The list of virtual cable operators, or vMVPD's, continues to grow, offering consumers increasing choices for over-the-top viewing. One of the latest that I've been trying out is called TikiLive.
First of all, thanks to Doug Dawson at CCG Consulting, author of the excellent Pots and Pans blog (read it...it's awesome), for the heads-up on TikiLive, which I had never heard of. I've been playing with it for a few days now and here's the bottom line: there's a lot of content (80 or so channels) for not a lot of money (about $30 a month). It's fairly no-frills service, with no cloud DVR or much in the way of on-demand content. But it does have most of the major satellite programming that the average consumer is looking for, including the major ESPN channels. And to provide broadcast network programming, they are carrying the affiliates out of New York City.
If you're interested, here's a video of me demonstrating the service on my living room TV.
Recently, a member of the Municipal Broadband group on Facebook (check it out!) pointed out a website entitled "Broadband Boondoggles: A Map of Failed Taxpayer-Funded Networks". (url is www.munibroadbandfailures.com). Markers on the map of the US show communities that have municipal broadband projects. By clicking on one of the markers, you get an explanation of why the websites authors, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation, thinks that city's broadband is a boondoggle.
So, what does it have to say about some of the municipal broadband utilities that we are most familiar with? Let's start with Cedar Falls Utilties.
I particularly love the line "Despite the enormous cost of the Cedar Falls broadband network to the public, the project remains largely incomplete after 20 years of development." They also don't seem to get the "year started" right.
The fun continues. Here's the entry for another of Iowa's successful municipal broadband projects, Spencer Municipal Utilities.
One indication of the care (or lack therof) the authors took to create their boondoggle map is the fact that they have a marker on the map for Webster City that misses the city's actual location by about 100 miles. Details, details.
The Institute for Local Smuninetworks.org/elf Reliance's broadband team (https://muninetworks.org/) has taken great care over the years to count false claims such as the ones propogated on this website. CLICK HERE to check out some of their fact checking efforts.
Like most anti-municipal broadband efforts over the years, this website uses colorful and misleading language to paint the least flattering picture possible. Debt, necessary to build any public infrastructure, is referred to as "budget-busting" , "crushing", and "drowning in debt". They also continually refer to "taxpayer funded" networks that in fact are only secured by revenue from the telecom utility itself.
So, what is the Taxpayer Protection Alliance Foundation? Without spending a tremendous amount of time researching the group, it appears that they are supported by various anti-government groups and activists and have, at least in past years, accepted donations from large telecommunications carriers. From their website:
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation (TPAF) is a non-profit non-partisan organization dedicated to educating the public through research, investigative reporting, and analysis about the effects of excessive taxation and spending by all levels of government. TPAF will also educate the public about government transparency and openness in the United States and around the world. Through blogs, commentaries, special spending alerts, and media appearances, TPAF will publish timely exposés of government waste, fraud, and abuse. Recognizing the importance of reaching people through traditional and new media, TPA will utilize use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and user-generated videos to reach out to taxpayers and government officials.
While the group promises to "educate the public about government transparency and openness", they don't bother to reveal much about their own financial backing.
The problem with groups such as this and the junk studies they produce is that while they cannot change the facts through their falsehoods, they can create an impression among some decision makers that municipal broadband is risky. That impression can slow momentum toward solving broadband deficits in communities through municipal participation in solutions. The real danger is that this static drowns out the positive story that American's community-owned broadband networks have to tell.
When Windstream decided to accept federal funding under the FCC's CAF-II program, it was clearly not going to be sufficient to expand fiber networks to all underserved rural areas. Instead, the company has been using fixed wireless technology to fill in those gaps.
As THIS STORY in Fierce Wireless points out, Windstream has been using Radwin fixed wireless equipment to cover 9,000 households in Oklahoma and another 200 in Argyle, Iowa, and unincorporated town in the southeast corner of the state. They are apparently planning to use similar fixed wireless technology to reach an additional 34 communities in Iowa with 6,500 households through next year.
Windstream is offering a 25 Mbps package for $50 a month in those areas, with up to 100 Mbps speeds available at $70 a month. While those speed levels and prices seem very competitive, the line-of-sight nature of fixed wireless will limit reach in some areas. Also, there's no word on whether Windstream plans to retire its copper network in these areas - something that other large carriers have announced that they plan to do.
CenturyLink has shuttered it's own IPTV service, Prism, that was offered in some of its larger cities. However, to fill their customer's needs for video services, they are apparently ready to partner with other OTT cable providers.
According to THIS ARTICLE at Fierce Cable, CenturyLink will explore options for bundles using "virtual MVPD's" such as Sling Television, Sony Playstation Vue, Fubo, or others. No specifics on when they might begin offering these services or where.
Some of these vMVPD's have already worked out deals with the National Cable Television Cooperative that allow broadband providers to offer these services, although in most cases the cable company isn't allowed to bundle those services on their bill.
Last fall, advocates of a municipal broadband utility in Decorah, Iowa suffered a setback. The City had engaged Uptown Services to prepare a feasibility study for a fiber-to-the-home network in the northeast Iowa city of 8,127. The final report, handed to the City in the fall of 2017, reached the conclusion that a city-owned network was not feasible. The study drew criticism for a lack of detail (it consisted of a slide deck without accompanying narrative or spreadsheets showing detailed financial data). The study also did not attempt to identify a "break even" rate of penetration that is usually present in feasibility studies; it just reached a conclusion about what Decorah's take rates would likely be and advised that it wasn't feasible at those rates.
Undaunted, city leaders and the Decorah Fast Fiber citizen group have continued efforts to keep moving the project forward. Volunteers have taken the Uptown Services study apart and reconstructed the financial data needed for a better evaluation. The City is seeking consultants to provide a clearer measure of likely take rates and a business plan that could be financed. The Fast Fiber group continues to advocate through social media, pointing out that while Decorah's efforts seem to have stalled other cities in Iowa (Charles City, New Hampton, Vinton, and with its recent referendum Pella) are all moving forward.
Complicating the municipal telecommunications efforts in Decorah was the recent referendum to establish a municipal ELECTRIC utility and negotiate a purchase of Alliant Energy assets in the community. The vote was painfully close, but the official canvass found municipalization losing by 5 votes out of 2,765 votes cast. The group supporting the electric utility vote has indicated that they will ask for a recount.
On Tuesday, May 1, voters in Pella overwhelmingly approve the creation of the municipal telecommunications utility. 92% of the people who voted said yes to the referendum, with 8% voting no. Turnout was low, which is not unusual for a special election - especially one held in the midst of preparations for the annual Tulip Time festival.
Pella’s vote was the fourth telecom referendum in Iowa in the past 30 months. And while 92% seems like a high number, it was bested in Adair in 2017 (100%) and Decorah in 2015 (94%). Vinton’s referendum in 2015 generated “only” 88% voter approval, but it was the 4th attempt.
Just when you think you've seen it all...
DSL Reports relays an anecdote about a Comcast customer's interaction with a customer service rep who explained the reason the company needed to charge a $60 installation fee to upgrade from 300 Mbps to 1 Gbps service was...wait for it...because the internet would be so fast it could start a fire in the wall.
Shaking my head...
Read the full account HERE.
While community activists in Vinton and Decorah ran spirited campaigns to promote a "Yes" vote in their municipal telecom referendums in 2015, things are eerily quiet in Pella.
Voters in Pella will go to the polls next Tuesday, May 1st, to decide whether or not the city should be authorized to operate a municipal telecommunications utility. If approved by voters, the City is expected to move forward with a feasibility study this summer.
City Administrator Mike Nardini says to his knowledge there has been no campaign activity for or against the ballot issue. The only educational material that has been presented is a web page posted by the Pella Area Community and Economic Alliance (PACE).
Pella is currently served by Mediacom and Windstream.
We'll have results of the Pella referendum here on the Broadband Bytes website as soon as they are available Tuesday night or Wednesday.
Discovery Networks has announced that one of its networks will be changing names later this year.
Velocity, which was born as Discovery HD Theater in 2002, will become Motor Trend Network this fall. For more information on the change, CLICK HERE to read a story at Variety.com.
KDSM-TV, the FOX affiilate in Des Moines, is being sold as part of Sinclair Broadbcasting's required divestiture before its merger with Tribune Media. The new owners of KDSM and 8 other Sinclair stations will be Standard Media Group, LLC.
Sinclair is required to divest a station in Des Moines as part of its proposed purchase of Tribune Broadcasting, since Tribune owns NBC affiliate WHO-DT/13 and both WHO and KDSM rank in the top four in the market. KDSM does not have a news department and airs a 9 p.m. newscast produced by WHO.
For more details, CLICK HERE to read the story at the Upper Midwest Broadcasting web page.
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Presented by the Community Broadband Action Network and curated by Curtis Dean.