Fat Pipe Dreams in North Carolina

There’s a big fight going on in North Carolina over rural broadband. Representative Avila and Senator Apodaca have introduced bills that would place some fairly light restrictions on the business practices of municipal (government owned and operated) broadband networks that have drawn the ire of network equipment vendors and out-of-state muni broadband activists.

Charges and counter-charges are flying fast and furious. Well-travelled muni broadband consultant Craig Settles says the authors are in the pockets of Time-Warner Cable, and urges people around the country to lobby NC legislators to kill the bills:

The battle is now fully joined in NC. But it’s not just their fight, and it’s not a fight solely about broadband. This fight affects everyone who believes that communities deserve the freedom to choose their own best solutions to key problems involving economic development. Communities own the problems of this terrible economy.

Philip Dampier, the supporter of former New York Congressman Eric Massa who joined the broadband policy fight when Time Warner was experimenting with metered pricing, is even more shrill than Settles:

But Marilyn Avila does not care. She is only working for the interests of a single cable company that donates to her political campaigns. Tell your legislator to vote NO on H129, and let them know you are appalled that this anti-consumer, anti-competition legislation keeps coming up year after year because of the lobbying influence of Time Warner Cable. Make it completely clear you are watching their vote on this bill like a hawk, and it means everything to you at the next election. Tell your representative to stand up for competition, stand up for advanced fiber optic networks, and to stand down on special interest legislation like H129, which only benefits the cable company that has overcharged you for years.

Karl Bode, the New York City downloading and piracy enthusiast who writes the DSL Reports blog, is righteously indignant:

Again overlooked by incumbents trying to shutter North Carolinas community broadband efforts is the fact that if these communities were happy with their service, these builds wouldn’t pop up. Also unexplained is — if these efforts are always destined to failure as carriers claim — why not just let them fail? Why try to pass the same law four years running? Hint: the word begins with c, ends with n, and isn’t Cancun.

What’s that spell? Competition! It’s an odd fight.

Reading the text of the bills, I don’t see what our perpetual network operator-haters are so worked up about, although I can certainly see that the network equipment vendors want more outlets for their gear; more power to them. The bills actually don’t place any restrictions at all on unserved communities (where 90% or more can’t get broadband) who want to build themselves a first-class, triple-play enabled, broadband network or anything else better than dial-up. If there weren’t such an exemption, I’d be just as riled as the people I’ve quoted.

What the bill actually does is address the use of taxpayer-guaranteed funding to create second or third networks in towns that already have broadband access from commercial providers, and even in these cases, it doesn’t impose an outright ban on the second or third pipe. Rather, it seeks to ensure that cities, who function in the dual role of regulator and competitor in such markets, don’t abuse their regulatory power to privilege themselves with respect to their competitors. If this sounds like the aspirations of net neutrality, you understand what’s going on.

The bills require municipal broadband operators play by the same rules and regulations that apply to commercial operators, to refrain from cross-subsidizing their networks by raiding other kitties, to price at cost or above, and to allow fair access to rights of way. In part, the rationale for these measure is complaints the lawmakers have heard from residents of Davidson and Mooresville, the North Carolina towns who bought the Adelphia cable system out of bankruptcy by forcing the issue in court (Time Warner Cable wanted to buy it as well) and have run up some impressive losses since the purchase: They committed $92M in bonds, and have lost $6.1M on operations since 2009.

The local officials who authorized the purchase are embarrassed:

Commissioner Mac Herring, who voted in favor of the purchase, blames “flawed financial models.” He says “there were financial details that I did not know all the ins and outs of.” … “until our community buys into the system there is potentially a huge financial drain to municipal resources that was not predicted in our projections for MIC.”

Herring said he “should have more fully investigated the details” and said he “take(s) responsibility for my own ignorance to these details. My support hinged upon my belief that we were providing for a superior Fiber Optic Infrastructure for the benefit of Mooresville’s citizens as well as economic development. Hindsight is 20/20, but I would probably still vote the same way given the arguments before me at the time.”…

Commissioner Chris Carney, who voted in favor of the purchase said the board was not aware of some of the financing elements of the bond process “and that’s disturbing.That’s the kind of decisions that were unfortunately were made by a select group and we were not aware of that.” “We owe the citizens an apology.” The town would like to sell the system at some point because most officials never really wanted to own it anyway… but “we couldn’t sell it if we wanted to.”

Overbuilder projects like this follow a familiar trajectory: They begin with great enthusiasm on the part of a few broadband activists, and then slowly erode as costs increase, subscribers fail to sign up, and debts mount. All government-funded broadband networks don’t follow this path, of course: Those that bring service to unserved areas often do quite well, but the over-builders that bring in the second or third pipe are rarely sustainable.

Unsustainable networks waste societal resources.   By definition, a second or third municipal network means fewer subscribers for existing providers. Even if some of the lost revenue from the fewer subscribers goes directly to lower profits, it is unlikely that all of the loss will, with the result that the provider will have to raise prices (or at least not reduce them as much as they would otherwise), hurting broadband consumers outside the community.  If the companies don’t raise prices, they have less revenue to support investment in next-generation networks inside as well as outside the community. Public-private cooperation is a better approach in these scenarios than competition between government and the private sector.

At the end of the day we need to recognize that much of the support for the municipal broadband movement – and it is just that, a movement – is more ideological than practical.  John St. Julien, the “grassroots champion” of Lafayette, Louisiana’s municipal fiber broadband network, stated that he resented incumbents because “they treat us like serfs, like it’s their network… We can own our networks, we can take control of our networks.” Broadband users of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your broadband service agreements. As Settles says: “it’s not a fight solely about broadband;” it’s a fight over capitalism and its discontents.

The muni broadband consultants and activists express bewilderment over the bills’ rationale. Bode makes the telling comment: “…if these efforts are always destined to failure as carriers claim — why not just let them fail?”

This question reveals the intent behind the bills. If, as Bode imagines, the Avila and Apodaca bills were simply about doing Time Warner’s bidding, there would be no need for them; the over-builder networks will simply fail of their own accord (there’s ample evidence to that effect, of course.)

But what if the bills are meant to address a wholly different problem, such as the willingness of rural officials to commit taxpayer funds to ill-advised projects without voter approval that are destined to end in tears?

Bingo, there’s your answer: The bills also require ballot-box approval by the citizens before committing funds to these projects. I suspect that’s the issue that perturbs the traveling band of rural overbuilding consultants, the modern day Music Men who sell fat pipe dreams to small towns across America and skip out before the bills come due.

 

UPDATE: In the interests of full disclosure, I’d like to mention the fact that I received a $20,000 research grant from Time Warner Cable’s research program last summer to write about the future architecture of the Internet, and to recommend some changes to the existing cable network. Time Warner Cable publicized this grant at the time, as well as similar grants to John Palfrey of the Berkman Center, Scott Wallsten of the National Broadband Plan team, and Dale Hatfield, former Chief Technologist at the FCC. You’ll have to make up your own mind as to whether Palfrey, Wallsten, Hatfield and I are shills for Big Cable.

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About the author

Richard Bennett is an ITIF Senior Research Fellow specializing in broadband networking and Internet policy. He has a 30 year background in network engineering and standards. He was vice-chair of the IEEE 802.3 task group that devised the original Ethernet over Twisted Pair standard, and has contributed to Wi-Fi standards for fifteen years. He was active in OSI, the instigator of RFC 1001, and founder, along with Bob Metcalfe, of the Open Token Foundation, the first network industry alliance to operate an interoperability lab. He has worked for leading applied research labs, where portions of his work were underwritten by DARPA. Richard is also the inventor of four networking patents and a member of the BITAG Technical Working Group.
  • markturner2

    If you think the cable company wrote this bill out of the goodness of its heart solely to protect the state’s taxpayers, then, buddy, have I got a bridge for YOU!The truth is that many folks in North Carolina are fed up with being ranked 41st in the nation in broadband access, according to the Census Bureau. Clearly the commercial providers aren’t getting it done. Where is this fabled “investment in next-generation networks,” because before municipal networks arrived it didn’t exist in North Carolina! Commercial providers refused to upgrade their networks in Wilson and Salisbury – cities built upon the dying industries of tobacco and furniture – and so these communities opted to go it alone. Can’t say I blame them, especially since commercial providers have fought to water down the definition of broadband to the point that the word “underserved” is meaningless. Seems to me a little competition is good for capitalism.Now, a truly level playing field would open the books of the cable company. It would let me vote on the cable company’s leadership, and every meeting the cable company held would be open to the public. The cable company would be prohibited from IT’S current practice of subsidizing the failing networks in one service area with the funds from another. If the cable companies are willing to do this then, hey, let’s all join hands. If they refuse, then do you think that maybe, just maybe it’s because they … don’t want a level playing field at all?There’s no way a town of 20,000 people presents a threat to a multi-billion-dollar communications company. Let’s call a spade a spade: this bill is nothing but shameless corporate welfare. Out-of-state, so-called “thought leaders” should strive to be a bit more honest.Mark TurnerRaleigh, NC

  • Richard Bennett

    So you’re opposed letting the people vote on bond issues that can bankrupt small towns, Mark? That doesn’t seem very democratic.Wilson, NC, has the highest electrical rates in the state because of the cross-subsidy between electricity and broadband. This is a reverse Robin Hood scenario if there ever was one.

  • communitynets

    I wouldn’t waste your time on this guy, Mark. Richard Bennett is a shill for telcos – he somehow believes the largest companies are the most innovative, all empirical proof aside.He knows nothing about community broadband except the most negative stories – and even there he has cherry-picked details. One can always tell these kind by their intent focus on tax dollars being used for networks, despite the fact that the vast majority of community fiber networks never touch tax dollars. Richard will do just fine as the policies he encourages allow the US as a whole to fall further behind the rest of the world in the infrastructure needed to succeed tomorrow.

  • Richard Bennett

    Christopher Mitchell (communitynets) mischaracterizes my position. If the taxpayers are willing to pass a bond issue to build a broadband network, more power to them, it’s certainly not my place to interfere. I would prefer, however, that such projects are limited to dark fiber and that competitive ISPs provide the retail service to customers, both residential and commercial. The shortcomings of single-firm markets are clear and cities do have a poor track record for retail Internet and TV service, especially in rural areas.What happens today is that the retail network operators sit back and lick their chops when cities bypass NC law about bond issues and rush into muni broadband, because they know they’ll be able to pick up the networks for pennies on the dollar in the eventual fire sale.Netflix is a technically competent company that knows a lot about networking, yet they contract the operation of their network to expert firms like Level 3, Akamai, and Limelight Networks; yet Wilson, NC decided to buy and operate their own network. There’s a lesson about hubris in this story.

  • markturner2

    Well, well, well, Mr. Bennett. If your biased post wasn’t enough to convince me, here’s the proof that you’ve been bought and paid for by Time Warner Cable.http://www.timewarnercable.com/northeast/about/inthenewsdetails.ashx?PRID=290…”SU Professor Receives $20,000 Grant From Time Warner CableRelease Date:05/20/2010May 20, 2010 – Ping Zang, a professor at the Syracuse University of Information Studies (ischool) was one of four national recipients awarded a $20,000 stipend towards her “Consumer Responses to Targeted Advertising,” research to increase understanding of how consumers view the perceived value and benefits of targeted advertising. The stipend comes as part of Time Warner Cable’s newly launched Research Program on Digital Communications; a program to increase understanding of the benefits and challenges facing the future of digital technologies in the home, office, classroom and community.Fernando Laguarda, director of the new program and Vice President for External Affairs and Policy Counselor at Time Warner Cable, said, “We were very pleased with the initial research competition. We received high quality applications and believe the selected studies will add to the public debate about major issues now confronting the industry.”The complete list of 1st round recipients as follows:• “Consumer Responses to Targeted Advertising” by Ping Zhang, Professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University• “The Future of Children’s Television Programming: A Study of How Emerging Digital Technologies Can Facilitate Active and Engaged Participation and Contribute in Media Literacy Foundation” by Lance Strate, Professor, Department of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University and Lewis Freeman, Professor, Department of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University • “A Technical Strategy for Transitioning the Cable Network to a Common Network with a Common Protocol” by Richard Bennett, Research Fellow, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation• “Leveraging Innovation in Broadband Networks to Achieve Smart Energy Grid Goals” by Charles Davidson, Director, The Advanced Communication Law & Policy Institute, New York Law School and Michael J. Santorelli, Director, The Advanced Communication Law & Policy Institute, New York Law SchoolZhang’s research focuses on the broadly defined area of human-computer interaction (HCI). She teaches courses at the Syracuse iSchool on HCI, information systems analysis and design, database systems, and data management. She is co-editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, and she is senior editor of Journal of the Association for Information Systems. She has been a member of the iSchool faculty since 1995.About the Time Warner Cable Research Program on Digital Communications:The Time Warner Cable Research Program on Digital Communications awards stipends to foster research dedicated to increasing understanding of the benefits and challenges facing the future of digital technologies in the home, office, classroom and community. Individual researchers affiliated with universities and not-for-profits are eligible to apply for the stipends. More information about the program can be found at http://www.twcresearchprogram.com.”If you had any shred of academic or journalistic integrity, you would’ve disclosed these financial ties before you wrote.Shame on you, sir.

  • Richard Bennett

    Don’t you think you ought to read my paper before you jump to such a rash conclusion, marktrurner2? You’ll be very surprised by what it says, given your bias.

  • stopthecap

    Richard and I have discussed several issues impacting the broadband community over the past two years. He always takes the side of the industry that pays him well to serve as their mouthpiece, and I represent actual consumers and do not take a penny of industry money.The ironically named “Innovation” blog attacks the very innovation that community broadband brings to hard-pressed communities in North Carolina who want to reinvent themselves from their tobacco and cotton-past. The reason these networks exist is because existing companies refused to provide the service needed to accomplish this task. Richard has no idea what these communities and ordinary North Carolina consumers are going through because his article exists merely as a “drive-by” hit piece that mischaracterizes the bill, the people that oppose it, and leaves his readers thinking he doesn’t have direct ties to a company that helped write the bill.Gone undisclosed: Bennett accepted a $20K stipend from Time Warner Cable and does work on behalf of a K Street lobbyist. That’s “dollar a holler” reporting.Folks, follow the money. If a Big Telecom company is involved, Richard reflexively adopts their position, often to the detriment of consumers. He is also factually wrong.1) Wilson did not “buy” their fiber to the home network, they built it.2) Davidson and Mooresville bought a bankrupt Adelphia system that needed major upgrades. Time Warner would have done precisely the same thing the community did, only they would pay for it with rate hikes across the state (except in Wilson which has avoided rate increases from Time Warner precisely because GreenLight is running there).3) Salisbury has had a waiting list for signups. Not bad for a “failure.” EPB just finished their award-winning network in Chattanooga ahead of schedule. The public-private partnership idea has no opposition, except among providers who won’t hear of anything they don’t own, operate, and control outright. It is telling ongoing negotiations over Ms. Avila’s Time Warner-written bill have broken down because she still objects to language that would keep those networks in business to create those kinds of success stories.All of the pipe dreams in this piece come from the author. I’m not an industry consultant. I just know a much better deal when I see one. GreenLight, EPB, and Fibrant all deliver better service than the cable company or phone company and the money paid to them remains in those communities. They also deliver unlimited service, an issue that now becomes more important than ever with AT&T’s attempt to launch its Internet Overcharging scheme.The key question Bennett never asks is exactly how H.129 will improve broadband in the state, whose broadband rankings are unworthy of its potential. Answer: it won’t. It simply delivers protection for incumbent providers who will continue to not deliver the kind of service people want and will continue to ignore rural areas they have always ignored. When a “small government” conservative like Marilyn Avila writes micro-management requirements for these networks right down to banning them from promoting themselves and arguing over service area boundaries (conditions Time Warner is exempted from), it tells you how far certain legislators will go on behalf of large telecom companies.As for voter approval, it already exists in the form of elections. I haven’t seen any “throw the bums out” movement in Tennessee or North Carolina over this issue. In fact, the only ones out of office are the last two legislators that proposed these anti-community broadband bills. Ty Harrell resigned in disgrace and David Hoyle left office admitting, on camera, Time Warner Cable wrote the bill he introduced.Nice try, Richard. Maybe if Time Warner gave you $40k, you would have spent more time coming up with legitimate arguments instead of just attacking the “music men” who can name your tune after the first predictable note.Phillip M. DampierEditor, Stop the Cap!

  • Richard Bennett

    You’re a little late with the complaint about my TWC research grant, Phillip, your pal markturner2 already tried that approach, and like you he hasn’t read the paper. Look, I know you’re in upstate New York, you style yourself a consumer advocate, no consumers have chosen you to advocate for them, and you oppose corporate broadband networks on principle; that’s all out there.I was raised in East Tennessee, just across the Smokies from North Carolina, in a small community, Morristown, that has also built its own fiber network to compete with the cable incumbent, Charter. I’ve been following this scenario closely for several years now, and didn’t just drop in out of the sky because somebody threatened to charge me for my downloads. The experience with the MUS Fibernet has been very mixed, at best. People complain about the utility’s arrogance and poor customer service, and generally say that the service is no better than Charter’s and in some respects is much worse; it lacks on-demand programming, for example, which is one thing you’d expect a PON network to offer. Small-town utility companies are common in the region, it’s part of the TVA legacy, and many of them fancy themselves able network operators. The point I raised about Wilson pertains to the fact that they want not just to pay for their own network, they want to operate it as well. And the same goes for the Davidson and Mooresville networks. Operating a triple-play network isn’t as straightforward as reselling TVA power, so it would be much better for the operation of these networks to be a private sector activity.I see that the advocates of the Music Man approach are avoiding the content of the bills quite studiously, and instead trying to create smoke screens about research funding and lobbying; ITIF, BTW, is not a lobbying company, it’s a non-profit think tank. There is a difference.From this I conclude that you have no specific objections to the bills in question. Please correct me if I’m wrong and you’ve read the bills and would like to rewrite some specific portions of them. They seem like good checks and balances to me.

  • markturner2

    Mr Bennett: as I said before, you only seem to care about one side of the equation. Whatever small advantages a municipal system might enjoy are FAR OUTWEIGHED by the advantages of a multi-billion-dollar, multi-state corporation. Should the bill tie commercial providers to the very same terms I’d be fine with it. That’s not why TWC wrote the bill, though: they want to stack the deck completely in their favor.You can’t tell me that a town of 20,000 presents a threat to a multi-billion-dollar company. That dog don’t hunt. To pretend otherwise is ludicrous: this is shameless corporate welfare. Regardless of the content of your paper, you did not disclose the Time Warner Cable checks you’ve been cashing. It certainly calls your objectivity into question.

  • stopthecap

    I wrote about Time Warner’s stipends twice when the program first started, so I am well acquainted with the research awards, which unsurprisingly deliver plenty of money to researchers who do not oppose their business agenda, and far too often try to echo it.I don’t oppose corporate broadband networks at all. I am a Time Warner customer myself. In fact, I just wrote a piece congratulating them on adopting DOCSIS 3 as a “win-win” for them and consumers. When they do the right thing by consumers, they get a nod from us. When they do the wrong thing, they get called on it. When is the last time you have condemned a cable company? We represent a large number of North Carolina consumers on this issue. Despite your efforts to attempt to conflate this with some “anti-capitalism” political issue, it’s not about that at all. In fact, the last two attempts to pass this corporate welfare bill came from Democrats, and we called both of them on it just as we are today with Ms. Avila.You continue to go out of your way to avoid discussing the fact your day job relies on spouting views that are consistently pro-provider and almost always anti-consumer. Share with us where the ITIF gets its big dollars. Name names. Ms. Avila sent out e-mail claiming you provided an “independent” piece on this issue, which is downright laughable considering where you work and where you get your money. I don’t have any problems telling people our views come without industry money strings attached. You just cannot say that.Stop the Cap! has hardly avoided dissecting specific objections to Ms. Avila/Time Warner Cable’s bill. Just because you didn’t bother to link to it does not mean it doesn’t exist. Your drive-by “report” missed:http://stopthecap.com/2011/02/17/another-year-another-anti-community-broadbanhttp://stopthecap.com/2011/02/28/time-warners-propaganda-campaign-against-norhttp://stopthecap.com/2011/03/02/breaking-news-nc-anti-community-broadband-bihttp://stopthecap.com/2011/03/02/i-harmony-avila-the-cable-lobbyist/http://stopthecap.com/2011/03/04/north-carolina-public-utilities-committee-hehttp://stopthecap.com/2011/03/08/broken-promises-rep-marilyn-avila-r-time-war…That’s just a sampling. In reality, some of these networks, including Fibrant, are considering a single state headend and take care of administration of the networks in a more efficient manner. In Alabama, Knology will operate the network a few cities are building. On the subject of bill modification:Those who tried to participate in the meeting to rewrite the bills to hold existing networks harmless found that was nearly impossible after Ms. Avila turned it over to the cable company to run. On Thursday, the bill will be run through the Finance Committee with NO public discussion allowed, and most likely with another hurried voice vote to try and prevent individual members’ votes from being recorded. This Thursday, we’ll be watching the lips and movements of individual members and let readers know who needs to be held accountable.

  • Richard Bennett

    Once again, many words and very little content. Be specific.

  • spinkham

    Even if publicly owned last mile Internet is not a good idea at the moment(which admittedly is debatable), what makes sense today might not make sense in the near future.. These decisions should be made as close as possible in time and space to the people who would be affected. Making a statewide rule for an unlimited period breaks both of those principles, and would require much effort in the future to get changed.Before the 1900s, most roads in this country were privately owned toll roads. Over time we have decided that transport was basic infrastructure that is necessary for business growth. How would our economy be different today if we passed a bill in the 1900s that hamstrung our ability to build roads as a collective in the same manner as this bill?Internet access is infrastructure for the 21st century, much like roads were for the 20th. Also, about your comment about Netflix: The model for server hosting is much different then last mile Internet. Netflix runs their own internal network for their offices because it’s cost effective, and outsources server hosting because it’s cost effective. Server hosting is better done by a company with a large data center presence. Hosting and last mile access have almost nothing in common in the business model, and the fact that you equate them shows you may not be as qualified to access the potential benefits and downsides of this bill as you think.

  • Richard Bennett

    The proposed bills do not ban municipally-owned and operated broadband networks now or in the future. Rather, they require some meaningful checks and balances to prevent the kinds of abuses of the public trust that have become all too common in North Carolina and other states with substantial rural populations, where ill-considered decisions to enter into competition with the local commercial providers of broadband services have caused small towns to shoulder enormous amounts of debt for little if any improvement to local services. It makes absolutely no sense for municipalities to build second cable systems where there is already a competent cable provider, not to mention access to satellite TV from DirecTV and Dish Network. Why would anyone want a government agency deciding what TV channels they can watch?Of the checks and balances in the bills, the most meaningful are the requirements for self-sustaining business plans and the requirement for voter approval. Of these, the voter approval condition is the most meaningful, and the one that scares the Music Men the most.

  • markturner2

    I’m all for local voter approval. That’s why I fail to see why the state government and the telecom lobbyists need to butt its head into this. There is no network operator more accountable than one who is elected. Those operators answer to Main Street, not Wall Street.You and I know Dish Network is a red herring. Let’s see you try to get decent Internet service with 22,000 miles of added latency. Look, Mr. Bennett, you’re a smart guy. You’ve worked with DARPA. You of all people should know that the Internet was built by public investment. You should know that for the first 14 years of the Internet’s existence, commercial providers weren’t even ALLOWED to connect to the Internet. You should know that cable operators built their networks through the use of the public right of way, which saved those providers untold millions of dollars and avoided costly delays involved with negotiating with every landowner.To put a fine point on it, public investment CREATED the Internet. Public investment BENEFITED the cable companies. For cable companies to now say the public has no business in the Internet business is an absolute WHOPPER, almost as big as saying the little old town of Wilson is putting mega cable companies out of business.Good day, sir.

  • Richard Bennett

    Incidentally, Phillip raises his familiar demand for full disclosure of ITIF’s sponsors. He’s done this before, and knows that ITIF policy is not to disclose sponsors by name. They come from a broad spectrum of the IT industry, foundations, and government, and are on both sides of the this particular issue. This red herring is meant to distract attention from the substantive arguments for and against the NC broadband bills, of course.I didn’t feel a need to disclose every research grants, stipend, or paycheck I’ve ever received in the text of this blog post, especially the one that TWC publicized so widely last summer. If it never was a secret, why beat the drum over it?As readers can easily see, there’s a constituency that will go to any lengths to avoid dealing with the actual issues. I’ve offered an analysis of the bills, and it seems to me that it’s incumbent on critics to address the points I made, not simply to say “I don’t like that guy” by way of response. Maybe that’s picky, but it shouldn’t be too hard if the criticism has anything behind it.

  • markturner2

    Aha. Ever hear the saying “the guilty dog always barks first?” I don’t see you addressing my points, either, Mr. Bennett, and as one who has taken substantial money from the cable industry, you’ve got a lot more to prove than I do. I’m sorry if pointing out your industry ties makes you feel uneasy but maybe I’m just being picky.

  • Richard Bennett

    So once again, markturner2, you repeat the insinuations and fail to address the legislation. This is rather tiresome and I won’t be responding to it any more.In your previous comment, you offer a number of counter-factuals about the the Internet’s financing system. Let’s address them one by one.1. The relevance of Dish Network is that community broadband networks don’t limit themselves to Internet access, they also provide TV and phone services in competition with multiple commercial providers. Their arguments for a second or third Internet pipes don’t justify TV and phone service, where there are already multiple providers. The figures show they have more customers for TV than for Internet. So it’s highly relevant.2. It is not the case that commercial firms have ever been forbidden from connecting to the Internet. Defense contractors and companies like IBM, HP, DEC, and TI were connected to ARPANET from the earliest days, and in fact paid for the bulk of the infrastructure. When Tim Berners-Lee connected to the Internet at CERN, he was using a T1 paid for by IBM. You’re confusing connection with the Acceptable Use Policy for the NSF backbone, which did ban commercial activities until the ban was relaxed by Vint Cerf to allow MCI Mail and similar services to use the backbone.3. The use of public rights-of-way doesn’t equate to public provision of TV programming, telephone service, or Internet services. Cable companies have compensated local communities for this access with public interest channels, franchise fees, and taxes. I don’t see that as an outstanding issue any more.4. What gives you the idea that I’ve ever said that Wilson, NC, is putting cable companies out of business? That’s a completely bizarre charge.You’ll really do better by trying to focus on the real issues rather than going to all of this fluff. If your case is just, you can make it with facts and figures, not made up supposition, conjecture, and loose talk. Focus.

  • spinkham

    I don’t recall saying that the bill outlaws municipality owned broadband. What is does is remove many of the benefits of the public infrastructure model by adding taxation and accounting overhead, and removing the ability to decide how to pay for it. You think that’s good because you oppose muni-broadband and don’t see a future for it, I think it’s short sighted because I think Internet is 21st century infrastructure and hobbling that model this early in the evolution of the digital economy is a bad move.You avoided the question by mischaracterizing my response. Would limiting the government’s ability to build road infrastructure in the same ways as this bill have helped or hurt our economy as a whole? For those who haven’t read the bill itself, it’s here:http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/Sessions/2011/Bills/House/HTML/H129v1.html

  • Richard Bennett

    Not so much, spinkman, whoever you are. The main thing these bills do is require voter approval before a city can do into competition with an established business that’s already operating under an agreement with the city, and secondly they ensure a level playing field for competition. Cities can probably avoid these inconveniences by simply buying out local competitors, per the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, as opposed to competing on a slanted playing field. The analogy to roads is a bit less than apt, given the new technologies we have for charging and collecting tolls, both on the highways and on our information networks. It’s a different world now.

  • spinkham

    If the bill was largely about voter approval, I wouldn’t be against it.The bill is largely about increasing the cost for municipalities. No borrowing money, strict accounting, never operating at a loss. Niether the commercial players nor other infrastructure projects are hobbled in these ways. If you read the bill, most of the text is about making muni networks pay bogus taxes of various types to “level the playing field”, and regulate the muni networks in ways that public corporations are not.When we label something as infrastructure, we are basically saying the benefit to the user is more important then the profit to the provider. If these types of artificial price inflation happened on water, sewer, roads, etc, we would all be poorer as a result. This bill is mostly protectionism of a few commercial interests at the cost of hobbling Internet as infrastructure. That to me is unacceptable.Who I am seems important to you. I am a NC resident, not involved the debate at all except as a consumer. I make my living by providing services over the internet, as a large and growing portion of our population is, and cost of Internet access is one of the variables that effect where I live. If this bill passes I foresee the potential need to move my revenue (and tax) generating business elsewhere. Here is my website if you’re interested. http://www.mavensecurity.com/ I don’t mind saying who I am, as I have nothing to hide. I’m an end user, and I want the most competitive market available for Internet. I believe there is room for more regulation on this issue, just that this bill isn’t it. The fact that this bill was written by Time Warner, for Time Warner and not the citizenry is quite apparent.