AT&T, Frontier want right of the first night in rural California

by Steve Blum • , , ,

One of the perks that telco and cable lobbyists slipped into a broadband infrastructure subsidy bill pending in the California senate is the right to take the first look at proposed projects in unserved rural areas, so they can decide whether or not they want to be the ones to consummate the deal. In medieval times (or at least in the movie Braveheart) something very similar was called jus primae noctis, the right of the first night, where a feudal lord claimed the privilege of taking a newly wedded bride to bed.

Whether a student of history or a Mel Gibson fan, Michael Ort, the CEO of Inyo Networks made the connection to the privileged status granted AT&T and Frontier Communications by assembly bill 1665, in a letter withdrawing his support for it

The “Right of First Refusal” is AB1665’s version of the ancient practice of jus primae noctis. In this case, it is not the betrothed who is violated, but any of California’s underserved communities. The proposed legislature would grant incumbent providers the ability to select which markets they want to keep potential competitors out. Does it really make sense that dominant players can secretly dictate what markets they can hold under their control by claiming they will commit public funds to – which they alone have access – to a future market when another company publicly seeks funds? And this is not once, but in AB1665, it becomes a “rolling” practice just in case they don’t get it right the first round. Even jus primae noctis was not that embolden.

Inyo Networks and Praxis Associates, its corporate sibling, completed Digital 395, a 500 mile open access fiber network along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, and are poised to do the same on the northern coast. AB 1665 would lock out this kind of high speed, independent fiber project and effectively give $300 million directly to Frontier and AT&T for little more than maintenance work on systems with low speed, 1990s style technology.

Systems that are as inadequate and inappropriate to the standards of the twenty first century as jus primae noctis.