Friday, August 26, 2011

E-Mail to Rep. Bachus' Office

I sent the following e-mail to Philip Swartzsager, staff member in Rep. Spencer Bachus' office:


We spoke last week regarding attempting to get support for broadband access for low income students in Hoover (and the rest of Alabama, for that matter).

At the time, you indicated that you would be doing some more research on the matter and get back to me.

Here are a couple of items to be aware of:

1) In order to get their merger with NBC/Universal approved by the FCC, one of the conditions that Comcast Cable placed upon themselves was the creation of the Internet Essentials program that provides $10.00 per month broadband access to low income families (criteria for low income is that there have to be school age children in the household who are on free or reduced lunches). AT&T is in the process of having their application for merger with T-Mobile approved by the FCC. The clock had stopped on the process but it started again today. I would like Rep. Bachus' suggest to the FCC that one of the conditions of the approval of the merger be that AT&T provide a program like Comcast's Internet Essentials to the customers in their entire service area.

2) I spoke to Sen. Sessions' staff member Graham Hixon last week. Graham was to meet with the FCC this week regarding the merger and will look into the above condition.

3) Please have Rep. Bachus support H.R. 2163, The Broadband Affordability Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), that basically seeks the same thing as what we're looking for by using the Federal UCC tax.

Please let me know where your office stands on the above.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Developments

Of the three broadband providers in Hoover, only one actually seemed to be interested in our cause, and that was Bright House Networks.

Robert Smith of Bright House contacted me today and said that they had some high level discussions on the implementation of a program, but they were having some administrative hurdles, which he explained.

Mr. Smith also brought up something that neither Rep. Bachus' office, nor Sen. Sessions' office were aware of, and that is a bill that a Congresswoman from California was trying to get passed.

Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) has introduced H.R. 2163, The Broadband Affordability Act of 2011

In a nutshell, this piece of legislation does what we are attempting to accomplish. I have calls in to Rep. Bachus' office and Sen. Sessions' office. As soon as I speak with them, it will be time to contact all of your representatives in Washington to get their support on this important bill.

I'll report back when I hear more.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sen. Sessions Response

I spoke with Graham Hixon from Sen. Sessions' office. I explained what our goal was in detail. Mr. Hixon will be meeting with the FCC soon regarding the AT&T/T-Mobile merger soon and will find out what conditions are being placed on the merger, if any.

It should be noted that Mr. Hixon told me that Comcast originally put the condition of low-cost internet access on the table before the merger was approved.

More to come soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rep. Bachus Called Back

Philip Swartzsager from Rep. Spencer Bachus' office called me back and asked for more information. He was given the address for this blog and indicated that he would call me back once he had done all of his research.
(Updated 8/26/11 to add Rep. Bachus' staff member's last name)

Some New Developments

I still have not responded to Terri's e-mail, however, some new developments have surfaced.

The Comcast Internet Essentials offer was not done entirely out of the goodness of Comcast's heart.  It was actually a condition placed on Comcast by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to approve a requested merger between Comcast and NBC/Unversal earlier this year:

  • Broadband Adoption and Deployment. Comcast will make available to approximately 2.5 million low income households: (i) high-speed Internet access service for less than $10 per month; (ii) personal computers, netbooks, or other computer equipment at a purchase price below $150; and (iii) an array of digital literacy education opportunities. Comcast will also expand its existing broadband networks to reach approximately 400,000 additional homes, provide broadband Internet access service in six additional rural communities, and provide free video and high-speed Internet service to 600 new anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries, in underserved, low-income areas.

  • This was brought to my attention by not only Skip from Charter Communications, but also a friend locally. 

    Currently one of the three companies that I contacted is also in front of the FCC requesting to merge with another company.  AT&T has an application in place to merge with T-Mobile.  I am going to request that a condition be placed on the merger, if approved, that is similar to the condition placed on Comcast.

    At this time I have requested a meeting with Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL).  Both will be in Birmingham during the August recess and I would like to ask for their assistance in this matter. 

    I will update as I hear from their offices.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    AT&T "Rethink Impossible"

    As mentioned in my previous post, Terri Gualano, Regonal Director - Legislative Affairs, AT&T, was first to respond to my first e-mail.  Here's the response:

    08/15/11 2:47 pm

    Robin, good to hear from you. I know that we give the same type of discount to our landline customers for phone services. With our TV product being relatively new I am not aware of such a program. Would you please allow me some time to research?  Terri

    Terri Gualano
    AT&T - Alabama
    Regional Director-Legislative and External Affairs

    I responded with:
    Thanks for the quick reply.  Please be advised that the Comcast offer is for internet/broadband access only, not for TV service.  What I am looking for is a discounted rate for low-income families on internet access, which in AT&T's case would be the DSL service, not the U-Verse service.

    Hope this clarifies my e-mail.


    Her response:
    08/15/11 3:06 pm
    Yes it does.

    Terri Gualano
    AT&T - Alabama
    Regional Director-Legislative and External Affairs

    On Tuesday, 8/16/11 I received her next response:

    08/16/11 9:03 am

    Unfortunately our Lifeline is only extended to phone services. Comcast is testing Lifeline for DSL in limited markets. Hoover is one of the lucky ones. Terri

    Terri Gualano
    AT&T - Alabama
    Regional Director-Legislative and External Affairs

    Huh?  What?  Did she understand what I was asking?  I needed to clarify, so I sent out this e-mail:


    Thanks for your reply.

    My original e-mail was to request a meeting with the AT&T representative who I could talk to about implementing a program like Comcast's in Hoover.  If you are not that person, could you direct me to the correct person?

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Well, that should clear it up, right?  Nothing more than a request to meet with someone to discuss a possible discounted program for internet access in Hoover.  And if she wasn't the person to contact, tell me who is. (Sidenote:  After I sent the above e-mail, I contacted State Representative Paul DeMarco to see if he had any insight into something we could do.  My reason for contacting Mr. DeMarco was Terri's title "Regional Director - Legislative and External Affairs".  I figured Mr. DeMarco might know Terri.  Mr. DeMarco does know her and offered his assistance should I need it.

    One thing I have to say about Ms. Gualano is that she is very prompt in responding to e-mails.  Here was her response:

    08/16/11 10:24 am
    I would be the correct person. I have discussed the issue with our Regulatory group and we have no future plans to implement such a program. Thank you for your interest.

    Terri Gualano
    AT&T - Alabama
    Regional Director-Legislative and External Affairs

    Ouch.  The title of this post is "Rethink Impossible", a play on words of AT&T's slogan, which is in the signature line of each of Terri's e-mails:

    Sent to you by AT&T... America's Fastest Mobile Broadband Network. Rethink Possible!
    Apparently when it comes to providing a discount to disadvantaged children, don't think that's possible...

    I have not responded to that e-mail yet.  My original e-mail was copied to Jon Anderson, Hoover Editor of the Birmingham News, and to Janice Rogers of WBRC Fox6.  Both indicated they would like to possibly do a story on this.  

    The responses

    Terri Gualano from AT&T was first to respond within minutes of us sending out the e-mail.  She will have her own section on responses, as all of hers were via e-mail.

    Skip Johnson from Charter Communications sent an e-mail on Tuesday morning indicating that he had received the e-mail and would be getting back to me.

    No word from Robert Smith, Bright House Networks.

    On Tuesday afternoon I decided to follow up via phone with two of the three (AT&T, as mentioned, will have their own post on this blog with their response).

    I first called Robert Smith, Bright House Networks.  He picked up after the first ring.  I told him who I was and asked if he'd received my e-mail.  He indicated that he had and that he was intending to respond, but that it had been a busy day.  He informed me that my e-mail had been scheduled to be discussed with the president and vice-president of Bright House.  A conference call was scheduled for Monday morning at 7:30 am.  He indicated that he would get back to me after the call.

    Next I called Skip Johnson of Charter Communications.  He also picked up after the first ring.  Mr. Johnson indicated that my e-mail had been forwarded to several departments, including marketing.  He indicated that the process "was a slow one".  I asked if I could sit down and discuss the issue with someone, to which he said I could not, as they were located in St. Louis.  I told him that I was interested in putting a face to the idea so that it's not just a sterile e-mail.  He indicated that he would notify me when he knew something.

    The promising thing about Charter and Bright House is that they had a positive attitude about the concept.  Let's go to the next post and discuss AT&T.

    Time to Contact the Players

    Councilman Gene Smith provided me with the names of the contact people at the three internet providers in Hoover.

    An e-mail was sent out by me to all three.  It read as follows:

    Dear _________________

    I was given your contact information by City of Hoover Councilman Gene Smith.  He thinks you may be the person I need to speak with regarding a situation in Hoover, and surrounding areas, which I will cover in the next paragraph.  If you are not, would you please forward this e-mail to them and respond to me with the correct contact.

    Recently Comcast Communications began offering Low-Income Families a reduced rate ($10.00/mo.) on internet access.  To qualify, a member of the family must be on the Free/Reduced Lunch program at their school.  For more information on this program, please visit Comcast's site:
    I would like to schedule a meeting with the appropriate person in your company that can implement a program like this in the City of Hoover, which your company currently services.  Currently 21% of our student population would qualify for such a program, yet many of these students do not have internet access due to the cost associated with it.

    I look forward to hearing from you, and look forward to meeting with your company's representative face-to-face so that we can put all of our students online.  I can be reached via the following methods:

    Phone:  205-XXX-XXXX Cell
    E-Mail: xxx @ .com


    Hoover, AL

    cc:     Gene Smith, City of Hoover Councilman
            Brian Skelton, City of Hoover Councilman

            John Greene, City of Hoover Councilman

    I received a reply from Terri Gualano, AT&T immediatly.  Skip James, Charter Communications, responded the following day and I have not heard from Robert Smith, Bright House Networks, yet.

    The Problem

    The problem with a city like Hoover is that we have several entities providing internet access.  Some wouldn't call that a "problem", but in this case, it is, as it makes finding the difference makers a little difficult.

    At first I tried the direct method:  contact the providers (Charter Communications, AT&T, Bright House Networks) directly via the phone numbers provided online.  I would always end up in the same place:  the Philippines and their wonderful customer service department (sarcasm font should be on for the latter part of this sentence).

    My next step was to contact our city leaders and ask for their help in finding out who the right people to talk to might be.  I sent out the following e-mail on August 9, 2011:

    Sent: Tuesday, August 09, 2011 2:50 PM
    Subject: Low Income Family Internet Access

    To:     Andy Craig, Superintendent, Hoover City Schools
            Gene Smith, City of Hoover Council Member
            Brian Skelton, City of Hoover Council Member
            John Greene, City of Hoover Council Member

    From:   Robin F. Schultz
    Subject:         Low Income Family Internet Accesscc:     Paul DeMarco, Alabama State Representative
            Susan Wood, Child Nutrition Coordinator, Hoover City Schools
            Jason Gaston, Hoover City Schools
            Earl Cooper, President, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
            Paulette Person, Vice-President, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
            Bill Veitch, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
            Donna Frazier, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
            Dr. Ronald Braswell, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
            Dr. David Fancher, Principal, Bluff Park Elementary School
            Allen Pate, City of Hoover
            Lori Salter, City of Hoover
            Janice Rogers, WBRC
            Jon Anderson, Birmingham News
            Adrian Mitchell, PR PIE IBS, Birmingham City Schools

    Dear Mr. Craig, Mr. Smith, Mr. Skelton, Mr. Greene:

    I read a story yesterday about Comcast Cable, a national cable television provider, that was offering discounted internet access to low income families in their service area.  Basically, families that met a certain criteria were able to have internet access in their homes for a $10 monthly fee with a guarantee of no future increases, free equipment and discounts on netbooks, plus free training for those who want it.

    You can read the story here:,2817,2390592,00.aspAs you may or may not know, I teach Sunday School at my church.  The age group that I teach are high school juniors and seniors.  Some of my students fall under the low-income category.

    Hoover City Schools has recently converted to an online registration process where parents go on the internet and complete the school registration process using their computer. In the past this process consisted of filling out countless forms by hand.  The new system saves not only time, but also resources, since the school no longer has to print all of these forms, nor sort them, nor have long lines of parents and students during registration.  This year's process was, in one word, flawless.  Except for those who don't have a computer or internet access at home.  Hoover City Schools did provide computers at the school for them or they could go to the library, or to a friend's house (or, in the case of one of my students, their Sunday School teacher's house) to register.

    During the school year, much of the student's workload requires internet access, not only for project research, but also for everyday homework.  Many teachers use their school's web  page to get information to their students.  And let's face it, Facebook and e-mail has become one of our primary ways to communicate.  I send out weekly messages to my students on Facebook, Hoover City Schools has a Facebook page, and so do many businesses.  But what about those who can't afford $30-$50 per month for internet access?  In today's economic climate, that is becoming more and more common.  According to Ms. Wood, Child Nutrition Coordinator at Hoover City Schools, 21% of Hoover City Schools students are on the free or reduced lunch program.  That's 1 out of every 5 students.

    I would like to reach out to Charter Cable, ATT and Brighthouse Cable, the three companies that provide the majority of broadband access in the city of Hoover, and ask them to offer the same program as Comcast does - a $10 discounted rate.  The criteria could be any family who has a student on free or reduced lunch would qualify.  According to Ms. Wood, these students are given a letter each year (and, if I'm not mistaken, they need to re-qualify each year) indicating that they are on the program.  They could use this letter as proof of eligibility.

    Here's the reason as to why I am sending this e-mail to you:  I don't have a problem going to the companies myself and asking them for their assistance in this.  I do have a problem knowing who the contacts are.  I've attempted to call the local offices and I'm always redirected to customer service, which is located in the Philippines.  Unfortunately the nice folks in the Philippines don't know where to direct me.  I am asking your help in getting to the right people who can make this happen.  If I have contact information, I can take care of the rest (of course, if you'd like to assist, I wouldn't turn you down!).

    Thanks for your help in this matter.  I hope to hear from you soon - and so do the families of over 2,700 students in Hoover.
    Many of the recipients and those who I cc: replied right away.

    On Monday, August 15 I received the contact names that I needed.  Next step was to go directly to them.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Time to get busy.

    Chances are pretty good that if you're reading this blog, you're either at home or at work, and you have a broadband connection.  What's broadband?  By simple definition, broadband is another word for high-speed internet access.

    Before broadband, we had dial-up (I just heard a bunch of groans from those of you who remember dial-up).  Dial-up required a modem on the computer that would dial a number, which when connected would emit a high pitched squeal and  then you were "online".  Dial-up was pretty good for basic internet surfing, but forget downloading music, movies, files or anything over 500 KB.  It would take FOREVER to download a big file.  To put it in perspective, a 10 megabyte file would take 2-3 hours to download.  A few days ago I downloaded a program that was 19 megabytes in under a minute.

    Luckily most of us no longer have to deal with dial-up as most of the non-rural population in the USA has access to broadband.  Costwise, though, it's still prohibitive for some.  The average price for broadband access is anywhere from $32-$50 per month.  In today's economy that is still considered a luxury for some.  Many lower income families can't afford this, so they rely on places like the library or school to access the internet.

    All of us can agree that the internet is no longer an option, though.  If a student is to succeed in school, he or she must be able to get online at home.  Most teachers today have web pages through their school in which they convey information to their students, including homework, extra credit and other things deemed important.  If a student can't access this, he or she is left out, and possibly may suffer from lower grades.

    Recently Comcast Communications, a cable company that services 39 states, rolled out a new program called Internet Essentials.  Internet Essentials offers low-income families broadband for $10 per month, with a guarantee that the price won't increase for 3 years, as well as free equipment and a voucher to be able to purchase a computer for $149.  Comcast does not service Hoover.  Charter Cable, AT&T and Bright House Networks do.

    This blog will chronicle how we attempt to get everyone in Hoover on broadband, especially those who are not in a position to afford the current rates.  Hopefully, by the end of this blog, 100% of Hoover will be online.