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

Phillip Dampier June 2, 2014 Community Networks, Competition, Consumer News, MI-Connection, Public Policy & Gov't Comments Off on 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.”

Resigning N.C. House Finance Chairman Blasts Speaker for Having ‘Business Relationship With TWC’

special reportOne of the chairs of the North Carolina House Finance Committee abruptly resigned his chairmanship on the House floor Wednesday, submitting a letter read aloud in the chamber that accused fellow Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) of having an unexplained business relationship with Time Warner Cable.

Rep. Robert Brawley (R-Iredell) wrote Tillis burst into his office demanding to know about a bill Brawley introduced that would have weakened the 2011 law Tillis strongly supported that severely restricted publicly owned broadband networks in the state.

“You slamming my office door shut, standing in front of me and stating that you have a business relationship with Time Warner and wanting to know what the bill was about,” Brawley wrote in his resignation letter. “You and I both know the bill stifles the competition with MI Connections in Mooresville. MI Connections 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.”

Tillis’ office described the resignation of Brawley’s chairmanship as “a mutual decision.”

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. Time Warner Cable is a corporate member of ALEC.

House Bill 557, introduced by Brawley, would have permitted an exception under state law for the community-owned MI Connection cable system to expand its area of service to include economic development sites, public safety facilities, governmental facilities, and schools and colleges located in and near the city of Statesville. It would also allow the provider to extend service based on the approval of the Board of County Commissioners and, with respect to schools, the Iredell County School Board.

The bill died in the Committee on Government earlier this month.

MI Connection is the publicly owned and operated cable and Internet system serving the towns of Mooresville, Davidson and Cornelius in the counties of Mecklenburg and Iredell. It was originally a former Adelphia-owned cable system that fell into disrepair before it was sold in a bankruptcy proceeding. MI Connection has proved financially challenging to the local communities it serves because the antiquated cable system required significant and costly upgrades, faces fierce competition from AT&T and Time Warner Cable, and lacks the technological advantage fiber to the home offers other public networks like Greenlight in Wilson and Fibrant in Salisbury. Despite the challenges, MI Connection has successfully upgraded its broadband infrastructure with the fastest speeds available in the area — up to 60/10Mbps.

Tillis helped shepherd into law the 2011 bill that Time Warner Cable helped write and sponsor designed to stop public networks like MI Connection from expanding and new public networks ever seeing the light of day. The legislation places strict limits on public broadband network deployment and financing. The bill Brawley introduced would have chipped away at the law’s limits on network expansion. Brawley’s letter suggests Tillis had direct involvement stopping his bill from getting further consideration.



Both Brawley and Tillis represent portions of the MI Connection service area.

Time Warner Cable has a long history pushing for community broadband bans in North Carolina, but the bills never became law when the legislature was still in the hands of Democrats. But in late 2010, Republicans took control of the state house for the first time in more than a century. Time Warner Cable’s fortunes brightened considerably under Republicans like Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Wake). Avila willingly met with Time Warner Cable’s top lobbyist to coordinate movement on the community broadband ban legislation she introduced and after it became law was honored by the state cable lobby at a retreat in Asheville.

Tillis, who became speaker of the house in 2011 under the new GOP majority, received $37,000 in telecom contributions in 2010–2011 (despite running unopposed in 2010), which is more than any other state lawmaker and significantly more than the $4,250 he received 2006–2008 combined. AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon each gave Tillis $1,000 in early-mid January, just before he was sworn in as speaker on January 26. Tillis was in a key position to make sure the anti-competitive bill moved along the legislative pipeline.

Last summer, Time Warner Cable returned the favor inviting Tillis to serve a prominent role at a media event inaugurating its Wi-Fi network in time for last year’s Democratic National Convention, held at the Time Warner Cable Arena.

Despite all that, newspapers in the state are having trouble determining exactly what ties Tillis has to Time Warner Cable. The Raleigh News & Observer noted, “It’s unclear what relationship Tillis might have to Time Warner. His financial disclosure lists no connection.”

miconnectionlogoThe Greensboro News & Record published a non-denial denial from Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw: “Shaw said he doesn’t know of any business relationship between Tillis and Time Warner.” The paper added, “a regional Time-Warner spokesman said Tillis has no ties to the company.”

“Not knowing” is not a total denial and a legislator need not have direct ties to a company to be influenced by their agenda through lobbyists like the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association, the statewide cable trade association that includes Time Warner Cable as its largest member. Then there are third-party groups.

A May 7 editorial in the News & Observer pointed out Tillis does have close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group financed in part by Time Warner Cable and cited by CEO Glenn Britt as a useful asset to the cable operator because it was “particularly focused on telecom matters.” The commentary, “ALEC’s Guy is Thom Tillis,” reminded readers Tillis wasn’t just a casual member of the corporate-funded group, he’s a national board member. In fact, Stop the Cap! has learned he was ALEC’s 2011 Legislator of the Year. On hand at the 2011 New Orleans ALEC event to applaud Tillis were more than two dozen fellow North Carolina Republican legislators, including Reps. Marilyn Avila and Julia Howard.

alec-logo-smAmong the model, corporate ghost-written bills ALEC maintains in its extensive database is one that restricts or bans publicly owned broadband networks, similar to what passed in North Carolina in 2011.

The fortunes of ALEC (and the corporations that underwrite its operations) have continued to improve in North Carolina this year. The News & Observer notes:

ALEC, as it’s known, has provided language for bills that [have been] used this session in North Carolina, ranging from creating an independent board to take charter school governance away from the State Board of Education to protecting a Philadelphia-based company from lawsuits involving asbestos exposure to installing an anti-union amendment in the state constitution. Closer to home, the Civitas Institute, a conservative group, used ALEC literature in an indoctrination…er, training…session for freshman lawmakers.

"I wish you'd turn the camera off now because I am going to get up and leave if you don't," said Rep. Julia Howard

“I wish you’d turn the camera off now because I am going to get up and leave if you don’t,” said Rep. Julia Howard

Uncovering the corporate influence and pay to play politics pervasive in North Carolina’s legislature on broadband matters has proved historically scandalous for members and ex-members alike, as Stop the Cap! has reported for more than four years:

Tillis is following in others’ footsteps and is suspected of having even bigger political ambitions for 2014 — challenging the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Kay Hagan.

The News & Observer thinks Tillis is forgetting about the people who elected him to office:

For North Carolinians of any political philosophy, however, the larger concern here is that laws are being written by those outside the state with only an ideological interest. ALEC, except for advancing its agenda, likely could care less about issues specific to North Carolina, things of intense, day-to-day concern to North Carolinians.

And not only are bills being influenced by ALEC, the speaker of the House is on the group’s board.

Thom Tillis and his Republican mates on Jones Street weren’t elected to march to orders issued by some national organization. Perhaps if they kept their eyes and ears open for constituents, their legislative agenda might be more about them and less about doing ALEC’s bidding.

Brawley himself is not free from controversy. In addition to attending the aforementioned ALEC event in New Orleans with Tillis, Avila, and Howard, earlier this year Brawley introduced House Bill 640, legislation that would roll back ethics reforms and allow lobbyists to once again give gifts to state lawmakers without any public disclosure.

Brawley told WRAL-TV that required ethics classes on gifts and disclosure requirements “are useless for anyone without internal ethics anyway. They only tell you the law. They do not guarantee integrity. What makes you think a person without ethics is going to obey a law anyway?”

The laws were enacted after a major 2006 scandal involving then-House Speaker Jim Black.

Corrections: In the original article, we mistakenly identified the News & Observer as a Charlotte newspaper. It is actually published in Raleigh. We also wrote that House Bill 557 died without being assigned to any committee for consideration. We received word the bill was actually referred to the Committee on Government on Apr. 4, 2013 where no further action was apparently taken. We regret the errors.

Community-Owned MI-Connection Launches Speed War That Benefits North Carolina

Phillip Dampier November 8, 2012 Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, MI-Connection, Public Policy & Gov't Comments Off on Community-Owned MI-Connection Launches Speed War That Benefits North Carolina

A community-owned cable system that critics called “a municipal broadband failure” is proving to be anything but as it aggressively launches a broadband speed war and is narrowing its losses on the road to profitability.

MI-Connection is the community-owned cable system serving Mooresville, Davidson, and Cornelius, N.C.

Originally acquired in 2007 from bankrupt Adelphia Cable, MI-Connection has been a favorite target for municipal broadband critics who have painted the operation as an experiment gone wrong and a financial failure. But the system’s latest financial results and its forthcoming free broadband speed upgrades tell a different story.

Residents will see major boosts in their broadband speeds for no additional charge in December thanks to a broadband service upgrade. Meanwhile, competitor Time Warner Cable has announced new fees for cable modem rentals that will raise many customer bills by $4 a month. (MI-Connection does not charge customers a rental fee when they have just one cable modem on their account.)

The speed increases will provide the fastest download-upload speed combination in the area, thanks to faster upstream speeds. These upgrades launch Dec. 10:

  • 8/4Mbps service upgrades to 10/5Mbps
  • 12/4Mbps service upgrades to 15/5Mbps
  • 16/4Mbps service upgrades to 20/5Mbps
  • 20/4Mbps service upgrades to 30/10Mbps

Also on that date, MI-Connection will launch its fastest Internet tier yet, tentatively dubbed Warp Speed, offering 60/10Mbps service with a free wireless router for bundled customers, selling faster service at up to $20 less per month than what Time Warner charges:

  • $99.95/month broadband service only
  • $89.95/month when bundled with one other service
  • $79.95/month when bundled with phone and television service

Warp Speed will be the fastest residential broadband available in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties.

MI-Connection hopes accelerating improvements in broadband will also accelerate additional earnings. MI-Connection continues to earn the bulk of its revenue from television, with broadband and phone lagging behind. But the biggest growth in revenue year over year comes from broadband service.

Last summer, MI-Connection reached another milestone — it delivered its first cash payments back to the communities that took a chance on owning and running their own telecommunications provider. Although the total amount of $277,000 was modest, and the company still has to pay down debt incurred from purchasing and upgrading the cable system, it was a symbolic victory against anti-government, anti-municipal broadband naysayers.

More elusive is tracking the amount of money saved by residents finding Time Warner Cable and area phone companies ready and willing to offer stunning rate cuts in customer retention efforts.

Stop the Cap! has tracked some of those offers over the past several years, based on reader input.

Time Warner Cable’s retention department has offered North Carolina customers with active competition in their area prices as low as $100 a month (after taxes and fees) for triple play packages that include a free year of Showtime and 30/5Mbps broadband. Customers who only want broadband and television have been able to negotiate rates averaging $70 a month, especially after pointing out MI-Connection provides a year of its own phone, broadband, and TV service for $89.99 a month, including three free months of HBO.

“Year after year, renewing these prices just takes a phone call mentioning you received a flyer from MI-Connection offering more for less,” says Stop the Cap! reader Sam, who we contacted this morning for an update on our earlier story in April. “Whether you stay with Time Warner or switch to MI-Connection, you can easily save dozens of dollars a month just mentioning one provider to the other.”

Courtesy: Davidson News

Sam remains a Time Warner Cable customer based on what he calls “a simple matter of economics and what my wife wants to spend.” But he still supports the fact MI-Connection is there, even though it has created some early headaches for Mooresville, Davidson, and Cornelius.

“The conservatives have demagogued MI-Connection to death to win seats in local government but recently have stopped attacking it as an outright failure and are now claiming they want to make it successful so they can sell it off in a few years, probably to their pals at Time Warner,” Sam reflects.

“At the rate MI-Connection is cutting their losses, it might actually be profitable then,” Sam argues. “Selling it would be stupid. But a lot of the current crowd is hellbent on selling it no matter what, mostly for ideological reasons, and after Time Warner buys it for cheap, we’ll all pay even more when they put the rates back up.”

Critics of MI-Connection have help from various astroturf groups, backed largely by telecommunications companies who oppose government involvement in broadband. Particularly notorious is the “Coalition for the New Economy,” which issues negative reports about municipal broadband while burying the fact the group is funded in part by AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and other Big Telecom lobbyists.

The “Coalition” issues various reports mostly summarizing news accounts about community broadband that highlight struggles and ignore successes, while concluding that community broadband is interfering with private providers trying to hurry upgrades into neglected areas.

“A report from some group that lies never brought better broadband access to anyone in North Carolina,” Sam said. “MI-Connection has become a thorn that must be pulled from Time Warner’s backside because MI actually does provide better service.”

Time Warner Cable’s War on North Carolina’s MI-Connection; Price-Slashing, Overbuilding

Phillip Dampier April 23, 2012 Community Networks, Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, MI-Connection, Public Policy & Gov't Comments Off on Time Warner Cable’s War on North Carolina’s MI-Connection; Price-Slashing, Overbuilding

At a time when cable operators are more reluctant than ever to overbuild into another operator’s territory, something very strange is going on in central North Carolina.

Time Warner Cable is moving into the neighborhood — one already receiving service from a community-owned cable operator.  That would be like Time Warner moving into one of Comcast’s service areas.  For some reason, those large cable companies completely avoid competing head-to-head, but where community-owned provider MI-Connection has managed to sign up around 15,000 customers for service, Time Warner Cable has also arrived.

As a result, customers north of Charlotte, in communities around Davidson and Mooresville, are getting some amazing prices for cable television, phone, and broadband.  Time Warner will even deliver an offer right to your front door.

Susan Wagner in Mooresville got her deal when she threatened to cancel Time Warner Cable and return to MI-Connection.

“(Time Warner) gave everyone a really good offer when they first came in and then drove up the price after a while,” Wagner told the Charlotte Observer.

When Wagner called to cancel, Time Warner sent an employee to her door offering to slash her cable bill by $50 a month, enough to keep her business.

Other residents in nearby Cornelius are also getting prices substantially lower than residents in cities like Charlotte, where many residents have one choice for cable: Time Warner.  Sam, a Stop the Cap! reader in the Morrison Plantation neighborhood, noted they skipped the last few rate increases from the cable company.

“You just call and tell them the rate is too high and as soon as they find out you have MI-Connection as an alternative, they lower the price,” he said. “My niece in Charlotte can’t get the same deal even when we gave her the details — it’s only good in areas where MI-Connection operates.”

That leaves Charlotte residents paying $35-50 more a month than savvy customers further north can have for the asking.

“It sounds like predatory pricing to me when the company offers a special low price that people like my niece are probably subsidizing on their higher bill,” Sam suspects.

The Observer reports Time Warner is also laying cable in other neighborhoods, such as Heritage Green, where the cable company is soliciting business from MI-Connection subscribers door-to-door.

MI-Connection’s CEO, David Auger, formerly from Time Warner Cable himself, claims he’s unconcerned about Time Warner’s aggressive overbuild of his service area.

But the state’s largest commercial cable company has been signing up some of MI-Connection’s current customer base and successfully holding its existing customers in place with significant discounts on service.  Since last July, MI-Connection signed up 667 new customers, but also lost 577 others, most likely to Time Warner Cable.

MI-Connection was launched from the ashes of a bankrupt Adelphia Cable system acquired by the communities of Mooresville and Davidson.  After investing in a needed system upgrade, the community owned provider relaunched service nearly identical technically to other cable systems.  Unlike Wilson and Salisbury, where new fiber-to-the-home systems were built, MI-Connection offers a more traditional cable package.

That makes competition with Time Warner Cable more difficult, but the community provider is trying.  Time Warner Cable’s regular pricing in the area runs $68.49 a month for 85 basic channels.  MI-Connection sells 86 channels for $61.99.  But when customers call Time Warner to complain about their higher prices, the cable operator dramatically lowers them to keep the customer’s business.

“The regular price only matters until you call and complain about it,” says Sam.

There have been complaints, but many of them are less about the cable bill and more about politics.  MI-Connection has not come cheap either town, which had to cover some of the costs of a needed system upgrade and service installation, estimated to run about $1,000 for every new customer signed.

Last fall, mayoral challenger Vince Winegardner made local government involvement in broadband a political issue, saying the purchase of the cable system was a mistake.  He lost his bid, but the system’s money needs remain a frequent topic of discussion in all of the communities involved in MI-Connection, and earlier this year the company company asked for $1.1 million from Davidson and Mooresville to ride out the rest of the fiscal year.

Time Warner’s recent interest in invading a fellow cable operator’s service area and slashing prices for those customers has raised the question whether their overbuild is about competition or predatory pricing to drive MI-Connection out of business.

Wagner doesn’t seem to mind either way, telling the Observer it is a “win-win” for her, scoring a lower cable bill with Time Warner.

But Sam isn’t so sure the savings will last.

“It seems pretty clear to me that Time Warner isn’t hurrying to compete with Comcast or Charter — just MI-Connection and that makes me suspicious,” Sam says. “After spending all that money to ban community broadband in the state, they now seem to be trying to drive out of business the handful of companies that were exempted.”

“My niece is probably paying for this right now on her cable bill too, and once MI-Connection is out of the way, those prices will shoot right back up,” Sam concludes.

Loud Critic of North Carolina Community Broadband Exposed As Time Warner Cable Employee

Phillip "Not a Time Warner Cable Employee" Dampier

One of the most vociferous critics of the publicly-owned cable system serving the communities of Mooresville, Cornelius and Davidson, N.C. has been exposed as an employee of Time Warner Cable.

MI-Connection, the community-owned cable system, has been subjected to withering criticism since town leaders purchased it from bankrupt Adelphia Cable in 2007.  The efforts to rebuild the system to current standards has proved time-consuming and expensive, and ongoing expenses will require an investment of at least $17 million over the next three years to keep the cable system up and running.  Despite the fact Time Warner Cable has run into larger, more expensive headaches rebuilding similar rundown Adelphia systems they purchased in Ft. Worth, Texas and Los Angeles, critics of community cable have pounced on the costly rebuild to attack public involvement in private enterprise and suggest city officials have not competently run the operation.

Some of the loudest criticism has come in the comment sections of local newspapers and media sites.  Just as Fibrant has faced similar attacks in the comment section of the Salisbury Post, critics of MI-Connection have piled on in newspapers like the Davidson News and Hunterville’s Herald Weekly.  One of the loudest critics of all, Andy Stevens, even started a blog devoted to attacking what he calls “Government Cable.”

David Boraks, editor of the Davidson News, has reported extensively on MI-Connection, and he reads the comments that follow his articles published online, including those written by Stevens.

In a story written today by Boraks, the Davidson News revealed a fact that consumers, the media, and local officials deserved to know — Stevens works for Time Warner Cable.  That revelation comes despite repeated earlier denials from Stevens when asked by reporters and local officials if he worked for the cable company.

Mooresville, North Carolina

How did the newspaper find out about Mr. Stevens’ day job?

MI-Connection board chair John Venzon has gotten fed up reading unrelenting, and often fact-free attacks on the publicly owned cable system he oversees.  Venzon told the Herald Weekly he used to ignore the often anonymous critics of the local cable system, but he’s changing tactics.  Venzon and some other MI-Connection supporters have jumped into the online debate, correcting false information and taking on some of the cable system’s loudest critics, including Stevens.

As part of that effort, Venzon decided to publicly disclose a recent encounter with Stevens at a local shopping center.  Venzon was especially interested to find Stevens wearing a Time Warner Cable uniform, driving a Time Warner Cable truck.

Venzon went public on the Davidson News website Friday:

I would like to point out that today we confirmed that Andy Stevens, a frequent attendee at our board meetings and vocal community critic works for Time Warner Cable. He was greeted by one of our employees while in a TWC uniform and driving one of their logo-ed vehicles. He has been active in using our publicly available information to turn our potential customers against us and to stir up fear, uncertainty and doubt about MI-Connection while hiding his motives. He does not live in our town or service area, so he does not ‘have a dog in the fight’ unless you consider who signs his paycheck. Could I attend competitors’ regular board meetings to see what they are doing?

To make matters worse, he has used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to every communication between the towns, the board and management. So Time Warner does in fact sit in our meetings … and we are required to provide the meeting notes.

In corporate America, this would constitute espionage. In our situation, it is free and legal. I find it deplorable. I hope you agree.

I believe we should be required to report information just as publicly traded companies do and would adhere to all such requirement. That system promotes transparency to shareholders on a quarterly basis. In addition, we would continue to attend town board meetings and community roundtables to disclose information to citizens.

In another setting, I would be happy to debate the merits of public ownership of a utility that promotes the well being of its citizens and businesses within their community. However, we are in the midst of executing a decision that was made several years ago and are responsible to grow the business.

I do not mind a fair fight, and we must win based on the value of our products and services. However, don’t unfairly give advantage to our competitors and put our citizens at greater risk.


Boraks has gotten an admission from Stevens he does, in fact, work for Time Warner Cable, a pertinent detail omitted from Stevens’ anti-MI-Connection blog.  Before deleting about a dozen articles attacking the community cable system, Stevens even noted on the home page of his website, “As I have a full time job, this effort will be accomplished during my free time (evenings and weekends),” without bothering to disclose what that job was.  His “About” section didn’t make mention of his employer either.

The now-defunct blog of secret Time Warner Cable employee Andy Stevens

Now that Time Warner Cable, a regular critic of community-owned broadband, has been put in the embarrassing position of having an employee indirectly do its dirty work, a company spokesman was reduced to telling Boraks they cannot control what their employees do.

But apparently behind closed doors, all is not sweetness and light between Stevens and his employer.  Stevens’ highly active blog suddenly was deprived of all its content after revelations about his employer made the newspaper.  Bing’s cache of Stevens’ site (which Stop the Cap! has captured) shows he had plenty to say about the cable system — none of it good.  That all changed today.

Boraks opined in his piece in the News that Stevens ongoing denials of involvement with Time Warner Cable and his lack of disclosure left him concerned.

Indeed, Stevens’ efforts to hide his employer’s identity and his subsequent decision to bring his blog down after the cat was let out of the bag suggests there is nothing for Stevens or Time Warner Cable to be proud of in their relentless, often sneaky efforts to bring community-owned competition to its knees.  When it comes to protecting duopoly profits of local cable and phone companies in North Carolina, it’s total war on all fronts.

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