municipal broadband

Statement on Court Reversing FCC’s Municipal Broadband Order

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Regulatory State | No Comments

Haymarket, VA, August 10, 2016 – Fred Campbell, director of Tech Knowledge, issued the following statement regarding the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision reversing the FCC’s rule preempting state-level restrictions on municipal broadband deployments:

“The court’s ruling makes doubly clear that the FCC does not have the power to pick the decision maker in non-federal government infrastructure projects. The FCC’s rule let local city officials make broadband deployment decisions throughout entire states, despite contrary decisions by state-level officials. This attempt by the FCC to ‘reorder the decision-making structure of a state and its municipalities trenches on the core sovereignty of that state.’

There are other good reasons why the FCC shouldn’t be interposing itself into relationships between state and local government officials. Geographic, economic, and other factors can vary widely across a single state, which puts state-level officials in a better position to serve state-wide interests than municipal officials. And one-size-fits-all policies designed by federal bureaucrats in Washington can be a particularly blunt instrument for dealing with the diverse needs of different states. Many municipal broadband deployments have ended in failures that ended up costing taxpayers.

The current FCC’s preference for ubiquitous fiber deployments despite their enormous costs — the FCC’s chief strategist declared, ‘I wouldn’t move to a place that just has fixed wireless’ — is likely unreasonable in most rural areas. The risks of pushing a fiber-only policy were highlighted just yesterday by Google’s surprise announcement that it’s putting plans on hold to provide fiber internet in Silicon Valley while it explores more cost-effective wireless alternatives. If the largest company in the world (Google) can’t justify the cost of fiber in the wealthy enclaves of Silicon Valley, it’s hard to see how the FCC can justify overriding the judgments of state officials in a starry-eyed push for nationwide fiber deployment.

This ruling means the FCC can’t gamble on its fiber internet agenda using the states’ money.”

Tech Knowledge promotes market-oriented technology policies on behalf of the public interest. Additional information about Tech Knowledge can be found on our website, techknowledge.center.

CBIT Statement on FCC Municipal Broadband and Net Neutrality Votes

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Regulatory State, Statement | No Comments

Washington, D.C., February 26, 2015 – Fred Campbell, Director of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology, released the following statement with respect to the votes of the Federal Communications Commission on municipal broadband and Internet regulation:

“Today’s FCC actions imposing discriminatory, anticompetitive regulations on the Internet and preempting state competition laws trampled on the rights to free speech and freedom of the press, state rights, and fundamental principles of the free market.

The agency’s ideological pivot at the President’s command betrayed the trust of Congress and the American people in the fairness and utility of the FCC and other so-called independent agencies. It’s now up to Congress and the courts to uphold justice and protect the values that Americans hold dear.”

Government Broadband Plan Would Move US Policy to the Left of Europe

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Regulatory State | No Comments

Last year the European Union (EU) ruled that government owned broadband networks are harmful to competition and counterproductive to broadband deployment in markets with private competitors — like the market in Cedar Falls, Iowa where the President spoke.

In a speech preceding the State of the Union Address, President Obama said that preempting state laws prohibiting municipalities from owning broadband networks puts him on the side of “competition.” In reality, it would put US broadband policy somewhere to the left of Europe. Last year the European Union (EU) ruled that government owned broadband networks are harmful to competition and counterproductive to broadband deployment in markets with private competitors — like the market in Cedar Falls, Iowa where the President spoke. Based on thorough data and global economic consensus, the EU issued a regulation that presumptively prohibits municipal broadband deployments.

The new EU law requires that, “Investments in broadband networks shall be undertaken primarily by the private sector, supported by a competitive and investment-friendly regulatory framework.” (Art. 5, § 1) It authorizes local government support for broadband networks only where a detailed market analysis shows there is a market failure or sub-optimal investment situation. (Id. at Art. 5, § 1 and  ¶ (21)) Read More

CBIT Fact Check: The White House Lied About Broadband in Cedar Falls

Posted by | Broadband Internet | No Comments

The President’s claim that Cedar Fall residents can get a gig for less than many Americans pay for premium cable is untrue. His statement that the Cedar Falls Utility network is 100 times faster than the average American Internet connection is, at best, a misleading and contradictory exaggeration, and at worst, absolutely false.

Last week, President Obama said “were gonna change” — i.e., preempt through federal fiat — state laws that prohibit their municipalities from owning broadband networks. (See embedded YouTube video at 14:00.) The White House supported his preemption plan with this “fact sheet” and a blog post listing “five things you need to know” about the President’s announcement. The problem is, several of the “facts” and other things the White House wants you to know are false, misleading, or contradictory.

If you live in Cedar Falls, can you really get a 1 gigabit per second Internet connection “for less than many Americans pay for premium cable?” Nope.

One of the things the White House wants you to know about the President’s announcement is, “If you live, or have a business in Cedar Falls, you can get a ‘gig’ . . . for less than many Americans pay for premium cable.” That’s not true. The price of a 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet subscription in Cedar Falls is nearly 2 times higher than the average price of a premium cable package (according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)) and costs more than the top-of-the-line programming packages offered by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DIRECTV, and DISH Network.

cbit-cf-chart-one-01-20-15

For a 1 Gbps Internet connection, Cedar Falls Utility (CFU) charges $147 per month in the city and $152 per month in rural areas unless you also subscribe to its Cable TV service (starting at $23 per month for a “Basic TV” package). If you subscribe to CFU’s cheapest cable package and 1 Gbps Internet, your pre-tax monthly cost would be $158 for city and $163 for rural.

According to the Federal Communication Commission’s most recent cable price report, as of January 1, 2013, the average price of a premium programming package (defined as the “next most popular service” after “basic” and “expanded” cable programming services) was $77.05. (See FCC Report on Cable Industry Prices at p. 7.) (The FCC defines the “next most popular service” to include at least 7 additional channels.) At $147 to $152 per month, Cedar Fall’s 1 gig service is nearly double the average price ($77.05 x 2 = $154.10) of a premium cable package as defined by the FCC.

The CFU 1 gig service also costs more than the most expensive programming packages offered by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DIRECTV, and DISH Network. (According to the FCC, these 4 companies represented 68.6% of all pay-TV subscribers as of the end of June 2012. (See FCC 15th Annual Video Competition Report at pp. 61-62, Table 7.))

The price of Comcast’s “Digital Premier” package ranges from $125.60 to $145.25 per month (depending on location). The regular price of DIRECTV’s top-of-the-line “Premier” package is $129.99 per month. Time Warner Cable’s “Preferred TV w/Whole House DVR Service” costs $131.28 per month in CBIT’s zip code, and DISH’s “everyday low price” for its “Everything” package is $131.99 per month. All of these ultra-premium pay-TV packages are less expensive than the minimum $147 per month that CFU charges for its 1 Gbps Internet access service.

Based on this data, the President’s claim that Cedar Fall residents can get a gig for less than many Americans pay for premium cable is untrue.

Are Internet speeds in Cedar Falls really 100 times faster than the national average? Nope.

There is no evidence that Internet speeds in Cedar Falls are “almost 100 times faster than the national average.” This statement in the White House “fact sheet” assumes that the national average download speed is about 10 megabits per second (a Gbps is equivalent to 1,000 Mbps). It’s not clear what the President meant by this, but it fails to pass muster no matter how it’s construed.

The Administration’s own fact-finders show that, on average, American broadband networks offer speeds significantly faster than 10 Mbps. According to the National Broadband Map (maintained by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in collaboration with the FCC), most of the population (82%) is covered by at least one broadband network offering download speeds of 50 Mbps or more — a minimum speed that is 5 times higher than the average 10 Mbps speed cited by the Administration.

The President’s statement fares no better even if he was making an apples-to-oranges comparison of the maximum advertised download speed offered in Cedar Falls (1 Gbps) with a national average based on actual peak download speeds. In its 2014 report measuring broadband, the FCC found that, on average, Internet service providers actually provide 101% of their advertised speeds. (See FCC 2014 Measuring Broadband America Report at p. 14.) The FCC also found that all ISPs that advertise download speeds of 50 Mbps actually deliver that speed or more during peak periods with one exception (Time Warner Cable missed the mark by a few percentage points). (See id. at p. 30, Chart 9.5.) In short, at least 82% of Americans are covered by at least one broadband network that can actually deliver well over 10 Mbps.

It’s possible the White House was comparing the advertised maximum speed tier offered for sale in Cedar Falls (1 Gbps) to a national average based on the advertised or actual speeds of the service tiers to which Americans actually subscribe. (See FCC Internet Access Services: Status as of December 31, 2013 at p. 30, Table 10.) But even that possibility doesn’t pass the straight face test. It’s misleading to compare an offer to sell with actual consumer choices in the marketplace and, even worse, it contradicts the President’s argument and federal broadband measurement.

The President was trying to make the point that the government-owned network in Cedar Falls is faster than private networks and still “affordable.” But, at a minimum price of $147 per month, the 1 gig speed tier in Cedar Falls is hardly “affordable” — it’s nearly 3 times more expensive than the 40 to 50 Mbps offerings of CFU’s competitors. A comparison of CFU’s offerings with comparable offerings by its competitors (CenturyLink and Mediacom) reveals that Cedar Fall’s government-ownership hasn’t made broadband more affordable.

cbit-cf-chart-two-01-20-15

The White House’s reference to 1 gig service as “affordable” is also inconsistent with federal broadband measurement. The FCC doesn’t even bother to track the “the maximum speed tier offered by a company” in its Measuring Broadband America Report; it measures only “the most popular speed tiers” offered by ISPs — i.e., the maximum speed used by a major percentage of subscribers. (See FCC 2014 Measuring Broadband America Report at pp. 10, 13.) The FCC limits its measurements to popular consumer choices because its “goal is to advance high speed Internet access to all Americans,” and it believes “highlighting the maximum speed among the popular speed tiers is the most effective way to demonstrate the spread of high speed Internet access.” (See id. at p. 13 (emphasis in the original).) The President’s use of the fastest, most expensive speed tier offered in Cedar Falls as a basis for comparison is directly contradictory to the FCC’s approach.

The President’s statement that the CFU network is 100 times faster than the average American Internet connection is, at best, a misleading and contradictory exaggeration, and at worst, absolutely false.

There are several more statements in the President’s announcement that contain fact shading, significant omissions, and exaggerations that I intend to address in the future. But the above analysis alone is enough to show that President Obama isn’t being straight with the American people about broadband.

CBIT Statement on President’s Municipal Broadband Plan

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Freedom of Speech, Regulatory State | 2 Comments

Washington, D.C., January 14, 2015 – Fred Campbell, Director of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology, released the following statement with respect to President’s Obama’s broadband announcement today in Cedar Falls, Iowa:

“President Obama’s latest plan to turn the Internet into a public utility is bad economics and bad for our Constitutional right to a free press. The approach to broadband adopted by Cedar Falls, where the President is revealing his plan, repeats the economic errors of the past.

The Cedar Falls network is owned by the city’s rate-regulated power utility. The Federal Communications Commission has long recognized that combining rate-regulated services with other services leads to hidden price increases. This “cross-subsidization” concern — that power companies have incentives to raise consumer electric bills to pay for the deployment of broadband networks — is why the Department of Justice sued to break up the AT&T monopoly in the early 1980s.

Though this problem can be avoided by keeping municipal broadband networks separate from power companies, many independent, government-owned broadband networks have failed, leaving taxpayers to clean up the mess. Burlington Telecom in Vermont used $17 million in city funds before defaulting on its debt obligations. Similarly, the city of Provo, Utah was subsidizing its broadband network at the rate of $2 million per year until it decided to sell the network to Google for one dollar.

Turning broadband networks into public utilities would also put the freedom of the press at risk. The Founders knew through their own, living experience that governments can control ideas by controlling the means of their dissemination. That’s why the First Amendment protects the printing press — the mass media technology of their day — from government control. That protection is equally applicable to the Internet, which is rapidly becoming the primary mass media technology of the present day. Permitting government ownership of a monopoly broadband network would be every bit as dangerous as permitting government ownership of a monopoly newspaper.”

Internet Analogies: Twice as Many Americans Lack Access to Public Water-Supply Systems than Fixed Broadband

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Freedom of Speech, Internet Analogies | No Comments

“If broadband Internet infrastructure had been built to the same extent as public water-supply systems, more than twice as many Americans would lack fixed broadband Internet access.”

After abandoning the “information superhighway” analogy for the Internet, net neutrality advocates began analogizing the Internet to waterworks. I’ve previously discussed the fundamental difference between infrastructure that distributes commodities (e.g., water) and the Internet, which distributes speech protected by the First Amendment – a difference that is alone sufficient to reject any notion that governments should own and control the infrastructure of the Internet. For those who remain unconvinced that the means of disseminating mass communications (e.g., Internet infrastructure) is protected by the First Amendment, however, there is another flaw in the waterworks analogy: If broadband Internet infrastructure had been built to the same extent as public water-supply systems, more than twice as many Americans would lack fixed broadband Internet access. Read More