is committed to creating a society in which everyone has equal opportunity to gain access to computer and network technology for life-long learning and personal and community empowerment.
Edgemont is an African-American neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio with high poverty and unemployment rates. Dayton is a city in southwest Ohio that lost tens of thousands of good-paying jobs during the de-industrialization of the 1970s. Its economy still has not fully recovered.
The Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition (Edgemont), a community organization serving low-income groups in Dayton, Ohio, was partially responsible for the creation of 21 community technology centers (CTCs) in underserved neighborhoods in Ohio. Through a series of settlements with Ameritech, Cincinnati Bell and Verizon, on behalf of Edgemont, the Dayton Legal Aid Society renegotiated Ohio’s telecommunications agreements, and a total of approximately $9 million, including $4.45 million for CTCs, have been dedicated to community technology projects:
• $2.25 million to establish 14 CTCs in low-income Ohio neighborhoods;
• An additional $1 million for CTCs;
• $1.2 million for community technology projects;
• $2.25 to create a technology access fund for rural and low income communities; and
• $2.25 million for a community education fund.
• $90,000 for a CTC in the Cincinnati Bell service area.
• $429,000 for CTCs in Verizon service areas.
The Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition (Edgemont) contracted with the Legal Aid Society of Dayton to provide representation for the Edgemont neighborhood in proceedings before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) where the issues of telecommunications access, economic development and educational opportunities could be addressed. From 1995 to December 2001, through a series of settlements with Ameritech, Edgemont has renegotiated Ohio’s telecommunications agreements, and Ameritech has agreed to contribute approximately $9 million to community technology-related projects.
Funding, from the Ameritech settlements, for the CTCs, went to the Ohio Community Computer Center Network (OCCCN), the organization charged with the oversight and evaluation of the CTCs created and funded by the Ameritech Advantage Ohio alternative regulation case settlement. OCCCN circulated a request for proposals, and chose 14 applicants to receive funding to open the CTCs. Beginning in 1995, each center was funded for 3 years ($80,000 the first year, $40,000 the second and $30,000 the third). This was a bare-bones allotment that leveraged additional local resources. Working closely with a national organization, the Community Technology Centers Network (CTCNet, formerly known as the Playing to Win Network), OCCCN provided technical support to those centers and hosted periodic meetings and conferences so centers could share experiences and "best practices". OCCCN hired part-time staff and opened itself up to include similar centers that it had not funded.
The original CTCs were located in seven Ohio cities in the Ameritech service territory: Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown, and Marietta. Each center received $150,000 over three years for staff and equipment. The total expenditure on centers was $2.2 million.
CTCs are designed to make computer technology and networks available in low-income neighborhoods. Centers provide tutorials, workshops, and computer and Internet use adults and children. Centers are staffed by experts and volunteers in community outreach and computer technology, and are open throughout the day, including evenings. CTCs are established in existing neighborhood organizations such as Urban Leagues and YMCAs, while others operate in churches.
Details of the three settlements through which Edgewood renegotiated state telecommunications agreements:
(Ameritech Seeks Pricing Changes) (1993-1994)
Result: Ameritech agreed to provide $2.2 million to open 14 computer centers in low-income communities around Ohio.
In September 1994, as part of the settlement, Ameritech agreed, among other things, to provide $2.2 million to open fourteen computer centers in low-income communities around Ohio. This funding for computer centers was the first time that a state commission had mandated that a telecommunications company fund efforts to bridge the Digital Divide.
The first case in which Edgemont intervened occurred in 1993 when Ameritech Ohio filed an alternative regulation case with the PUCO. Ameritech Ohio's application for alternative regulation was part of the company's effort to change the way its pricing for telecommunications was regulated in Ohio. Ameritech, along with other telephone companies, claimed that increased profitability was necessary in order to offer customers new services.
Edgemont actively participated in the case. The Ohio Consumers' Counsel, the official representative of Ohio residential utility customers, responded to Ameritech's application by filing a complaint against Ameritech alleging that its current rates were unjust and unreasonable. They argued that rates should be reduced rather than increased. Other consumer parties joined that complaint. The consumer complaint and Ameritech's application were consolidated and went to a hearing in Summer 1994.
Edgemont and the other advocates for low-income groups were able to establish that service for low-income people was far from "universal." In order to prevail, Ameritech needed to establish that its proposal would be in the public interest and would further the goal of universal service. In the absence of some significant movement toward universal service, Edgemont and others argued, Ameritech could not meet the standard.
(Ameritech and SBC Merge) (1998-1999)
Result: Ameritech agreed to provide $1 million (in addition to the $2.2 million from Settlement #1) for community computer centers, $2.25 million to create a technology access fund for rural and low income communities, and $2.25 million for a community education fund.
In 1998, Edgemont was presented with another opportunity to address these issues when SBC announced its plans to purchase Ameritech. SBC was the Baby Bell that at the time served eight primarily western states, including California and Texas. To complete the acquisition of Ameritech, SBC needed the approval of each affected state and the FCC. In July 1998, the companies filed their request for approval with the PUCO.
Edgemont, along with more than a dozen other parties, immediately filed to intervene and oppose the merger. The merger would give the combined company control of more than one third of the nation's phone lines. Edgemont knew from its own first-hand experience that the larger companies got, the farther away the headquarters were, the less inclined they were to be responsive to or invest in low-income customers and communities like the Edgemont neighborhood.
Ameritech was providing service mostly to businesses and residents in predominantly white, relatively affluent suburbs surrounding Ohio's cities. The discovery process in this case revealed that Ameritech targeted its infrastructure improvements and investment to precisely such high-growth areas. Discovery also showed that Ameritech was test-marketing DSL service in only one location, Wheaton, Illinois, an affluent and virtually all-white suburb of Chicago.
After three weeks of hearings, negotiations began. The case settled and was approved by the PUCO on April 8, 1999. The settlement included a number of consumer benefits aimed at expanding access to telecommunications technology. The company agreed to provide (in addition to Settlement #1) $1 million for community computer centers, $2.25 million to create a technology access fund for rural and low income communities, and $2.25 million for a community education fund.
(Bell Atlantic and GTE Merge) (1999-2000)
Result: The conditions included developing an expanded Lifeline program and funding an unspecified number of technology programs.
Edgemont intervened in yet another merger case in 1999. This time the case involved the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE to form Verizon. Bell Atlantic served much of the East Coast between Virginia and Maine, and GTE served parts of 28 states, including Ohio.
Edgemont presented two expert witnesses: Amy Borgstrom, the director of ACENET, an economic development organization in Appalachian Ohio, and Dennis Harrington, a legal services attorney in the GTE territory. Ms. Borgstrom testified that much of GTE's infrastructure was not adequate for data needs, and that this was a significant impediment to economic development in her part of the state. Discovery in the case had confirmed that many GTE phone lines could not accommodate modems faster than 28.8 bps. Furthermore, GTE was offering DSL services only in two college towns and several fast growing upscale city suburbs. Mr. Harrington testified that GTE did little to promote the Lifeline program, a minimal low-income subsidy service it was required to offer by the FCC. Harrington also testified that when people did call to apply for the program, they were frequently given wrong information.
On February 10, 2000, the PUCO issued an entry granting the merger but required the merged company to fulfill a number of conditions. The conditions included developing an expanded Lifeline program and funding unspecified technology programs. The specifics were to be resolved in meetings involving all of the parties to the case. OCCN was invited to make a presentation to all the parties. The parties agreed the funding of technology programs would go to community technology centers through OCCN. $429,000 was provided to OCCN for community technology centers in the Verizon service area. Soon after, the FCC issued its decision on the merger and specifically mandated that Verizon provide the anti-redlining and the Lifeline program enhancements that Edgemont had previously sought from the FCC in the SBC/Ameritech merger.
The following lessons were learned by the Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition:
Building alliances is key.
Coalitions provide horsepower and credibility. Natural allies are community organizations, consumer advocacy groups, state consumer advocates, civil rights organizations, and neglected towns and cities. Unnatural allies may sometimes include competing phone companies or business trade groups. Some of the allies Edgemont has worked with include the Ohio Consumers' Counsel, the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), welfare rights organizations, community development corporations, and cities.
Legal strategies may require dedicated resources.
The Legal Aid Society of Dayton was able to obtain funds from the local United Way for its Telephone and Technology Access project.
It is important to keep an eye on the interplay between state and federal cases and dockets.
Discovery, settlements, or orders in one forum can often be used fruitfully in another. In 2001, at least two issues important to low-income communities-- income-based eligibility for Lifeline services and universal service support for Internet service-- were up for consideration by the FCC (for up-to-date information, visit www.fcc.gov ). In Ohio, this would allow a greater number of low-income residents to have access to the Internet, as well as provide more affordable telephone rates.
Follow-up is essential.
Despite FCC orders, companies may resist delivering benefits if they cost money or require them to change the way they do business. Advocates need to carefully document compliance. Where possible, responsibility for compliance should be given to a neutral third party (as done with the OCCCN).
Lesson Five: Proceedings before state regulatory commissions can provide valuable points of negotiations.
Lesson Six: Settlements can result in more than just pricing, remedies; they can also include staffing for community centers, public education, etc.
Gary Lambert, Executive Director
Ohio Community Computing Network
1021 E. Broad St. Columbus, OH 43201
Phone: (888) 320-2723
Fax: (206) 338-6503