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The Internet United States

Why Municipal Broadband is Good 228

batageek writes "An excellent interview with Jim Baller (muni-telco-lawyer) concerning the growth and efforts of municipal broadband providers and the fights they go through with the incumbent providers and state legislatures." If you're wondering why you don't have fiber-to-the-home yet, read this.
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Why Municipal Broadband is Good

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  • That one day, all houses will be made with fibre straight to the door, and bandwidth will be just another amenity, much like electricity, or gas, or telephones are now. And then all the local bandwith companies can fight over our business, and offer us lower and lower rates.
    • That is a pipe dream (Score:5, Interesting)

      by blcamp ( 211756 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:26AM (#6014908) Homepage

      and bandwidth will be just another amenity, much like electricity, or gas, or telephones are now

      Yeah, right.

      Ever since so-called "deregulation" of gas and electric in Michigan (where I live), all of these have gone up. In the case of gas, wwaaaaayyyyy up. My broadband (cable) is $45/month and I only get one provider to choose from. When it becomes another "amenity", it may go up to $60.

      Please pardon my skepticism, but it seems to me we will always be paying inflated prices for the sins (one of which is greed) of the telcoms, utilites, and Lord knows what else.

      • Hi,

        And in places where gas prices are regulated its gone up too, because demand has increased and resources are dwindling which leads to incrased prices.

        You can't effectively import it from outside of North America easily so cheap gas from other nations who have an excess doesn't help us at all.

        There is an empending energy crisis in the US, your increases in energy costs are the warning and not completely releated to deregulation.

        Later,
        MarkV.
      • by Brian Stretch ( 5304 ) * on Thursday May 22, 2003 @11:27AM (#6015864)
        NG prices went up because nearly every new power plant being built is gas fired. Insert obligatory rant about environmentalist wackos preventing nuclear power plant construction. (Yes, wind and solar when practical, but we'll still need nukes.)

        Like pumping highly explosive gas through residential neighborhoods is safe.
        • afaik, nukes aren't getting built because no one will insure them. All the environmentalist wackos have done is not allow the government to say, "It's ok, you don't need insurance, we'll pick up the peices if anything goes wrong." IMHO, that's a good thing no matter what your politics are.

          Once you roll insurance costs into the manufacture of a new nuclear power plant, apparently it doesn't make so much sense anymore. (I could be wrong. I hope I am. I like nukes.)
          • No, the environmental wackos allowed a plant or two to be built, it passed all inspections, and then convinced the goverment at the last minute to not allow it to start operation. The power companies are no longer willing to invest any money in a new plant when there is a good chance that they will not be able to open it. Return on investment of zero is not looked on as a good thing by anyone who has a stake in the plant.

            I live five miles from a nuclear plant, and consider it the best neighbor in the to

        • Quite: a house two blocks from mine completely exploded two years ago, killing two people. Natural gas had built up under the pier and beam foundation, and exploded when someone lit a cigarette. Created quite the pile of rubble, and it still hasn't been rebuilt.

          Of course, this doesn't exactly happen every day, but natural gas isn't without its own problems.
        • its safer then you think. House-supply gas out here is run at an extremely low pressure. THe local gas company trains the fire fighters to put out active gas line fires. It's pretty tame apparently - they take a 12" pipe running at way higher PSI than the residential lines run, then they cut a giant hole in it, light it on fire, and then have fire fighters go put it out.

          The gas supply in your neighborhood is nothing, comparatively. Additionally, the gas concentration in the atmosphere required to be co
        • In my ignorant opinion, nuke's disadvantages outweigh the benefits. I'm sorry but in the long term, a nuclear explosion is worse than a natural gas explosion. Think of all the radiation. In addition, what about the costs of transporting it and getting rid of the contents? The "experts" claim it's good enough to bury it underground surrounded by concrete. What if we find out in the future that this is a bad thing? And some the radiation gets into water, air, etc (yea I know it's below the water table but you
          • Nuclear power plants CANNOT explode, they don't contain the right mix of fuel. (Chernobol was not designed to western specifications, and even then they had to override a lot of safety devices to get where they did.

            There is no need to transport all the waste. The waste from a nuclear plant is recycleable, in a process that results in more power than the origional use of the fuel. (This isn't liked because someone who knows what they are doing could make a nuclear bomb from this, but that isn't exactly

        • Enviromental Wacko's are Nuts... The harm done by Nuclear power plants is extreamly minimal when compared to the dammge done by Burning/Destorying Unrenewable resources... Lets use all the urainum to make power.. not weapons so that terrorists can get thier hands on em and nuke the world.
      • Bubba aint a world traveler. But I have read South Korea has some of the best and most affordable internet service. Bubba has also read that one major factor in its success is the wise intervention of the South Korean government. Anybody knowledgeable first hand about this???
        • Early on the only internet provider in Korea was the big Telecom company (in the dial-up modem days). The government offered financial incentives to anyone who want to offer a competing service. They would get tax breaks and big fat low interest loans. Soon everyone was using these alternate providers, so to fight back, the big telecom upgraded their own systems and servers and there has been fierce competition ever since.

          The economy in S Korea is also very different from North America. Here we have ma
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:29AM (#6014923) Homepage
      That one day, all houses will be made with fibre straight to the door,

      why?

      a single fiber serving 4 square blocks is plenty, then split off to a technology that is easier to terminate and cheaper to work with.

      Have you ever put a connector on a Fiber? using the cheap route it's a major pain in the ass and takes quite a bit of skill. the easy way is to cut a jumper and fusion splice it on to the incoming fiber.. the fusion splicer is a cheap $35,000.00US and can be destroyed easily.

      fiber into the home? dont want it.

      Municipal Infrastructure? ok, I'll take that. if your local city owns the fiber on the poles, the nodes and the drop to your home. THEN your dream might be possible. but even then it is very unprobable. you will simply see that infrastructure multiplied on the pole 3-5 times... one for each company.

      • by Dutchmaan ( 442553 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:52AM (#6015058) Homepage
        a single fiber serving 4 square blocks is plenty

        ..so is 640k...or so I hear.
      • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @10:01AM (#6015134)
        the fusion splicer is a cheap $35,000.00US and can be destroyed easily.

        But most of that cost is for the flux capacitor, which is usually salvageable. Anyway, if you use reasonable care selecting fusion fuel, you probably won't ruin your splicer.

    • This already happens (to an extent) with DSL in the UK - you have copper to your house, and then you pick which ISP you want to supply you with connectivity.

      What then happens is that the big incumbents keep prices high and grab all the dumb (l)users who want the 'saftey and reliability' of a big name like BT (ha! - their network goes down more often than a young lady of questionable morals) whilst the geeks can pick a much better service from Zen or Nildram for less money :o)

      Everytyhing transits over the
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:05AM (#6014778)
    to my home that is.. who do I call about this?
  • New Basic Utility (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gurnb ( 80987 ) * on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:08AM (#6014802) Homepage
    Broadband access is becoming the new extended basic utility.

    Just like Gas, Electricity, Water, cable, etc. Instead of Cable coompanies having a monopoly on access, and being about to set there rates as they see fit, I'd welcome a utility regulatory group be put in place.

    • Bubba Agrees (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Arbogast_II ( 583768 )
      Internet service should be viewed as a utility, and should have a private and a strong public component. In addition, as the article points out, most of us are getting screwed on uploads by the ISP industry. We need fatter upload pipes, and being able to run Apache type servers from your home ( with some limit on bandwidth) is desperately needed. Allowing fatter uploads where anyone can cheaply setup a modest, personal web server would dramatically improve the internet for the majority of the people. A
  • by floppy ears ( 470810 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:10AM (#6014814) Homepage
    The article is kind of long and boring, but here's the key paragraph:

    FTTH [fiber to the home] networks are a good case in point. At present, cable can make more money selling relatively modest cable modem services over their Hybrid Fiber Coaxial (HFC) networks, and telephone companies can make more money selling DSL over their copper-based networks, than they can make by investing huge sums in FTTH networks that would allow them to offer substantially more robust broadband services. To wring every last dollar out of their existing systems, the cable and telephone companies are also working hard to persuade Congress, state legislatures and the FCC to allow them to close their systems to Internet Service Providers, CLECs and other potential competitors. Until these conditions change, the cable and telephone companies will simply not invest in FTTH networks. Instead, they will continue to try to convince us that we really don't need more bandwidth than they're offering. At the same time, they will try to block municipalities from building FTTH systems that could disprove these claims.

    So it's the usual story. Corporations looking out for their bottom line. Using money and power to prevent competition from organizations that might act in the public interest (and thereby cut into corporate profits).
    • So it's the usual story. Corporations looking out for their bottom line.

      <SARCASM>Oh those evil bastards.</SARCASM> Come on, enough business-bashing. Who here doesn't work for a company? Who here doesn't depend on profits to keep their paychecks coming? Why is it all-of-a-sudden unpatriotic to try and make some money? Isn't that the "American Dream"(TM)? When did "profit" become a bad word?

      Of course it's about money. Right now, people are paying $40/month or so for ADSL and broadband c
      • by floppy ears ( 470810 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:35AM (#6014964) Homepage
        Actually, I don't always blame the corporations. But in this case, they're apparently lobbying to prevent municipalities from doing FTTH. That's the downside of profit maximizing. Rather than creating "stuff" for the public good, they are spending money to control politics.

        There have been some interesting economic studies of this phenomenon. To summarize, when companies start spending profits to secure more profits, rather than create new goods, the economy starts to go downhill.
        • Actually, I don't always blame the corporations. But in this case, they're apparently lobbying to prevent municipalities from doing FTTH. That's the downside of profit maximizing. Rather than creating "stuff" for the public good, they are spending money to control politics.

          There have been some interesting economic studies of this phenomenon. To summarize, when companies start spending profits to secure more profits, rather than create new goods, the economy starts to go downhill.

          Yup. And if we didn't

          • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @11:04AM (#6015675)

            If government let the market handle everything, there'd be no point to bribing government officials, so that money would go somewhere else, namely, to trying to stay ahead of the competition.

            If we let the market handle everything, there'd be no need for bribing the government. Corporations would do whatever they wanted to, and we'd be working 12 hours a day for starvation wages. That's the problem with the Randite pipedream - it has as little to do with reality as Communism.

            • The problem with the idea of endless worker slavery is that it ignores the fact that eventually labor is no longer plentiful and companies bid up the price on it as much as any other business input. Beyond that, labor does tend to differentiate its pricing based on worker treatment. If you have two equivalently paid jobs, the one that features working for a bad boss will simply not be your choice.

              Good treatment of workers lowers labor costs and more and more businesses are figuring that out.
              • "The problem with the idea of endless worker slavery is that it ignores the fact that eventually labor is no longer plentiful and companies bid up the price on it as much as any other business input. Beyond that, labor does tend to differentiate its pricing based on worker treatment. If you have two equivalently paid jobs, the one that features working for a bad boss will simply not be your choice.

                Good treatment of workers lowers labor costs and more and more businesses are figuring that out. "

                This would
                • Imperfect competition leads to the effect of bidding up labor to be slowed down and distorted, not to their elimination. No matter how much the business owners try to make labor negotiations an us v. them environment with the business owners having all the cards, the truth is that exceptional workers have always and will always continue to be poached from one another. This happens at all levels (I saw it once when a CompUSA did a mass poaching of an Office Max store).

                  In a boom, the bosses run out of worker
                • a) the reason that two people in a marriage have to work now is that the government is eating up so much of our money trying to control the economy - and in doing so is also hurting the economy - so we're being bitten twice.

                  b) Why does everyone leave out the fact that people are pretty smart, and when left without too many barriers tend to do pretty amazing things?

                  c) pre-exisiting conditions only apply if you have a period without work. In addition, medical insurance is only needed because medical costs
            • If we let the market handle everything, there'd be no need for bribing the government. Corporations would do whatever they wanted to, and we'd be working 12 hours a day for starvation wages.

              Only if that's what you want to do. If there is perfect competition for labour and employment, then labour practices will reflect what people are willing to do.

            • If we let the market handle everything, there'd be no need for bribing the government. Corporations would do whatever they wanted to, and we'd be working 12 hours a day for starvation wages. That's the problem with the Randite pipedream - it has as little to do with reality as Communism.

              Jump back, alley cat! Government controls of public easement is one of the big problems. If just anyone could put their wires into those easments, you bet me and all sorts of others would be stringing the ugliest communit

      • Of course it's about money. Right now, people are paying $40/month or so for ADSL and broadband connections. Sure, fibre would boost those speeds, but who'll be willing to pay increased fees for it? Would your Mom be willing to shell out $90/month for fibre when she's already getting megabit service for less than half that?

        Gee, maybe you work for a telco or the cable company? And you sure as hell did not read the article. Yet I respond anyway. =sigh=

        First off, in the article there are numerous example

      • Yes, it is easy to blame the "Big, Bad Corporations". When they're freezing the little guy out of the market, patenting things that are blatantly obvious, and abusing monopoly power to eliminate our freedom of choice, it's very easy.

        Capitalism is great when it means we have people competing to produce better products so they can make more money. When it means we have companies that can afford to give their product away until they've established a marketplace in which you have to have their product, or th
    • As the article points out, FTTH isn't free, which is why companies are going bankrupt laying fiber or avoiding it altogether. So how are municipalities going to pay for it? Raise prices for power and increase local taxes. YOU will pay for it ultimately, whether you want it or not. In America, one should have the choice, not be forced by a community or govt. to pay for something one may not want.
  • by Matrix272 ( 581458 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:10AM (#6014817)
    I was an employee of a company that ran fiber throughout several blocks of the downtown city (if you could call it a city) area and connected quite a few locations directly. The problem turned out to be need. People could already get cable modem or DSL, and even though the prices were incredible (I think it was $40 for a 10mb 2-way connection), nobody saw the need for that kind of speed.

    Granted, Lock Haven, PA [lockhaven.com] is hardly the technological Mecca that some other places in the country are, but you'd think that for $40 a month, with no download or upload cap, and no monitoring of any kind, someone would want it... but as it turns out, not so much. It's still successful enough to keep the company from going under, but it's hardly the money-maker they anticipated it would be.

    The project itself was called Lock Haven Electronic Village [lhev.com], and was started by KCnet (Keystone Community Network) [kcnet.org]. They're an educationally oriented ISP that was started by the school district and gets grants from the government for education-based projects. If memory serves, they did the first phase for around $250,000.
    • Dear $diety... Lock Haven?

      I went to the college there from 1991-1993. Other -than- the college, the town was about as "High Tech" as any other small town nestled in the backwater woods of the north east USA 'mountain' towns. Go a mile off any decently paved road, toss a stone, and you'll hit Amish.

      Now mind you, this was 1993 when I left. The college had -just- gotten hooked up to that (to us) Super High Tech Internet Highway!

      Lock Haven creeped me out. I kept expecting to hear dueling banjos when I wa
  • by swasson ( 639367 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:12AM (#6014830) Homepage
    until I get electricity and running water out here in NEW Mexico, broadband is the least of my worries.
    /sarcasm

  • No thanks. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brocktune ( 512373 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:13AM (#6014833) Homepage
    Electricity is required for a minimum standard of living. If municipal water & sewer is not available, they can be handled with wells and septic tanks. Arguably, telephone service (wire or wireless) is necessary for emergency 911 service. Broadband internet, like cable television, is a luxury. The government is plenty big already without getting into the entertainment business. How much easier is it for big brother to monitor you if they are providiing the access?

    I have the choice of cable, DSL from several vendors, satellite, and dialup. The private sector is handling my business just fine.

    • Re:No thanks. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Horny Smurf ( 590916 )
      Electricity was once a luxury too, as was phone service (my electricity and phone line come from a public company, but are gov't sanctioned monopolies). People within the local city limits have municipal electricity. And were thinking about municipal broadband (for gov't offices first, private residences later).

      Mark my words, there will be a day when broadband access is no longer a 'luxury'.

    • Re:No thanks. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      Electricity is required for a minimum standard of living.

      really? so all those people in africa are dead then?

      you can live with much MUCH less. it's how many luxuries you want that requires your electricity..

      in fact , many of the omish in northern michigan have very nice homes and lives and have NO ELECTRICITY...

      I would say, clean water, food and shelter are required for a standard of living. everything else is simply fluff.
      • Re:No thanks. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @11:08AM (#6015710)

        Re:No thanks. (Score:3) by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday May 22, @10:33AM (#6014949) (http://www.your-website-sucks.com/) Electricity is required for a minimum standard of living. really? so all those people in africa are dead then? you can live with much MUCH less. it's how many luxuries you want that requires your electricity..

        How did this get modded insightful? It's fairly obvious that the original poster was referring to legal requirements, not absolute needs. Besides, it doesn't matter if you can live without electricity and running water - try it in the US and you risk having your building condemned.

        • How did this get modded insightful? It's fairly obvious that the original poster was referring to legal requirements, not absolute needs. Besides, it doesn't matter if you can live without electricity and running water - try it in the US and you risk having your building condemned.

          Actually, as the poster from New Mexico was pointing out, there are still plenty of parts of the US where no running water or electricity are available (for instance I knew lots of Alaskans with no runnning water in their homes

      • by RealAlaskan ( 576404 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @11:17AM (#6015789) Homepage Journal
        ... many of the omish in northern michigan have very nice homes and lives and have NO ELECTRICITY...

        You misspelled that: it's Ohmish, not ``omish''. Note that it's capitalized, as befits a proper noun.

        The Ohmish do without electricity because of their high resistance to the modern world. Their opposite, so to speak, are the Mhoish, or Siemenites, whose beliefs are quite conductive to amenities like electricity.

    • Re:No thanks. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:35AM (#6014969)
      then you don't live in an area controlled by broadband monopoly.

      I moved from NW Ohio to Burnsville, MN in November (I am now 15-20 mins out of downtown Minneapolis). I moved from an area that offered a steady 300kB/s cable pipe (TimeWarner RR) to an area that offered a 1.5mbs pipe (about 220kB/s steady with ATTBI)...

      Comcast recently took over the entire region and raised my Internet rates (without CATV) to 60.95 from 46.95... Not only that but now I have download speeds in the 180kB/s range.

      More money, slower speeds, and the same crap customer service...
    • Re:No thanks. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by op00to ( 219949 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:42AM (#6015001)
      Entertainment? Funny, I primarily use my broadband access for work. I guess that changes broadband access to a "Multiple-use" classifcation. Anyhow, your local/municipal government is already in the "entertainment" business -- they probably have a senior citizen's club, a little league team, some sort of recreation fields, maybe a new year's eve celebration...The list goes on. Just because you may only use your network access to play some poker game doesn't mean that other people may use it for other purposes.

      As for the private sector handling your business, what do you think will happen in the next few years? DSL from several vendors will switch into Verizon DSL, and that's about it. All the other smaller providers will be muscled out, but that's another topic. You really only have the choice of two cable (most likely only one) providers, satellite is slow and is being phased out, and dialup is for webtv, or something.

      The variety of choice for broadband is going to lessen over the next few years, so as i see it, it would benefit both myself and my community to have a network connection utility that would have to answer to the people (publicly run or regulated) rather than a private company whose main interest is profit.

      As for big brother -- if someone wants to monitor you, they'll monitor you, whether you've got earthlink or anything else. Worrying about that is like pissing into the wind.
      • How is the creation of a single broadband option through the government creating any MORE choice for the consumer?

        So instead of Verizon DSL, Cable, DTV Satellite (whether or not you think it's still around), Dial-Up, plus whatever new technologies will be here in 5 years... .... we'll have Government-Provided Broadband Service X.

        Yep, looks like lots more choices to me.

        You think this is some kind of zero-sum game, where the choices now are the maximum choices there ever will be, and they'll only lessen wi
        • Some big stuff is going on inside the FCC concerning the DE-regulation of the broadband industry. There is going to be very few rules preventing Verizon et all to use their unfair advantage (owning all the CO's, deep pockets) to put Speakeasy and all the smaller ISP's out of business. Current broadband options as we know it will find it difficult to compete against the company that no longer has to accomodate them.

          I mentioned in my earlier post that Cable really isn't a choice, since you will only really
    • Municipal broadband isn't geared towards towns that have such options available to them. In a couple weeks, I'm moving to Vernonia, OR, a small town of about 3000 people. In the early 1900's, the big electric providers weren't interested in giving them power. Too few people, too far away from the Portland metro area. So they created their own power utility and it still serves the town and outlying areas very well.

      Today, they have the same problem with broadband. We've got a CO right in the middle of t
  • by djeaux ( 620938 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:18AM (#6014861) Homepage Journal
    In fact, in ultra-rural Grant County, WA, where users of the County's FTTH system have affordable access to speeds of 100 Mbps in both directions, bandwidth usage has jumped more than 600 percent and upstream usage actually exceeds downstream usage. Why? The County believes that small businesses are sending substantially more information to the Internet than they are downloading, and gamers are vastly increasing their real-time usage. That's good news for rural communities that are looking for ways to keep their kids from leaving.
    No doubt, the RIAA will be moving field investigators into Grant County within the week. Must be a hotbed of P2P ;-)

    But see-riously, wasn't one goal of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to increase access in rural areas? Needless to say, that's not what happened. Baller's comparison of broadband access to the situation when the Rural Electrification Act was passed is valid. But telcos & electric companies are going where they get the biggest return for the least investment. Even "rural" EPAs tend to concentrate on small towns & suburbs these days -- services in the really rural areas are not much better than they were 40 years ago.

    The high-tech redneck,

  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:21AM (#6014884)
    JakCrow asks: Why aren't the phone and cable companies addressing the reasons for the municipal push? Municipal broadband is developing because people are tired of the bad service, high prices, and lousy coverage, yet the phone and cablecos would rather spend money using propaganda to fight municipal projects than fix their own problems.

    Jim Baller: I believe that there are many good people working for cable and telephone companies who would like to deliver good products at reasonable prices and also offer good service. Consider, for example, an article in the Tacoma News Tribune on May 19, 2003, in which Comcast spokesman Steve Kipp said that competition with Tacoma's Click! Network was a good thing for all concerned, including Comcast. Specifically, Mr. Kipp was quoted as saying that: "It's that competition that has really spurred the additional investment in cable and customer service." (link). Think of where we would be if Comcast, as a whole company, acted as though it really believes this. Unfortunately, as a company, it does not.


    Explain to me how Comcast has competition? DSL is NOT competition for Comcast Internet services (this is not an arguable point BTW). Comcast is THE only option for broadband where I live (no DSL and wireless access is cost prohibitive). They took over ATTBI and immediately raised the rates (which have yet to take effect but I am sure that (based on previous practices) will be "noticed at a later date" and corrected by charging for the back months in a single bill...)

    Competition for Comcast IS good but it doesn't exist. I seriously believe that Muni's that run their own broadband service would actually be helping the community and THEMSELVES.

    Force the "natural monopolies" (their words, not mine) to compete instead of taking over and doing what they want.
    • Ding, ding, ding ding....

      You hear that? That's the clue train. ya just missed it.

      Where to start.

      Explain to me how Comcast has competition? DSL is NOT competition for Comcast Internet services (this is not an arguable point BTW).

      Of course its competition! Competition is defined as two companies who have the same product with differing circumstances (its not Webster's, but its good enough). That means if people have another option at high speed internet, they might *gasp* just take it! This means that C
    • So wait, since where you live you can't get DSL currently, noone else can argue that DSL is competition? Interesting.

      Also, did you ever think that perhaps the reason Comcast raised the original ATTBI rates was in response to why ATTBI was available to be bought? They're not just going to raise prices for the fun of it, they're going to raise prices so they can MAKE MONEY. ATTBI sucked (in a business sense), they got bought, the prices had to go up to cover the costs...

      Tell me, if Comcast offered you ev
  • Makes me wonder... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by botzi ( 673768 )
    providing their communities significantly better service at substantially lower prices than investor-owned utilities provide.

    1. Is this a fact???
    3. Do this guy cares if that's truth????

    Answer:
    Niyyaa....

    • 1. Is this a fact???
      3. Do this guy cares if that's truth????


      Your English and math teachers must be so proud of you...
    • 1. Is this a fact???
      3. Do this guy cares if that's truth????


      2. PROFIT!!
    • 1. Is this a fact???

      3. Do this guy cares if that's truth????

      Congratulations. You read a sentence out of the article. However, you neglected to read any of the sources pointed to in the article, or the examples of exactly what kind of services were being provided in what towns for what price (and I almost wanted to pack up my bags and head for Glasgow, KY [glasgow-ky.com]. I mean check out the prices! [kansascity.com]

      Anyway, the whole thing is clearly a no-brainer. This is how we should have handled broadband in the first place.

  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:22AM (#6014888) Journal
    If you think private telco monopolies are bad, you haven't seen anything yet until you've seen government-owned monopolies.

    Our electricity monopoly here is government owned. I am overhauling my house right now, and a friend of ours, who works for the electricity company, mentioned it'd make his job a lot easier if the meter was in a box on the outside of the house, rather than inside (meaning the meter reader can read the meter at his convenience, rather than when I'm available to let him in). I agreed.

    The first hurdle was trying to acquire the plastic box to put the meter in. We went to the Manx Electricity Authority shop and asked for one. We were told to fill in a confetti-like shower of forms, and we'd have to wait a couple of weeks for it to show up. The guy behind the desk wouldn't budge. He had them in stock, and available, but no, he couldn't give us one. He terminated the argument by announcing, "Well, we ARE the government, you know".

    Finally, we get the box. I did all the work myself to install it (cut the hole in the wall, secured and set it in the wall, concreted the hole etc.) at my expense. All we needed was to have the MEA move the meter from its present position to the new box. We fill in yet another form to tell them what we want to do.

    A couple of weeks later their guy shows up and says, "Nah, I can't do that, you need a jointer to do that. And you need to fill out these forms".

    Yet more forms. We had already told them exactly what needed doing, and they sent the wrong type of person out.

    "Oh, you're on a six-week waiting list for a jointer" they then said, after filling out yet more forms. I escalated the matter, and had a long debate with a guy about it and told him all our woes. He tried to wriggle out of it.

    "What electrician's qualifications do you have to do the installation?" he asked, trying to pry open an "excuse hole" he could exploit.
    "It's a plastic box set in a wall. You are telling me you have to be a qualified electrician to cut a hole in a wall, put a plastic box in, screw in the supplied screws, and re-render around the hole?"
    "Well, what about all the cabling?"
    "There _IS_ no cabling! That's the point! This is why we've been filling out a confetti-like shower of forms to get your guy to come out, move the meter, and recable!"
    Finally, sensing he was on a loser (and about to receive a LARTing) he gave up on that tack.

    We first asked for the meter box in January. It is now late May, and the meter STILL hasn't been moved. We are only doing this to benefit the municipal electricity company, and at our expense. I keep explaining this to them but it doesn't seem to make any difference.
    Even Texas-New Mexico Power was never that bad.

    Government is almost NEVER the answer. A government monopoly is orders of magnitudes worse than a private one in my experience.

    Manx Telecom (the private telecom monopoly we have) despite their faults are a joy to work with by comparison. They have even acquired a clue when it comes to running an ADSL network. We did a similar job relocating the telephone line, to have it run underground. No forms to fill out - we just asked them to lay a new cable and they did it when they said they'd do it - no waiting lists and no bullshit.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:57AM (#6015094)
      I work for a city govt in Texas, and if anyone in our public utilities customer service positions treated someone that way, they'd be fired in short order... but only if you actually bothered to prepare a formal complaint to the department. If the complaint is factual, well documented and is not a lunatic ranting, it is taken *very* seriously here. We've even had citizens bring their complaints (well prepared and "educated") before the city council as initial complaints, not going thru the normal departmental channels first, and let me tell you doing that usually gets investigative results FAST. It is a municipal employee's worst nightmare for a citizen to voice their complaint first to the council, so we make it well known at the service counters that if someone has a valid issue with a city utility, that they get priority attention from us, the staff.
    • The first hurdle was trying to acquire the plastic box to put the meter in. We went to the Manx Electricity Authority shop and asked for one. We were told to fill in a confetti-like shower of forms, and we'd have to wait a couple of weeks for it to show up. The guy behind the desk wouldn't budge. He had them in stock, and available, but no, he couldn't give us one. He terminated the argument by announcing, "Well, we ARE the government, you know".
      That's because you are in England. England, you know, is populated by english people, and english people have that collective neurosis about the State being bad (this comes directly from the Magna Carta). It's a vicious circle: people believe that the State is bad, so no one wants to be associated with the State, so smart people don't go work for the State, and the State does stupid things, which reinforces the perception.

      By contrast, look at France where people TRUST the State. Working for the State is not demeaned, and people see it as an honour, and there are those prestigious Grandes Écoles (great schools) [polytechnique.fr] who turn-out nothing but extremely competent bureaucrats (those schools skim the cream of the crop of each schools in France - they accept only the best of the best students). The result is extremely efficient and well-run public corporations and utilities, say like the SNCF which operates the largest network of the fastests trains in the known universe.

      Instead of whining against filling forms, why don't you do something positive like trying to fix those problems by, say, bringing more smartness to their process???

      As long as the anglo-saxons will have that shit-for-brains attitude against the State, you will get the shitty public service you rightfully deserve.

      • Unfortunately, the French stuck all the smart people in the *objectively less efficient sector*. The problem with govt. isn't only the quality of people in the system but the system itself. In the private sector when a dispute between a customer and the company goes bad, the ultimate resolution is the customer leaves, depriving the company of revenue. The company can't do anything more to the customer. In the public sector, the ultimate result of a customer situation gone as bad as it can is a govt. fine, i
      • That's because you are in England.

        Now I know I shouldn't reply to trolls, but your message is so factually incorrect I'll just have to bite. If you'd actually taken time to read my article, you will have noticed that I don't live in England. I am separated from England by 60 miles of tempestuous salt water (the Irish Sea). I don't even live in the UK or European Union.

        Funny how you say the French trust the state when in my experience the French are the first to break the rules, and French state workers

    • How bizzare.

      Outdoor-rated meter sockets should be something you can get at the building store. They should be standardized so that the utility power meter just plugs into the meter socket. Cabling from pole to socket is the power company's issue, cabling from meter socket to your panel is your issue (and the electrical inspectors!).

      This much I've learned from us changing our electric service from overhead to underground. But even the private utility we have has a bunch of forms to fill out (with maps!)
    • You are over-generalizing your experience. My electrical utility here is a governement-owned monopoly. It is the least troublesome utility I have to deal with (privately owned cable and telco are real PITA). Not only that, but it also sell the cheapest electricity in North America and make a profit too.

      See, governement-owned != bad on the premise of some bad experience you had.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:23AM (#6014889)

    Around where I live, one can get a decent cable or DSL broadband connection for a fair price. However, to get optimal broadband, and I mean really optimal, you need to have a fiber-optic connection into every house. Think of how great that would be - streaming audio and video, ability to download whole CDROM ISOs in incredibly short amounts of time. (You really need that if you want to download RH8 and 9.)

    The problem with this is that it's so darn expensive. Those fiber-optic connections have to be perfect. It's just too expensive to put that in on a mass scale. It would be great if the government could fund that. But you have to wonder whether society will really benefit from everyone having a super-fast connection. Would these fast speeds be used as a tool or as entertainment?

    • Eh? I don't think we would see anything of the sort unless the people serving that content took similar steps to increase their bandwidth.
      It doesn't matter how much bandwidth I have if the guy on the other end of my connection is just a t1.

      Kintanon
    • If this process is going to stay expensive then it makes sense to roll the cost into mortgages and lay fiber into entire subdivisions at construction. If the price is rapidly going to get cheaper, it makes sense to wait a few years and do it then. Either way, the current painful state will pass.
  • "As I noted earlier, cable and telephone companies have invested vast sums in their HFC and copper infrastructures, and they have powerful incentives to maximize returns on these investments. Municipal broadband projects are very scary to them, even in small markets that they would otherwise ignore, because once the public sees what's really possible, the cable and telephone companies will find it difficult to defend their inferior products and services. In my opinion, that's good for the U.S. "

    It was refr
  • uhm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by papasui ( 567265 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:43AM (#6015007) Homepage
    Cable & phone companies can't prevent the city from starting their own broadband services, the city grants the cable & phone companies the right to offer those services through their franchise agreements. If the city wants to compete with the cable & phone companies or get rid of them altogether that's their choice. Of course the current broadband service companies aren't going to run fiber to the home it's freaking retarded for them to do it right now. It costs far too much. If everyone was given a 10mbit connection to the internet the backbones would all need to be replaced with higher capacity systems. Yeah it all sounds good to have that kind of connection but @home went out of business for a reason, they couldn't turn a profit.
  • by Znonymous Coward ( 615009 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @09:49AM (#6015035) Journal
    Hello,

    I'm from the future, a future where Municipal Broadband ruined the earth as we know it. Because of my Tempral Prime Directive, I cannot tell you how or why it ruined the earth; doing so would tear the fabric of space and time and distort the timeline between then and now.

    Do not let Municipal Broadband deployment continue.
  • Well, of course! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <pig.hogger@gm a i l.com> on Thursday May 22, 2003 @10:00AM (#6015127) Journal
    A government-owned utility is of course more efficient. It is not burdened by the need for a short-term profit; hence it can invest revenues in a way that's conductive to long-term planning. Claims of inefficiency coming from the private sector is, of course, more FUD.

    The best example is the electric power generation and distribution in Québec [hydro-quebec.com] (Canada). Since the early 1960's, electric power generation has been nationalized in Québec, and the result is the lowest electricity rates in the world, all the while paying-off the northern native communities on whose land the dams have been erected so well that, on the whole continent, they are the better-off natives (that's "indians" for you non-PC types).

    Even with all this, it manages to pour billions of dollars in the government's coffers (that's so much taxes we won't have to pay).

    Much of the revenue is made through exportation, and this is thanks to the hydroelectric nature of the generation system: unlike a thermic or nuclear power plant, a dam can be turned-off during off-peak times. So, during the night, we close the dams, and buy surplus power from the US at 2, while during the day, we open the whole shebang and sell our surplus at 4...

    By contrast, Hydro-Ontario (which had been owned by the province for a century) has been privatized and the market "opened-up", just like in California. The result is a complete fiasco [google.com], as small businesses face 500% electric power cost increases (for electoral reasons, consumers have been guaranteed - at government expense - a lower fixed rate).

    Come have a look up here, and whenever someone says that government-ownership is bad, you can safely answer back "bullshit", and then ask him why the roads and highways aren't owned by private entreprise to see him bumble...

    • I certainly agree here.

      Here in East Tennessee we have the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), which, IIRC, has the lowest power rates in the nation, thanks to our extensive work in dams and modified waterways.
    • Quebec power is hardly a comparable example to most US power utilities. Canada is a sparsely populated country with plenty of hydro-potential. The simple issue is that most towns do not have the dam-potential -- or have already exhausted them -- to generate sufficient fuel-free power. If you don't need to buy fuel, electricity can be quite a bit cheaper. What can a flat town do: dam a puddle? No potential energy, no free power. Sure, governments can do pretty well if they do not need to buy their fuel -- Br
    • Even with all this, it manages to pour billions of dollars in the government's coffers (that's so much taxes we won't have to pay).

      Just to make a technical point, profits made by a government owned corporation that are funnelled back into the general government revenues (rather than re-invested in the corporation) are, in fact, taxes.

  • by StandardCell ( 589682 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @10:08AM (#6015186)
    Back in 1995 or thereabouts, I read an article that said something to the effect of "T1 speeds in five years for $30? How does that bite you?"

    The prediction is both true and false. True in the sense that you can certainly achieve T1 speeds easily for that cost and even less, but false in the sense that greed has both driven prices through the roof and service through the floor.

    In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, broadband cable costs US$30/month with effectively no caps (though egregious uploaders and downloaders do get flagged). In most of the US, the typical cable or DSL provider wants around $50/month for lesser service - even in lower-cost areas. I'll tell you one thing - when I was living in the US, it sure bit my ass.
  • by aldousd666 ( 640240 ) on Thursday May 22, 2003 @10:34AM (#6015389) Journal
    Listen, to all of you compaining about big government:

    The government doesn't have to be an ISP. I think they should be willing to help put in place infrastructure, like fiber lines, or whatever other kind of lines you want to use.

    These lines can be used by any schmoe company to sell service. I used an example, in my previous posting, of roads. The roads are the infrastructure, whereas the actual service comes from Ford, Chevy, Toyota, or wherever.

    The point of the whole story seemed to me to be that the telco companies aren't going to put up new infrastructure because at this point, (and forever at this rate) it's not profitable to do so.

    If we have the government grant money to municiplaities to put the infrastructure in place, then they can sell to their heart's content all of the service they wish. In the end they would end up with a bigger customer base. How's that not good for business?

  • This quote about "ultra-rural" Grant County PUD is somewhat misleading:

    "In fact, in ultra-rural Grant County, WA, where users of the County's FTTH system have affordable access to speeds of 100 Mbps in both directions, bandwidth usage has jumped more than 600 percent and upstream usage actually exceeds downstream usage. Why? The County believes that small businesses are sending substantially more information to the Internet than they are downloading, and gamers are vastly increasing their real-time usage."

    While it's true that the users are getting 100mbps access, they are *paying* for only 1mbps access. The PUD is simply too lazy (or incompetent) to limit the actual rates. Now that the PUD is running out of cash to continue rolling out the program they are still fighting any efforts on the part of service providers to actually rate-limit connections and use that to provide quality of service (and enough cash-flow to the PUD to pay for the program).

    The other problems with public power doing broadband is their bureaucratic nature. These are not business people but salaried workers who are accustomed to a business model that does not include competition or the risk of going bankrupt. They have been tutored in a regulated monopoly environment in which the "bottom line" can often be whatever they want it to be. Here in Grant County they have apparently (it's hard to get a straight answer) raised the electric power rates to help cover the fiber rollout costs. This has enraged the agricultural interests who feel, with some justification, that those who will benefit most from fiber should pay the most to roll it out.

    Additionally, the PUD here has entered into questionable contracts with favored service providers. There is at the present time an investigation into these dealings being undertaken by an "independent" Seattle-area lawyer. The word "independent" is in quotes because the attorney doing the investigation told me he is acting as the attorney for the PUD Commissioners with all the secrecy a client-attorney relationship can imply. Whether the results of this investigation, which could be politically damaging, will be released to the public is "entirely up to the PUD Commissioners", he said.

    The Grant County PUD is hardly a shining example of local-control broadband. The PUD controls two hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and will spend something over $200 million in their fiber project (no one yet knows the real costs). This is big money no matter how you look at it and allegations of sweetheart deals to special interests abound.

    Broadband is expensive no matter who does it and no matter what a high-power lawyer in Washington, DC says. Trying to do it with a community effort might be successful or it might not be. There are many pitfalls and with so much money involved there is always the possibility of corruption and waste.
  • I live near Kutztown, PA, a university community of about 4000 people which is running a muni fiber network to downtown homes and businesses and planning to bill users for it along with water, sewer, etc. I called and asked the local govt folks if they would consider putting Wi-Fi broadcast antennas on top of the local "mountain" (big hill, really - couple hundred feet high) to reach outlying areas. I already have a DirecTV dish - one more wouldn't be a problem The fellow I spoke to said they'd really lo
    • The question was put wrongly. Would the government permit a non-profit corporation to put a wi-fi tower on that same hill? If the outlying areas would pony up the money, they should be able to get a tower up and have broadband without having any sort of need to municipalize it. The problem comes from government ladling out hidden subsidies.

      Try again as a non-profit and see if you get a better answer.
  • I just moved into a community where the only option I have is 28.8kbps dialup (no copper, no cable, and satellite is just too damn expensive). I'd love to have a choice of ways to link up to the internet, but unfortunately I don't. Where I used to live had DSL, Cable, and even Ricochet (remember them?). Oh well. :)
  • Hello! Cost of Infastructure is the reason why! Say you can get a good deal on Long range fiber transceivers at 100$ a pop (This still completely Leaves out the Equipment this will still be needed to be hooked up to.).. you need 1 on each end... So your amost at 1/4 of a million dollars just for lasers.. No equipment to hook up yet at all... Just to light up the fiber.. Cost of recovery... if your broadband provider can cut more than 15$ a month in profit they are doing VERY good... so lets just say they
  • South Korea doesn't have FTTH, but it does have a very extensive braodband infrastucture. The government spent a lot of time and money investing in it and building it. The result of that is that S Korea is the most online community per capita in the world, above the US and Japan even.

    You can usually choose between 6 different broadband providers there. Since there is so much competion, rates are cheap, and there are NO upload or download limits. When I try to explain the download caps we have here, my
  • Greets all,
    I'm actually one of those lucky folks in Tacoma who gets their internet access from the City owned cable utility. That's right, here in Tacoma we can get high-speed internet from our municipal power company. Both the price and performance beat Comcast's product by a mile. I pay $29 a month (+$5 for an extra IP address) and get 1M down, usually clocks at around 1.5M, and 128K up. If I wanted to spend another $20 a month I could get 2M down and 256K up, static IP, and the right to run my own se

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