Google Fiber or similar for Rochester to end the Charter monopoly?

Broadband access is vital to the future of every community, especially one that requires a highly talented workforce like Rochester.  We are behind in broadband and it is hurting our competitiveness and our educational system.  Lack of access to broadband is especially hard on lower income families and the children who would most benefit from the tools that broadband access provides.

I do not support creating a publicly owned company to deliver internet.  I do support creating a utility aimed at delivering broadband access for businesses and homes in Rochester.  Alternatively, I would also support using a private company to create an open network as well (similar to https://fiber.google.com/about/) I would support then allowing any and every company to deliver broadband via our network.  The key is that our network has to be open to all providers.  This would significantly lower the barriers to entry in Rochester.

Federal law requires us to permit telecommunications firms to operate within our city, the question I want to investigate is if we can force them to use our networks as we expand or rebuild the city.  This would give us some leverage.  In the coming weeks I am going to talk with state and national experts to try to find a path forward.

Background:

  1. Charter is effectively a broadband monopoly in Rochester.  The city does not create the monopoly, however the city has never taken a serious set of actions to break up the monopoly.  A few years back I asked the city to simply fund a study to see if RPU could cost effectively deliver broadband.  I got my butt kicked.  John Wade on behalf of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce stated that they opposed this “government intrusion into a competitive marketplace.”  Dennis Hanson, Ed Hruska, and Bruce Snyder spoke against even funding a study to evaluate feasibility.  In the end I was the only council member that supported the study.  Competitive marketplace, ha… My favorite memory was Charter lobbyist Tucker Carlson telling the city about all the jobs that Charter created in Rochester.  I asked him how many of those jobs actually paid a living wage and how many taxpayers were subsidizing?  He respond with one of my favorite laughable lines, “How dare you attack these workers…”
  2. The cost of transmitting data has never been cheaper and the price Charter charges Rochester citizens has never been higher.  Unbundled, regular pricing for broadband is $55 dollars per month.  This translates to $660 per year.  This is actually more than many households pay in city property taxes annually.
  3. Sorry, DSL is a yawner and not a good value when unbundled.
  4. In many places (such as Philadelphia) companies provide low or no cost broadband service to low income families with children in school.  In Rochester, not so much…  That needs to change.
  5. The city grants Charter Communications a non-exclusive franchise agreement to operate in our right-of-way.  Any company can get the same.  The issue is that it takes so much money to create the infrastructure to deliver broadband that no one is pursuing it.  In addition there is a gentleman’s agreement where by these companies don’t compete against each other.
  6. When Monticello created a fiber network and attempted to deliver services, private companies used tools of abuse to pull the rug out from under the city.  Immediately private companies delivered faster private services at very low prices.  Charter would likely employ the same tactics in Rochester.  As such we would need strong leadership to weather the storm.
  7. Broadband matters, TV and phone do not.  Both are dying technologies.  This is why Charter is in such a hurry to raise rates.  The end of TV and phone revenues is coming.
  8. Quietly the city of Rochester has been investing in a fiber network.  For 6 years I have made sure that all our new major roadways and public buildings are connected by fiber (I think in every case the city was doing this anyway).  This existing fiber network could serve as the core of a community wide broadband network.
  9. New technologies may help.  Local access may be able to be achieved via attachments to our light poles.  This would greatly reduce the cost of fiber to existing homes.  This could also be part of our smart grid technology.  Cell companies are increasingly looking at local networks as opposed to large centralized towers, perhaps partnering with them could help make it happen.
  10. We could and probably should require fiber to the home in all new developments or redevelopments.  Do it right the first time.
  11. The recently approved broadband funds for greater Minnesota might help the process.  Thank you to our legislators.
  12. Collusion is no better than a monopoly.  Even in places with multiple providers those providers will work together to keep prices high and service low.  It is only when we own the network that we have the leverage to remain competitive.
  13. I have heard privately from Charter inside sources that resident 800 lb. gorilla Mayo Clinic has also had issues with Charter.  They need a world class partner and are not getting it.
  14. To truly make this right for future generations we might need a referendum to expand our fiber network.  This is a huge opportunity for Rochester, but it will not be free.  The cost is easier to withstand however given the amount of $ that Charter sucks out of our economy.

If someone is asking you for your vote, ask them what they have done or will do to stop the Charter monopoly.  I need 3 more votes.  I think that President Staver is also like interested in some real broadband solutions so there is a chance…

 

2 comments

  1. I;m with you. What can we do. We need support from the Public Utility Commission. I think a good first step would be to see what it would take to declare these utilities utilities. Then there would be some more regulation. Also, Mpls put up broadband. How did they do it?
    They make great money off it. M2

  2. Sad that Rochester has all this Medical Center money and no one is investing in fiber with it. I really liked your article. I just got off the phone with charter and they do not offer speeds that I need. Sure their download speed isn’t that bad, but upload speeds are in the dark ages. I have cut the cord on my TV, but I am using Charter for my internet. I have been with charter for years, but I wish they would start laying fiber instead of working with coax

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