AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Comcast love to yell and scream about needing a “level playing field” whenever the whiff of competition comes into their areas.
- When citizens in Georgia were tired of having JUST 3 Mbps connections through AT&T DSL with no alternative, AT&T tried to ban competition by claiming that the “rules of the road should be fair.”
- When Cablevision was desperate to block Verizon FiOS from entering Glen Cove, NY, Cablevision tried to argue that because Verizon FiOS wasn’t offering free cable TV to a few parts of the city, that FiOS should not be allowed due to the “unfair advantage.”
- When Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink got nervous about a number of competitors entering the state of North Carolina, they spent four years lobbying (and eventually getting passed) for a bill that all-but made it impossible for others to enter their markets in the name of “promoting fairness.”
- When AT&T didn’t want to compete in Wisconsin, they lobbied politicians to try and pass legislation which banned such competition. AT&T whined about fairness and claimed that this bill was just “fiscal responsibility.”
Yet, as we see above, these same providers seem to love making it as difficult as possible for other companies to enter their markets.
Enter Mississippi. Here, AT&T signed a 10-year contract in 2005 with the state of Mississippi for a master contract which basically makes AT&T the broadband provider of a number of government buildings and schools that opt into the state broadband program (which helps the schools pay for broadband).
Many in the school districts within Mississippi were waiting for this contract to expire so that competitive bids could be put forth and the service could be improved.
The technology coordinator for one school district wrote to the FCC telling them of how their service (and others around the state) was just “not competitive.” The coordinator also asked the FCC to allow for some sort of “multi-vendor” association with the schools for better service. In fact, 15 school districts have opted out of the state contract and instead pay for a private broadband provider who gives them BETTER service at a LOWER price.
So, what happened next?
AT&T somehow got an additional two years tacked onto their state contract before the current one even expired. No competitive bids were allowed. Additionally, there are questions about whether the state is paying too much for AT&T service, which few seem to be happy with.
On top of all of this, the contract between the state and AT&T is closed by a court order and can only be inspected by government customers of the Mississippi Information and Technology Services who hand out these contracts.
So, the contract is hidden from the public, was extended without public input and has questions about whether the contract is currently over-paying AT&T? Hardly a level playing field.