While alternating patterns of color make for a wonderful design on a quilt, the alternating build out of broadband internet access in Webster Township, Michigan does not make for a good community.  It produces haves and have-nots, makes the have-nots pay more for less, and in the long run costs more to build out and maintain the entire network.

What do I mean by an “alternating build out of broadband”?  Most people probably think cable or DSL covers and entire city or town.  At some point it stops as you get to the “country” and then starts up again close to the next town.

That is not the case in my town.  In the late 90’s cable was built out.  It comes about 1/4 mile down my road then stops.  2 1/4 miles later it starts up again.  In that portion of road there are two other cross roads, each with cable coming part way down but stopping about 1/2 mile from my road. It is like a hole in a web.  For a better view of the situation, see the map.

Wierd?  It seems more strange when you consider there are about 80 homes on about 5 miles of road in this area.  Not highly populated by a long shot, but comparable to the adjoining and parralel roads that have cable.  And this happens in other areas of the township.  Bits of road are “skipped over” as the housing density drops below some arbitrary number.  You can see a map of the coverage [here].

Why does this happen?  It is not hard to figure out it maximizes profits and lowers expenses for the cable operator.  I completely understand that.  But the real question is why was this allowed to happen?  Why can a cable company connect some houses and not others on the same road?  Cable providers sign agreements with the local governments, why didn’t the local representatives stand up for all their residents?  The answer appears to be the “Uniform Video Service Local Franchise Agreement“.

In Michigan, cable operators and the local government sign what is known as the “Uniform Video Service Local Franchise Agreement“.  This is an agreement published by the state of Michigan.  As a uniform state document, the township has no authority to modify the terms or conditions it contains.  The township wants to sign it becuase it gives the township the right to collect fees (taxes) from the provider.  The kicker, and I still can’t wrap my mind around this, is that if the Township doesn’t sign the agreement, the provider can still operate in the township, they just won’t pay any taxes.  I still want someone in government to explain this to me.

I would encourage you to download a copy of the agreement and read it.  Yes, it is dry semi-legalese, but you’ll notice is that is long on what the township will do for the company and short on what the company will do for the township.  Outside of a provisions to not discriminate based on race or income, include  public, educational and government channels in their line up, and set up a toll free number and dispute resolution process, it does little to protect the residents.  The phrase “written by a cable company lobbyist” comes to mind when I read it.

What is the solution to this “skipped over” phenomena?  In the short term, we can hope to convince Charter, Comcast or AT&T to build out service to these holes in the broadband web.  Hopefully collecting feedback showing the discontent and desire to purchase services will help persuade them.  To that end, post comments on this blog and, when I have it up, sign our online petition.  I will also post Contact information for these companies as well as other government and private agencies which may help.

In the long term, the state needs to change the “Uniform Video Service Local Franchise Agreement”.  It is woefully inadequate and essentially gives free reign to the providers.  If you would like to see this changed, you can contact your state legislature, tell them your concern and direct them to this web site.

No matter what your situation or how much or little you want to participate, please use the resources on this site to better understand broadband in it’s implications.

One Comment

    • Tiffany
    • Posted February 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm
    • Permalink

    Thanks so much for all the hard work and research… and thanks for summarizing the available information and making sense of it for us.

    If nothing else… it answers many of my questions and from talking to neighbors, we all have similar questions. I believe that we are all in agreement but just didn’t know how to make our voices heard.

    I will sign the petition as well as report our “dead-zone.”