Friday, July 17, 2009

Rachel Maddow talks race with Pat Buchanan

After this was over, Pat led his staffers in a rousing rendition of the Horst Wessel song.

Stone Tablets

In 2005, Maine established the Broadband Access Infrastructure Board, to work on establishing universal broadband access for the state by 2010.In 2007, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, with the stated goal of assuring mobile phone and internet coverage to all Vermonters by the end of 2010. In 2009, the NH legislature formed the Telecommunications Planning and Development Advisory Board; whose stated goal is to analyze the broadband infrastructure particularly in unserved and underserved areas.

The United States (where the internet was invented) is lagging behind. We rank 15th in the world for internet speed. Other parts of the world are more wired, and wired for faster speed. One reason for this lag, is that the US has is the only industrialized nation with no policy in place to promote universal high-speed internet access. We’ve relied on a variety of companies to cobble together the current system. In other words – we’ve relied on the free market – just as we have for our health care system. In both instances, millions are left unserved.

Telecommunications are not a fad. The internet is not the equivalent of poodle skirts and the lindy hop. Both our nation, and our state are both behind, because of a lack of vision on the part of our elected officials. A few years ago, at a candidate’s forum, we learned that our local GOP legislators didn’t use their emails. No wonder they weren’t pushing for better broadband access in the north country – they were still chipping away at stone tablets. Meanwhile, manufacturing jobs have flown out of the north, with nothing to replace them. Broadband access is essential to job growth and creation in the 21st century – as well as education and health care.

A task force studying the issue of retaining young people in our state issued a report this week, along with some recommendations. The strongest recommendation seems to be improving how we market the state. There was some concern that the motto of NH doesn’t resonate with younger folks. They also found that there is an impression that young folks can’t find the kind of high paying jobs here that they would find in Boston or NY. To correct this perception, the task force seems to be recommending a hip ad campaign – because after all, if we say that high paying jobs are here, they will be, right? As is often the case, this task force assumes that the Canadian border is located just north of Concord. There was a mention of bridging the digital divide, by expanding broadband access in the north country, but that was the only recommendation aimed specifically at the Forgotten Half of the state.

The American Heart Association is calling for high-speed broadband access in rural areas, to enable videoconferencing for stroke patients. They have the right idea. Videoconferencing technology would make a huge difference in the lives of rural doctors and patients. Folks might not have to drive 2-3 hours to access a specialist, or to even ask a doctor a question about a particular condition. Data and imaging materials could be transferred in real time, thus saving hours of waiting for hospitals, doctors, and patients. The possibilities for improved health care in rural areas are exciting. NH, Maine, and VT have formed the New England Telehealth Consortium to work on these issues, with the hopes of eventually connecting to a similar network comprised of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The future is here, if we choose be part of it.

Meanwhile, our neighboring states are way ahead of us. Vermont and Maine both have a goal of universal internet access by 2010. NH has no such stated goal. We have a company with a monopoly in the north country, a company that is likely to declare bankruptcy by the end of the year, and NH is doing nothing remotely proactive. Vermont’s Department of Public Service is calling for an investigation into whether FairPoint should be allowed to continue to operate in VT, if it doesn’t fix billing, customer service, and operational problems.

We need to push our north country legislators to get them to push to bring the north country into the 21st century. The north country is all too often a dumping ground for projects that NIMBY legislators from the southern part of the state don’t want located near them. This is why there are 2 prisons in Berlin – and why the governor was talking about building a third one up there, so that we could import prisoners from other states. The governor has no plans to move to Berlin, at this time. Senator Lou “Slots” D’Allesandro (from Manchester) is an advocate for increased gambling, and had a plan that called for casinos in the north country. I don’t remember voting for Slots, do you?

Get pushy with your elected officials. The north country needs the equivalent of the rural electrification program. It won’t happen if we don’t hold their feet, and their stone tablets to the fire.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." --Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

" I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last the year." --The editor in charge of business books for prentice Hall, 1957

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
--Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

© s. bruce 2009 This was published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun on July 17, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I've got the internet blues

The problems seems to be worsening. My DSL connection lasts about 5 minutes now, before going out. I've called and emailed FairPoint.

Monday, July 13, 2009

you are not connected to the internet

Is the message I'm getting this afternoon, in frequent intervals:

1:00 pm, 1:15 pm, 1:32 pm, 1:50 pm, and 3:30 pm.

I noticed a flier in my FairPoint bill advertising DSL for as little as $9.99 per month! That's considerably less than I'm being charged, for really, really bad service.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

changing expectations - the saga continues

So, on the seventh day, internet service was restored.

Since then, I've learned that I have to alter my expectations of service. During the years of Verizon wireless DSL, I was free to roam throughout my house (that's 3 rooms, people) with only my laptop in hand, able to be on the internet regardless of what room I was in.

Those halcyon days are over. In the FairPoint zone, wireless internet means "connected to a wireless modem by a wire." It means hovering, nearly atop the modem, in order to stay connected. And today, it means being disconnected from the internet 3 times in less than an hour, despite being perched less than 3 feet away from the modem.

I've read that FairPoint will declare bankruptcy by the end of the year. I can't imagine it will take that long.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

and on the seventh day....

there is finally internet service. It wasn't easy, though. The modem arrived, in a neat little package, complete with an installation CD - for PCs. I am a Mac user. So, I had to call tech support, again, to take me through a process that was oddly complicated. Way more complicated than it was through Verizon.

To summarize - I'm back online, after 7 days, and innumerable hours on the phone. This should not have been such a process, nor should it have taken anywhere near as long as it did. The tech support people were great - with the exception of the one who finally agreed I needed a new modem, and sent it to some bizarro address. Funny how my bills manage to get to my address, but the modem was sent to a street I don't live on, and a number no one ever heard of.

I'm unimpressed, FairPoint.

As for the rest of us in NH - I would like to see an investigation into why the PUC allowed the sale. I'd also like to know what the plan for the north country is when FairPoint goes under. Let's make some noise, folks.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

but wait - there's more

As of tomorrow I will have been without internet service for a week.One reason its taken so long is that the FairPoint tech support guy did not send the new wireless modem to my address. I don't know whose address it was - but it wasn't mine - so Fex Ex didn't deliver. I called them early this morning and gave them the correct address, AND told them to leave the package at my door. Instead, they left the package with the shop next door - and by the time I got home, the store was closed. So, here I am at 9:30 pm on a rainy night, behind the Jackson Public Library, typing this in my car.

If the modem doesn't work - that'll be the real cherry on top. I'm absolutely expecting the worst.

Monday, July 06, 2009

more FairPoint

I can see through my sitemeter that FairPoint Communications has been reading my blog.

It's been almost 6 days with no internet, FairPoint. I'm a writer. The internet is part of my job. I'm losing time and money - and hooking into the local library's internet at 11 pm isn't why I'm paying the outrageous sums for DSL that hasn't worked properly since Verizon left.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Who Could Have Predicted?

A small telecommunications company buying up the landlines of a giant (monopoly) company in NH, Maine, and Vermont – who could have known that such a merger would turn out to be a disaster?

Nearly everyone. Still, the merger of Verizon and FairPoint was allowed to proceed, despite near universal opposition. Some NH politicians thought it was a great idea. Ray Burton, Executive Council member for the north country was a supporter. Be sure to check Mr. Burton’s campaign contributions – you can find them online at the NH Secretary of State’s website. If you can get online, that is.

I had a Verizon DSL account for a number of years. I never had any problems with my service. Since the merger, however, I’ve had nothing but problems with my Internet connection. The signal is weak, frequently disconnected, and then there are the times I can’t get online at all. Two weeks ago, I spent most of a weekend calling the tech support line. The recorded message on the tech support line tells you that if you’re having trouble with your DSL or email, to go to their website support page. The next part of the message informed me that my call might be monitored, and that’s when the call was disconnected. That cycle was repeated 47 times over the weekend. Either these folks have a keen sense of irony, or it never occurred to them that people having DSL trouble weren’t able to get online.

I spent an hour on the phone yesterday with a tech support person, who was undoubtedly weary of hectoring phone calls from unhappy customers. After putting me through a series of idiotic commands (unplug the modem, plug it back in) that took nearly an hour, the tech person decided I have a bad modem. Since I’d been trying to tell FairPoint that for the last 3 months, I was not mollified.

Mine is not an unusual story. A prominent local businesswoman spent 27 minutes on hold, while trying to get her company’s bill straightened out. She was finally given a $50 credit, even though the billing problems reached into the hundreds of dollars. She was not mollified. Another NH company called FairPoint in February to inform them they were moving about a mile down the road, and would need to transfer their phones and fax machine. FairPoint made a date to come set things up at the new office. They cancelled it, and made a new appointment. They cancelled it. The cycle went on for nearly 3 months. The company solved the problem by switching to Time Warner. The employee who told me the story racked up a $450 cell phone bill, doing business during that time period. Time Warner, meanwhile, is laughing all the way to the bank.

FairPoint’s stock is nearly worthless, and they have been relegated to junk bond status. The company has stated that they may default on loans in the fall, and that they may file for bankruptcy by the end of this year. It’s really tragic that no one saw this coming.

The Maine PUC has reported that FairPoint generates the largest number of complaints of any utility operating in the state. Vermont has hired a bankruptcy expert to prepare for the possibility that FairPoint will default on its debt. A group in central Vermont is working to establish their own FIOS network - one that would be owned within the state. No megamergers or monopolies would be involved. Vermont is taking a pro-active approach. NH, predictably, is not. In fact, FairPoint announced recently in NH that they intend to apply for some federal stimulus money to help improve DSL access to the north country. Maybe they can use it to run even more TV ads to tell us what great neighbors they are.

This has been a great deal for Verizon. They were able to dump their unprofitable rural markets that they didn’t want to upgrade, and get a $600 million tax write off at the same time. It’s been so good for them, that they’re doing the same thing in other parts of the country. A small company called Frontier is buying Verizon’s DSL and landline networks in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona, South Carolina, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, N. Carolina, Ohio, and some areas in rural California.

To review: FairPoint has provided poor customer service, has had endless problems with incorrect billing, has been unable to provide adequate DSL and email service to some parts of the state, is in danger of defaulting on loan payments, and may file for bankruptcy. The transition from Verizon to FairPoint has been a horror show – BUT – even though the company is hemorrhaging customers and money – the top executives got bonuses! Former FairPoint Chairman and CEO, Gene Johnson received a 30 percent raise in 2008, and an $83,862 bonus. FairPoint President Peter Nixon was the beneficiary of a $50,000 bonus. At least 5 other executives got raises or bonuses. Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Next time you look at your bill, and it’s wrong, remember that the executives of this company are being paid to fail, and they think we taxpayers should bail them out.

The Public Utilities Commission of NH has a complaint line. The number is: 1-800-852-3793. Their website has an online complaint form (assuming you are able to get online) at This merger should never have been allowed to proceed. Its time to call for an investigation into why it was approved. Contact the NH Attorney Generals office to insist upon an investigation. Then, contact your local legislators and suggest that NH get ahead of this situation by developing a plan for what happens if FairPoint goes bankrupt – and a plan for developing a statewide communications plan – and a way to make it happen without the involvement of corporate monopolies.

If only someone had seen it coming.

This quote is too good not to use again:
“I hate to be the one who told you this, but I told you so.” Larry Birkhead

h/t to for the cartoon

This will be published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun at some point.

© s.bruce 209

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tapped - the movie

A serious look at the scourge of bottled water - and what Nestle has done to the town of Fryeburg, ME. Nestle/Poland Spring has torn the town apart - and turned people against one another, through intimidation, blackmail (we'll set the IRS on you) and bribery. Anyone who dared dissent against Nestle is retaliated against. Just ask the town librarian. Local cable access broadcasts of a selectman's meeting showed a couple of inebriated local women who were put up to going after Emily Fletcher - calling for her resignation and suggesting she'd been stealing from the town. One of the aforementioned sots turns out to be working for Poland Spring. Their latest action was to ask the selectmen if there was a town ordinance against accusing people of being drunk. Not candidates for Mensa, those two. This is what Nestle has done to Fryeburg.

This movie is scheduled to be shown in Maine - but Nestle is trying to buy up all the tickets and make sure as few people see this film as possible. This trailer also shows some clips of Ohio Congressman, Dennis Kucinich, who understands the water issue better than most - and who told me all about the toxins in plastic water bottles one day on the campaign trail.

Tapped - the website
Check out the Tapped website to learn more about water issues and take action.