AT&T’s $10.00 DSL Not “Offered”

David Isenberg at his exemplary Isenblog points out that AT&T is not really living up to the agreements it made to get the BellSouth merger approved. He uses a LPF post as a point of departure, noting that while it is possible to find the $10.00 DSL offer I referred readers to it is not easy to locate and, even more significantly, you cannot get to the offer from even the difficult-to-locate page I found. I had not realized that but, upon digging further, found it to be absolutely true. Mea Culpa! Following the link on the BellSouth page leads you to the general AT&T DSL page and after giving them your local phone number as part of the “order” process for the cheapest visible alternative they still don’t give the customer (you and me) any sense that there might be a legally mandated, still cheaper offer available. To go any further you have to complete the order and await contact by email….since I’ve no intention to order DSL service I stopped there. But the fact is clear: You cannot get to the $10.00 offer unless you already know it is there and are willing to interrupt the normal ordering process to demand it.

Isenberg correctly notes that this is not “offering” the service in the sense that the FCC required. Posting the offer on your website in such a way that only Google can find it and then adding insult to injury by funneling a person who has laboriously located the “good deal” for “Fast DSL Lite” to a page where a $10.00 offer isn’t visible but a “New Lower Price Fast DSL Lite” at $19.95 is, cannot be called anything but deceptive.

Isenberg goes on to note that this isn’t the only evasion of its merger “deal” with the feds that AT&T seems to be ignoring:

It agreed to offer “naked DSL” within six months of the merger agreement — that would be June 30, 2007, and there’s no naked DSL offer from AT&T I can find today, July 6, 2007, either. The FAQ still says, To enjoy FastAccess DSL [FastAccess is what AT&T calls all its DSL services], you’ll need to have local phone service with BellSouth.”

AT&T also pledged to make wireline DSL available to 85% of the households in its territory by the end of 2007. Will it, or is this yet another Kushnick?* (A Kushnick is what a Bell does when it gets a Quid for a future Pro Quo, which it doesn’t ever deliver.)

AT&T has already announced that it will be developing technology to violate its pledge of Network Neutrality;

I’ve long since gotten to the cynical spot where I automatically assume that any obligation that BS/AT&T or Cox make that can be evaded will be evaded. They simply don’t act in good faith. I’m so inured to such behavior that I barely notice it and simply assume that if you want a fair shake you’ll have to fight for it. But Isenberg is right. You shouldn’t have to.

AT&T should simply honor its word. That it casually declines to do so when it is not to its immediate fiscal advantage is the best possible reason for not doing business with them.

VOE: “Cincinnati Bell Wireless launches Wi-Fi/cell service”

Voice of Experience Files:

From our new “Voice of Experience” files: Lafayette will want to note that wifi/cellular convergence is emerging at the edges of the cellular business.

LUS’ unique fiber/wifi IP-based network will allow some pretty nifty voice services to emerge. Our utility will be able to put together an interesting Voice ecology that combines VOIP on fiber with its wifi network to allow your personal phone number to reach you in multiple ways, to enable on-the-fly conference calling (with video?), access back to data held online or in your base computer, combined chat/voice/video/SMS connectivity, digital recording, message forwarding to any IP address, and more…

Most LPF readers are, I suspect, care most about the internet and recognize the central role cable TV will play in paying off the system. Relative to those highlights, voice gets ignored. Maybe it shouldn’t be—convergence is moving from talking to commercial products in the voice arena and Lafayette will be positioned to ride the wave as wifi mobile telephony emerges while our system is built over the next 18 months. (What we need is a partnership with a mobile carrier…on which more below.)

The immediate inspiration for those reflections? Margaret Reardon’s blog entry on the launch of Cincinnati Bell’s* new wifi/cell service. (Their local paper has a short article as well.)

The long and the short of it is that your phone will switch seamlessly between the cellular network and approved wifi networks. The service is an add-on 10 dollar a month charge on your wireless bill. Partially offsetting that monthly charge is the fact that any time you are on a wifi network your minutes are free. Really. And that “approved” means approved by you, not Cincinnati Bell. You can validate you personal or work or favorite coffee house wifi network as a connection point. Or you can use Cincinnati Bell’s own wifi network of 300 points without any setup at all. Get near one and your phone call switches over to wifi automatically and your minutes are still free. (Incidentally, Cincinnati Bell offers free access to its wifi network as part of its wired high-speed internet package; I hope LUS will do something similar.)

T-Mobile is the national cell carrier who is widely rumored to be planning the nationwide launch of a similar service, Hotspot@Home, in a few days. (They’ve been trialling it in Washington state.) That makes T-Mobile the obvious candidate for cellular partnership with LUS. The trade-off would be simple: LUS gets a national cellphone partner whose phone will work across the country and who is actively developing new integrated services. (Nobody will buy a wifi service that only works in the city of Lafayette.) T-Mobile gets virtually guaranteed dominance in Lafayette and the environs. (If you do most of your calling from within the city you can easily go with the least expensive calling plan since those calls won’t run up minutes. Who wouldn’t go with cheap–and local?) It could be a great deal.

Voice is something to watch. And Cincinnati Bell and T-Mobile are the actors to follow.

*Cincinnati Bell is one of those “asterisk” companies — part of the Bell system since 1878 but never owned by Ma Bell, it is probably the largest “independent, local” phone company in the nation. This first-in-the-country initiative is further evidence that local ownership of telecom networks is a good thing.

Geeky extra: Both Cincinnati Bell and T-Mobile are using a “glue” technology called UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) which allows providers, and to a lesser extent users, to hook into multiple protocols and tools. Most crucially for the current discussion it facilitates seamless handoffs between cellular and wireless networks. But it goes much further than that. If you are masochistic enough to want to follow it out you can start at the rather thin and querulous wikipedia page.

“Cheap wi-fi too slow”

“Cheap wi-fi too slow” so says :

Bill Tolpegin is vice-president of planning and development for the municipal networks unit of Earthlink, a US-based company that built municipal wi-fi networks for cities including New Orleans, Philadelphia and Anaheim and has been asked to devise plans for networks in San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta.

This is in line with Lafayette Pro Fiber’s long-held position—wireless broadband as currently conceived is not a viable substitute for a wired network. But that’s a pretty shocking comment coming from a major player in the muni wifi business who has been selling wifi as if it were a subsitute (not an addition) to a powerful wired system–What Tolpegin is saying is that his companies networks are too slow. Why? The answer is instructive for Lafayette:

He says the wireless mesh technology advanced as enabling wi-fi to quickly and cheaply cover wide areas can only do so at very slow speeds…

The mesh is slow because it relays data from access point to access point, he says. As traffic hops over these networks the available bandwidth is quickly consumed relaying data back onto a faster, wired network, greatly reducing the bandwidth available for each user.

The only way to get around this problem, Mr Tolpegin says, is to create “injection points” on mesh networks where data is transferred to a different network in order to relieve the wi-fi mesh of the need to carry all data, all of the time.

Translated: mesh networks need to consist of less mesh and a higher percentage of nodes that tie directly into the high-speed, wired, backbone. Mesh technologies, which promised a cheap infrastructure built on few–hence cheap–backbone connections isn’t panning out in practice.

There’s more:

Earthlink has struggled to find commercially viable ways to make the task easier. “Nobody has high-bandwidth, low-cost networks that deliver,” he says. “They are not telling the truth, not even the WiMax vendors.”

The answer, he says, is far denser deployment of wi-fi access points.

So Earthlink’s hard-won experience tells people two things about building high-speed wireless networks:

  1. minimize the mesh, work as close to the wired backbone as is possible
  2. maximize the density of the nodes

Lafayette’s unique situation—with the wifi provider running a massively capable fiber network down every street—allows us to take a slightly different perspective on these truths. Because we will make an extremely capable network available to every user at a very reasonable price there will be little pressure to make the wireless network in Lafayette struggle to provide “dsl” or “cable” equivalent capacities for fixed uses. We’ll have fiber at our fingertips for in-home and business use. Should we want wireless inside our house we can easily provide it for ourselves. The wireless network can be “freed” to be the wireless, mobile extension of the full network—not a low-priced substitute for it.

With LUS both the fiber owner and the wifi provider, it relatively easy for Lafayette to follow Earthlink’s advice about minimizing the mesh. Earthlink has to pay, every month for every drop off the hardwired network and for the bandwidth it consumes. Lafayette will only have to pay once for the hardware drop and the incremental cost of using that bandwidth will be very nearly zero to the extent that taffic remains within the LUS network . Earthlink and LUS will be in radically different fiscal postures and the advantage is all to LUS (and her customers). In fact, LUS already appears to be planning to minimize the mesh in its network—the intial order was for a 1:1 ratio between fiber fed nodes and “radio-only” nodes. (The story says that Earthlink is struggling toward a 2:1 ratio between backhaul feed nodes and radio-only ones.)

Earthlink’s advice about node density is, no doubt, also a good one. I’ve no idea how densely LUS is planning to pack our network. But it is worth noting that what they are buying with denser placement is faster speeds–wifi speeds fall off dramatically as you move away from the node. Because Lafayette’s wireless mobility system will not be burdened with being an adequate subtitute for a DSL or cable system—as it is when it is introduced as a cheap alternative to those products—we’ll be able to consider a density that works best for wireless’ unique mobility functions. Currently those applications center around data and voice and require less bandwidth than video. (Though video, albeit small video, appears to be coming.)

All in all Lafayette’s decision to emphasize building a fiber network as the best choice for a community network seems more prescient every day. Wireless is not an ideal technology for your primary network; its best role is to be hung off an advanced wireline network to serve those mobile purposes fixed wireline connections cannot fill. And, as an additional, ironic benefit it turns out that the most economically sustainable way to get a cheap, truly high-bandwidth wifi network is to commit to building your own fiber to the home network first.

Lafayette is doing it right.

Lafayette’s Bus Routes to be Tracked Live

Here’s a little dream that you should see live by the end of the summer: A webpage that tracks the position of all the city buses in real time.

The Advertiser runs the story this morning. The gist:

“This allows us to give information to the public,” Mitchell said.

“They can go online and see where their bus is in relation to their bus stop in real time.”

Those who use the online service will be able to set an alarm at a specific point on the route, that will alert them when their bus reaches that point on the map in relation to the bus stop, Mitchell said.

Now that is nifty. There are all sorts of public safety, scheduling, and efficiency reasons to keep close track on the position of your buses. (The major package delivery corporations and many of the long-haul trucking firms and airlines already do this. —I recently was able to track a friends’ flight from San Antonio to Lafayette in real time on the carrier’s website. We left the house when the plane hit the parish line and met her coming off the breezeway.)

There’s not much in the way of a hint as to how this info will be provided. It’d be great if it could be provided in a format that would allow anyone to use it…for instance to provide a feed that would be usable on a cell phone or as a module on a community commons site.

(Google is testing a format for such….Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) Here’s an example of how this works. The current iteration of the Google labs project doesn’t include a real-time feed that uses GPS data. But it is pretty clear that the right programmer could add that relatively simply using the Google API and tools like Gadgets to overlay the updated GPS coordinates. See Austin‘s implementation. (Hah!!! See update below, the overlay’s already been done.))

As fun as this is now imagine how useful it will be once the fiber-based wifi system is operational. Take your laptop, iphone, blackberry, cell or other net-connected device and track where your bus is now. No uncertainty, no trying to remember all the schedules for all the buses. You can be an occasional user. One of the differentiators for many people between large cities and small towns is how useful the public transit system is. Large cities like Chicago or San Francisco already use a version of this. Properly implemented this could go a long way toward making it practical — and comfortable — for people who do not have to use the transit system to do so. The folks downtown realize that:

Mitchell said the Web site combined with the GPS tracking is another method to make people aware of Lafayette’s bus system and how it works.

“This is another way we can get people to ride the buses and make it more convenient for our riders,” Mitchell said.

Good for the transit folks. Good for Lafayette. It will be a huge improvement over the current set of online pdf schedule maps which don’t appear to have been updated recently.

Update!!!.…in my poking about a bit more I found just what I want for Lafayette–Look at this google-based overlay of data piped through NextBus for San Francisco. It appears to update every 30 seconds or so. The google underpinning is free; all NextBus had to do was provide a java-based overlay of the current GPS reading for each bus. It works on my Mac, your PC, and any mobile device that can browse the web and play the java applet.

Creating a Lafayette Commons

Here’s something that’s worth the read on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It’s an inspiring essay titled “Reclaiming the Commons” by David Bollier. He bitterly complains about the growing tendency to allow our common resources and heritage —from concrete public property like oil or grazing rights on public land, to more abstract rights to goods created by regulation like the electro-magnetitc spectrum, to truly abstract (but very real and increasingly valuable) rights to common ideas and intellectual resources— those common resources are being taken from us and handed over to the few.

The argument is that we are all poorer for it. And that society would be richer if those things remained in the public domain. He convincingly argues that undue private ownership of ideas stifles the invention of new variants and new ideas.

The point for Lafayette is that we are about to create a new common resource: the Lafayette fiber intranet, and we are creating it as a publicly-owned resource. If Bollier is right then we have a real responsibility to make sure that our common property serves the common good and that it not be “enclosed” by the few.

We here in Lafayette will be in the nearly unique position of commonly owning a completely up-to-date telecommunications infrastructure ranging from a fiber-all-the-way-to-the-home network, to a wifi network using the capacity of that fiber. A citizen who wants to will be able to get all of his telecommunications needs met using local resources, resources that are owned in common.

A lot of what is missing on the web is access to local resources-the church calendar, the schedule for the shrimp truck, what vegetables are available at the farmer’s market, specials at the local restaurants, nearby childcare, adult ed resources, local jobs…and much more aren’t available or are the next best thing to impossible to usefully gather in one place. We could, by acting together, fix that.

Creating a thriving network-based commons is the task that is set before us. Bollier gives us some insight into the magnitude of what is at stake. We can, by the way we participate and what we create, create a truly common and truly valuable resource.

Give the Bollier article a look. Then think a bit about what we can do to make ours a transparently valuable network–one that will encourage all to participate fully.

(Hey, we can be idealists if we want. :-))

AT&T sez: “Your Network Are Belong To Us”

The “Lafayette did the right thing on July 16th 2005” department:

AT&T has reasserted its intention to dig through every packet you send over the internet to decide if it (not a court or a policeman) thinks that your content should be blocked. It boils downt to this: they think that, if on the balance, they would benefit financially from blocking your content they should be allowed to. And they are willing to say so straightforwardly.

Anyone who thinks the Net Neutrality wars are over has got another think coming. And, as before, AT&T (nee SBC & BS) is leading the way in demanding a newly privatized, corporatized internet. Connoisseurs of net history will recall that AT&T Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre kicked off the net neutrality wars by asserting the right to overthrown the common carriage rules that are in place and to establish fast, privileged lanes for special (read: large, wealthy, paying) purveyors of content. Their stuff would go to the head of the line. Your stuff would….wait. Last winters’ net neutrality battle that raged over the internet and in Congress and which eventually killed what seemed at one time a sure-thing telecom “reform” bill was a direct result of Whitacres impolitic utterances. (If you think that Big Ed’s recent retirement changes things you might want to read Mike’s recent post on his successor: it’s not Ed, is not his clone Stephenson, its not the senior VP whose interview kicks off this review–it’s the corporate culture of AT&T.)

Here’s the gist of the story from the LATimes:

In mid-March, executives at Viacom and the Motion Picture Assn. of America separately approached [AT&T senior vice president] Cicconi with the idea of a partnership. Content providers have long looked for a network solution to piracy, but no operator had been willing to join with them.

AT&T thought about it and:

The company’s top leaders recently decided to help Hollywood protect the digital copyrights to that content.

Leading to a summit of sorts:

Last week, about 20 technology executives from Viacom Inc., its Paramount movie studio and other Hollywood companies met at AT&T headquarters to start devising a technology that would stem piracy but not violate privacy laws or Internet freedoms espoused by the Federal Communications Commission.

Now that’s a misleading “but.” The current FCC’s position is that everything the Telecoms want to do is hunky dory from refusing to investigate illegal wiretapping to allowing the reconstitution of the nation’s largest telecom monopoly: AT&T. Really, the spectacle of AT&T getting pious over Hollywood’s piracy laws is really smoke and mirrors. After all AT&T has been totally uninterested in helping prevent piracy when piracy was a profit center for them–when it helped them sell broadband. What has changed is that AT&T has decided it wants to be in the good graces of the Hollywood moguls who control the video content the company will have to buy in order to offer cable-like IPTV. To wit:

As AT&T has begun selling pay-television services, the company has realized that its interests are more closely aligned with Hollywood, Cicconi said in an interview Tuesday. The company’s top leaders recently decided to help Hollywood protect the digital copyrights to that content.

Now people DO notice when this sort of shuffling is going on. Gigi Sohn of Public knowledge remarks:

“AT&T is going to act like the copyright police, and that is going to make customers angry,” she said. “The good news for AT&T is that there’s so little competition that where else are the customers going to go?”

Just for the record, not every corporation is a craven as AT&T:

Verizon Communications Inc., which has fiercely guarded the privacy of its customers, has refused so far to offer a network anti-piracy tool. It defeated in court the recording industry’s demands to reveal names of those allegedly involved in downloading pirated songs.

AT&T is wondering if they can’t use Hollywood to get them permission to call the current internet broken and allow the the sort of deep packet inspection and content provder surcharges that they’ve been after recently. That argument failed last year in Congress because it failed so badly with the internet-using public. The potential new plan is all too transparent: Perhaps the “only” way to “secure” copyrighted works would be to make sure they are only downloaded from the owners’ websites and to interdict all other copies. AT&T would deep packet inspect all of your little bits and bytes…and Google’s…and anyone else who didn’t pay the vigorish to get put on the “pre-approved” list. Their (paid for) downloads would be fast, yours and other’s (unpaid) would get the slow inspection. Imagine waiting in line while some dim-witted mechanized inspector paws through your stuff and asks you if you really own your underwear…while a select few zip past “pre-approved” by virtue of having paid of the private security guards–legally, of course. (Does this sound utterly unlikely and too unnatural to be a real possibility? If you think so you’ve not been watching the parallel madness over “Goodmail” with whom our local “friend in the digital age” Cox recently joined. If you pay Goodmail, which pays Cox, you can bypass Cox’s spam filters….this is presented as a “solution” to the spam problem!)

Such stuff should be illegal; it is an abuse of the ownership of a vital transport utility. In our history railroads, canals, and shipping lanes were not allowed to establish “favorites.” That was the essence of common carriage. We shouldn’t allow the current robber barons to change that.

The solution for individuals is to move your personal accounts to a small, reasonably priced provider who is more beholden to you than to large corporate accounts. I recently moved my and my wife’s email domains to a provider who allows me to turn off and on their spam filtering after overly aggressive filtering bounced legitimate emails sent from both regional Cox and BellSouth servers as spam. With my new provider people no longer complain that my server is bouncing their legitimate mail back to them. My new provider gives me complete control. Frankly, most folks don’t want to have to go that far to protect themselves; they’d rather they had a provider they could trust. Unfortunately, in most communities as in Lafayette, the incumbents have demonstrated that they are not worthy of that trust.

The solution for communities is to own your own last mile. It’s not just that you’ll get a better price. (Though you will.) It’s not just that you’ll get better tech. (Though you will.) It’s that you’ll get a system owner that you can trust, one that owes its first allegiance to you and not to the cash flow your subscription offers distant, self-interested owners.

That is why Lafayette made the right decision on July 16th two years ago when it voted to build and operate its own fiber-optic network.

“All our networks are belong to us.”

Thinking in Tucson, AZ: Getting it Right

Muniwireless points to a study, meant to inform about how to write up a request for proposals for Tucson’s prospective wireless RFP that caught my attention. First, the extent of the research and the detail in the study far exceeds that which goes into most full proposals, much less the RFP. A large amount of information about broadband usage, digital divide issues, and market questions is in this study—enough to provide plenty of well-researched data to support both public purposes (like economic expansion and bridging the digital divide) and to support a strong marketing plan (it includes current costs of broadband and geographical usage patterns).

Lafayette needs such a public document. Without the baseline it provides it will be difficult to demonstrate the success of the fiber project. You need such a baseline to demonstrate the economic benefits and to document the effects of lower cost broadband on bringing new faces into the broadband world.

But if possible, even more impressive than the original survey research was the quality of thought exhibited. Doing a study like this is a job–and most folks are tempted to do the job to specs even if that is not what is called for by the reality of the situation. CTC, the consultants doing this study didn’t succumb to that temptation. The job specs, it is clear, were to tell the city how to write an RFP that get private agencies to provide city-wide wifi without municipal investment. Universal coverage, closing the digital divide and economic development were apparently important parameters given the consultants.

Trouble is, it’s become clear that the private sector simply won’t, and perhaps can’t, fill that wishlist. And CTC, instead of just laying out what would give such an RFP the best chance, more or less told the city it couldn’t have all that without at least committing as the major anchor tenet. That was responsible, if unlikely to make the clients happy. And on at least two other points (Digital Divide issues and Fiber) they pushed their clients hard.

1) Digital Divide issues:

The interviews indicated that as computers become more affordable, the digital inclusion challenge that needs to be addressed is not as much equipment-based but rather how to overcome the monthly Internet access charge. (p. 18)

Concentrate WiFi provider efforts on low-cost or free access – not the other elements of the digital divide. (p. 17)

Entering the digital community is no longer about hardware; it’s about connectivity. The hardware is a one-time expense that is getting smaller and smaller with each day. Owning a computer is no longer the issue it once was. Keeping it connected is the real fiscal barrier these days. As their survey work shows, the people most effected know this themselves.

A CTC review of Lafayette’s project would note we’re doing several things they say most cities neglect to do: 1) LUS has consistently pushed lower prices as it major contribution to closing the digital divide—(and we must make sure that there is an extremely affordable lower tier available on both the FTTH and the WiFi components). 2) Ubiquitous coverage is a forgone conclusion; LUS will serve all–something no incumbent will promise (and something they have fought to prevent localities from requiring). 3) Avoiding means-testing. Lafayette’s planned solutions are all available to all…but most valuable and attractive to those with the least. Means-testing works (and is intended to work) to reduce the number of people taking advantage of the means-tested program. If closing the digital divide is the purpose means-testing is counterproductive.

About hardware, yes, working to systematically lower the costs and accessibility of hardware through wise selection, quantity purchase, and allowing people to pay off an inexpensive computer with a small amount each month on their telecom bill makes a lot of sense and should be pursued. But the prize is universal service and lowering the price of connectivity. Eyes, as is said, on the prize.

CTC additionally recommends against allowing extremely low speeds for the inclusion tier and for a built-in process for increasing that speed as the network proves itself. It also rejects the walled-garden approach, an approach which they discreetly don’t say out loud, turns the inclusion tier into a private reserve that will inevitably be run for the profit of the provider.

Good thinking…

2) The Necessity of Fiber

CTC also boldly emphasized fiber, not wireless, as the most desirable endpoint for Tucson.

We strongly recommend that the City of Tucson view the WiFi effort as a necessary first step, then look at ways to embrace and encourage incremental steps toward fiber deployment to large business and institutions, then smaller business, and eventually to all households. (p. 19)

Although wireless technologies will continue to evolve at a rapid pace, wireless will not replace fiber for delivering high-capacity circuits to fixed locations. In addition, fiber will always be a necessary component of any wireless network because it boosts capacity and speed. (p. 20)

The report explicitly rejects the theory that wireless will ever become the chief method for providing broadband service to fixed locations like businesses or homes. Few in the business of consulting on municipal wireless networking are so forthright in discussing the limitations of wireless technologies and the role of fiber in creating a successful wireless network that is focused on what wireless does best: mobile computing.

Again, good thinking.

Communities would do well to think clearly about what they want, what is possible, and the roles of fiber and wireless technologies can play in their communities’ futures. CTC has done a real service to the people of Tuscon. Too much unsupported and insupportable hype has driven muni wireless projects. That unrealistic start will come back to haunt municipal broadband efforts nationally as the failed assumptions show up in the form of failed projects. But those mistakes were not inevitable. The people of Lafayette should take some comfort in the fact that we haven’t made the sorts of mistakes that Tuscon’s consultants warn against and are planning on implementing its most crucial recommendations.

North Carolina Revisited

It looks like they are on top of it in Wilson, NC. The local Wilson newspaper has come out with a strong editorial condemning the North Carolina version of the “Local Government Fair Competition Act” Yes, that’s exactly the same misleading name given Louisiana’s BellSouth-authored version. Creative and original, these guys are not. (Previous LPF coverage of Wilson: 1, 2)

And the similarity is more than skin deep as is demonstrated by the following points from the Wilson editorial:

While some of the provisions can be justified, others are transparently intended to discourage cities or counties from creating competing networks, such as the fiber-optic network the city of Wilson is already installing.

Yep, they understand the basic purpose of this sort of legislation. And the essay covers other oddities we will recognize:

The bill… would for the first time require the N.C. Utilities Commission to regulate a municipal function. None of the usual municipal utilities — water, sewer, electricity or natural gas — is regulated by the Utilities Commission, which was established to protect consumers against monopolistic corporate giants. Because consumers are also voters and can change leadership at the next election, municipal utilities have been considered self-regulating.

In Louisiana the PSC is forbidden by the constitution to regulate municipalities. So we get around it by requiring that they do all the work of regulation but hand the legally indefensible segment over to the (drumroll, dramatic cymbal clash) the legislative auditor. (Hunh? Loud raspberry.) More similarities:

The bill also requires a public referendum on any financing for the system. Because these networks are expensive (Wilson’s estimated cost is $28 million), financing will be a necessity. While the bill requires a referendum, like a general obligation bond, it does not allow municipalities to repay the bond in the manner of a general obligation bond. In fact, it might make it impossible to repay the bond.

The bill forbids securing or repaying the bonds with anything other than revenues generated by the enterprise. It forbids paying any costs related to the bonds from “the local government’s general fund or public enterprise funds.” Because those are the only kinds of funds a municipality has, the bill essentially forbids making bond payments. And because it requires these networks to pay the equivalent of corporate and other taxes to the general fund, it requires the enterprise to subsidize the city.

Ok, this part sounds like the original version of he Louisiana bill in which BellSouth (now AT&T) set up the neat Catch-22 of 1) requiring an elaborate study 2) requiring that the study be paid for from revenue derived from the new utility. So in in order to plan to get the new utility up and running you had to already have the new utility up and running. Yossarian would understand perfectly. (And so should the people of North Carolina.)

The editors of the Wilson Times understand; they close their editorial with:

If this bill passes, cable monopolies will be unstoppable.

Lagniappe: Apparently the city council there is pretty enlightened as well; they’ve passed a unanimous resolution opposing the proposed law.

Just Not True: Cable Rates Not Falling in Texas

Here’s something to think about:

Competition has not led to lower basic cable-rates in Texas. (MultiChannel News)

That’s the long and the short of it according to a study by the Texas chapter of NATOA.

Two years ago Texas’ Telephone companies (basically SBC (now AT&T) and Verizon) used the Texas legislature’s famous penchant for failed deregulation to initiate a national push to move control of cable franchise from local communities to the state. The phone companies’ purpose was to avoid the demand that cable companies serve the entire community—and not just the most profitable part–if the companies wanted to use the right-of-way property owned by the community to turn a profit on the people living there. Local counties and municipalities consistently insisted on this principle….and the new state “regulators” (deregulators) do not. Louisiana dodged a bullet last year when Governor Blanco vetoed a similar bill approved by our legislators.

The Texas legislators were promised that they’d see “competition” and dramatic reductions in prices in exchange for removing local government’s ability to determine what is done with local property. And as the phone company juggernaut rolled through state legislatures they promised state after state the same — and told them it had worked in Texas, the first state in the union to enact such a law. They told that story about the success of competition in the halls of Congress as well. It was easy to believe; after all everyone knows that competition brings lower prices.

Except it hadn’t worked. And it still isn’t working….

You can take a look at the data gathered by the Texas chapter of NATAO. What is clearly shown is that the cable companies are not lowering their rates to compete with Verizon and SBC/BS/AT&T’s very limited rollout.

This is very similar to the disappointment that has accompanied the fashionable deregulation of electricity in a number of states. The data shows that the electricity is cheaper in the regulated states–and the gap is growing.

What’s wrong with picture? Why hasn’t “competition” worked? Legislators across the nation have endorsed the politically correct argument raised by the monopoly corporations that owned the electrical and telecom wires and bet their citizen’s money on the faith that deregulation would lead to falling prices. They, and their constituents, have lost that bet. And a whole lot of people are trying to make sure that the public does not notice.

Here is a hard truth: The blind faith that “deregulation” leads to true price competition is a false faith. In natural monopoly markets regulation–or public ownership–is the only real way to establish fair prices. Utility markets are monopoly markets…and giving the monopolists free reign won’t lower prices–quite the contrary. Utility deregulation is a failed experiment.

It is something the country as a whole ought to be thinking through rationally. The honest solution is to reinstitute real regulation where markets don’t work. Most places don’t have the resources to resist the drain on community wealth that private energy utilities and private telecommunications utilities represent. But a few communities, like Lafayette, can choose to opt out of the mistakes that the rest of the country is making. Lafayette has done so and will have its own locally-regulated power and telecom utilities.

Lafayette made the right choice on July 16th two years ago.

Lafayette, LA to Wilson, NC: Fight It!

Does this sound familiar?:

Wilson, NC is getting hit with aLocal Government Fair Competition Act” written up by their local incumbents (AT&T and Comcast) that intends to keep the city from expanding its current, successful fiber optic ring to provide its citizens with a little competition to the current phone and cable monopolies and the internet duopoly.

Sounds mighty familiar. That is exactly the title of the bill that has cost the people of Lafayette millions of dollars and which has delayed Lafayette’s fiber-optic project by 3 years. Without this law Lafayette’s citizens would be using their network now; instead we are just starting after a long obstructionist battle waged by the incumbents–all of which was enabled by the “Local Government Fair Competiton Act.”

Lafayette, Louisiana to Wilson, North Carolina: FIGHT IT. No half-a-loaf compromises, no handshakes, no backing off when offered a “grandfathering” clause.

People of Wilson: You cannot expect your opposition to honor any commitment it makes in conferences. They didn’t in Louisiana and you shouldn’t expect it in North Carolina. Without such a law you are free to make your own decisions and take responsibility for them. Such a law gives the incumbents the opening they need to sue you based on a law they have drafted. The incumbents will not hesitate to return to the legislature in the very next year to further “fix” the bill to disadvantage localities. They will use the law to pursue lawsuits that they cannot win. They will use lawsuits to simply delay project and they will use lawsuits to try and pursue interpretations of the law other than those they agreed to in conference. (Things got to such a pass here that even the legislator that skirted the rules to sponsor the bill later complained that the incumbents were suing over things that had been settled in favor of the municipality during compromise discussions!) You DO NOT need the “bigger, smarter guys at the statehouse” to protect you from yourselves. DO NOT buy the line that this sort law “protects the local taxpayer” or that it “levels the playing field.” It intends to shift your control of local resources away from local citizen-owners and to a compliant state house; you can protect yourself quite well without their dubious help, I am sure. It intends to establish rules that would cripple your local utility’s ability to compete; rules that the incumbents would rage against should anyone dare suggest applying such to them.

From the Wilson Daily Times Article:

City of Wilson officials and the North Carolina League of Municipalities are seeking to kill a bill that would place what they say are undue restraints on municipalities establishing “communications services.” Wilson officials expected some legislative opposition when they started planning to provide broadband services to the city.

The bill, called the Local Government Fair Competition Act, places several obstacles in the way of local governments seeking to provide services such as broadband Internet, telephone and cable television. The bill is sponsored by state Reps. Drew Saunders, D-Mecklenburg, Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, and Julia Howard, R-Davie. Lawmakers representing Wilson County have not sponsored the bill.

Some of its provisions include requiring two public hearings where the city’s business plan would be available, including cost analysis and four-year projections. Also, a special election would be held to allow citizens to decide if the city should establish any communications service. Such a service would also have to be self-supporting and could not be subsidized by the city’s electric fund.

“There is no good reason for this bill,” said Ellis Hankins, director of the N.C. League of Municipalities.


City attorney Jim Cauley said the House bill was written and supported by the telecommunications industry and is “clearly designed to protect their pocketbooks at the expense of the public good.”

“In the interest of corporate protectionism, it will create such a barrier to the construction of municipal broadband infrastructure that many citizens will not have access to high-speed fiber-optic services in the foreseeable future, thereby making our economic development efforts that much more difficult,” Cauley said.

I hope the people of North Carolina will learn from Lafayette’s experience and kill this ugly example of “corporate protectionism.”