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Featured Article filed under Broadband | Written by ILSR | No Comments | Updated on Feb 1, 2016

Seniors, Low-Income, Disabled Communities Pay the Price in St. Paul

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/seniors-low-income-disabled-communities-pay-the-price-in-st-paul/
For seniors, low-income residents, and the disabled in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a Comcast discount within the city’s franchise agreement is not all it was cracked up to be. The Pioneer Press recently reported that, as eligible subscribers seek the ten percent discount guaranteed by the agreement, they are finding the devil is in the details – or lack of them.

This is a warning to those who attempt to negotiate with Comcast for better service. Comcast may make deals that it knows are unenforceable.

“No Discount For You!”

For years, Comcast held the only franchise agreement with the city of St. Paul. In 2015, the city entered into a new agreement with the cable provider and, as in the past, the provider agreed to offer discounts for low-income and senior subscribers. Such concessions are common because a franchise agreement gives a provider easy access to a pool of subscribers.

It seems like a fair deal, but where there is a way to squirm out of a commitment, Comcast will wriggle its way out.

Comcast is refusing to provide the discount when subscribers bundle services, which are typically offered at reduced prices. Because the contract is silent on the issue of combining discounts, the city of approximately 298,000 has decided it will not challenge Comcast’s interpretation:

The company notes that the ten percent senior discount applies only to the cable portion of a customer’s bill. Comcast has maintained that it is under no legal obligation to combine discounts or promotions, and that bundled services provide a steeper discount anyway.

Subscribers who want to take advantage of the discounts will have to prove their senior status and/or their low-income status. In order to do so, Comcast representatives have been requesting a copy of a driver’s license or state issued i.d.

CenturyLink Picks Up the Baton

In November, the city approved an additional franchise agreement with competitor CenturyLink. That agreement also provides that seniors, low-income households, and disabled residents are eligible to receive a ten percent discount. CenturyLink can, in the alternative, offer a discount of $5 off a subscriber’s cable bill if a subscriber applies for the low-income discount. In order to receive this discount, the subscriber must prove they are enrolled in a public assistance program. CenturyLink is not compelled to provide both the $5 reduction and the ten percent discount under the terms of the agreement.

The CenturyLink contract states that bundling discounts will not forfeit the $5 discount but does not say the same for the alternative ten percent discount.

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Seniors on the Chopping Block

Discounts for low-income seniors are at risk in the CenturyLink contract reports the Pioneer Press. The contract offers the company an “out” by allowing it to exchange a senior discount to residents for free gigabit per second (Gbps) service at centralized locations. Rather than offering a ten percent discount to senior subscribers at their homes, CenturyLink can provide the high-speed connectivity to two St. Paul senior centers or to one senior center and a community center and present two training session per year on using the Internet.

My own parents, who are elderly and leave the house less frequently than they have in the past, depend on their Internet connection to stay in touch with their kids. A number of elderly folks are lower-income. Ten percent, a modest sum to a profit machine like Comcast, could be the tipping point for whether or not elderly people living on fixed incomes subscribe.

Would I rather have Mom trudging through the St. Paul snow to wait in line at the senior center to Skype in a noisy room filled with other seniors? No. Will Mom go to the senior center? Probably not. This trade-off is not equitable.

When You’re All Lawyered Up, It’s Easy to Break Promises

As franchise agreements expire across the country, communities like St. Paul will be negotiating new contracts or considering other options. Companies like Comcast and CenturyLink, backed by armies of lawyers, have turned backhanded negotiating into an art form. Cities like St. Paul employ smart, capable attorneys, but telecommunications is highly specialized; few communities have legal staff experienced in this field.

Lose The Big Companies, Gain Control

Contrary to the typical behavior of Comcast and CenturyLink, publicly owned networks have a history of lowering prices or increasing speeds for free. When we ask why, decision makers usually tell us they make the change because it’s good for the community. Subscribers are the shareholders when a network is publicly owned.

Communities that invest in municipal networks shake off dependence on big providers like Comcast and CenturyLink. By investing in their own infrastructure, they spur economic development, save public dollars, and become more self-reliant.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here

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Featured Article filed under Broadband | Written by ILSR | No Comments | Updated on Dec 18, 2015

Wilson Moves to Expand Greenlight Network to Neighboring Town

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/wilson-moves-to-expand-greenlight-network-to-neighboring-town/

Thanks to a new interlocal agreement, the City of Wilson, North Carolina will soon expand its Greenlight community broadand network to the nearby Town of Pinetops. Officials expect to complete the expansion of the gigabit fiber network by April 2016. Pinetops, a town of 1,300, is less than 20 miles from Wilson, population 50,000. We’re… Continue reading

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Featured Article filed under Broadband | Written by ILSR | No Comments | Updated on Nov 3, 2015

Voters Quiet the Drums At the Polls in Colorado

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/voters-quiet-the-drums-at-the-polls-in-colorado/

The “constant drumbeat” of complaints about poor connectivity pounding from Colorado communities ended with a climactic crash at the polls on Tuesday. Referenda in 43 communities – 26 cities and towns; 17 counties – all passed overwhelmingly to reclaim local telecommunications authority. Staggering Approval The landslide victory was no surprise. Last year, nine communities asked… Continue reading

Featured Article filed under Broadband | Written by ILSR | No Comments | Updated on Nov 14, 2015

Hillary Clinton: Stop State Laws that Restrict Local Choice

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/hillary-clinton-stop-state-laws-that-restrict-local-choice/

In a position piece released in October, Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for local authority: “Three-quarters of US households have at most one option for purchasing the Internet service families now depend on for shopping, streaming, and doing homework. When alternatives do emerge, however, as they have in places like Kansas City, prices go down… Continue reading

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Featured Article filed under Broadband | Written by ILSR | No Comments | Updated on Oct 15, 2015

EPB Turns Up The Speed To 10 Gigs

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/epb-turns-up-the-speed-to-10-gigs/

Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics now offers 10 gigabit Internet access to all households and businesses in its service area. The ultra-fast service is available for $299 per month with free installation, no contracts, and no cancellation fees, announced community leaders at a press conference on October 15th. In addition to 10 gig service, EPB is… Continue reading