying to identify where and who had buried the cable. And some had the gall to try to tell us that we had to pay for them to relocate when they were 20 to 30 feet on our property, not at all in the easement.”

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FCC’s Tom Wheeler Promises to “Preempt” State Laws Banning Municipal Broadband

LUS Fiber if Lafayette, La., municipal broadband provider.

LUS Fiber is Lafayette, La., municipal broadband provider.

During remarks at the National Cable Show in Los Angeles, FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler promised he would stimulate more broadband competition by overriding state laws that presently restrict or ban municipal broadband networks.

“One place where it may be possible is municipally owned or authorized broadband systems. I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments—the same ones that granted cable franchises—want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. I have said before, that I believe the FCC has the power – and I intend to exercise that power – to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband.”

After making the remarks, a debate has emerged over the exact definition of “preempt.” With at least 20 states limiting or banning community-owned broadband networks, the FCC would have to overturn or invalidate the state laws to render them moot.

At least one judge — Laurence Silberman — believes the FCC has the authority to take “measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” In a footnote, Silberman wrote that “[a]n example of a paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment would be state laws that prohibit municipalities from creating their own broadband infrastructure to compete against private companies.”

A FCC spokesperson, in response to inquiries about Wheeler’s remarks, was less conclusive.

“It’s too early to say how [Wheeler] will address existing state laws,” said the spokesperson.

That leaves open the question about whether the FCC intends to cancel existing state laws or simply prohibit new ones from being enacted. That distinction could make a tremendous difference in states like North Carolina, where a fierce battle over protecting municipal broadband was lost when Republicans took control of the state government. Telecom lobbyists, often working under the auspices of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have either directly banned municipal broadband networks from getting off the ground or placed so many restrictions on service to make projects untenable.

The Consumerist points out in Pennsylvania, municipal broadband is only allowed in communities if a telephone company does not provide any type of broadband to anyone in their service area. In Nevada, only towns with fewer than 25,000 people or counties with 50,000 can host community-owned broadband networks — numbers likely too low to sustain such a venture financially.

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North Carolina’s GOP Senate Candidates Fall All Over Themselves Attacking Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality = Socialism?

Net Neutrality = Socialism?

The four leading candidates in North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, including one heavily backed by the state’s largest telecom companies, all said Monday they oppose Net Neutrality and would not allow the federal government to intervene in the business interests of cable and phone companies.

Dr. Greg Brannon, Heather Grant, Rev. Mark Harris, and current state House Speaker Thom Tillis all agreed during an hour-long televised debate that the government had no business telling companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T how to manage Internet traffic.

Thom Tillis, who became speaker of the house in 2011, is heavily backed with financial contributions from AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. While speaker, Tillis supported the Time Warner Cable-backed bill to ban community-owned broadband networks in the state and helped shepherd the legislation through the General Assembly.

Tillis told viewers that North Carolina customers already have a choice of Internet Service Providers so there is no reason for the government to interfere.

“The last thing we need is the government to tell cable providers and Internet providers how fast or slow the content needs to be,” Tillis said.

Tillis was honored in 2011 as ALEC's "Legislator of the Year" and received an undisclosed cash reward.

Tillis was honored in 2011 as ALEC’s “Legislator of the Year” and received an undisclosed cash reward.

Last year, Tillis was accused of having a secret business relationship with Time Warner Cable by Rep. Robert Brawley (R-Iredell), who resigned his chairmanship of the Finance Committee over the matter.

Brawley’s district is served in part by MI-Connection, a community-owned cable company that was prevented from expanding by a state law restricting municipal broadband.

“You slamming my office door shut, standing in front of me and stating that you have a business relationship with Time Warner,” Brawley wrote in his resignation letter. “MI-Connection is being operated just as any other free enterprise system and should be allowed to do so without the restrictions placed on them by the proponents of Time Warner.”

Dr. Brannon said without the Constitution giving direct authority for the federal government to regulate broadband, it cannot legally get involved. There was no broadband service to regulate when the Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787.

“The worst thing in the world we could do is for the federal government to put in barriers to make things fair,” Brannon said. Any attempt to impose fairness on Internet traffic would be a clear-cut case of socialism, Brannon added.

Grant and Harris both agreed with the others.

The four candidates are vying for the Senate seat held by Democrat Kay Hagan. She holds a different view.

“I support Net Neutrality because it speaks to the values central to our American Democracy – free speech and equal opportunity,” Hagan said in 2008. “With an open Internet, we can ensure communities throughout the state of North Carolina and the nation receive equal access to the Internet as well as the information contained there, to help ensure our country can compete on a global level.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/UNC-TV NC GOP Senate Debate 2014 -- Net Neutrality -- Free Market or Socialism 4-30-14.flv

Watch occasionally incoherent remarks from four Republican candidates debating the Internet and Net Neutrality as part of the North Carolina Senate primary. (4:31)

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Charlotte Lusts for Fibrant’s Fiber-to-the-Home Broadband Speed They Won’t Get Anytime Soon

fibrant_logo_headerA 2011 state law largely written by Time Warner Cable will likely keep Charlotte, N.C. waiting for fiber broadband that nearby Salisbury has had since 2010.

North Carolina is dominated by Time Warner Cable, AT&T and CenturyLink. Google and AT&T recently expressed interest in bringing their fiber networks to the home in several cities in the state, but neither have put a shovel in the ground.

Fibrant, a community owned broadband provider in Salisbury, northeast of Charlotte, not only laid 250 miles of fiber optics, it has been open for business since November 2010. It was just in time for the publicly owned venture, joining a growing number of community providers like Wilson’s Greenlight and Mooresville, Davidson and Cornelius’ MI-Connection. Time Warner Cable’s lobbyists spent several years pushing for legislation restricting the development of these new competitors and when Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011, they finally succeeded. Today, launching or expanding community broadband networks in North Carolina has been made nearly impossible by the law, modeled after a bill developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

With fiber fever gripping the state, Fibrant has gotten a lot of attention from Charlotte media because it provides the type of service other providers are only talking about. Fibrant offers residents cable television, phone, and broadband and competes directly with Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Although not the cheapest option in town, Fibrant is certainly the fastest and local residents are gradually taking their business to the community alternative.

Charlotte, N.C. is surrounded by community providers like Fibrant in Salisbury and MI-Connection in the Mooresville area.

Charlotte, N.C. is surrounded by community providers like Fibrant in Salisbury and MI-Connection in the Mooresville area.

“A lot faster Internet speeds, a lot clearer phone calls,” said Sidewalk Deli owner Rick Anderson-McCombs, who switched to Fibrant after 15 years with another provider. His mother, Anganetta Dover told WSOC-TV, “I think we save about $30 to $40 a month with Fibrant and the advantages of having the speed is so much better.”

Julianne Goodman cut cable’s cord, dropping Time Warner Cable TV service in favor of Netflix. To support her online streaming habit, she switched to Fibrant, which offers faster Internet speeds than the cable company.

Commercial customers are also switching, predominately away from AT&T in favor of Fibrant.

“Businesses love us because we don’t restrict them on uploads,” one Fibrant worker told WCNC-TV. “So when they want to send files, it’s practically instantaneous.”

Fibrant offers synchronous broadband speeds, which mean the download and upload speeds are the same. Cable broadband technology always favors download speeds over upload, and Time Warner Cable’s fastest upstream speed remains stuck at 5Mbps in North Carolina.

AT&T offers a mix of DSL and U-verse fiber to the neighborhood service in North Carolina. Maximum download speed for most customers is around 24Mbps. AT&T has made a vague commitment to increase those speeds, but customers report difficulty qualifying for upgrades.

Time Warner Cable is a big player in the largest city in North Carolina, evident as soon as you spot the Time Warner Cable Arena on East Trade Street in downtown Charlotte.

Taxpayer dollars are also funneled to the cable company.

Time Warner Cable’s $82 million data center won the company a $2.9 million Job Development Investment Grant. Charlotte’s News & Observer noted the nation’s second largest cable company also received $3 million in state incentives.

When communities like Salisbury approached providers about improving broadband speeds, they were shown the door.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WCNC Charlotte Fibrant Already Provides Fiber 3-5-14.mp4

WCNC-TV reports that with Google expressing an interest in providing fiber service in Charlotte, Salisbury’s Fibrant has been offering service since 2010. (2:57)

“Our citizens asked for high-speed Internet,” says Doug Paris, Salisbury’s city manager. “We met with the incumbent providers [like Time Warner and AT&T, and that did not fit within their business plans.”

Salisbury and Wilson, among others, elected to build their own networks. The decision to enter the broadband business came under immediate attack from incumbent providers and a range of conservative astroturf and sock puppet political groups often secretly funded by the phone and cable companies.

Rep. Avila with Marc Trathen, Time Warner Cable's top lobbyist (right) Photo by: Bob Sepe of Action Audits

Rep. Avila, a ban proponent, meets with Marc Trathen, Time Warner Cable’s top lobbyist (right) (Photo: Bob Sepe)

Critics of Fibrant launched an attack website against the venture (it stopped updating in March, 2012), suggesting the fiber venture would bankrupt the city. One brochure even calls Stop the Cap! part of a high-priced consultant cabal of “Judas goats for big fiber” (for the record, Stop the Cap! was not/is not paid a penny to advocate for Fibrant or any other provider).

Opponents also characterize Fibrant as communism in action and have distributed editorial cartoons depicting Fibrant service technicians in Soviet military uniforms guarding Salisbury’s broadband gulag.

In January of this year, city officials were able to report positive news. Fibrant has begun to turn a profit after generating $2,223,678 in the revenue from July through December, 2013. Fibrant lost $4.1 million during the previous fiscal year. That is an improvement over earlier years when the venture borrowed more than $7 million from the city’s water and sewer capital reserve fund, repaying the loans at 1 percent interest. The city believes the $33 million broadband network will break even this year — just four years after launching.

Fibrant is certainly no Time Warner Cable or AT&T, having fewer than 3,000 customers in the Salisbury city limits. But it does have a market share of 21 percent, comparable to what AT&T U-verse has achieved in many of its markets.

Fibrant also has the highest average revenue per customer among broadband providers in the city — $129 a month vs. $121 for Time Warner Cable. Customers spend more for the faster speeds Fibrant offers.

Some residents wonder if Fibrant will be successful if or when AT&T and Google begin offering fiber service. Both companies have made a splash in Charlotte’s newspapers and television news about their fiber plans, which exist only on paper in the form of press releases. Neither provider has targeted Salisbury for upgrades and nobody can predict whether either will ultimately bring fiber service to the city of Charlotte.

Those clamoring for fiber broadband speeds under the state’s anti-community broadband law will have to move to one of a handful of grandfathered communities in North Carolina where forward-thinking leaders actually built the fiber networks private companies are still only talking about.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSOC Charlotte Charlotte could gain from fiber optic network already in place 4-22-14.flv

WSOC-TV in Charlotte reports Salisbury customers are happy with Fibrant service and the competition it provides AT&T and Time Warner Cable. (2:12)

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More Phantom AT&T Fiber in Texas, North Carolina; Highly Limited Rollouts = Press Release Candy

phantom gigapowerAT&T U-verse with Gigapower is not coming to a home near you, although AT&T hopes you believe it will.

In the public and government relations arena, convincing everyone there is robust competition in broadband is a good prescription to keep the regulators at bay. To make that happen, AT&T continues to roll out more press releases than actual fiber to the home service, this time announcing it is planning to bring its fastest gigabit Internet service to “six cities in North Carolina” and more areas in and around Austin.

“The U-verse GigaPower fiber-optic service will be offered in parts of Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, North Carolina,” AT&T said today in a statement.

But AT&T will not say exactly how many homes it will offer service to, but gave a clue mentioning it plans to connect as many as 100 businesses and 100 “public sites.” It also said it will provide a free, but slow-speed service to as many as 3,000 homes — something it can offer on its existing copper-fiber U-verse platform.

AT&T claims it is ‘racing’ to offer fiber service, but evidence suggests otherwise. Much of AT&T’s U-verse with Gigapower is turning up in condos, new housing developments, and other multi-dwelling units like apartments. Single family homes are evidently not a priority. AT&T’s costs to bring fiber to the back of a complex or large apartment building is lower than stringing or burying fiber to individual homes.

In Austin, one of AT&T’s major Gigapower expansions will come to communities under construction and condo complexes developed by PulteGroup. AT&T signed a favorable agreement with the developer to bring fiber into up to 3,000 homes. AT&T routinely signs similar agreements with developers that offer AT&T exclusive access to existing inside wiring and, in some cases, provide AT&T services to every resident, billed as part of the rent or neighborhood association service fees, deterring competition from cable operators.

AT&T likely selected the communities in North Carolina after receiving a Request For Proposals from a regional group called North Carolina Next Generation Network, which has enticed private providers to build gigabit fiber networks. The coordinated effort is led by six municipalities and four leading research universities and supported by local Chambers of Commerce and businesses in the Research Triangle and Piedmont regions.

With local governments directly involved in the initiative, AT&T was likely satisfied they would not face much difficulty from zoning and permitting procedures to expand their network, and might even receive favorable treatment.

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Some Time Warner Cable Customers Getting The Design Network; Interior Design 24/7

Phillip Dampier April 2, 2014 Consumer News, Online Video, Time Warner Cable No Comments

design networkAn online-only television channel dedicated to interior design will become a traditional linear television channel available to some Time Warner Cable customers beginning today.

The Design Network, created by executives at the world’s largest furniture store — Furnitureland South — had managed to get 10,000 online subscribers since its launch in April 2013. But now the network will get a larger viewership on the lineup of some Time Warner Cable systems, starting in North Carolina.

“The Design Network was created for everyone who shares a passion for the home,” said Jason Harris, founder of The Design Network and executive vice president of Furnitureland South. “What I’m seeing on television has no correlation to the amazing home decor industry that I’ve grown up in and have been exposed to all my life.”

“We always look for opportunities to work with networks to enhance our diverse channel lineup,” said Mike Smith, area vice president of operations, Time Warner Cable. “The Design Network created a television network to engage consumers in decor and the world of interior design – we are excited to provide our customers with access to this unique source of programming.”

Furnitureland South

Furnitureland South – High Point, N.C.

In addition to The Design Network’s new television channel, the online version expands to further engage interior design professionals and home enthusiasts by allowing them to create their own channels, similar to YouTube. Viewers can upload and annotate their own videos and photos and grow their own audience. Through these channels, designers and home enthusiasts may earn commissioned, promoted series on TDN TV.

The network also exists as a self-promotion of Furnitureland South, which may limit the network’s reach. The Design Network’s programming is heavily influenced by its parent company’s furniture business.

The Design Network was created to help people become more inspired and knowledgeable about designing, decorating and living in their homes. “We are uniquely qualified to create a network featuring entertainment, inspiration and instruction for the home,” Harris commented. “With our retail business, Furnitureland South, being located in the epicenter of the home furnishings industry, we furnish more than 25,000 homes a year with clients from all over the world and work closely with the finest furniture brands and design influencers.”

It isn’t known if Furnitureland South is paying Time Warner Cable to launch the network or if cable customers will be underwriting the channel through their monthly cable bill.

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Charter’s Rebranded “Spectrum” Service Arrives in Fort Worth; New Name, New Reputation?

Phillip Dampier March 25, 2014 Broadband Speed, Charter, Competition, Consumer News, Video 3 Comments

charter spectrum logoCharter Communications’ latest attempt to rehabilitate its reputation with customers in Fort Worth, Tex. arrived this week in area mailboxes, as Charter reintroduced itself as “Charter Spectrum.”

Fort Worth is the first major city to get Charter’s broad-based service upgrade that began more than a year ago with a switch to all digital television service.

The newly available bandwidth no longer needed to support analog television has allowed Charter to expand its video service to more than 200 HD channels, up from fewer than 100.

Customers also start their Spectrum experience with a free broadband speed bump — from 30Mbps to 60/4Mbps (with a barely enforced monthly usage cap of 250GB), and an improved cable telephone service with nationwide calling.

Charter Spectrum's mailer is now arriving in Ft. Worth mailboxes. (Courtesy: TheTechGuru)

Charter Spectrum’s mailer is now arriving in Ft. Worth mailboxes. (Courtesy: TheTechGuru)

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge openly admitted last year Charter had an inferior product compared against the competition. Upgrading Charter’s cable systems was designed to correct that and the company hopes its rebranding will deliver a marketplace reset, but some Charter customers remain skeptical.

“Same pig, fresh lipstick,” wrote one Charter customer in Missouri.

Others complain Charter’s upload speeds remain anemic at just 4Mbps.

Charter’s new pricing promotions were designed to simplify the shopping experience. There are now just three heavily promoted Spectrum triple play packages:

spectrum packages

A customer taking advantage of the Triple Play Gold promotion will pay a one-year promotional price of $129.97 a month. (Customers can also select individual services or build their own double-play bundle). The fine print mentions the price rises to $149.97 the second year and then reverts to an undisclosed “standard rate” after that. TV set-top boxes are required on every cable-connected television ($7 a month each – not included in the price). The Internet modem carries no additional charge. Phone taxes, fees and surcharges are also covered, but other taxes, fees, and surcharges are not.

Offers are valid for new customers only, and those who have not subscribed within the last 30 days and have no outstanding debt obligation to Charter.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WLOS Asheville Charter Going Digital 11-11-13.flv

Charter Spectrum arrives only after your local Charter system moves to all-digital television service. That happened last fall in Asheville, N.C., where customers were told they needed a digital set-top box on every television in the home. WLOS-TV covered the story back on Nov. 11, 2013. (1:44)

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Frustration Central: Charter Communications’ Digital Conversion Irritates Cities, Customers

Phillip Dampier March 11, 2014 Broadband Speed, Charter, Consumer News, HissyFitWatch No Comments

all digitalCharter Communications’ march to all-digital service is one big Excedrin headache for many of the communities enduring the cable company’s conversion.

Charter is embarked on a campaign to end analog cable television service, freeing up bandwidth to offer more HD channels and increase broadband speeds. But the switch to digital has been accompanied by frequent service disruptions and outages.

In Texas, customers complain their digital channels are often frozen or pixelated. In Casper, Wyo., where Charter acquired an older cable system from Cablevision that was originally built by Bresnan Communications, customers’ complaints range from inconsistent service and slow response times to loss of sound and frozen video during airing of City Council meetings.

But some of the loudest concerns about Charter originate from the Outer Banks of North Carolina where customers are finding the switch to digital can be very costly.

Tourism is a major part of the local economy and the Outer Banks are filled with seasonal homes, rental condos and hotels. Many property owners maintain seasonal accounts with Charter Cable, only active during the tourist season. Some hotel owners notified about Charter’s plans to transition towards digital service worked with the cable company to buy televisions that would not need additional equipment to work after the switch. With the cable company’s recommendations, some hotel chains purchased dozens or even hundreds of digital-ready television sets installed in rooms that were ready for the switch.

Charter_logoOnly recently, Charter notified customers they also planned to encrypt the basic lineup, rendering the digital televisions useless without the additional cost and inconvenience of installing Charter’s digital set-top boxes. Although Charter will temporarily offer customers free rental of the boxes, after the offer expires, customers will pay Charter $6.99 a month for each box. For some upper end condos, the cost of renting multiple boxes will exceed the cost of the cable TV package.

The Outer Banks Voice details several other customer complaints:

With the older analog systems, many owners flat mounted their televisions to walls and had the cable wired directly into the television, out of sight. With boxes now required, rental homeowners will need to figure out where to place the box and how to run the cables to the set.

In addition, rental companies and homeowners will need to keep track of numerous remotes and keeping those remotes supplied with working batteries.

[...] Thus far, Charter is not offering boxes for sale, so owners cannot absorb the cost over the long-run use of the box, and there appears to be some confusion on whether homes with five or more televisions will require a “Pro Installation” at extra cost to ensure signal strength is sufficient.

If such an installation is required, owners and rental management companies will also be required to arrange access for Charter installers.

Rental condos are also faced with yet another logistic hurdle.

Many condos include cable television fees in their monthly association dues, and the cable contracts for all units are in the name of the condo association.

To obtain boxes, condo owners are now going to be required to set up their own individual accounts, often from an out-of-state location, and then determine how to get the boxes installed.

Signal strength is also a concern in condo projects. Even with analog signals, the multiple connections in one area make reception fuzzy and of low quality.

A small sample of complaints found all over Charter's social media pages.

A small sample of complaints found all over Charter’s social media pages.

Charter Communications shared their side of the story about the digital conversion:

Outer Banks, N.C.

Outer Banks, N.C.

Charter customers are notified by newspaper, direct mail, bill messages, phone calls from Charter representatives, and Charter commercial spots beginning at least 30 days prior to their cutover. Charter is making it easy for customers to receive one or more digital boxes at no cost for one, two or five years, depending on the customer’s programming package and other qualifying factors.

Customers that need less than four boxes can have them shipped directly to their home by calling 1-888-GET-CHARTER or pick them up at a Charter Store.

Customers that live out of town, that own vacation homes, can authorize personnel with their property management company or other specified individuals to pick up their boxes. Customers must first authorize those individuals and add them to their account by calling 1-888-GET-CHARTER. The customer account owner can rescind authorization of individuals at any time.

Property Management companies or authorized individuals can then obtain up to five set-top boxes at a Charter Store.

Customers needing more than five boxes should contact Charter 1-888-GET-CHARTER. A professional technician will be scheduled to assist customers with the installation.

Charter Stores are currently operating with expanded hours to accommodate customers during this all-digital project. Charter Store hours will also be expanded in April where peak volume is expected.

Commercial properties have several options available and can work with their Charter Business account representative on the best solution for their business.

Due to advances in technology, solutions available may involve the need for additional equipment in order to provide the best possible cable, Internet and voice products for our customers.

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Most Cutting Edge Gigabit Broadband Networks are Community-Owned

Greenlight announces gigabit service for Wilson, N.C.

Greenlight announces gigabit service for Wilson, N.C.

Claims from critics that government-owned Internet Service Providers would bring ineptly managed, behind-the-times broadband are belied by the reality on the ground.

Network World highlighted several cities offering consumers and/or businesses gigabit broadband service from publicly owned Internet providers. All of them stand alone with no commercial competitor willing or able to compete on speed. In fact, most of the communities offering their own Internet service do so because incumbent cable and phone companies showed no interest in upgrading or expanding their services or offer them at prohibitive prices. For many of the towns involved, the only way to get 21st century broadband was to build it themselves.

Cable companies like Time Warner Cable scoff at the need for superfast broadband speeds, claiming customers are not interested in gigabit Internet. After the Federal Communications Commission issued a challenge for every state in the U.S. to reach 1Gbps Internet speeds in at least one community by 2015, then chief financial officer Irene Esteves said 1,000Mbps service was unnecessary and the cable company wouldn’t offer it because there was little demand for it.

While Esteves was telling reporters gigabit speeds were irrelevant, Time Warner Cable’s lobbyists were working behind the scenes to make sure none of their community-owned competitors offered it either, cajoling state officials to pass legislation that would effectively ban publicly owned broadband competition. Time Warner, along with other cable and phone companies evidently feel so threatened, they have successfully helped enact such bans into law in 20 states.

The record is clear. The best chance your community has of getting gigabit speeds is to rally your local government or municipal utility to offer the service you are not getting from the local cable/phone duopoly anytime soon.

Chanute, Kansas

The city of Chanute, Kan. is fighting back against incumbent phone and cable companies trying to ban municipal-owned ISPs in the state.

The city of Chanute, Kan. is fighting back against incumbent phone and cable companies trying to ban municipal-owned ISPs in the state.

With just 9,000 residents barely served by AT&T and the routinely awful Cable ONE, Chanute knew if it wanted 21st century broadband, it was unlikely to get it from the local phone and cable company. Chanute has owned a municipal fiber network since 1984 and has been in the Internet provider business since 2005. Now the city is working towards a fiber to the home network for residents while AT&T is lobbying Washington regulators to let the company scrap rural landline and DSL service across Kansas and other states.

The city is taking a stand against the latest effort to ban community broadband networks in Kansas. It’s a rough fight because Kansas lobbyists get to write and introduce corporate-written telecom bills in the legislature without even the pretext of the proposed legislation originating from someone actually elected to office. SB 304, temporarily withdrawn for “tweaking,” shreds the concept of home rule — allowing local communities to decide what works best for them. Instead, AT&T, Cable ONE, Comcast, Cox, and other telecom companies will get to make that decision on your behalf if the bill re-emerges in the legislature and passes later this year.

“We’re taking a leadership position to do something about it. I’d hate to sit here and keep bashing AT&T and Cable One. They don’t care. All they care about is paying dividends back to their stockholders,” Chanute’s utility director Larry Gates told Network World. “My feeling – this is mine, it’s probably not the city’s, but it’s mine – is I wouldn’t care if we ever made a dime on this network, as long as it would pay for itself. If it could increase and do the things with education, health, safety, and economic development – man, that’s a win. That’s a huge win.”

Chattanooga, Tennessee

The "headquarters" of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance is in the basement of this building in suburban Washington. It's a pretty small alliance funded by mysterious "private" donors.

The “headquarters” of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance is in the basement of this building in suburban Washington.

EPB Broadband is the best argument community broadband advocates have to counter Big Telecom propaganda that community-owned broadband is a failure waiting to happen. EPB has received national acclaim by delivering gigabit broadband to consumers and businesses that Chattanoogans can’t get from AT&T and Comcast. EPB is Chattanooga’s municipally owned electric utility and originally laid fiber to power its Smart Meter project to better manage its electric system. With near infinite capacity, why not share that network with the community?

EPB routinely embarrasses its competition by offering highly rated local customer service and support instead of forcing customers to deal with offshore call centers rife with language barriers. Customer ratings of AT&T and Comcast are dismal — rock bottom in fact — but that isn’t the case for EPB, embraced by the local community and now helping to foster the region’s high-tech economic development.

Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica City Net does not serve residential customers, but a lot of locals probably wish it did. Greater Los Angeles has been carved up between bottom-rated Charter Communications and never-loved Time Warner Cable. Time Warner customers in LA will soon get access to 100Mbps broadband. Businesses in downtown Santa Monica can already get broadband from City Net at speeds up to 10Gbps.

Lafayette, Louisiana

LUS Fiber has had a very tough battle just getting service off the ground. Its two competitors are AT&T and Cox, and the fiber to the home provider had to work its way through legal disputes and a special election to launch service. Even to this day, corporate front groups like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance are still taking potshots at LUS and other municipal providers. TPA president David Williams refuses to identify where the money comes from to fund TPA’s operations. It’s a safe bet some of it comes from telecom companies based on the TPA’s preoccupation with broadband issues. The group always aligns itself with the interests of phone and cable companies.

Cable and phone companies that fund sock puppet groups like TPA could have spent that money to upgrade broadband service in communities like Lafayette. Instead, they cut checks to groups like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, headquartered in a basement rental unit in suburban Washington, D.C.

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington Telecom’s troubled past is a poster child for anti-municipal broadband groups. The provider’s financial problems are often mentioned by groups fighting public broadband. To be sure, there are successes and failures in any industry and inept marketing by BT several years ago hurt its chances for success. Its competition is Comcast and FairPoint Communications, which means usage-capped cable broadband or slow speed DSL. BT sells a gigabit broadband alternative for $149.99 a month for those signing a 12-month contract. Comcast charges $115 a month for 105Mbps service — about ten times slower than BT’s offering.

Tullahoma, Tennessee

The Tennessee Telecommunications Association is appealing to the state government to keep publicly-owned broadband competitors out of their territories.

The Tennessee Telecommunications Association is appealing to the state government to keep publicly owned broadband competitors out of their territories.

LighTUBe, the telecommunications branch of the Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB), announced its gigabit Internet offering in May 2013, says Network World. The magazine suspects the provider is interested in commercial, not residential customers.

That no doubt comes as a relief to the Tennessee Telecommunications Association, which represents the state’s independent phone companies. Last month, more than a dozen executives from those companies invaded the state capital to complain that municipal providers were threatening to invade their territories and offer unwanted competition.

“We are particularly concerned about four bills that have been introduced this session,” says Levoy Knowles, TTA’s executive director. “These bills would allow municipalities to expand beyond their current footprint and offer broadband in our service areas. If this were to happen, municipalities could cherry-pick our more populated areas, leaving the more remote, rural consumers to bear the high cost of delivering broadband to these less populated regions.”

Among the companies that want to keep uncomfortable public broadband competition out of their territories: North Central Telephone Cooperative, Loretto Telecom, Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative, Highland Telephone Cooperative, TDS Telecom, United Communications, Ben Lomand Connect, WK&T Telecommunications, Ritter Communications, Ardmore Telephone Company, and RepCom.

Bristol, Tennessee

Bristol is unique because its city limits are effectively in Tennessee and Virginia. Neither state has gotten much respect from incumbent telephone and cable companies, so BTES — the electric and telecom utility in Bristol — decided to deliver broadband service itself. The network is now being upgraded to expand 1Gbps service, and it represents an island in the broadband backwater of far eastern Tennessee and western Virginia and North Carolina.

closedCedar Falls, Iowa

Iowa has never been a hotbed for fast broadband and is the home to the largest number of independent telephone companies in the country. Cedar Falls Utilities is one of them and is trying to change the “behind the rest” image Iowa telecommunications has been stuck with for years. The municipal telecom provider has boosted broadband speeds and announced gigabit broadband last year.

Wilson, N.C.

Greenlight has been providing fiber to the home service for several years, and its presence in the middle of Time Warner Cable territory was apparently the last straw for the cable company, which began fiercely lobbying for a municipal broadband ban in North Carolina. Thanks to a massive cash dump by Koch Brothers’ ally Art Pope, the Republicans took control of the state government between 2010-2012. Many of the new legislators have an ongoing love affair with ALEC — the corporate front group — and treat its database of business-ghostwritten bills like the Library of Congress. What AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner Cable want, they now get.

With a broadband ban in place, Greenlight can’t expand its territory, but it can increase its broadband speeds. Time Warner Cable tops out at 50Mbps for almost $100 a month. For $49.95 more you can get 1,000Mbps from Greenlight. Instead if competing, TWC prefers Greenlight to simply go away, and the North Carolina legislature has shown it is always ready to help.

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Google Fiber Proposes Major Expansion, But Continues to Ignore the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic

Google has proposed expanding its gigabit fiber network to nine metropolitan areas around the United States, but none of them include cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast dominated by Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and Verizon FiOS.

google fiber

Altogether, the expansion project could bring fiber to the home Internet service to 34 new cities:

  • Arizona: Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe
  • California: San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto
  • Georgia: Atlanta, Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs, Smyrna
  • North Carolina: Charlotte, Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Morrisville, Raleigh
  • Oregon: Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, Lake Oswego, Tigard
  • Tennessee: Nashville-Davidson
  • Texas: San Antonio
  • Utah: Salt Lake City

Google’s Fiber Blog:

google fiberNow that we’ve learned a lot from our Google Fiber projects in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, we want to help build more ultra-fast networks. So we’ve invited cities in nine metro areas around the U.S.—34 cities altogether—to work with us to explore what it would take to bring them Google Fiber.

We aim to provide updates by the end of the year about which cities will be getting Google Fiber. Between now and then, we’ll work closely with each city’s leaders on a joint planning process that will not only map out a Google Fiber network in detail, but also assess what unique local challenges we might face. These are such big jobs that advance planning goes a long way toward helping us stick to schedules and minimize disruption for residents.

We’re going to work on a detailed study of local factors that could affect construction, like topography (e.g., hills, flood zones), housing density and the condition of local infrastructure. Meanwhile, cities will complete a checklist of items that will help them get ready for a project of this scale and speed. For example, they’ll provide us with maps of existing conduit, water, gas and electricity lines so that we can plan where to place fiber. They’ll also help us find ways to access existing infrastructure—like utility poles—so we don’t unnecessarily dig up streets or have to put up a new pole next to an existing one.

While we do want to bring Fiber to every one of these cities, it might not work out for everyone. But cities who go through this process with us will be more prepared for us or any provider who wants to build a fiber network. In fact, we want to give everyone a boost in their thinking about how to bring fiber to their communities; we plan to share what we learn in these 34 cities, and in the meantime you can check out some tips in a recent guest post on the Google Fiber blog by industry expert Joanne Hovis. Stay tuned for updates, and we hope this news inspires more communities across America to take steps to get to a gig.

Google does not guarantee every community will actually get the service, and a read between the lines makes it clear that a close working relationship between Google and city officials and utilities will be essential for projects to move forward. Bureaucratic red tape could be a fiber-killer in some of these communities, as could an intransigent utility fighting to keep Google fiber off utility-owned poles.

Google continues to completely ignore the northeastern United States for fiber expansion. Analysts suggest Google will not enter areas where fiber broadband service already exists, and this region of the country is home to the largest deployment of Verizon’s FiOS. Despite the fact Verizon has canceled further expansion, and large sections of the region have little chance of seeing a fiber upgrade anytime soon, Google seems more interested in serving the middle of the country and fast growing areas including North Carolina, Georgia, Phoenix and Texas. Its choice of San Jose obviously reflects the presence of Silicon Valley.

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