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Fat Pipe Dreams

By 16 March 2011 13 Comments

Richard Bennett recently posted a blog on a recent skirmish occurring over a North Carolina bill, H129, on municipal broadband projects.  The growing outcry has been that the bill is attempting to disallow municipal broadband and that the trend could continue into other states. (A copy of the bill can be found here.)

However, Bennett says that a reading of the bill does not indicate in the slightest that municipal broadband would be off limits to unserved communities.  The bill actually focuses on the use of tax payer dollars for a second or third broadband pipe into a community.

The reason for the attention toward second or third infrastructure being built by a municipality, Bennett explains, is that private sector providers want to make sure that public sector providers are playing by the same rules.  Municipalities would have an unfair advantage in the marketplace if they used their regulatory authority to improve the quality of municipal service while hampering the the quality of service from a private sector provider who would also be in direct competition with the municipality.

Bennett feels that this is simply Net Neutrality from the private sector point of view.  And that business is simply stating that just because governments make neutrality rules to regulate private providers that does not mean that government providers should be immune to their own regulation.

Additionally he argues that this bill allows the people of a community to vote on these projects before their tax dollars are spent on it.  Bennett believes this is what most likely irks the “traveling band of rural overbuilding consultants,” as he calls them.  Essentially stating that those that often wave the banner in favor of municipal services are never around when the bills come and if the project fails.


  • George Ou said:

    I love the “traveling band of rural overbuilding consultants” name. That is exactly what they are and they have a habit of bailing and leaving a massive tax bill for the consumers. Even the poster child of muni-fiber projects in Burlington is suffering a major scandal where the local population is forced to subsidize 24% of the population.

    This is why muni-fiber has never succeeded on any meaningful scale.

  • Scott said:

    Was this before or after he disclosed he was paid $20,000 from Time Warner Cable? He has no credibility on this issue and should be seen for what he is…bought and paid for…sickening really

  • Nick R Brown (author) said:

    Nice trolling Scott. I assume then that you also go around to the websites that post and review the work of “John Palfrey of the Berkman Center, Scott Wallsten of the National Broadband Plan team, and Dale Hatfield, former Chief Technologist at the FCC” and describe them as having no credibility as well.

    You can find all of their work via Time Warner Research grants here: http://www.twcresearchprogram.com/publications.php

  • Christopher Mitchell said:

    Nothing like a “level playing field” where one side has advantages of economies of scale and the other (communities) are restricted to political boundaries. Or that incumbents like Time Warner Cable and cross-subsidize and offer promo rates below cost while community networks are prohibited from it.

    At some point George Ou might learn that there are other community networks than Burlington, but I’m not counting on it. The whole idea that BT was once the darling of the community broadband world is untrue. I had high hopes for it, true. And it screwed up, true. How that proves that all the other community networks failed, I dunno.

    Networks like Chattanooga and Lafayette have unmatched services… but if they aren’t writing checks to you guys, they must be terrible.

    I don’t have a problem with a fair referendum before issuing tax-backed bonds. Instead we commonly get a referendum with one side with limitless funds spreading lies (backed by folks like George “Burlington-Telecom blah blah blah” Ou) and another side restricted from advocating for their position. Nonetheless, that is not what this bill is about. The NC bill was written by Time Warner Cable, for Time Warner Cable. Citizens don’t figure into it.

  • Nick R Brown (author) said:

    Wait, so instead of reading the bill and acknowledging that all it does is prevent municipal providers from offering enhanced services, i.e. exactly what the FCC has asked in their Open Internet rules, you start throwing out irrelevant information and claiming that we are receiving funding from telecoms? That seems like the sort of claim you would want to make if you had facts in your pocket, doesn’t it? I’m surprised you didn’t mention how we should also stop public trans projects like the light rail in Minnesota so that people can have a municipal provider.

    The bottom line to why more of these networks don’t exist is because while there are several successful examples, the overall picture has been painted with a trail of tears and you aren’t around to help the folks in North Carolina that now owe a HUNDRED MILLION dollars for the failed transition of Adelphia. You operate on the notion that people are dumb and they need your special insight to understand how municipal is better. When the fact is that, as is apparent, most people think the private sector is doing just fine in their area and they don’t need to waste more tax dollars on something that isn’t broke. Please tell me you’re a professor somewhere so that it will all make sense to me.

  • Paul William Tenny said:

    Additionally he argues that this bill allows the people of a community to vote on these projects before their tax dollars are spent on it.

    Most of the community fiber networks in North Carolina were paid for with bonds AFAIK, not general spending. These voting requirements are meant to tie up the community networks with so much bureaucratic red tape that they can’t function, not to give taxpayers — who didn’t pay for these networks — a say in how their money is spent.

    It’s basically Big Telecom trying to use Big Government to squash its competition for it so that it doesn’t actually have to compete on price and services.

    Time Warner and all the DSL providers can’t compete with fiber. They just can’t. But what’s stopping Time Warner from distancing itself from 1995 era technology and going 100% fiber? Nothing. Time Warner can sell bonds, just like the community networks do, allowing for the long term investments that Time Warner insists aren’t viable.

    But why do that when they can only provide service where there is no competition from fiber, while simultaneously trying to use Big Government to prevent community fiber from even existing? There’s far more profit in that, obivously.

    We’ve been over this before. These companies like Time Warner refuse to service a given area because they think it’ll cost too much, but then they’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits to keep community networks from servicing those areas, and millions of dollars to pass legislation that gives them an unfair advantage.

    It gets so ridiculous that a community network might have to hold (and pay for) a public referendum just to get permission to fix a line cut, to raise rates, or introduce new services. Something Time Warner has never had to do.

    They say they just want a level playing field but there’s nothing level about what is in these anti-consumer, anti-free market bills. They will tip the balance so far beyond center that it’s essentially state-protection of private enterprise.

    I actually live in North Carolina, and I’d like my tax dollars not to be spent burdening community networks with pointless regulations meant to protect Time Warner’s insanely profitable bottom line while they refuse to invest any money in our state for expansion into un-served areas.

    The bottom line to why more of these networks don’t exist is because while there are several successful examples, the overall picture has been painted with a trail of tears and you aren’t around to help the folks in North Carolina that now owe a HUNDRED MILLION dollars for the failed transition of Adelphia

    The bottom line why more of these networks don’t exist is because of anti-competitive legislation like this that protect extremely powerful and wealthy corporations while burdening community networks with excessive regulation to prevent and prohibit fair competition, if they aren’t banned outright. Which is exactly what Time Warner tried to have done here last year. This bill is slightly watered down because the previous three attempts to screw over the people of North Carolina failed. But last year, they tried to ban community broadband outright.

    Last year – not even 12 months ago – Time Warner and CenturyLink weren’t interested in a fair and level playing field. They wanted the field all to themselves with no exceptions, and spent a great deal of money buying off politicians trying to make that happen.

    That bill was so draconian that even localities that held one of these pointless votes to approve a network – that they aren’t paying for – would still have their projects shut down, while Time Warner was free to do whatever it wanted.

    All of this after Time Warner tried to get judicial activists to halt the projects for them.

    Karl Bode, who was needlessly and childishly smeared by Bennett, made a perfectly valid point that Bennett didn’t even try to address. If these projects are doomed to failure, why are companies like Time Warner spending so much money trying to ban them?

    The answer is obvious. The are not doomed to failure. To the contrary, give a fair playing field, they are destined to replace the incumbents because in true free market fashion, they are providing a better service for a better price.

    Something Time Warner and company refuse to try.

  • Nick R Brown (author) said:

    Should municipal providers be liable to the same regulations that private providers are liable to?

  • Paul William Tenny said:


    I think that should be decided on a per-regulation basis. Each regulation has a specific goal, so the question must be: would each regulation achieve its goal with muni providers and if not, what would the result be.

    To be fair, we should also look at all the regulations that the private corporations want applied against the muni providers, to see if they should be applied against the corporations as well.

    I’d be willing to bet that if we did that, the lobbying for all these new regulations would disappear overnight.

  • Nick R Brown (author) said:

    That’s an interesting way of looking at it. When the FCC passed the Open Internet rules they didn’t seem to go about it that way.

  • Paul William Tenny said:

    The FCC is bogged down in politics. They shouldn’t have passed anything at all if they didn’t buy into their mandate over net neutrality. If they have a vision for keeping the Internet open, then they should have passed as much regulation as they felt was necessary to get it done as fast as possible without regard to what anyone else was saying in the corporate sector.

    Instead they did what politicians always do. They tried to have it both ways, and now we all get to deal with the mess.

  • Nick R Brown (author) said:

    So content should have a say, but infrastructure should not? That seems fair. Also, a politician is not the same thing as a bureaucrat. Just fyi. :)

  • Paul William Tenny said:

    So content should have a say, but infrastructure should not?

    I’m not sure what you mean. Can you go into that a little more please?

    Also, a politician is not the same thing as a bureaucrat. Just fyi. :)

    In a literal sense no, I suppose not. In practice there is little difference between unelected bureaucrats, politicians, and corporate lobbyists. To some degree they all create policy through influence peddling and subtle forms of sleazy, legalized corruption.

    The lucrative revolving door makes sure of that.

    AT&T lobbyists literally wrote the immunity provisions for their employer after its involvement in the illegal domestic wiretapping program was revealed.

    Lobbyists for the health insurance industry that helped write Democratic health care reform were quickly hired by the administration to implement that reform.

    Chris Dodd, already a paid and bought man for the financial industry, promised not to become a lobbyist when he left office. Then he became the chief lobbyist for the film industry.

    Michael Powell, who I’m sure you know was the FCC chairman for four years earlier this decade, just became the chief lobbyist for the cable industry. Robert McDowell was a lobbyist to the FCC for communications companies before joining the FCC as a commissioner.

    What their titles and and job descriptions are today don’t really interest me. They all do the exact same work on behalf of a single constituency: the corporate sector. If they are a bureaucrat or politician today, they are a lobbyist tomorrow. If they are a lobbyist today, they’ll be a bureaucrat tomorrow.

    It never ends, so yes, you’re technically right about bureaucrats not being politicians strictly speaking. But in practice, everything is interchangeable with these people but they never stop doing the same job.

  • Paul William Tenny said:

    And cue new data. Ars has 133 cities with muni broadband (54 city-wide fiber networks) that Richard Bennett is pretending don’t exist.