Cannon Fires at Incumbents

SALT LAKE CITY — Broadband Cities Conference — If the municipal broadband community has many more allies in Washington like Congressman Chris Cannon (R-Utah), muni broadband might one day become as common as "public power"(see Light Readers Embrace Muni Nets ). Congressman Cannon, who is in his third term in Washington, says the Bells and the cable companies have no incentive to provide high-bandwidth and affordable broadband service because they face no significant competitive challenge in most markets (see Poll: RBOCs Fuel 'Broadband Gap').

What's more, Cannon says, incumbents are doing what they can to block the emergence of that competition from municipalities.

“They are going to bring great force against what you want to do and what I want to do and what all thinking people would like to do,” Cannon told a crowd of about 300 here. “We need to get beyond the bullocks of these local disincentives to provide real broadband." [Ed. note: bullocks?]

Cannon also criticized the incumbents for creating their own definition of broadband service -- a definition measured in kilobits per second, rather than megabits. “256K is not real broadband,” Cannon says. “But that’s what is being pawned off on us as real broadband.”

Cannon referred to an ongoing debate over the definition of “broadband service.” Many here believe that anything below 1 Mbit/s is not fast enough to be considered broadband. The RBOCs and cable MSOs, it is said, use the kilobits to present the appearance that they are delivering enough broadband to enough markets (see Coalition Calls for Community Broadband).

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also come under fire for using a low-bandwidth definition of broadband to make the claim that the U.S. leads the world in broadband deployment.

Cannon’s comments were warmly received by the attendees here, who appear to be mainly telecom equipment vendors with a smattering of city and county managers.

Cannon called out fellow Congressman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) for legislation Sessions introduced earlier this year prohibiting municipalities from provisioning broadband.

“My roommate in Washington, Pete Sessions, used to work for SBC Communications before he came to Washington,” Cannon said. Cannon said Sessions reacted with horror when he learned people were making telephone calls for pennies using a broadband connection.

Cannon warned the cable-telco duopoly might join forces in Washington to stop the growth, and competitive threat, of municipal broadband networks. And, indeed, they might. The Baby Bells and cable companies have a lot of friends in Washington, too.

In the meantime, Cannon urged the municipal broadband providers to anticipate the pricing adjustments incumbents will employ to undercut take rates in the new networks. Incumbents (NYSE: Q) and (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) have begun lowering broadband prices in the Utah communities served by the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) network (see DynamicCity Claims UTOPIA Milestone).

Cannon urged muni broadband providers to anticipate such tactics. “If there is anything I want you to take away from this, it’s that you need to forward-price, you have to get to what [the incumbent] is already charging in other markets.

“You have to leap forward and get people addicted to broadband."

Cannon spoke just after UTOPIA executive director Paul Morris and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

Utah’s UTOPIA is one of the first and most advanced municipal broadband networks in the U.S. Morris spoke via a 10-Mbit/s UTOPIA videoconference connection from his home in Murray, Utah. Governor Huntsman used the same connection to speak with a roomful of schoolchildren and to two housewives in Orem, Utah. [Ed. note: same household?]

The lone RBOC employee Light Reading located at the event, from local incumbent Qwest, expressed suprise at the tone of Congressman Cannon's comments. He declined to comment on record, however.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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