Wisconsin Kills WiscNet, Because The Only Good Infrastructure Is AT&T Infrastructure

from the infrastructure dept

Support for the “free market” is a phrase that is often abused by companies to really mean “support for this particular company.” It seems that’s what’s happening in Wisconsin with AT&T. The University of Wisconsin has been pretty instrumental in its role in developing key internet infrastructure technologies, which it uses in various ways. The current WiscNet helps supply high speed internet to Wisconsin schools and libraries, and also acts as an important testbed for new technologies. And AT&T hates it. So it was able to kill it off by suggesting it was somehow anti-free market:

The move was accomplished via an eleventh hour provision AT&T managed to get inserted into the budget, in a state ranked 43rd in broadband access nationwide. Christopher Mitchell at Community Broadband Networks directs our attention to the fact that Internet 2 President H. David Lambert tried to help prevent WiscNet’s defunding, writing a letter to Wisconsin’s Governor Walker regarding his since-successful effort to help AT&T kill WiscNet:

Yet, just when other states in the country are scrambling to invest in network infrastructure to help their universities rise to meet the international research and education challenge, this legislation could essentially disconnect Wisconsin from the global research it now leads. The result would be devastating. As the only intensive research institution in the United States that would be barred from participating in its own networks, Wiscnet and Internet2, the University, with respect to the ability to participate in global research, would become an immediate equivalent of a third-world University.

AT&T’s ability to crush any and all public Wisconsin broadband benefit projects would be slightly-less obxnoxious if AT&T was providing the kind of infrastructure that made all of these projects unnecessary, but they’re simply not. AT&T connectivity in many parts of Wisconsin consists of over-priced T1s, and lawmakers there are more than happy to write laws protecting AT&T ability to not only over charge for outdated infrastructure, but ensuring that connectivity-strained communities have no alternatives. Wisconsin’s AT&T-run government is the future for all states without serious U.S. political reform, and the result will inevitably be disastrous for the future of cutting-edge connectivity.

We see this all too often in the telco world. If there were real competition, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. But so many telcos seem to focus on making sure that they’re the only game in town, creating a monopoly — which is a real “free market” problem. Contrary to what people are saying, this isn’t a “free market” issue, this is an issue of regulatory capture, leading to diminished infrastructure.

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Comments on “Wisconsin Kills WiscNet, Because The Only Good Infrastructure Is AT&T Infrastructure”

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Jeff (profile) says:

Further proof of the truism “He who has the money, has the power”

This is a naked power grab, and those hired thugs^H^H^H^H^H *legislators* should be ashamed of themselves.

I’m not surprised, but at the same time utterly appalled, at how transparently greedy our elected officials – at all levels – have become.

I know that I am becoming increasingly ashamed of my 20 years of military service to protect selfish prigs such as these.

JaredTheGeek (profile) says:

We have the opposite problem

Here in California, as a state agency, we are forced to buy circuits through the California Technology Agency which nearly triples the cost than if we contracted with AT&T, Verizon, Cox, etc on our own. In fact, in many areas we are forced to buy a T1 line. In San Diego the T1 line was $1550 a month, for 1.44 meg while Cox offered a Fiber solution for $875 but we were not allowed to purchase it. So some things look great but really government purchasing and services sucks.

Greevar (profile) says:

Free Market? What a joke!

There’s no damn thing as a free market and they all know it! An unregulated market will inevitably fall into monopolies, duopolies, and oligopolies. With only a handful of companies in the market, they collude in a cartel fashion to control prices and bar any competitors from entering the market.

A regulated market, if properly implemented, can protect the public from predatory companies by enforcing fair competition. The ultimate goal would be to achieve perfect competition. This would reduce the barrier to entering the market, make it easier to get out and allow the public to drive market prices rather than companies trying to manipulate the public and the market.

Unfortunately, we are far too close to an unregulated market as the behavior of AT&T and their ilk have demonstrated. Their kind has been given unfair advantages over smaller companies and have been granted duopolies in most markets. How many ISP’s do you have? How many cable TV providers do you have? They get all the perks of being a utility, without any of it’s necessary restrictions.

It’s not just internet providers either. Wal-Mart is the bane of all small businesses. They bribe local governments to grant them taxpayer money to build their stores despite the fact that they don’t need it. They use cheap foreign-produced products manufactured by people that are little more than slaves just to undercut all small businesses and push them out of the market. They also siphon a large amount of money out the the local economy and move it to their shareholders and CEO’s. So, little or no money comes into the local economy and most of it is coming out. This leaves swaths of people to live in poverty where there used to be stability. It kills off good-paying jobs and replaces them with lower-paying Wal-Mart jobs.

Free market my ass! If they got what they were really asking for, it’d throw us into a depression that would make 1929 seem like a birthday party. The government doesn’t care though, their rich friends will make sure they don’t get caught in the wake of it all. Then they’ll stage another bullshit war to fight so they can throw more young people out there to die, so they can have more natural resources to keep up this downward spiral.

AT&T should be ashamed of what they’ve done. This will put back progress quite a bit, just to get another few million dollars in their filthy pockets. I wish I had the kind of money to buy legislation that really would serve the public good!

Remember, when a company or an economist talks about establishing a free market, they are trying to do completely the opposite thing for their own benefit.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Free Market? What a joke!

Good grief. What a load of hogwash.

Now people will demand ACTION! We need the federal government to seize control of the internet to force it to be free! Then we can stop the greedy capitalist private sector from forming monopolies and getting rich off the backs of the populace!

And then, after the bill is passed, the government will use its newfound power to award AT&T an exclusive, no-bid contract for all services, everywhere, thereby creating the monopoly everyone had feared. Then people will decry the “failure” of the “free market” to prevent monopolies, and the cycle will continue. It never ends.

It’s funny how everyone understands that our government works for our corporations, and yet they still argue that the only way to solve it is to give the government more power. That’s like saying the only way to prevent being beaten up by a thug hired by the mafia is to replace the thug’s club with a gun. Sure, the gun would be more deadly to a mafia boss than a club would, but you’re forgetting who works for who in all of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I worked for ATT as a contractor for 4.5 yrs. TRUE TRUE TRUE

AT&T sucks! They rip off their customer, employees alike!

Supported biz and gov ckts, 100 tickets to each engineer.

Since then I have canceled the Uverse TV portion of service, after hearing this …. Voice and internet is next. But as most know, no real choices! here, its AT&T or Comcast, Comcrap is no better!

Brett Glass (profile) says:

Beneficial to local businesses

If AT&T were going to take it as a loss leader, they might as well not have protested the existence of WiscNet, because competitors would have been locked out and they wouldn’t have had to lose money to achieve that.

The demise of WiscNet will open opportunities for local entrepreneurs and ISPs. AT&T might get some of the business, but local firms will get a lot of it. And that means new jobs and more money staying in the local economy.

d simons (profile) says:

What's the problem with Wisconsin's decision?

What’s so bad about large corporations extracting more money out of a state? Public schools, poor people and non-profit businesses did not spend the big bucks in the election. A new political group has taken over the state and it’s time for the new political empowered to make back their investments. Simple as that. Why would anyone expect a different outcome? If you don’t control the cash flow, you do not deserve a place at the table.

Anonymous Coward says:

While what AT&T wants isn’t really a free and open market, having the government as a competitor isn’t really any better. That is just hidden costs to taxpayers to support a bad business model. Public paid network infrastructure appears to be a very bad business model, and all the costs are not well defined and the “who pays” isn’t clear.

Socializing the internet isn’t any better than the current options.

Anonymous Coward says:


Except that “socializing the internet” isn’t bad when current options don’t exist and exorbitant pricing basically removes options for those who couldn’t afford it.

People pay for the services that are deemed necessary in today’s society through taxes, regardless of whether individuals support or make full use of them (ahem, the military). So of course it’s a “very bad business model” because it’s not a business, it’s a public service–like publicly paid teachers, police officers, firefighters, civil engineers, physicians, etc, whose standards are demanded by the people and not left to the whim of a company (i.e., AT&T not providing adequate service in areas that have demanded it for years) bent on making a buck.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wisconsin’s AT&T-run government is the future for all states without serious U.S. political reform, and the result will inevitably be disastrous for the future of cutting-edge connectivity.

And serious political reform isn’t going to happen, because the telcos (like any other major lobbying group) have both political parties equally wrapped around their little fingers, making every election “heads I win, tails you lose” for the monopolies.

Greevar (profile) says:


I don’t think just simply socializing the network will be enough. Sure, they could serve as another option where people may only have two or fewer choices for internet providers. And they can use public funds to put in a better infrastructure that creates more jobs. There’s just not enough accountability and too many opportunities for corruption to rely on socialized networks alone.

What we need are controls in place that prevent providers from abusing their customers with throttled service, bandwidth caps, and forced bundling. Anti-competitive practices also need to be halted. Real network neutrality, competition, and common carrier status will go a long way to making a better network for us all.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:


That is just hidden costs to taxpayers to support a bad business model.

Incorrect. It will actually cost taxpayers MORE if schools and libraries have to find an alternative.


“Then, as Superintendent Evers pointed out in his letter, financially and operationally cutting WiscNet off from Wisconsin institutions will cripple its efforts.

“The provision in this legislation will very likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering Internet access,” he noted. “If our schools and libraries must use other Internet providers, most will pay at least 2-3 times more than what WiscNet now charges.”


To put it in comparative terms, UW Chief Information Officer Ed Meachen told WTN News that because of the different bandwidth pricing approaches, WiscNet costs the UW system $2 million a year. BadgerNet would cost $8 million.

Badernet is “Wisconsin’s state wide-area-network, which depends heavily on AT&T as its primary vendor.”

Anonymous Coward says:


Ahh, so you think that stores that sell beer in 6 packs or 12 packs at lower prices per unit should have to extend those prices down to a single can purchase?

Do you think that car makers should be forced to make all luxury options available at a the base price?

I could go on, but I won’t on that point.

I think the only problem that exists is that the very last mile, “pole to house” is a problem. Replace the phone wires and cable TV line with fiber, example,and let the home owner actually own it, right to the point it hits the pole. Let every company have the choice to run their services to every pole. That would allow for real competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Beneficial to local businesses

Of course, you are neatly overlooking the big picture — the profits of ANY business are irrelevant and unimportant. What IS important is the access of the citizens of Wisconsin to the Internet and the well-being of its university system — which has been an online leader since well before mere newbies like yourself came along. The inferior people who can only measure in dollars are incapable of grasping this; it’s beyond their pitifully feeble comprehension.

But the researchers and faculty and students (and citizens) can. They know that they’ve been royally screwed here, and that no amount of nonsensical blathering about “local businesses” matters. It’s just so much BS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Free Market? What a joke!

Yeah, what kind of American isnt all for companies becoming so rich the have the power to increase their wealth at the cost of the general public.

If you don’t want big companies getting laws passed to make sure they can control a market while doing as little as possible to give consumers what they want you can just move to Mao’s Red China you crazy socialist.

ATT should be allowed to buy whatever region they want, pass laws to ensure there is no competition and charge fuck all for horrible service and only offer dsl. Its the American way.

Greevar (profile) says:

Free Market? What a joke!

And you can’t pass regulation in order to achieve the effect of an unregulated market? It’s not a 100% unregulated market, but they are trying to change that by passing regulations that give them more power and fewer restrictions. If their goal is to undo all of the laws that were put in place to protect the public and prevent a handful of companies from ruling the nation, they’re well on their way to doing so.

Greevar (profile) says:


“Ahh, so you think that stores that sell beer in 6 packs or 12 packs at lower prices per unit should have to extend those prices down to a single can purchase?”

That is nothing like what I was suggesting. Bundling is taking services or products that are related and putting them together into one package. To use your beer analogy, it would be like selling you new beer, but to get it, you have buy some of their old, putrid, expired beer too (at full price!). I know first-hand that this is the kind of tactics they pull, my local provider (I only have one(1) ISP where I live) will not allow me to have a DSL line without purchasing a land line service, despite the fact that I don’t need the stupid thing! I’m forced to buy service that I don’t need/want and it just costs me money. Why? It’s because they want you to give them your money, either by coercion or by downright force.

Dave (profile) says:

Let's back up and get it right.

according to UWC/UWEX Chancellor:

“Broadband Grant: The grant will be allowed to go forward. Future financial commitments will require Joint Finance Committee approval. In communities where we do not have funds committed as of June 15, 2011 we will need to return to the Joint Finance Committee with our community partners to present our case and to secure their approval. Additionally, during the next six weeks we have committed to meeting with and striving to find a way to collaborate with the telephone companies (I think this is really important and I am personally committed to doing everything I can to make this a win-win-win for everyone but most importantly for our communities and for the people of Wisconsin).

WiscNet: An audit and study of WiscNet?s operations will be reviewed over the next two years. We think this is very healthy and we welcome this action. WiscNet will also be allowed to continue serving its member organizations while the study and audit is being conducted. Additionally, the University will retain full membership while the audit and study is being conducted. Questions about the legality of WiscNet, its programmatic operations, and its financial arrangements in particular will be studied in the audit. We believe this will be beneficial for all parties.”

Greevar (profile) says:

Free Market? What a joke!

You assume too much and you completely missed my overall point. Understand this: There is no such thing as a free market. It is either a regulated market designed to keep things balanced and prevent one/few business(es) from gaining destructive market dominance or an unregulated market where “might makes right” is the rule. In a “free market” which is ultimately unregulated, businesses with more capital will always use that advantage to block competition.

Of course the government is bought out by these businesses and that is greater the issue to be dealt with in order to achieve this secondary goal. Before we can truly deal with health care, internet, copyright, civil rights/liberties, and economic systems, we need to remove incentives and opportunities for representatives to become corrupt or coerced into favoring businesses over the people. Then, we can work on shifting the power back to the people and serving the public good. I assumed this was obvious and unnecessary to point out to make my point. Because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t make my point less valid when I was assuming government corruption should be dealt with as well. Why should I have to point out something so obvious?

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Free Market? What a joke!

It is either a regulated market designed to keep things balanced and prevent one/few business(es) from gaining destructive market dominance

A “regulated” market is how a business achieves market dominance. That’s why I’m trying to say! You decry monopolies without realizing that the government is precisely what makes monopolies possible!

we need to remove incentives and opportunities for representatives to become corrupt or coerced into favoring businesses over the people

As long as you give the government the power to regulate corporations, corporations will use that power against competitors, to the detriment of consumers. This is not a deficiency that can be corrected by more rules.

I was assuming government corruption should be dealt with as well.

Your proposed course of action amounts to “first, let’s keep our politicians from smelling like shit, and then we’ll work on not throwing them in the sewer”. If you want to end corruption by removing incentives, remove a politician’s ability to pick winners and losers in the market.

Frost (profile) says:

Capitalism works this way. Every time.

I don’t understand why anyone is surprised that a capitalistic system will lead to monopolies and oligopolies. It’s an inevitable end result that is part and parcel of the system, not something that is the exception. Either one company gets to be the biggest and takes over the small fry, or else a couple of large ones take over small fry and split the market between them. They are then protected by their sheer size and the investment required to build another competitor that size discourages real competition.

It’s made a bit worse by the fact that the politicians are bought and sold like commodities these days, but even when the system is “working” at its normal level, the Government acts merely as a broker to maintain some sort of functioning in the market, as a truly free market cannot exist – it would self destruct immediately as the parties in it went completely off the reservation doing anything and everything to get ahead in the absence of any regulations.

The only way out of this mess is to abandon the whole concept of money, trade and capitalism and go with something that’s based in reality and reason – like a resource-based economy.

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