First net neutrality complaint emanating from Albany dispute

The Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission was founded 100 years ago to serve as Albany’s municipal utility.

The Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission was founded 100 years ago to serve as Albany’s municipal utility.

ALBANY, Ga. — Count it as another first for Albany. An Albany telecommunications company has filed the first grievance under the federal government’s new network neutrality rules against the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission.

L2Networks, a local network provider, filed the complaint Tuesday with the Federal Communications Commission, contending that WG&L officials are refusing to allow L2Networks access to its broadband network without a fee.

The complaint alleges that WG&L is refusing to allow L2Networks access because it believes the company has been stealing services from the utility. A criminal investigation is under way following a complaint by WG&L, according to Dougherty County Police Department officials.

It’s the latest in a series of disputes between the utility, which also provides telecommunications services, and L2, which already has filed complaints with Georgia’s Public Service Commission contending the utility unfairly limits its access to WG&L-owned huts in which some of L2’s technology is housed.

L2 contends in a news release cited by PCWorld magazine that “WG&L’s assertion that the VoIP (voice over IP) provider should be paying for access to its fiber-optic network violates the FCC’s net neutrality rules barring broadband network providers from selectively discriminating against Web-based content and service.”

L2 contends that if WG&L is allowed to collect fees from it, that there would be nothing to stop other broadband providers from charging other web-based services like Netflix and Yahoo, which would drive up prices for the consumer.

Kraig Beahn, CEO of L2, said in the news release that the case could cause a “irreversible ripple effect along with the creation of various legal challenges across nearly every national content and application provider. We are deeply concerned that the alleged claim could potentially change the landscape of the national Internet marketplace as residential and commercial consumers see it today.”

WG&L General Manager Lemuel Edwards said Thursday that the utility’s attorneys were just starting to review the complaint, but said that the company continues to treat L2 as it would any other customer. He added that because there are “trust issues,” the utility has to look out for the property owned by its ratepayers.

“L2 is viewed just like any other company, but we’ve limited the access to one of our huts that the company is using to store equipment to business hours with supervision,” Edwards said. “We want to make sure that none of our other equipment is tampered with.”

Edwards wouldn’t speak to the theft of services allegation, saying only that he’s aware of an ongoing investigation.

Beahn is under investigation for theft of services from rival Mediacom. He was charged Jan. 5 with theft of services for allegedly tapping into a Mediacom outlet and running the signal into a client’s building for phone service. He was released from jail on a $10,000 bond.

According to the Houston County, Ala., Circuit Court Clerk, Beahn was also charged in July 2009 with theft of services in Dothan, Ala.

While the details surrounding that charge weren’t provided by the clerk’s office, officials did say that the charge against Beahn was dismissed by a circuit court judge in March 2011 after he agreed to pay $5,000 in restitution.

Beahn and L2 were poised to provide competition to Mediacom’s high-speed Internet, phone and cable TV service before its relationship with WG&L grew strained.

PCWorld says that L2 currently provides services to more than 2,200 clients in Southwest Georgia, with the city of Albany on the list.

City Manager James Taylor said that there are no immediate plans to terminate the contract with L2 because the service levels have remained constant.

“We don’t have a reason to suspend or terminate the contract based on service delivery,” Taylor said. “Alleged issues of moral turpitude aren’t enough legal grounds to terminate the contract.”

Taylor said that if the city were to terminate the contract, it would open itself up to a lawsuit.

Taylor said that he believes the contract with L2 expires in the coming months and that it would then be up for review, adding that the company did provide a savings from AT&T, the city’s previous provider.

WG&L currently operates its own phone service, independent of the city of Albany and L2.