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Austin Telecom Commission Set to Voice Its Opinion on Metered Broadband

Michael Chaney May 15, 2009 Community Networks, Public Policy & Gov't 2 Comments

The Austin Community Technology & Telecommunications Commission convened this past Wednesday for their monthly meeting to discuss, among other items, possible actions on Time Warner Cable consumption billing for broadband Internet.  According to chairman Chip Rosenthal, it was the longest agenda in the many years he’s been there, and the TWC discussion didn’t come up until after 9 p.m.

As a concerned Austinite and former TWC customer (thanks to AT&T U-verse!), I attended this meeting to make sure all the important information on the subject was made available to the commissioners.  I only had three minutes to speak, as per meeting rules, which wasn’t near enough time for me to get through my three pages of material.  Luckily though, since the topic was an agenda item, the commission was allowed to ask questions and they were gracious enough to ask me open-ended questions and allow me to continue my points.  I stressed to the Commission that the most effective actions they and the City Council could do is file comments to the FCC and the FTC, and to put pressure on state and federal legislators to remove impediments to municipal broadband.  I emphasized that even if the City has no intention of creating a municipal broadband service, it is to Austin’s benefit to have the option on the table.  I told the commission that I believe a major reason TWC initially chose Austin as one of its metered billing test markets is that TWC knew the city’s hands were tied and that it had no real recourse.  During the discussion after my presentation, the commission agreed to work on a resolution recommending to the City Council that, through the City Attorney, submissions be filed to the FCC, Federal Trade Commission, and the Texas State Attorney General, and they agreed that the city should begin working with state and federal legislators to stop abusive practices.  The commission also agreed they should focus their efforts on  the state and federal level because little could be done at the municipal level, and that they should seek out other municipalities in a similar situation to present a coordinated effort.

There were two interesting facts that I learned at this meeting.  One, the municipal franchise that TWC has with the city of Austin will expire in 2011, but at that point it will transition to a state franchise agreement.  I had never heard of a state franchise before.  I know that the negotiating power the city has at franchise renewal will be diluted considerably on the state level. Second, the current franchise only applies to TWC cable TV service, not its broadband products.  It was brought up in the meeting that Grande Communications, another regional cable provider, has full authority to compete in TWC’s market for broadband service.  This raised a serious flag to me.  If both cable TV and broadband products are carried on the same infrastructure, but the franchise agreement only applies to the cable TV service, then they are in effect creating and illegal de facto franchise out of the broadband market.  Grande cannot compete with TWC’s broadband product, because they’re not allowed to bring their cable TV infrastructure into TWC’s market.

Since TWC has decided to shelve it’s metered broadband trials in Ausin for the time being, there is not much the Telecom Commission can do against current TWC actions other than possibly investigate instances of service being shut off based on a soft 40 GB cap in their excessive use clause.  But the commission has resolved to begin the groundwork necessary to fight this issue in the future by codifying its own policies and rules for fair market practices and pressing the city of Austin to lobby state and federal lawmakers.

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Earl Cooley III
Earl Cooley III
15 years ago

Is contracting with apartment complexes to provide mandatory service equivalent to Standard Cable for a fee charged to residents considered an “abusive practice”? It certainly damages competition, given that a resident would have to move to avoid paying the fee if they wanted to switch services to another company.

This is not a hypothetical question, by the way; TWC is already doing this to lock down market share in Austin.

15 years ago

Nice summary, Michael. Thanks for posting.

I want to point out that the Commission received a presentation earlier in the night on broadband regulatory issues that helped clarify some of the options available to the City.

It’s posted here (see item 5c):


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