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You Can Be A Film Producer! This Is A Project Worth Funding

muninetworks.org - April 25, 2018

Everybody likes to watch a good film and if it involves drama, government at its highest level, and the deep pockets of corporate America, there's sure to be intrigue. We've found an independent film project that people interested in telecommunications policy and the Internet should consider backing. "The Network," a documedia project directed by Fred Johnson will take a look at how the Internet has come to be controlled by only a small number of large and powerful corporate entities.

There are only a few days left to contribute to the IndieGoGo account so this project can move forward and we encourage you to consider adding "independent film producer" to your resume. We occasionally produce videos and have worked with Fred, so we know that he is committed to a quality result. And, hey, a movie about Internet policy? How cool is that, amIright?

And check out this cool trailer!

From Fred:

We have interviews lined up with former FCC Commissioners, Nick Johnson and Michael Copps, former FCC Special Counsel Gigi Sohn, writer and professor, Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture and The Democratic Surround, and activist Anthony Riddle, Senior VP of Community Media, BRIC TV, Brooklyn. More to come.

The Trump Federal Communications Commission’s decision to do away with Net Neutrality protections makes it very clear we are in the midst of real crisis in U.S. communications policy: the underlying public interest agreements between the public, government and U.S. commercial communications corporations have broken down. The Facebook hearings in Congress marked the moment when the failed free market communications policies of the last 4 decades have revealed their ultimate logic: we now have monopoly social media platforms surveilling our networks, and unregulated monopolies (that are really utilities) selling us overpriced access to our networks. With no government oversight of any significance.

I know you are probably thinking we are knee deep in crises right now, but, if we can't find a way to control our communications infrastructure as a utility, it's going to be far more difficult to solve any of the many problems we are facing. Our democratic communications values – of privacy, accessibility, equity, and affordability -- and our government’s underpinning economic assumptions regarding communications policy are now completely at odds. This documentary is telling the story of how this unfortunate situation has come about.

Please note that with the flexible crowd funding strategy we will receive all the funds that anyone commits to this project, even if we do not reach our stated goal of $10,000 dollars. That means it is a surety that donations backing this project will immediately be put to use interviewing present and former FCC Commissioners, local and national policy activists, academics and policy wonks, business people and information scientists.

Contribute to this film here and help spread the word about corporate control over our Internet.

Tags: videofccmonopolyfederal government

Anacortes Hosts Potential Partners in Washington

muninetworks.org - April 25, 2018

Anacortes, Washington, has been working toward a publicly owned fiber optic network for several years. They’re now at a point in development when potential partners are visiting the community to present proposals for collaboration. There are still details to decide, but Anacortes is well on its way to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to the entire community. 

Building On The Water

Anacortes wanted better connectivity between water treatment plants and pumping stations, which were previously communicating via radio. Nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) began working with Anacortes in 2016 to help them design the network to meet the needs of the water utility. As part of preparation for the new infrastructure, Anacortes decided last year to take advantage of existing water pipes as conduit, adopting a new approach in the U.S. 

The fiber system for the utility communications will serve as the basis for the citywide network. Anacortes has already deployed a fiber optic backbone in the eastern half of the city by aerial and underground means and plans to continue to the western half this year.

Last fall, community leaders reached out to residents and businesses to find out their needs for better connectivity and to gauge interest in a publicly owned network. They asked the community to complete a survey. Respondents indicated that speed, reliability, and price are major concerns for them.

Frontier DSL, Comcast, and Wave Cable now offer Internet access in the community of 16,800, but the community wants to prepare for the future and know that they need fiber optic connectivity in Anacortes for economic development.

In January, the city released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to find an ISP to manage and operate its infrastructure and offer Internet access to the community. While they had considered an open access model in the past, they’ve now decided to choose one entity to partner with while considering opening up the network to more providers in the future. Westminster, Maryland, has taken a similar approach; the city has an exclusive agreement with ISP Ting Internet for a limited period of time. After the contract period is over, they have the option to renew with a similar arrangement or engage other ISPs to also operate via their infrastructure.

Read the full RFQ here.

ISPs Come A Courtin’

At a recent meeting of the City Council, three ISPs presented their proposals for working with Anacortes to bring fiber optic connectivity to residents and businesses. NoaNet and iFiber offered a joint proposal, Rock Island Communications, and Wave Cable also presented their plans.

As an incumbent provider that already serves about 4,000 customers in the county and operates some of its own fiber optic infrastructure, Wave told the Council that it’s ready to partner with local communities. Wave Resident Product Manager Amy Thompson told the Council, “This conversation is happening with other (cities) as well...And we’re open to the idea of being part of it.”

Rock Island Communications already partners with the Orcas Power and Light Cooperative in the San Juan Islands. Their Executive Vice President suggested connecting premises close to the existing infrastructure first and setting up fixed wireless temporarily to attract subscribers:

The wireless option would work for Anacortes to get customers on board while they wait for fiber, he said.

"You don’t want to leave people behind in this effort, which is key to the project,” he said. 

iFiber partners with fiber optic infrastructure owners - public and private - to offer services to subscribers. They and NoaNet presented a proposal that would involve the latter as the network operator and iFiber as the ISP, offering Internet access, phone, and video.

No Business Plan...Yet

The city invested $1.7 million to deploy the fiber backbone that will be integrated into the larger network. Community leaders still need to answer the question of cost, which may be easier to estimate once they’ve chosen a partner. Anacortes appears to be firm on keeping the infrastructure publicly owned.

In January, Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer told the City Council that the next phase of the project will include pilot programs in two neighborhoods to test the system. Connecting both neighborhoods will cost approximately $78,000; they hope to get both pilots up and running this summer. In January, city officials were unsettled about who should bear the cost of installation, about $1,000 per premise. They’ve considered an option in which property owners would pay the connectivity fee, but do so in monthly installments. 

“We go back and forth on how to fund this,” [Council Member Bruce] McDougall said. “If you tell neighborhoods or individuals to come up with a big upfront construction cost of $1,000, that’s going to reduce the amount of people who sign up significantly.”

...

“It’s a relatively new business model,” McDougall said. “The operation is going to be a challenge, and I expect hurdles.”

As community leaders move forward with their business plan and considering the proposals presented by each of the potential partners, clarifying their vision will be a key element to establishing the network the community wants.

“The ‘why’ has more to do with strategic goals about controlling our technological future,” [McDougall] said. “We’re going to need to talk about what that means to us and make sure what it means to us lines up with what it means to the community.”

RFQ for Network Operator, Anacortes, WashingtonTags: anacorteswashingtonmunipartnershipeconomic developmentconduit

State Legislatures Take Action On Broadband - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 303

muninetworks.org - April 24, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 303 - Christopher and Lisa on State Legislation

We’re a little off kilter these days when it comes to state legislation. Typically, we spend our efforts helping local communities stave off bills to steal, limit, or hamstring local telecommunications authority. This year it’s different so Christopher and Lisa sat down to have a brief chat about some of the notable state actions that have been taken up at state Capitols.

We decided to cover a few proposals that we feel degrade the progress some states have made, bills that include positive and negative provisions, and legislation that we think will do nothing but good. Our analysis covers the map from the states in New England to states in the Northwest. 

In addition to small changes that we think will have big impact - like the definition of “broadband” - we discuss the way tones are shifting. In a few places, like Colorado, state leaders are fed up with inaction or obstruction from the big ISPs that use the law to solidify their monopoly power rather than bring high-quality connectivity to citizens. Other states, like New Hampshire and Washington, recognize that local communities have the ability to improve their situation and are taking measured steps to reduce barriers to broadband deployment.

While they still maintain significant power in many places, national corporate ISPs may slowly be losing their grip over state legislators. We talk about that, too.

For more on these and other bills, check out our recent stories on state and federal legislation.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. 

Tags: broadband bitsaudiopodcaststate lawschristopher mitchellcoloradonew hampshireohiominnesotawyomingwashingtonlegislationhb 378 ohhb 2664 wahb 1099 co

Mapping The Urban-Rural Digital Divide In Georgia

muninetworks.org - April 24, 2018

Internet access isn't effective when it takes forever to load a single webpage or when subscribers spend hours babysitting their computers to ensure files make it through the upload process. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we create maps analyzing publicly available data to show disparities in access and highlight possible solutions. We've recently taken an in-depth look at Georgia and want to share our findings with two revealing maps. According to the FCC's 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, 29.1 percent of the state's rural population lacks broadband access, but only 3 percent of the urban population shares the same problem. Cooperatives and small municipal networks are making a difference in several of these rural communities.

Technology Disparities Across the State

The map below shows what kinds of technology Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are using to offer Internet service to homes or businesses in Georgia. To differentiate areas of the state, the lines represent the subdivisions within counties. Our analysis focuses on wireline technologies, specifically fiber, cable, and DSL. Satellite and fixed wireless services are too dependent on the weather and the terrain for our analysis.

In rural Georgia, premises with wireline access most often rely on DSL; cable and fiber tend to be clustered around towns and cities where population density is higher. Google, for instance, operates a fiber network within Atlanta, Georgia. The large amount of fiber in the eastern half is the Planters Rural Telephone Cooperative, one of the many rural cooperatives that are taking steps to help rural communities obtain the access they need to keep pace with urban centers.

Although DSL service is widespread, it's the least reliable and slowest of the three technologies. It often relies on old copper lines. Cable is more dependable than DSL, but typically slows down significantly during peak web traffic times, such as early evening in residential areas or business hours in downtowns or other areas where businesses cluster. Sometimes called the gold standard of Internet service, fiber is the most reliable and ISPs that offer fiber connectivity sometimes provide speeds of up to 10 Gbps - about 10 times the fastest speeds available to cable - to large businesses or institutions.

Home Broadband Available to Some

For comparison, the map below highlights broadband availability within Georgia. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload). Many areas in Georgia with only DSL lack broadband access. Also noteworthy, some areas that have fiber do not offer home broadband service, indicating that fiber may only be available to businesses or to other ISPs.

Both of these maps use data from the FCC’s Form 477 and may overstate coverage. ISPs complete this form to show which census blocks they serve or could serve. Census blocks are the smallest unit of measurement for the U.S. Census, but they vary in area and population. Rural census blocks usually cover more landmass than urban census block, but in order to mark an entire census block as served, ISPs only need to be able to offer service to one premise in a census block. The FCC launched an interactive map with this data, and you can submit corrections for the underlying data to broadbandfail@fcc.gov.

Community Networks Provide Broadband Service

Community networks are filling in some of the gaps in Georgia’s urban-rural digital divide. There are twelve publicly owned networks that offer service to homes or businesses: one dark fiber network, three cable networks, and eight fiber networks. Chattanooga, Tennessee’s fiber network also serves some Georgia communities on the states’ borders. Four cooperatives have also built fiber networks that provide high-speed Internet service to their members.

Community Networks in Georgia Cable Networks Elberton, Ga. Monroe, Ga. Community Network Services   Dark Fiber Network Tifton, Ga.   Fiber Networks LaGrange, Ga. Cartersville, Ga. Calhoun, Ga. Dublin, Ga. Dalton, Ga. (citywide) Sandersville, Ga. SGRITA Rural Last Mile Infrastructure Project Last Mile (a collaboration of towns) Columbia County Community Broadband Utility (C3BU)   Cooperatives Blue Ridge Mountain EMC Habersham EMC Georgia Communications Cooperative Planters Rural Telephone Cooperative

In 1998, 32 cities and counties created the Georgia Public Web, a fiber network that connects the public entities’ facilities to each other. The network offers Internet service to homes directly, focusing instead on connectivity for businesses, government facilities, and carriers. Learn more about the Georgia Public Web in Community Broadband Bits episode 156

Planters Rural Telephone Cooperative started on a fiber network back in the mid 2000s and has slowly expanded to all their co-op members. The electric cooperatives, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC first collaborated to build the North Georgia Network to serve schools and hospitals. The collaboration went on to create a separate cooperative called the Georgia Communications Cooperative to serve homes and businesses outside of the electric cooperatives’ original territories and now operate the Trailwave network. Listen to the Community Broadband Bits Episode 92 to learn more.

State Government Recognizes Community Networks

In 2016 a joint state legislative committee released Solutions for Broadband Availability in Rural Georgia, a study that determined that publicly owned networks could solve Georgia’s broadband disparity. The Georgia Joint House and Senate Study Committee on High Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians explored the work of these networks and provided the following recommendations:


“Reaffirm the state’s approval of competitive telecommunication markets by continuing to permit locally-owned and operated government broadband services...” and “Amend existing law to provide Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations statutory clarity to provide telecommunication and broadband services.”

Tags: georgiageorgia communications cooperativegeorgia public webcooperativeFTTHmapmappingfccdigital divideruralurban

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 23

muninetworks.org - April 23, 2018

Colorado

Report: Municipal Broadband Could Protect Consumer Privacy by Eric Galatas, Public News Service

As Congress considers remedies for large-scale privacy breaches by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, a recent report suggests that local municipalities could play a key role in protecting consumers.

The American Civil Liberties Union study says if cities and counties build out their own broadband networks, they could ensure privacy protections and keep the internet open for all residents who depend on access for health care, employment and other essential services.

 

Kansas

Utility funds may be used for fiber cable by The Gardner News

 

Massachusetts

Easthampton committee may explore high-speed internet options by Mary C. Serreze, MassLive

Three years into a ten-year cable contract with Charter Communications -- now known as "Spectrum" -- a city committee could start to research other options for consumer broadband service.

"I have had a number of constituents request that the city research the possibility of taking a more active role in ensuring fast, affordable, net-neutral internet access," wrote Precinct 3 City Councilor Thomas Peake in a recent memo.

 

Missouri

Broadband coverage push for rural areas by Waynesville Daily Guide

State Senators Consider Bill to Fund Broadband Expansion by Jason Taylor, MissouriNet

Rural internet access a priority by Robert Cox, Perryville News

 

New Mexico

Panel tackles lack of high-speed internet in Indian Country by Associated Press, The Herald Journal

 

New York

New York City Report Blasts Lack of Broadband Competition by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

New York City has released a new "truth in broadband" report the city claims provides a more accurate picture of broadband availability in the city than traditionally provided by incumbent ISPs. The full report (pdf) notes that two thirds (69%) of NYC homes and nearly three quarters (72%) of small businesses have the choice of just 1 or 2 broadband providers, while 14% of small businesses have no choice of commercial fiber provider. Gigabit broadband also remains hard to come by, with nearly half of New York City small businesses lacking access to gigabit speeds.

 

North Carolina

North Carolina Counties Work to Identify Broadband Service Gaps by Rachael Riley, Henderson Daily Dispatch (GovTech)

Entrepreneurship and innovation at heart of new downtown center by Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Times

 

Ohio

Ohio Broadband Grants Would Total $50M Annually, Joins Growing State Level Focus on Broadband by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

Ohio could be the next state to implement a broadband grant program if a bill that passed the state House of Representatives this week becomes law. The proposed Ohio broadband grants would total up to $50 million annually to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband in unserved or underserved areas, with individual grantees receiving no more than $5 million. Those eligible to receive funding include private businesses, political subdivisions, nonprofit entities and cooperatives.

Among the other states that already have created broadband grant programs are Colorado, New York,  Minnesota  and Massachusetts.

Dennis Kucinich Is Back in the Running by John Nichols, The Nation

Kucinich recognizes the real issue: “We have growing broadband monopolies which threaten the economic growth of our state and widens the digital divide.” And he’s proposing a real response: “a not-for-profit public utility in Ohio, a new broadband service which will dramatically reduce the cost of broadband, and provide a powerful high-speed platform for business growth while establishing net neutrality.”

While municipal broadband networks have been developed in cities across the country, statewide initiatives represent something of a new front in the fight for a free and open Internet.

 

Tennessee

Square One a new space for business starts by Sue Guinn Legg, Johnson City Press

 

Texas

Legal Shootout at the Broadband Corral by Timothy B. Clark, Route Fifty

 

Virginia

City seeks broadband survey responses by Fredericksburg Today

 

Washington

Kitsap Public Utility District authorized to sell retail internet access by Nathan Pilling, Kitsap Sun

Under a new state law, the Kitsap Public Utility District can now retail internet access directly to customers on top of its fiber optic broadband network.

Previously, PUDs throughout the state were only authorized to roll out internet “backbone” infrastructure that other internet service providers could use to sell access to customers. Homeowners could petition PUDs to roll out that service to their neighborhood and assess themselves for the infrastructure improvements, but would have to hope that an ISP would pick up the retail side of the equation.

Two Views: Broadband should be open to all by Breean Beggs, Spokesman-Tribune

Imagine, Spokane: one fiber optic line to your home or business that every private internet service provider (ISP) could use to compete for your internet business. Just like the one system of city streets that lets you choose which company brings you packages (FedEx, UPS, or a local company) a publicly owned broadband infrastructure opens up the market to multiple private companies that must compete for your business by offering better service and lower prices.

The goal of Spokane’s Broadband Workgroup is not to create a new city-owned ISP, but to look for ways that the city can open up and expand its broadband infrastructure that already exists under our streets. Advances in software technology can allow one fiber optic cable to provide access to your home or business from multiple networks and providers, meaning that customers would no longer need to depend on one company to provide both the physical line to your home and the internet content.

 

West Virginia

Net neutrality's repeal has unclear affect on rural broadband by Jake Jarvis, West Virginia News

 

General

Feds Charge One of Ajit Pai's Broadband Advisers for Alleged $250 Million Fraud Scheme by Tom McKay, Gizmodo

What It's Like to Live in America Without Broadband Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard Vice

The agony of rural America's inescapable broadband gap by Jared Keller, Pacific Standard Magazine

Telehealth -- The ideal marketing tool for rural municipal networks by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

Ajit Pai’s ‘Broadband Advisory Panel’ Plagued by Corruption Accusations by Karl Bode, Motherboard Vice

The FCC loses a fierce consumer advocate as Mignon Clyburn resigns by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

"Mignon Clyburn will go down in history as one of the best FCC commissioners of all time," former FCC official and consumer advocate Gigi Sohn said today. "For nearly nine years, she has been a vocal and passionate advocate for the public interest and defender of the most vulnerable in our society."

Clyburn advocated for expansions of the Lifeline program that helps low-income Americans buy telephone and broadband service, Sohn noted. Clyburn has also been a leader on lowering prison phone rates and the issues of media ownership and net neutrality, Sohn said.

Tags: media roundup

Fredericksburg, Virginia, Asks Locals To Complete Broadband Survey

muninetworks.org - April 23, 2018

When local community leaders choose to make improving connectivity a priority, they first need to reach out to residents and businesses to discover the extent of the problem. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the City Council has launched a survey and asks that businesses and residents take a few minutes to complete it.

The city is about 45 miles south of Washington, D.C., and known for its historic quality, which extends to architecture in the downtown area. Large employers in the area include GEICO, the University of Mary Washington, and Mary Washington Healthcare — all industries that need access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. About 28,000 people living in Fredericksburg, and unemployment is less than 4 percent. The Rappahannock River runs along the city’s northern border.

In their announcement about the survey, the City Council wrote:

City Council has established a priority to create more focus on broadband and to strive to be the fastest City in Virginia for broadband. To further that goal, we’d like to find out more about your broadband access and needs. Our focus is on residents and businesses within the City limits.

There are two separate surveys for residents and businesses; the survey will remain open until May 18th, 2018

It Starts By Asking Questions

A survey may or may not lead to public investment in Internet infrastructure, but it helps community leaders move past anecdotal information about local connectivity. By asking people in the community to share their experiences and opinions, city leaders are better able to determine if there is a problem, discover options that may help solve the problem, and get a sense for how the citizenry feel about potential investment.

Sometimes a survey leads a community to consider taking up a feasibility study for deeper examination of the potential solutions. Other times, news of a survey inspires local private sector ISPs to improve services. In places like western North Carolina, regional officials launched a survey hoping to correct inaccurate FCC data. West Virginia has taken up a similar initiative, asking residents and businesses to complete a survey that focuses on accessibility and speeds; they also see the problems with faulty FCC data.

A few other local communities that have asked their residents and businesses to complete surveys in the past year include Ely, Minnesota; Manhattan Beach, California; and Loveland, Colorado. Often communities ask locals to take more than one survey to engage citizens and get an accurate picture of the status of connectivity in the community.

Take This Survey

If you live in Fredericksburg or own or operate a business there, take a few minutes to complete the survey. If you aren't able to complete the survey online at home or at work, public officials ask that you go to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library (1201 Caroline St) or the Social Services Office (608 Jackson St) where you can take the survey.

Learn more at the city website.

Tags: fredericksburg vavirginiasurvey

Business Leaders, Sign This Letter Before May 2nd To Save Network Neutrality!

muninetworks.org - April 20, 2018

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we recognize the power of small businesses in local communities. As federal lawmakers consider where they stand on the issue of network neutrality protections, small businesses can join forces to let Congress know that they need network neutrality to stay strong. Fight For The Future (FFTF) has launched a campaign that takes advantage of “Small Business Week” and its proximity to a crucial vote involving the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Sign, Host, Deliver, Speak

FFTF encourages business owners to express their support for network neutrality by signing a short letter they’ve prepared that succinctly addresses the issue for small businesses:

Dear Member of Congress,

We are companies who rely on the open Internet to grow our business and reach customers online. We are asking Congress to issue a “Resolution of Disapproval” to restore net neutrality and the other consumer protections that were lost when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order in December 2017.

Users and businesses need certainty that they will not be blocked, throttled or charged extra fees by Internet service providers. We cannot afford to be left unprotected while Congress deliberates.

We will accept nothing less than the protections embodied in the 2015 order. Please ensure the FCC keeps its tools to protect consumers and business like ours.

Thank you for considering our views.

Sincerely,

Fight for the Future

Thousands of businesses have already signed on to the letter to be delivered to members of Congress on May 2nd, the high point of “Small Business Week.”

FFTF also offers suggestions, resources, and media materials for local folks who want to attend an event happening in their area or who want to organize a local event. If you want to organize a letter delivery, FFTF offers a package of resources that includes steps to take, graphics and media for outreach, recruitment ideas, and points to consider when talking to the press. It’s all you need in one place — you add the energy.

With strong bipartisan support for network neutrality, efforts like this can undo the mistake the FCC made when it revoked network neutrality protections in December 2017.

Tags: network neutralitypetitioncongresssmall businessfcc

Deb Socia Receives Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award

muninetworks.org - April 20, 2018

Deb Socia has been working on equity for others in a variety of ways throughout her career and so it was no surprise to us that she received this year’s Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. Deb received the award on April 18th in Cleveland at Net Inclusion 2018.

Before serving as Executive Director of Next Century Cities, Deb spent three decades working in education as both a teacher and school administrator. While working in the Boston Public Schools, she acted as founding principal of the one-to-one laptop initiative at Lilla G. Frederick Middle School, an award winning school. Her continuing efforts in digital equity included a role as Executive Director of the Tech Goes Home program, also in Boston, that connected students, parents, and schools to technology resources.

We Love Deb

We’ve spent many hours working with Deb in her capacity at Next Century Cities. Her ability to bring local communities together to share victories and voice common concerns make her ideal for this role. She’s able to see a broad spectrum of issues related to digital inclusion that influence local communities’ ability to improve economic development, enhance public education, and improve their quality of life. Her personable leadership qualities at Next Century Cities and throughout her career inspire trust and confidence.

It’s no surprise that Deb has received a long list of other awards, including the Community Broadband Hero Award from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), the Pathfinder Award from MassCUE, “Leadership and Vision” from CRSTE, Frederick Community Advocate Award, and an NTENny award. Be sure to check out this profile of Deb from Motherboard; she won a Humans of the Year award in 2017.

Adrienne B. Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Foundation, presented the award to Deb at Net Inclusion 2018 in Cleveland. The event is organized by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and brings together advocates, policymakers, ISPs, academics, and practitioners to discuss digital equity. Attendees and presenters talk about ways to improve digital inclusion, relevant research, and a range of other relevant topics.

When she presented the award to Deb, Adrienne quoted one of the people who nominated her:

In every role she takes on, in every fight she champions, and in every community she serves, she is first and foremost an educator. What does that mean? She is a revolutionary, a passionate advocate - to her absolute core, she has devoted her life to ensuring that the next generation will have more opportunities than previous ones… It means that she loves her work, that she tackles challenges with unbridled passion… That she empowers, believes in, and changes the lives of individuals and their families. That she takes what’s at her disposal to diminish isolation, build bridges, improve quality of life, and foster agency and resilience within communities. That she is an unsung hero, and one unquestionably deserving of recognition.

We agree 100 percent and want to say well done, Deb!


via GIPHY

Tags: awarddeb socianational digital inclusion allianceeventdigital dividenext century cities

Folks In Alford, Massachusetts, Finally See Bright End Of Crappy Internet Tunnel

muninetworks.org - April 19, 2018

On April 14th, folks in Alford, Massachusetts, gathered at their fire house to attend a presentation about the bright future of their connectivity. After a long journey to find better connectivity in the small western Massachusetts town, residents and businesses are now subscribing to Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) Internet access from AlfordLink, their own municipal network.

Years Of Work

With only around 500 residents in Alford, it’s no surprise that big incumbents decided the lack of population density didn’t justify investment in 21st century connectivity. By 2012 and 2013, the community had had enough; they decided to pursue their own solution with a municipal network. Alford voted to form a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity that that manages publicly owned networks in Massachusetts.

In addition to the $1.6 million the town decided to borrow to spend on fiber optic infrastructure, the town will also receive around $480,000 in state grant funds. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is handling distribution of funds to Alford and other towns that have decided to use the funding to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

Alford, Blandford, and Shutesbury, are a few of the hilltowns contracting with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) in Westfield. WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber began by serving only Westfield, but now contracts with other small towns to either assist them as they establish their own telecommunications utilities or to provide Internet access and operate a publicly owned network. In very small communities like Alford, they may not feel they have the resources or expertise to manage a gigabit network, but don’t want to relinquish control of their connectivity to an untrustworthy corporate incumbent.

Last year, Charter offered to take MBI funds and build a network in Shutesbury that the company would own and control. The town rejected the offer for the hybrid fiber coaxial network, choosing instead to borrow funding to pair with grants from MBI to build a network the city will own. Western Massachusetts communities have been treated poorly by Charter and others; they’d often rather cease doing business with them entirely.

Places like Shutesbury and Alford also understand the other benefits of public ownership. They want economic development, better connections for their schools, and the ability to control costs.

In the March 2018 Alford MLP Newsletter, the Board wrote:

The MLP has executed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Whip City Fiber (WCF), the broadband arm of Westfield Gas + Electric (WGE), to operate AlfordLink and provide Internet service. Whip City Fiber plays this role in Westfield and has similar IGAs with a growing number of towns in Western Massachusetts that are building municipally owned FTTH networks. We are confident in their ability to serve Alford. 

Check out our interview with Aaron Bean and Sean Fitzgerald from WhipCity Fiber back in 2016 for episode 205 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Alford On Fire

In January, WG+E installed a hut next to the fire house where the network equipment is housed and where AlfordLink connects to MassBroadband123, the state’s middle mile network. In order to allow residents to get a taste for their future service, they’ve lit up the network at the fire house and installed a Wi-Fi router.

"The hut is lit," said Peter Puciloski, the town's new chairman of the Municipal Light Plant. "We put in a router, so you can go and experience 1 gigabit. I've seen a bunch of people there downloading software rather than waiting at home."

At the April 14th open house event, WG+E representatives introduced the AlfordLink website, explained the steps to subscribe, and provided details on what services will be available. AlfordLink won’t include video services — only Internet access and phone — and part of the presentation discussed streaming versus cable TV.

They had a discussion about the expected roll-out plan, as many people are eager to sign-up. There’s been an issue with some of the poles in Alford because Verizon is dragging its feet on make-ready work and pole agreements. About 60 percent of make-ready work; as long as there are no “major catastrophes,” WG+E officials estimate the network to be completed and serving the community this fall.

Regardless of the delay, people in Alford are signing up. At last count before the open house, 102 premises had signed up. There are a total of 350 premises in Alford. 

At this time, symmetrical gigabit service will be the only speed tier available for $110 per month. Subscribers can add voice service for $12.95 per month.

Watch a video of the open house presentation from folks at WG+E:

Image of Alford town hall courtesy of Just the Berkshires.

Tags: alford mamuniwestfield mamassachusettsmassachusetts broadband instituteFTTHgigabit

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 302

muninetworks.org - April 18, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 302 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Gary Evans from Hiawatha Broadband Communications joins the show for part ii of a conversation on rural connectivity.  Listen to this episode here. Go back to part I here.

Gary Evans: Generally speaking, you can find the money to get it done. If I had my choice between vision and money, I'd take vision.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 302 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. A few weeks ago, Christopher sat down with his old friend, Gary Evans, who's the retired president and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications. They had a great conversation about the company and life as a small independent ISP for episode 297, but there was still so much to cover. Gary and Christopher are at the mics again to continue their conversation about Hiawatha Broadband Communications. They're talking about the challenges that companies face and overcome and prospects for the future. Once again, this interview is a little longer than our usual podcasts, but we know you'll be glad we kept it that way. There's lessons to be learned and interesting stories to hear. Now, here's Christopher with Gary Evans.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome back to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I guess our office is in Minneapolis, but I'm a Saint Paul, boy myself, I'm here with Gary Evans once again. He's still the retired founder of HBC.

Gary Evans: Thank you Chris. It's good to be back.

Christopher Mitchell: We talked a few weeks ago and you said you have a habit of not staying retired for long, but thus far--

Gary Evans: I'm, I'm doing some work that I'm really loving for a private equity firm in New York City that's concentrating in the area of fiber optics and so another way hopefully to help rural America because we're going to be looking at markets that the big players don't seem to have much interest in today.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think that's a good place to pick up where we left off last time. We mainly talked about the history of HBC and one of the key lessons that we took away is that there is a very strong business model in connecting the areas that Wall Street has tended to overlook the smaller towns in America. Not necessarily the tiniest ones, but the decent sized ones that are very common.

Gary Evans: You know, that's, that's exactly right. And, and for me at least, it seems you can make a case even for the tiniest, if you have a nucleus of the not so tiny not the tier one markets, but the Winonas at 35,000 and the Red Wings at 20,000 allow you to pick up a community like Minneiska, which when we built it was 68 dwelling units, they had a problem. They didn't have any emergency warning system that was effective. And so one of the things we did there was to collaborate with the city to put warning devices connected to the network in each of the homes.

Christopher Mitchell: So last Wednesday, as we're recording this, two days ago, the first Wednesday of the month in Minnesota, they probably got some kind of a warning there.

Gary Evans: They probably did because everybody got dumped on, at least in this part of this.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, those are also the tornado warnings I was thinking of, which I think is a very big deal.

Gary Evans: Yeah, it's huge. And that was, that was actually the motivating factor that drove them. And I was really pleased when we were able to work that out. We had fiber running from Winona to Wabasha and dropping off at Minneiska for instance, was not a difficult thing to do, probably an afternoon job. Right, right. And because we were leveraging resources back in Winona as well, we were able to add that without, you know, more than the cost of the connectivity to the home. So it was a nice thing to do.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, if anyone missed our first episode, I strongly encourage you to go back and listen to the episode in which we started talking about HBC because I'd like to pick up with one of the things we didn't get to, which is how HBC has helped to run other networks. And I think it makes sense to start chronologically with what I think was the first one of the store, which was Monticello, which is a community northwest of Minneapolis. It's a little bit of ways from your home territory. But they wanted to build a municipal network. They did not have a municipal electric department, which is very common amongst citywide and municipal networks, and they reached out to you. You are essential in helping them to get educated, get inspired, pass the referendum was 74 percent support and get the network built.

Gary Evans: We enjoyed our association with Monticello even though I suppose everybody would look and say, well, it certainly didn't end in a place where you expected. And while that's true, I think we learned a couple of things. We learned some very valuable things there. I'm in an interesting way enough. Sometimes the things you know best you, you can forget about. You know, as, as we built Winona it was extremely important that we were local and our successes were based largely on the fact that, you know, our friends and acquaintances became our customers as we got north of the twin cities that wasn't quite so evident. And I'm finding the employee base that could take on the HBC culture was difficult. Even that far from home, you know, we're sitting here in Cannon Falls and In Cannon Falls, the bank that we're in has an affiliation with the bank and Winona and, I remember the Merchants CEO saying to me once, you know, when we're able to install our own person in the banks we acquire, we do really well. When we have to go with someone who isn't familiar, we don't do as well because it's a cultural issue. And so I think some of the problems we had in Monticello that ultimately resulted in our withdrawal from the project and, and sort of a difficult transition for Monticello, I wish could have been avoided. It probably made sense for both areas. And I'm pleased that the network is seemingly running well today.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that it's -- it shows the character of a person when you take a project that came to unsatisfactory conclusion. One in which I know from personal experience had both what you might call endogenous problems and exogenous problems as, as the fancy economists like to say, which is to say problems on the inside with what you and Monticello, jet and problems on the outside. That's correct. One of the biggest problems Monticello faced was that charter came in and as I understand and some numbers that were provided to me back in the day, charter began offering an insane deal, the best deal that they've offered anywhere. To my knowledge, they took a product that was a hundred and $45 a month everywhere else in this state. And they reduced it to $60 per month. It was every channel, the fastest broadband speeds they had available, $60 a month, guaranteed rate for two years. Clearly losing money on every single subscriber who took that every month. Now you could have said that first, but instead you, you noticed some of the things that you said because I know the growth really dropped off a cliff at that point.

Gary Evans: Well, it did, that started as we were there, but really accelerated after the decision for us to away, you know, I expect when that started, charter might have been worried about, well, what are they going to do next? We obviously hurt them badly in Winona and we were about to hurt them in Red Wing. That was kind of interesting to me, you know, charter close to Oliver, it's local offices and the first one to get opened again was in Red Wing as we were building that network. So yeah, there were a lot of, of those problems, but I also think that we were some of the problem and, and when I say we, it's because local knowledge is critically important to. I don't think we had as much of that as we should have. There was another thing too, and that is because we didn't have it, the city was more interested in providing advice than we were interested in listening. I'm hindsight being what it is. We probably should have listened more and they perhaps should have given less advice. I'm, but I'm pleased that the network is still operating and and seems, I think to be doing well. Why also retain some friends from Monticello, including Jeff O'Neil, who was the city administrator there.

Christopher Mitchell: Anywhere that I would live, I would-- I would like to have him as a city administrator. He puts his heart and soul into it.

Gary Evans: He really does. He's a very good man. I'm pleased that I got to know him.

Christopher Mitchell: It's worth noting that the project did not succeed financially. There was a struggle with the bonds. On the other hand, from the perspective of local businesses prior to you and Monticello doing this, they were sending their employees home in the afternoons to work from home because their offices were incapable of supporting in 2008 a modern workforce.

Gary Evans: That's absolutely correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Now they have far better connectivity than I can get anywhere in St Paul.

Gary Evans: That's an advantage of the vision. You know, people always talk about money and to me money is not nearly as important, is vision. If you will have the vision to do something that is critically needed and no one has stepped up to do. Generally speaking, you can find the money to get it done. If I had my choice between vision and money, I'd take vision. Maybe that's because I don't have money.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, it's worth reminding people. I see. I think some people might hear that and cynically think, well, government is always going to find the money by picking someone else's pocket would be the most uncharitable way of saying it. But you're saying that as a perspective of a business owner as well. The vision is the most important thing.

Gary Evans: Absolutely. You know, I, I think back to the first stage of HBC and the first of all call I got from the founder of fashion all saying I think we should look at this new thing called fiber optics and you know, it demonstrated to me that a good business person is very much aware of the things happening. Even if it would appear that there would be no help in it for that particular business. Interesting.

Christopher Mitchell: So if we move on a little bit, and actually this, this is happening concurrently. You started working with city of North St Paul, which is a small suburb. It's really has it's own independent character in north of St Paul, Minnesota. And there, I'll just briefly summarize, I think Comcast may have done you a bit of a favor because you hadn't yet learned the lessons from Monticello. The city of North St Paul was very arrogant, almost very confident in their capacity to pass the referendum to move forward with a project with you and Comcast when all out there was buses that seemed to have been sponsored by Comcast. My understanding to taking people to the polls and the only thing that, those people knew what they were supposed to vote. No, and I don't know what they got in return, but it must've been nice.

Gary Evans: Obviously the no vote care eight the day. But again, that too was, was an interesting project. We were very interested in seeing if the formula that we thought could succeed would work in a metro area. I'm Monticello was almost that because it was on the fringes of the twin cities of North St Paul would have been deeper into that hub. But we didn't get the chance. I'm it too though, was an interesting exercise because issue say they were very confident that, that the referendum would pass and we had done a lot of work in the expectation that it would to so we learned that probably shouldn't count chickens before they're hatched as the old saying goes and took away from it some knowledge that would, I suppose play a part in future developments. But, I wish we could've done that project.

Gary Evans: I think you're right in saying that Comcast did us a favor. I'm not sure we could've been successful there given the attention the project would have gotten. You know, nibbling at charter from were known and red wing is, is different than nibbling yet. Comcast in north St Paul almost on top of the capital. Well, right. And, and I'm sure everybody had Comcast saying, well, nobody in their right mind would just build north St Paul. There's got to be here to move on right now. Quite frankly, there had been some synergies between Roseville in north St Paul. Yeah, we were looking at Roseville. So Comcast, I think wisely thought we can't really allow this to happen. So the next one that I'm aware of is, is Renville Sibley, is that the next one? Well actually we had two others. Well, three really that the first one that we did, which was an outside the box maneuver, was to provide ace communication a far southeastern Minnesota at telephone co op with video signal.

Gary Evans: And it was, for us a very good partnership. I thought it was a good partnership for them to, we cooperated on the purchase of equipment that was needed to read, digitize signal to send it over a long haul. Although people probably wouldn't see went on it to Houston as a long haul, but by today's standards and in return, ace was getting free signal until we paid off their share or the share that they expended for some reason unexplainable to me. And I think in many ways totally unexplainable. They terminated the agreement long before they had managed to get their equity out of the project and when it went to mediation, the finding was on the side of HBC. We would have much rather the project continued, but that was the first one, ironically. And you're probably going to laugh at this.

Gary Evans: The, the second one was CenturyTel we became a video provider for CenturyTel in Lacrosse. Yes, we actually, we did cover that in a previous interview and, and so we help them get started in video. I think always knowing that if the experiment was successful they would do something that would not encourage using HBC. And they did that. And, and we also helped ace, another small cooperative on the Wisconsin side of the river, a cochrane telephone to provide video signal. So those were all in the mix before the RS fiber Renville Sibley project began. But that one I'm appears, at least from my vantage point to be cranking up. Well I think HBC is doing the things it needs to do for that project to be successful. There's a pretty sizable, HBC workforce in residents in those communities now and that's pleasing to me too. So, another way I guess to grab the local knowledge that we might not otherwise have had.

Christopher Mitchell: You seem to have spent a lot of time helping Wisconsin communities through someone that I've seen enthusiastically tailgating Minnesota football game.

Gary Evans: I know. This is interesting because the first year I was married, I was watching the sports that are in Albert Lee and I'm at the Wisconsin Minnesota game was coming along and both my wife and I had the flu and the marriage almost ended during the game, because Ellen was aggressively cheering for the badgers. So yes, and doing a great job of ribbing me because unfortunately the badges won the game as they have almost every cabinet in my lifetime. That's correct. And I was cheering for the gophers. I'm happy to say that a lot today is just as big a goal for a but yeah. I grew up in Wisconsin though, and so there's, you know, there's not much difference except for the river that runs the, a, the strips of land on either side are comprised of people who are much the same. Those are the best rivalries though they surely are. 

Christopher Mitchell: The Renville Sibley project, which listeners may be more familiar with as RS fiber, ended up being a cooperative and so the cooperative owns the physical assets and HBC is providing services over it. And I think you're a bit modest. The, the feeling I get in talking to people about RS fiber is that HBC has gone above and beyond, in terms of making sure that things would happen correctly. I'm really, really going beyond what would be expected of a partner.

Gary Evans: Well, and you know, Chris, I -- the project started under my tenure, but Dan Pecorino, the new CEO is really the shepherd of what has happened. But to me that's what all we should happen. And I would like to think that it's an HBC habit to try and go above and beyond. It's part of Minnesota Nice. I sink and, and it's part of the program that makes for a successful ventures. I always felt that we should pour into projects all of the knowledge we had and as many resources as who would legitimately be spent. And, HBC is more capable today than it was during my tenure. It's a much more successful company now and I'm, I'm, I'm glad to hear you say that. That's very pleasing because I bumped into a Toby Brummer. Toby was the head of a construction company, a tiny construction company that we purchased and toby is the resident manager. He lives, I think in Winthrop, Toby's a happy guy. He's always been a happy guy even when things were going wrong. And he loves it over there. He loves the people. He's a farmer which fits very well. And so yeah, I, I am very pleased that the project is going well.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I feel like I've learned in watching, particularly from Monticello, I mean, I'll just, I think as we look back at these different partnerships, these networks are hard to build on their own. You know, there's some companies that that make it look easier than others, but they are hard projects. And when you do a partnership, sometimes there's this naïve belief that that will make it easier because you're working with a with someone that has experience or is better at raising capital, whatever the partnership is, based on my experience, when the going gets tough, which it inevitably does at one point or another for one reason or another. Maybe it's technical, maybe it's competition. Who knows? That puts stress on the partnership and I feel I've seen many more partnerships fold then then many of the boosters of partnerships when I admit, because one side wasn't willing to say, you know what, the contract isn't really clear on this, but we're going to make it work. We're going to go beyond is that.

Gary Evans: I think that's a very accurate statement. We thought we had learned some things in Winona that could be helpful in Monticello. Monticello, people trying to put the best spin on this weren't in agreement. I mean the one thing that we didn't want to do was get into a price war. Agreed. Yeah. Because we thought that there was absolutely no way to survive it and I don't think there is a way to survive that against the charter or Comcast.

Christopher Mitchell: They could give their product away for free and the investors wouldn't notice a thing,

Gary Evans: absolutely the case. And it became difficult to try and serve the knowledge we had at the same time that we were trying to keep a partnership happy. And ultimately the best decision was probably made for both parties.

Christopher Mitchell: So when to talk about Burlington major lessons learned podcast here, Burlington, which, if people are listening to this, having heard my interview with Stephen Barraclough, who was instrumental in, in working with Burlington during this time period, it may be some important context, but, Burlington got into trouble. My read on it is that, you had a mayor that came in after, through as being built, you're in a difficult period of expansion than, and the mayor put in someone to run Burlington Telekom that I think was very, I'm not transparent, was very opaque and there were some problems and that administration chose to hide those problems. And they got worse and worse until it spills out in the public. And you have a need to invest more in the network. You have a network that didn't have enough customers and you have a lot of frustration from the public when they learn about the problems that had been hidden from the city council.

Gary Evans: Yeah. And I'm going to take you back just a little bit. There was a gentleman that we both know, tim knoll pay was the first CEO of the company. And I'm not sure, Chris, that I could exactly pinpoint for you the earliest problems with the system, but I remember we were asked to come in after money that the city didn't realize or the city council didn't realize had been spent, had been spent. And the city capital lease money had also all been spent.

Christopher Mitchell: So tim notes he had been booted out more or less than 2007. You were brought in. I May, 2009, 2009.

Gary Evans: And Bob Kiss was still the mayor, but he was to lose the next election because what happened shortly after we were brought in, he has the city defaulted on its capital lease with Citi.

Christopher Mitchell: Which is a terribly named company and I'm always struggling to explain to people, so Citi C-I-T-I, right? Citibank was then labeled itself Citi and, I think, lend money to Burlington without doing its proper due diligence in retrospect.

Gary Evans: Yeah. The first thing as we looked at it, there were three of us who went to Burlington. We were to do a study of the network.

Christopher Mitchell: You've got blue ribbons for it was a blue ribbon committee was my recollection.

Gary Evans: Yes, you're right. But in any event, what we discovered was a network that no one in their right mind would have built, in our opinion, a networked that costs several times too much. I'm that exhausted the limited funds and they're laid a network that may have had the greatest potential for success of any I've ever seen that was built in a way that no one in my opinion have a right mind would have. Bill, there was almost a home run, if you will, to every dwelling in Burlington. So what we're talking about in home run as a dedicated line from the head end facility to the customer, which is not something that you'll find anywhere that I'm aware of. Maybe

Christopher Mitchell: there's a few, I mean usually usually in a, in a city the size of brilliant you would expect that even if you are using tape technology would be to an aggregation point in a neighborhood or something like that. And I think the main concern is the incredible cost of fiber versus using some kind of technology in which you would oversubscribed more in the fiber by using a passive optical networking or something like that bag.

Gary Evans: So just as we finished our study, the mayoral election took place and we had a new mayor, a to work with and made a bad mistake. And my first meeting because I, I told the mayor that in my opinion, he had a magnificent asset on his hands that could become successful if it were managed and operated correctly. And I don't really think the mayor wanted to hear that because I think that there was a great frustration in Burlington that, led to an opinion that the best thing to do with the network was to sell it, if in fact it could be sold and just get out of the business.

Christopher Mitchell: Tim Nulty, who I still consider a friend. I think Tim would have said that, yes, he built it in that way to be future proof. And, and, he would justify that and say that the network would have been fine under his tenure if they had had a proper marketing campaign and things like that. One of the things that I understood during the Kiss administration, and this is a quote that I, when we were investigating trying to figure out what had happened because we have a very strong interest in learning when municipal fiber network struggle, we want to know why. So we're investigating it. And someone told me that you could have moved into many parts of Burlington over the course of several years and never have even known that that was an option to get Burlington telecomm fiber. So I think like many things there was -- there's root causes that different people can point to and then they all conspire together to create a real big problem.

Gary Evans: That's correct. Burlington, Burlington Telekom had done little to attract customers to the network and that was a critical missing link. You know, I wouldn't have built the network that Tim built, but on the other hand, we could sit across the desk from each other and carry on a very friendly argument about the situation.

Christopher Mitchell: It is worth noting that I have yet to find two people that would build the same network. There are extremes. I think HBC has found ways to building networks at as low a cost as possible. And that's been a part of your success. And I think, you know, tim tends to build them in his way and he has his reasons. There's a lot of people in the middle of that have still different ways of building networks. So, people who are listening to this shouldn't be surprised when they hear these kinds of disagreements, but you should be aware that if you commit to a very expensive network, you sure have to find a way to bring in customers onto it,

Gary Evans: which means that you had better plan marketing expenditure is very carefully because you're going to need them. You know, at the time we got there, the 17,000,000 fiasco had broken. The Citi Bank fiasco was out in the public. Every thing that you could imagine going wrong was going wrong. And if you walked into the bto office, you saw a group of people with their heads down, reluctant, quite frankly, to look up and, you know, Steven, came to the party after we had concluded our first run. And then Steven asked me to come out and spend a couple days with him talking about our analysis. And I'm then asked if we would stay on and help. There were so many hurdles to cross. And I'm pleased to see the company now upright, it still has a way to go. You and I disagreed on who should buy it, when they, when they sold it, but like the things we agree amicably and we had both desperately hope that it succeeds and expense.

Gary Evans: I do indeed. And you know, I must say that, that you probably weigh, you clearly knew more about your choice than I did and I am not going to suggest that I know know more about my choice then you did. But I think with the right leadership that can be a successful property, I think what it needs and they're going to need a fair amount of resource they've got. They're sitting in the middle of a wonderful situation. I mean, you know, you have a hundred and 50,000 people in the county of which Burlington is the mighty Chittenden County, Chittenden county and am so when new ski, you know, South Burlington, all of those communities could be come part of that network that these are people that do not like global corporations. Like, yeah, that's absolutely the case. And so I think the right leadership will take them a long way and ultimately will make the city hold again and we'll also demonstrate business viability at the same time that the right kind of leadership will have customer satisfaction as a key goal, you know, I don't think you can go into a competitive situation and operate like the incumbent and expect to succeed. 

Gary Evans: No, no. The incumbents win by inertia. Absolutely. And, and so you have to identify every flaw that, that competition has and you have to work to exploit every single one of them.

Christopher Mitchell: But one of the things that we've been wondering about is how many small companies and municipalities really advertised like their difference in privacy policies. For instance, like when was the last time HBC sold customer data to a third party? Yeah, exactly. 

Gary Evans: Never, and never wouldn't happen. I'm convinced. Well certainly shouldn't say never, but

Christopher Mitchell: I know it's hard to imagine why would. Yeah, absolutely. Because for a small company like that, your reputation is everything and the little bit of money you would make from it is not that much. But if you're a Comcast and you have 18, 20 to 30,000,000 customers, however many you can make a lot of money and most of your customers don't have another choice. So. Correct. So I wanna -- I wanna round off by talking a little bit more widely about policy. Minnesota has the Blandin Foundation which is somewhat unique and has been tremendously positive and I think there's been a couple of negative side effects to the overwhelmingly positive benefits of Blandin. But, but you've been on the Blandin Board for probably forever.

Gary Evans: Well, I'm no longer a member. I was from the earliest days

Christopher Mitchell: and this was a Blandin Broadband Board.

Gary Evans: It was, it was not, not the Foundation Board.

Christopher Mitchell: What did, what did they do? Well, I mean, tell me a little bit about the beginning of that and the strategies for how to set the stage. Blandin is a foundation that is very focused on greater Minnesota, the non metro regions. They helped send my wife to college and I met her in Grad school, so I'll be forever indebted to Blandin for that.

Gary Evans: And they had a leadership program that had at least in our area of the state, made their name no one they identified the broadband area as an area of potential for Minnesota and I think most of our early efforts, Chris, were expended on trying to convince state government that had want to be active in the broadband area as government usually does. It can move as fast as we hoped it would. Some of the things that we lobbied hard for, we'd, we'd get a sliver, but certainly not the whole pie. And so ultimately Blandin switched strategy to trying to do it. I'm more with the people who would benefit. I thought that was a very good move. It constant traded mostly on planning and helping communities plan initiatives.

Christopher Mitchell: That's, that's where I really wanted to dig in a little bit. I mean, I think when I look at Blandin, there's a number of things that they have done. One is I think an sees work on the bland and blog is tremendous. And I don't think a lot of people appreciate how important it is to have a place that is cataloguing on a daily basis talking about these sorts of things so people can understand what's happening and, and, and has been coming from a family of librarians. You can tell she's, yeah, she's wonderful. So one of the things that when people sometimes ask me for advice about what other states should do, I often say that Blandin has been incredibly successful in the planning part by offering matching grants. Their communities have to commit something, but it gives a real edge to those in the community that once something that happened because they can say, look, we're getting this great deal from Blandin and they're going to match the cost of this study and that is going to help convince the city councils to appropriate a little bit of money to do what we're talking about.

Christopher Mitchell: Usually on the order of $10 to $15,000, which is then matched by Blandin.

Gary Evans: Right? I had to look at the broader issue and be aware of sweeping generalities, but I think that many of our city governments are populated by people my age are not too much younger than I am and we didn't grow up with the connectivity that we have today and we didn't grow up understanding it or carrying much either. And I, I think that victimizes us, I think there's a problem in Minnesota today I think gets that too few young people are really getting involved in the governmental activity in their local communities. Preach. And, and the fact of the matter is it, it hurts us in many ways, but I think it hurts us particularly in the broadband area and you know, I, I think bland. It's wonderful. I remember Heather Gold talking to me once about she had just come to her position in the broadband association. I suggested she looked at Blandin as a model and now there is a toolkit that was very similar to the Blandin toolkit that's being used nationally.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. This is the Fiber-to-the-Home Primer for which was just updated in late 2017. Correct. Terrific.

Gary Evans: Yes, absolutely. Terrific. And Blandin's impact has been solid, but quite frankly should be much greater.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, this is where when we sat down and started warming up the mix, before we recorded, I said something I wasn't sure how you would react to it and that is. I feel that we are. We are. You were mentioned. We start talking about the rural electrification, Red Wing, Minnesota being one of the first being the first ray site and my impression from studying that period is electrification happened quickly and in such a great way with these co-ops that have been so good for rural America because local communities organize them and I still see in my greatest criticism of Blandin not just, I just don't want to center us on Blandin, but everyone in Minnesota working on broadband issues is it's so focused on getting the state to do something. There's not enough focus on getting communities to do something so that when state monies available, it could be put to good use.

Gary Evans: We were also talking about the value of vision versus money. If I had to look at, at your statement, I would say you're right, clearly you're right, but it might be that Blandin concentration has been where it's been because it determined that it wasn't going to have the kind of support out there, if you will. That may be, it could find in four or 500 legislators in St Paul. It is a real worry because as we went to the tiny communities, if you will, to receive franchises that there was only one thing that people wanted to talk about and that was cable TV pricing. We sell it to us for less money and nobody was thinking about what this could do for their community and how to make it just as powerful as rural electrification was.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I want to, I really want to reiterate that that Blandin has been a -- not just net positive but incredibly net-positive. And I don't want to say that because it's worth noting. Lyndon was right on open access, I think 12 years ago when they started pushing open access. The carriers really resisted it. I think that would've been very good for Minnesota. I continue to be a believer in open access approaches. A Blandin has had these conferences and I'm employed Bill Coleman to really educate communities on what these words mean and the importance of economic development and broadband, his head of events that it has put on despite the opposition and undercutting of the rural telephone companies in Minnesota, which I find really dismaying. I understand that we have some differences of opinion of opinion, but we all have to work together to solve this problem. So I would say that in terms of we want to talk about what might be able to do better or differently if anyone from Blandin is listening to this, they should take heart that they've done a tremendous job of moving Minnesota forward.

Gary Evans: Absolutely. You know, I might think about painting with a brush, not so broad, if you will. I mean, if you could identify in advance through some process to communities committed to doing something, then the relatively small resource you have might be deployed more effectively. You know, I would go to communities and I would say to them, folks, every community where there today is an HBC network is larger than it was when the network was bill. Now don't you think that message would resonate with people and, and then you know, those who were not interested would, uh oh, but it costs too much and where we're going to get the money and it always came down to that. And, and you know, and the St Charles Lesson to me was absolutely incredible.

Christopher Mitchell: The community, not just the people that we haven't mentioned it yet, this episode, the St Charles was one of the first HBC towns. You moved out here

Gary Evans: and, and we had no interest in doing that until their economic development association came to us and knew clearly why you wanted us there. They wanted us there because they wanted to be the number one bedroom community to Rochester to suggest that they have been unsuccessful in that goal would be absolutely wrong. Now, are they the number one bedroom community to Rochester? Well, I'm sure Byron would argue pine island might, or an Oco might, but the fact of the matter is that St Charles is significantly larger today than it was. It has more business that it is than it did then.

Christopher Mitchell: It doesn't have the geographical advantages of all the other places that are closer. I think,

Gary Evans: You know, St Charles has done a magnificent job. And once again, it was the issue of vision.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I would, I would just say we talked about Renville Sibley without mentioning Mark Erickson. Mark, here's someone who talked about vision in, in, in stamina for five years, against struggle after struggle where one, one pathway was closed off after another. And, and he, I think, I still think of him as the heart of a, of a, of a group of people that all deserve endless praise for the work that they did. Mark, I just feel like we, he wasn't gonna give up

Gary Evans: how it started. It didn't start in Renville Sibley county. Mark, as the city administrator wanted his community to succeed. I remember him dragging me to Seattle and Microsoft early in the HBC existence. And this was back when Mark worked for HBC. Mark, was the city administrator in Fairfield or close to there yet was it was south of Wind Wyndham? MMM. Yeah. And Mark ultimately was dismissed as city administrator because of people being disappointed with the fact that too much activity and money was being spent on connectivity. Then he came to work for HBC. Then he got interested. He wanted to go back to his roots and he moved to Winthrop as city administrator, then became economic development director and stepped out as city administrator

Christopher Mitchell: Now he's somewhere in Europe, I think right this week touring

Gary Evans: He promised me a call when he got back. But it's been awhile since his retirement party. But you know, Mark was tremendous. He, he was absolutely untiring in his efforts to get his communities to understand the importance of broadband. And the Renville Sibley project is exclusively due to him. It is worth noting that, again, this wasn't just the disappointment. Occasionally have a plan not working out. There were people that were undermining him. There's still a whisper campaign that he's getting paid under the table, millions of dollars from you or from HBC, which is ridiculous. That was also a rumor at that time, that HBC or that ace backed away from our partnership and you know, it's so ridiculous. Apparently people just like to look for things to complain about, but Mark is someday going to be recognized by those communities as having done them an enormous favor. Yes. And a lot of people already credit him with that and it. And I do want to note if Mark was here, he would be both blushing and stammering and saying, no, it wasn't me, it was other people, other people were essential to making it happen.

Christopher Mitchell: But I, if you had to pick one person that the keystone, I just. No question. It was Mark. Yeah. Yeah. Well this has been another great addition of the Minnesota history, I think of, of, of how we've moved forward a bit. The role that HBC has played, the role that you've played in-- in your own personal role in some cases.

Gary Evans: Well, you know, I was raised by my grandmother who used to have her hands full, shouldn't have had to raise another generation after her own, but grandma always told me that the only thing I needed to worry about was always leaving the things I touched better than they were when I found them. And I hope someday somebody will say, you know, he did that. I hope some day when I see grandma, she'll tell me, chances are she'll find some fault with how I did things.

Christopher Mitchell: Always room for improvement.

Gary Evans: Always.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you gary for another hour of your time. I greatly appreciate it and I'm looking forward to finding more things to talk about in the future. Good.

Gary Evans: Chris, as always, it's a pleasure. I had more fun than you had.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Gary Evans, former president and CEO of Hiawatha broadband communications in southeastern Minnesota. For more about the company, visit HBCi.com, you can also check out our coverage on MuniNetworks.org at the HBC tag. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/Broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets follow Muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power, the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 300 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

RFP For Network Construction In Sanford, Maine: Responses Due May 2nd

muninetworks.org - April 18, 2018

When the announcement came out in 2015 that Sanford, Maine, would invest in the state’s largest municipal fiber optic network, media outlets were abuzz with the news. The situation has quieted down as the community has been working to plan for the project. Earlier this month, Sanford released its second Request for Proposals (RFP) for Fiber Optic Construction for the network; responses are due May 2nd.

Read the RFP here.

Second Shot

Back when the city began the process of investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, they conducted an original RFP process and selected a construction firm. Before the project began, however, Sanford won a significant award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and, according to the EDA, the city’s RFP process did not conform to EDA bid process requirements. In order to accept the award, the city needs to re-run to RFP process.

The project will cost approximately $1.5 million and, with the federal grant slated to pay for around half at $769,000, Sanford officials see the benefit of taking the time to release a second RFP. The city will use proceeds from the sale of a former school property to fund the remaining. They anticipate construction to begin in July and estimate the project will be completed and the network will be ready to operate by November.

As the RFP states, the project will connect approximately 85 community anchor institutions (CAIs) to a network of about 40 miles of fiber and to the state’s middle mile Three Ring Binder. In addition to City Hall, they intend to connect schools, healthcare facilities, libraries, and public works buildings. There are also a significant number of business locations on the list of addresses that Sanford officials want connected to the network. The community has already chosen Maine’s GWI to operate the open access network. 

You can listen to our conversation with CEO Fletcher Kittredge in episode 176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He and Christopher discuss Sanford and other projects in Maine.

Sanford And The Region

Until the 1950s, the community’s modern economy centered on textile manufacturing. The population has held stubbornly at around 21,000 for the past 20 years and community leaders want economic development. Like many other communities with manufacturing histories, they see the need for high-quality connectivity to retain existing manufacturing in the community while also hoping to attract diverse high-tech employers that require fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

The city is located in York County, near the southern most tip of the state and the region has been growing. The area attracts people who want to take advantage of hiking trials, mountain biking trails, and downhill skiing, and there are several golf courses that bring in golfers from other areas of the state. With about a dozen lakes for recreation and the ocean within a 30 minute drive, the population in the region swells in the summer to around 60,000.

Due date for response to the RFP is May 2nd.

Questions and comments should be directed via email to:

Mark Buxton or David Radin Tilson

16 Middle Street, 4th Floor

Portland, ME 04101

SanfordNet(at)tilsontech.com

SanfordNet Request for Proposals for Fiber Optic Network ConstructionTags: sanford memainerfpgwiopen accesseconomic developmentruralpartnershipfederal grant

HBC Spreads The Know-How: Working With Others To Improve Rural Connectivity

muninetworks.org - April 17, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 302 - Gary Evans, Former President and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications

For episode 302 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher carries on his conversation with Gary Evans, retired President and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC), an independent ISP in Minnesota. This is the second opportunity for Christopher and Gary to talk about HBC’s historical role in bringing high-quality connectivity to rural areas. Be sure to listen to episode 297, when Gary and Christopher concentrate on the history of the company.

In this conversation, Gary and Christopher focus on the idea of connecting smaller communities in order to bring high-quality connectivity to America beyond its urban centers. As part of the conversation, they discuss how HBC has worked with other systems, including networks in places like Monticello, North St. Paul, and Renville and Sibley Counties in Minnesota, Wisconsin providers, and Burlington, Vermont. There have been some rough patches along with some great successes and Gary addresses both. He talks about connections he’s made, lessons he’s learned, and partnership approaches that work.

Gary also dedicates a few moments to his time and the great work done by the Blandin Foundation, one of Minnesota's most active organizations to bring better Internet access an adoption to Greater Minnesota.

We want to preserve Gary’s experiences and advice, so once again we kept this episode longer than most; it runs about 53 minutes.

You can play the show on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Read the transcript for this show here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: hbcminnesotaruralpartnershipeconomic developmentaudiobroadband bitspodcastsibley countyrenville countyrs fiber coopmonticelloBurlington Telecom

Comcast Didn't Stop Fort Collins Fiber; Community Moving Forward Step By Step

muninetworks.org - April 17, 2018

When Fort Collins voters chose to amend their charter last year, they were choosing a path to simplify their ability to improve local connectivity. When Comcast tried to derail the measure to protect their monopoly, community members established a vibrant grassroots effort to overcome the influx of cash and disinformation. Now, Fort Collins is moving ahead after establishing that they intend to issue revenue bonds to develop a municipal fiber optic network.

Big Spending Didn’t Stop The Need

After all the spending was totaled last December, Comcast and CenturyLink under the mask of Priorities First Fort Collins, spent $900,999 to try to defeat measure 2B. The proposal passed anyway and allowed the city to amend its charter. That change allows Fort Collins to issue bonds for telecommunications infrastructure and to take other steps necessary to offer Internet service without taking the issue to the voters a separate time.

Thanks to the efforts of Colin Garfield and Glen Akins and their citizen-led effort to educate and correct Comcast’s disinformation, voters in Fort Collins passed measure 2B. The city opted out of the state’s restrictive SB 152 back in 2015 and voices in the community have advocated for exploration of a publicly owned option for several years. Seems people and businesses in Fort Collins were not able to get the connectivity they needed and incumbents weren’t interested in providing better services.

When the FCC decided late in 2017 to abandon network neutrality policy, Fort Collins City Council decided the time was right to move forward. In January, they voted to establish a municipal telecommunications utility. Their first step was in approving $1.8 million for startup costs, including hiring personnel, equipment, and consulting; the measure passed unanimously. The city council approved the loan from the city’s general fund to the city’s electric utility, which will establish the broadband utility to operate the network. After reviewing the many possible municipal fiber models, Fort Collins decided on the retail model in which the city establishes a utility to offer services directly to each premise. 

Check out the Fort Collins Broadband Business Plan to learn the details.

Keeping The Fire Alive

Colin told us:

It's so crucial to keep energy high, yet maintain patience with the citizens and businesses. This community is excited and ready for the service. We're tired of being just another city with Comcast and CenturyLink. I think the lesson learned for us and the City of Fort Collins is learning to keep the public consistently informed and engaged, even if shovels aren't in the ground yet.

As the business plan states, it will take three to four years for the community to build out its Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network within its entire growth management area. As a result, connecting every premise in the community will take time. Community leaders also want to keep people interested and engaged in order to learn from and use their input to develop a better utility. 

They’re posting news and information online and asking community members where they want the new infrastructure to serve them. Early this year, they launched a map where locals could drop a pin in locations where they’d like to see municipal Internet access. As the city plans the new network, this map can help them get an early indication of where interest is highest.

In addition to the mapping feature, the City’s Broadband Project website allows individuals to sign up for updates, check out information, and follow the latest news about the network. People can leave questions in an open forum and city officials reply so others can also learn from their questions.

Marching On

People wait patiently for their publicly owned Internet infrastructure and, according to Garfield, the necessary process in Fort Collins has moved along at a steady pace. He credits citizenry and its leadership:

I’m quite pleased with the work being completed and milestones hit since the election last November. The citizens had high expectations post-election and they're being met. Council and staff have worked harmoniously in issuing the bonds, establishing governance, and updating the City Code in preparation for launch. I've been very impressed by how smooth and cohesive everything has been since the vote. 

The City Council has approved a measure to issue up to $142.1 million in revenue bonds toward the municipal fiber optic project. In addition to traditional revenue bonds, Fort Collins will offer bonds in smaller increments so individuals can purchase them. They consider the move an opportunity for community members to be involved in the project as investors, owners, and subscribers. Council member Ken Summers described the decision: "It provides to the community not just the opportunity to say yes (to build out city-run broadband), but to help make it happen.”  

On April 24th, the City Council will begin finalizing appropriations for the bonds; Colin Garfield tells us that he anticipates a unanimous vote to pass the current bond issuance plan. Fort Collins plans to use the bulk of the bond issuance for capital and operating costs in 2018 to get the project off the ground while setting aside a smaller amount in reserve for 2019-2020 expenses.

You can review a detailed report on the plan for the bond issuance here.

Colorado Inspiration

Fort Collins is one of many Colorado communities that are leading the charge to shed themselves of the burdens that come with relying on giant, distant, corporate ISPs like Comcast. Places like Longmont, Rio Blanco County, and Cortez are taking steps to improve connectivity in the community. In the mean time, more than 120 local communities have already taken the first step by reclaiming local telecommunications authority. 

Early in the campaign to bring the community together to educate and inform them about the facts of municipal networks, Garfield and Akins began scheduling local “Broadband and Beers” events. The idea has caught on and next they’re heading up a similar get-together in Boulder, where the community has considered publicly owned Internet infrastructure for a few years. Christopher will also be at the event to answer questions. At the event, they’ll also screen the documentary, “Do Not Pass Go” that tells the story of monopoly telecommunications power in North Carolina and Greenlight, Wilson’s muni, has helped the tiny town of Pinetops begin a rebirth with gigabit connectivity. If you’re interested in screening the film to share the message with your community that publicly owned options are worth investigation, check out our resource material, with information on scheduling a screening.

Listen to Colin and Glen talk with Christopher about “Broadband and Beers” and their work to bring the Fort Collins community to the polls in episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Colin sees a bright future for Fort Collins and their project. He says that he knows Comcast and CenturyLink have not given up and he expects them to find more ways to try to derail the project. He notes that even city leaders that once opposed the project are now supporting it. People in Fort Collins are ready for Internet access that's faster, more reliable, and more affordable than they’ve had in the past and they’re ready to subscribe to their own publicly owned network. Colin tells us:

Opinions expressed to us over the past few months are more in line with 'We're ready. When can we sign up?', rather than the old, broken tune of 'Why do we need this?'. It feels good to see that dynamic shift in the public sphere. Fortunately, we haven't encountered the same onslaught of misinformation and negativity that we did during the campaign. I attribute this shift to the fantastic community that is Fort Collins.

Image of Downtown Fort Collins courtesy of Citycommunications at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Fort Collins FTTP Business Plan Agenda Item Summary - Items Relating to Electric Utility Enterprise Revenue Bonds, Series 2018Tags: fort collinscoloradomuniFTTHbondsfinancegrassrootsevent

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 16

muninetworks.org - April 16, 2018

California

City weighs cable service future by Austin Walsh, San Mateo Daily Journal

City looks at options to speed up telecom by The Morgan Hill Times

 

Colorado

Considering Fort Collins-provided broadband? This Q-and-A might help by Nick Coltrain, The Coloradoan

 

Georgia

Georgia’s Rural Broadband Program Still Lacks Funding by Tyler Jett, Chattanooga Times Free Press (GovTech)

 

Louisiana

Long-serving LUS Director Terry Huval announces retirement by Ben Myers, Lafayette Advocate

 

Maine

SanfordNet broadband project to start July 1 by Tammy Wells, Sanford Journal Tribune

2 rural towns pioneer new route to faster internet by Darren Fishell, Bangor Daily News

The communities of Calais and Baileyville are putting their own money into getting faster internet speeds than most of the state. It will be a dramatic turnaround, allowing the average user to download a 45-minute high-definition television show in roughly one-and-a-half minutes.

They are following the lead of other Maine cities and towns, but one thing’s different in Calais and Baileyville, which last year came together to form the nonprofit Downeast Broadband Utility.

 

New Mexico

Tribes lead the way for faster internet access in New Mexico by Leah Todd, High Country News

 

North Carolina

Advocates On Road Trip to “Change the Rural Narrative” by Taylor Knopf, North Carolina Health News

Sputtering debate over NC internet access may have new urgency by Kirk Ross, Carolina Public Press

Don't get throttled. NC needs rules to protect internet users. By Chuck Tryon, Raleigh News & Observer

One change that would most help rural NC by Tom Campbell, Richmond County Daily Journal

 

Ohio

Expand internet access by Ashtabula Star Beacon

Not waiting for the feds, Ohio representatives approve rural broadband fund by Colin Wood, StateScoop

And while no broadband advocate is likely to turn down the chance at fresh dollars to connect residents to what is considered in their circles to be the most important invention in recent human history, a few, like Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, say some of the bill's provisions, or lack thereof, are worrying.

"I'm really disappointed they didn't explicitly disallow satellite as a broadband service," Mitchell said.

Satellite internet service can reach FCC's definition of high-speed internet — 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload — but it typically comes with other restrictions like daily bandwidth caps, a relatively high cost, and high latency that hinders many applications and services. It's technically broadband, but not the cheap and abundant utility that most have in mind.

"Broadband is not just about speed," Mitchell said. "It's about a lot of other characteristics that sometimes people take for granted until they use satellite and realize speed is not everything."

 

Oregon

High-Speed Internet A Public Utility In Hillsboro? It's Possible by Hillsboro Patch news team

Oregon finalizes net neutrality law despite likelihood that ISPs will sue by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

 

Washington

City fiber network presents opportunities, hurdles by Jacqueline Allison, Anacortes Now

 

West Virginia

Commission approached concerning broadband by Steve Rappach, Weirton Daily Times

Most of Citynet’s claims in Frontier suit remain after federal judge’s order by Max Garland, West Virginia Gazette-Mail

A federal judge has allowed all counts in Citynet’s lawsuit against Frontier Communications to go forward, although claims focusing on Frontier’s alleged misrepresentation of the type of broadband network it built in West Virginia will advance only in a limited capacity, according to a recent order.

The lawsuit, filed under the False Claims Act (FCA), alleges internet provider Frontier misused about $40.5 million in federal stimulus funds and built a high-speed fiber broadband network in the state that shut out competitors like the Bridgeport-based Citynet.

Public-private partnership brings broadband to rural communities by Tate Blanchard, WTRF

 

Wisconsin

Broadband rollout still challenging in NW Wisconsin by Ron Brochu, Business North

 

General

Rural Broadband’s Only Hope: Thinking Outside the Box? By Elizabeth Zima, GovTech

In some ways, Christopher Mitchell, the director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, agrees with Pettit.

"These are big challenges that call for another rural electrification administration approach. That is the scale of the problem," he said. "The reason we had initial rural electrification was because the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration, particularly a guy named Harold Ickes, who realized that the private sector would not bring good infrastructure to rural America, so they created all these co-ops." 

Ironically those rural electric cooperatives are building fiber networks in rural areas frequently without government help today. "If we wanted to improve rural access quickly we would focus on the electric and telephone co-ops in rural areas," he said. "Instead, the federal government is giving billions of dollars to AT&T and CenturyLink."

When it comes to broadband, millennials vote with their feet by Roberto Gallardo, Robert Bell, & Norman Jacknis, The Daily Yonder

When they live in remote rural areas, millennials are more likely to reside in a county that has better digital access. The findings could indicate that the digital economy is helping decentralize the economy, not just clustering economic change in the cities that are already the largest.

Telehealth -- The ideal marketing tool for rural municipal networks by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

When states overrule cities: report finds preemption is spreading by Patrick Sisson, Curbed

Preemption has important ramifications for many of the new business models and technologies changing cities and real estate, including home sharing, ride hailing, and the potential introduction of municipal broadband. While statewide regulations can simplify operations, they also sacrifice local nuances and control, and in many cases, take away a localities rights to control or introduce new services. Twenty states have banned localities from creating their own broadband systems.

The report concludes that some state legislators have adopted a pro-preemption position, believing that cities need to be “put in their place.” The report suggests cities should approach the debate from an economic perspective. Allowing cities more autonomy, the argument goes, gives them the power to be better economic engines for the entire state.

With Facebook on the ropes, Internet providers seek to press their advantage in Washington by Brian Fung, The Washington Post

ACLU: If Americans Want Privacy & Net Neutrality, They Should Build Their Own Broadband Networks by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Tags: media roundup

BDAC "Model" State Code: CLIC Is Having None Of That

muninetworks.org - April 16, 2018

The Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC), established by the FCC in January 2017, has caused concern among groups interested in protecting local authority. On April 12th, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) voiced those concerns in a precisely worded letter to Ajit Pai’s FCC that spelled out the way the BDAC is running roughshod over local rights.

Read the letter here.

Leaving Out The Locals

As CLIC states in the beginning of their letter, the lack of local representation on the BDAC indicates that the FCC has little interest in hearing from cities, towns, and other local government. There’s plenty of representation on the Council, however, from corporations and private carriers. 

From CLIC’s letter:

The audacity and impropriety of the process is clear from the fact that this entity, comprised primarily of corporate and carrier interests, is empowered by the Commission to develop model codes that could potentially impact every locality and state in the United States without any serious input from the communities it will most affect.

This group of individuals has been tasked with developing model codes that may be adopted at the local level; local input is not only necessary to create policies that are consider the needs of local folks, but that will work. To achieve productivity, BDAC needs to understand the environments in which their proposals may be adopted, otherwise their goal to be increasing broadband deployment may be compromised. Omitting a broad local perspective is not only improper it’s counterproductive.

Work Product

The BDAC has already released a draft model state code, which has stirred up resistance and CLIC explains why. A key problem with the legislation is that it doesn’t appear to be backed up with anything other than philosophies, ideals, or self-interest, writes CLIC. Policy this important should be based on data.

They lay out eight specific and definable reasons why the proposed legislation falls flat for local communities.

1. The legislation proposes that states take the lead and adopt a two-phase approach that would, ultimately, discourage local communities from making headway in broadband deployment. 

If communities want to step forward to take advantage of these opportunities as rapidly as possible, it would not only be irrational, but unconscionable, for any state to hold them back, particularly by tethering them to the second-rate offerings of providers that are unwilling or unable to give communities the capabilities they want.

2. The drafters of the model state code don’t really understand the meaning of “municipal network.” They state that it’s preferable that municipal networks “be built, owned, and operated by private industry.” As the folks at CLIC point out, there are several models of munis, but they all include some element of public ownership. They also note that, local communities that invest in gigabit connectivity are more likely to achieve the goals the BDAC establish than states that adhere to the FCC’s broadband definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

3. CLIC points out that sections of the model legislation puts special focus on rural areas, but as CLIC points out, no area should be singled out because of population density. Not all rural communities are alike and not all densely populated regions are the same.

4. The model legislation, as drafted, also mandates that rural elected officials put broadband deployment through public-private partnership before any other local need. 

There is no reasonable way for a state to force local leaders to prioritize broadband over other perceived local needs and to acquire advanced communications capabilities, particularly in an order of preference that may not be in the best interest of their communities.

The BDAC made this mistake because it lacks local voices.

5. In another section focusing on rural communities, the proposed legislation hints at the kinds of restrictions on local telecommunications authority we’ve seen in about 20 states. If this code were adopted, local communities must jump through numerous hoops prior to investing in their own high-quality Internet networks. This penchant for overriding local decision-making coupled with the proposed legislations ambiguous language opens a potential legal black hole that could swallow local communities. Their options appear to be to take what they can get from large national providers or risk falling into that black hole; it isn’t much of a choice for small communities with limited resources.

6. A once-sided provision in the draft legislation requires any publicly owned network to allow private entities to have access to dark fiber, towers, buildings, and other assets. Big ISPs have fought for years to prevent competitors to have access to their infrastructure, but they have no qualms about taking advantage of others’.

7. The model legislation would require municipalities to consider what it describes as “Balanced Public-Private Partnerships.” As described in the proposed language, that would entail public funds to build infrastructure and an arrangement in which a private provider has “an exclusive franchise agreement for a finite period of time.” The language goes on to dictate that the private sector partner be allowed a contract until they are allowed to recover any capital investment and then the network be transferred to open access with the private sector partner as operator. While offering fixed-period exclusivity to a private sector partner is one of several models community’s use, they typically retain control of a portion of their dark fiber for their own use and control.

8. Lastly, CLIC wonders why the BDAC has not recommended removal of state laws like the ones in North Carolina and Tennessee that restrict deployment, rather than encourage it. The FCC has once before found that such state laws are counterproductive — now would be an opportunity to reverse that negative course. CLIC’s CEO Joanne Hovis and President Jim Baller rightly point out that this new “model” state code would likely have the opposite affect of the BDAC stated goal of accelerated broadband deployment.

At the same time, the model state legislation could result in new barriers in states that do not already have them, creating significant new impediments to broadband deployment—in the guise of fostering deployment.

Indeed, this incongruity between the stated goals of the BDAC and its output is at the root of our deep concerns with the BDAC process and recommendations: It is truly Orwellian that the entity purporting to advise on “broadband deployment” should be proposing significant barriers to new deployment. And given the dearth of local government participation in the process, this comes as no surprise. 

On behalf of CLIC, we register our deep concern regarding the Commission’s creation, constitution, and oversight of the BDAC, as well as our deep concern regarding the draft model state code and its deleterious impact on true broadband deployment.

Read the full letter here.

Read BDAC information here.

Coalition for Local Internet Choice Letter to FCC re BDACTags: coalition for local internet choicestate lawsfccfederallocaljoanne hovisjim ballerajit pai

Ohio Bill To Fund Rural Broadband Advancing

muninetworks.org - April 13, 2018

Lawmakers in Ohio are slowly advancing a proposal to help fund rural broadband deployment. HB 378 has similarities to Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program and will infuse $100 million in to broadband deployment ecosystem over the next two years. It’s a welcome lift for rural areas struggling to fend off economic dilemmas.

Companions

Last fall, State Senators Cliff Hite and Joe Schiavoni announced their intention to introduce a bill with the same effect. HB 378, however, appeared to pick up steam in March and, after strong bipartisan support in committee and on the floor of the House, the bill went on to the Senate on April 12th.

Back in October, Schiavoni said in a press release:

“This legislation is incredibly important to Ohio’s future. Without access to broadband internet service, businesses can’t reach their customers, students can’t do their homework and workers have difficulty searching for jobs.”

Democrat Ryan Smith and Republican Jack Cera introduced HB 378 with an eye toward economic development in their districts and other rural areas of the state facing the need to diversify their local economies. 

“With this bill, we have the opportunity to level the playing field for rural Ohioans when it comes to vital broadband infrastructure,” said Rep. Smith [in October]. “High speed broadband is the only way we can continue growing our economic base by attracting new commercial development and securing a strong labor force, our most valuable resource.”

Main Points

Like the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has helped expand high-quality rural connectivity, this proposal doesn’t limit eligibility to private sector entities. Political subdivisions, nonprofits, and cooperatives can also receive awards of up to $5 million or half the cost of the project, whichever is less. This element of the bill is welcome and necessary; local communities best understand the steps they need to take to improve Internet access for residents, businesses, and other entities. For too many years states have limited state grants to large private sector companies that have broken promises and delivered Internet access that is already obsolete.

Minnesota's program has allowed rural cooperatives such as Paul Bunyan Communiations to bring gigbit connectivity to rural areas of the state, enhancing economic development and allowing residents and businesses to access high-quality Internet service. Other cooperatives that have applied for and received awards include the RS Fiber Co-op and Federated Telephone Cooperative. Local governments such as Renville County, Itasca County, and Kandiyohi County have received awards in partnership with local companies and cooperatives.

The language of the bill also establishes a definition of “broadband” that complies with the FCC’s definition — 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. In other words, unless the FCC adjusts the speeds that define broadband, plans to deploy DSL networks will not qualify for funding. Communities where Internet access speeds are between 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps and the FCC’s defined “broadband” speeds, are third on the list of areas to receive prioritization after some of the areas of the state with the worst or no Internet access. Funding will be specifically granted to projects in areas considered “unserved,” as determined by the state’s broadband map.

HB 378 establishes that for the next two years, Ohio will dedicate $50 million each year from the Ohio Third Frontier Program, a fund established to help tech start-ups. The state’s Development Services Agency will review the grant applications and determine which projects receive awards.

Read the rest of HB 378 as it passed the House on April 12th.

The Journey Isn’t Over

As with every other bill that’s passed through one chamber, HB 378 must still undergo the committee process in the other half of Ohio’s Legislature. There’s always a risk that a good bill can turn bad with just a few amendments, so it’s important to keep a close eye on the bill as it moves through the process. In the House, HB 378 passed 85 - 11 and both Republicans and Democrats have spoken out in favor of injected much-needed funding into rural broadband in Ohio. 

If you live in Ohio, especially the rural areas where your options for broadband are poor or you don’t have access to high-quality connectivity, we encourage you to call the Senate Finance Committee, and let them know you want them to take up HB 378.

HB 378 as passed Ohio House of RepresentativesTags: ohiolegislationruralhb 378 ohstate policystate lawsfundinginfrastructuregrant

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 301

muninetworks.org - April 12, 2018

This is the transcript for Episode 301 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. US Internet serves much of Minneapolis with fiber and wireless services. Travis Carter joins the show to discuss how the company does it. Listen to this episode here.

Travis Carter: I want to be the first NFL city in the US, done with fiber. There'll be a fiber cable out in front of every home, every business, every everything.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 301 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Travis Carter from US Internet joins Christopher this week. Travis has been on the show before to talk about what it's like to own and operate an independent Internet service company and how has the company evolved from offering wireless in Minneapolis to now deploying fiber all over the city. That was episode 194. This time Travis talks about the progress US Internet has made in its goal to blanket all of Minneapolis with high quality fiber connectivity. He also chats with Christopher about the differences between investing in operating and maintaining fiber networks and different wireless networks. He also gets into some of the lessons he's learned through trial and error. This was our chance to go straight to the source. Now, here's Christopher with Travis Carter from US Internet.

Chris M: Welcome to another Broadband Community Bits, that didn't sound right?

Travis Carter: That's not the right way.

Chris M: No.

Travis Carter: Welcome to episode 301 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Chris M: Welcome to episode 301. Travis Carter is back in the house while I'm back in Travis Carter's house in this case, for episode 301. That's 301 episodes. Welcome back.

Travis Carter: Yeah, amazing

Chris M: Well, you know, I have to say that I'm enthusiastic. Listeners like you are, why we keep doing it.

Travis Carter: Yes, and I really wanted to be 300, but you know, I'll take the 301 spot.

Chris M: Yes. Well, we'll just, if we go back to counting from zero and renumber our episodes, a proper computer scientists

Travis Carter: Welcome to episode 300.

Chris M: Right. So travis, you run USI. What does USI?

Travis Carter: So USI is a Internet service provider based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We've gotten business in May of 1995 and me and my two business partners have been providing Internet services and manage services co-location in the twin cities area.

Chris M: And what we're going to be talking about today is a bit of, I think, more technological, wireless versus fiber. What's the experience of someone who has dealt with both of them? You have extensive experience with both you wanna just briefly outline.

Travis Carter: Yeah, about 10 years ago. US, us. I was awarded the municipal wireless contract for the city of Minneapolis and if we rewind back in time, there was initially an initiative across the country for major metropolitan areas to establish a WI-FI, the equivalent of a Wi-Fi hotspot across the entire city. The third pipe, yes. We proceeded to install 2,500 access points across the city of Minneapolis and for 10 years had been providing wireless services to the residence of Minneapolis. Now again, rewinding 10 years ago, the speed profile at the time was 1, 3, and 6 megabits and we were able to install to a substantial number of homes and deal with all the challenges and the reality of Wi-Fi in a municipal setting.

Chris M: That's not the only wireless that you have dealt with.

Travis Carter: You know, wireless has evolved, so every three to five years there seems to be a major technology shift in wireless. So throughout the years we've gone back and upgraded our 2,500 locations to newer technology as that technology has become available and viable.

Chris M: So and that's -- and that's Wi-Fi, but you've also used other kinds of wireless? Is there any kind of wireless that you've always been curious about. But you have not used?

Travis Carter: Yeah, well we, you know, we, we use a lot of wireless for our backhaul. So in Minneapolis we're fortunate to have the downtown area with the tall buildings right in the center of town. So we'll beam wireless microwave licensed signals off of there into neighborhoods to feed the backhaul. We recently, in the last two years have gotten pretty heavy into millimeter wave for short distance from rooftop to rooftop again in, in kind of the downtown and the surrounding area where you have a lot of high- density multi-dwelling units. It's a very viable solution all the way to point to multipoint Wi-Fi and a TDD type or down on the street level.

Chris M: So when we're talking about wireless, you have a background in it.

Travis Carter: Yeah. And our background is the old fashioned way you've learned by doing. So we have made every mistake possible in the wireless industry and I have a warehouse full of equipment that had very nice technical cut sheets on what they could do. We would put them up and then the reality is is 90 percent of the stuff didn't perform as you would expect simply due to the environment. You know, Minneapolis has four seasons, so we go from a lush tropical jungle in the summer to a frozen barren wasteland in the winter and everything in between. So you have to take that into consideration when you're talking wireless and you've also been involved with fiber.

Chris M: So you've coated the city with wireless of Minneapolis and you've also done fiber. How far across Minneapolis?

Travis Carter: Yeah. We're currently in front of about 65,000 homes in the city of Minneapolis, so it's about 30 to 35 percent of the geography and we continue every season to deploy more fiber. This year we've got a pretty aggressive plan to roll out fiber in the south-south part of the city of Minneapolis and we have a five year plan that shows us having Minneapolis a hundred percent completed. Our goal is to have fiber at every square inch of the city of Minneapolis within the next five years.

Chris M: And how many customers do you have of the 65,000?

Travis Carter: About 25,000 currently,

Speaker 4: And you're competing against the best of what cities are typically have, which is a very the best that Comcast offers basically, and it's plant. I'm with gigabit claims and a fiber to the home from Centurylink and a number of these areas.

Travis Carter: Oh sure. Yeah. We've got the two stereotypical incumbents that we deal with on a day to day basis and a key thing to understand about that 65,000 number is that includes multi-dwelling units and have a reasonably high percentage of those. We don't have access agreements to cable yet, so there's -- there's -- It's multifaceted when you roll out a fiber network and yes, the competition is there.

Chris M: I think it's worth establishing first of all that you are succeeding very well in this space. Certainly relative to other over-builders, as the industry calls them, but also that it is possible to succeed in competing against entrenched incumbents like that.

Travis Carter: Oh, absolutely. The market is demanding a third option as you say, and as long as the option is viable, technically superior, customer service superior, there's no reason you can't obtain a viable market share.

Chris M: One of the reasons that we 'wanted to talk to you specifically was because of this wealth of wireless experience. I often, when I'm talking with people, despite not having any of the experience that you have, having heard from you and many other people that have had these experiences, I say things like, the thing about wireless is people pay attention to the upfront cost and they don't realize all the operating costs. So I was hoping to get into some of those operating costs today. Let's talk about one of the first things you've already mentioned, which is a lot of the gear just doesn't perform to specification or or the specification maybe was developed in Israel and it may not be. I don't want to pick on any particular companies, but it might be developed in a place that is not like Minnesota and doesn't work well.

Travis Carter: It reminds me of a visit I took to Tucson, Arizona one time, so we landed in Tucson and we went and visited a wireless, a WISP out there, and this was a wireless utopia. This was unbelievable as far as very limited trees, wide roads, a lot of mounting assets. They don't even have moisture in the air. Exactly. I mean this. This was a perfect place to do wireless and then you return back to Minneapolis, which is the least optimal place to do a wireless and we were able and we continue to be able to deliver wireless service in Minneapolis, you know, through a lot of tricks and techniques and that we've learned over the years of deploying these technologies. You know, there's a price point. If it's too inexpensive, it's probably not going to be as functional as is. But if it's too expensive, you can't make the business model work. We have to live somewhere in between and that's where we tend to live.

Chris M: So once the network is working and you've got it to a point in which you feel like it's going to be successful. Let's talk about Wi-Fi specifically for a second. What are some of the costs people might not anticipate with running a Wi-Fi network?

Travis Carter: As Wi-Fi is aged out, so you've got kind of your mobile wireless concept which now has become Wi-Fi and then you have your fixed wireless, which we call TDM, so you've got to. When you look at a access point on the corner of the street, you actually have two different wireless technologies running there, so if somebody is walking down the street with their, with their iPad or their laptop or their cell phone, they can connect to Wi-Fi and that experience is best effort. You get what you get. Now the new MiMo -- er MiMo -- excuse me -- in all the different has made it much better than it was say 10 years ago, but it isn't necessarily -- there's no service level agreement attached to it and so if you traverse through downtown Minneapolis where we have a lot of, a lot of the newer access points running Wi-Fi, you have an amazing experience. Now on a fixed wireless front. This is where you put an antenna in your home or on your business, different radio, different technology, and highly effective if you're within range, if there's not a lot of trees in the way, if there's not buses driving down, you know, we, I always say it depends who depends on the environment and the environment changes and the environment changes all the time.

Chris M: Right? So now if we, if we focus on just the Wi-Fi with the best efforts, I'm curious, you might think to yourself, as a, as a person that's going to get into this business, OK, I'm going to buy this, this wireless access point. I'm gonna, put it on the corner of the street. It's going to sit there for three to five years until I replace it. And that's more or less it. That's all I've got to do, right?

Travis Carter: So the, the fundamental thing you have to understand with wireless networks, and this doesn't matter if it's Wi-Fi or TDM product, if it's LTE, 5G -- the access side of it is relatively good and perfected. It's the backhaul. How do you connect that access point that sits on the corner? So you know, our network where we have fiber and we have a fiber attached access point, it is almost a fire and forget kind of concept. You put the radio up, you hook up your fiber to it, you haul the fiber back to your switching station and now the people that connect to that have an absolutely amazing experience. Now in our legacy environment where we do wireless backhaul, meaning from access point a to access point b, it's actually a wireless connection,

Chris M: Right? It's like a little square on the middle piece of square. That's the antenna

Travis Carter: That is where the majority of your challenges run into. So if it's fiber and wireless and fiber and Wi-Fi, they almost go together like peanut butter and jelly. I mean they, they -- when you have both, you have an amazing wireless experience. That's why you see all these small cells that the phone companies are installing. They're all fiber attached. There is no, they used to be wireless backhaul. That's all gone. So in the area where we have built fiber and we've upgraded the Wi-Fi and we've upgraded the fixed wireless, it's a spectacular experience in the area where we have wireless backhaul, that's an optimization exercise every single day where you're having to continually modify an optimize these backhauls because trees grow, leaves come in, you know, things get knocked down and so you've got to have full time staff and bucket trucks running around all day, every day fixing.

Chris M: You can't just do this from your office here. You can just adjust the radios,

Travis Carter: No, there -- it's a physical kind of adjustment because every year the trees grow a little bit more. Leaves a you have and you need to get out there and realign your antennas. You know, a big windstorm comes through, a tree falls down, somebody hits it. You're constantly adjusting these.

Chris M: This wireless backhaul is a point to point, correct?

Travis Carter: Yes.

Chris M:

Travis Carter: You have to kind of aim it. You got to yeah, you got to get up there and you gotta aim these antennas constantly. So if you have and you have the ability to hook these access points up with a physical connection, then you can realize the dream of most of the wireless Internet service providers, which is put up your antenna and then you can sit back and run, you know, from a central location

Chris M: Are the costs such that if, if you're expanding to the entire city of Minneapolis, would you imagine making wireless just free for everyone who subscribes to your fiber service?

Travis Carter: Correct? Yep. Wi-Fi would be free across the city. So the economics would work for that, correct? Yeah. So our, our utopian view of this would be fiber. At the bottom we would have fixed wireless and then we would have Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi would just be free across the city. Think of it as a big starbucks or Mcdonald's. You just go along and get, get your signal. Fixed wireless would be there for many reasons. So let, let's, let's go down. Let's go down the most obvious ones. There's an apartment building there. We don't have an a wireless agreement -- errr excuse me, a wire agreement with. Well, a tenant could put a little radio on their window and get access to, to the fixed wireless. We have a little thing up here in Minnesota called winter.

Chris M: We're still in it in the spring.

Travis Carter: Apparently it doesn't want to stop this year. So the, our fiber network is all underground. So when the ground freezes, like ice, ice cube, it's very difficult to do construction. So we could come out to a home owner who wants to sign up for service in February, give them a fixed wireless connection. And then when the ground thaws we could replace it with fiber. There's a myriad of, of city applications of surveillance cameras and water meter readers, et cetera that are all hooked up to fixed wireless. So I view it as three layers of the cake and we just choose the technology that makes the most sense.

Chris M: Are you at all scared that Verizon will come in here with its new 5G product and start taking your customers away from you?

Travis Carter: No, I mean I've heard about these, used to be called Wi-Max and then it was called LTE and then we, you know, pick, pick the acronym in the wireless world. 5G is just the new acronym now. Are they going to put enough access points around Minneapolis at the price point that they're paying? I would. I would find it difficult for them to be able to make a viable model considering the tree density and considering what we have going on here in Minneapolis.

Chris M: You seem to think 5G is not magic.

Travis Carter: There is no magic. It's, it's, it's basically it's wireless. At the end of the day it's, it's, it's wireless. There's no super magic involved here. It's no different than any of the other technologies. It's a small cell configuration, millimeter wave, high density, high qualm rates, line of sight to get optimal. Well in the real world in Minneapolis. Now again going to Tucson. OK, awesome. But in Minneapolis in July, I mean you live here, you know what it's like, it's pitch black when you drive down the streets because there's so many trees. When trees are attenuation to wireless signals,

Chris M: Unfortunately the Ash-borer [an insect] is taken care of it, but we're going to replace them as fast as we possibly can.

Travis Carter: So there's, there's the, there's the reality of wireless. There's only so much spectrum available. Everyone's sharing that spectrum. So when it's Sunday night and everyone's fired up their Netflix or their YoutubeTV, there's only so much of that resource available.

Chris M: Well, and this is also something that I've been curious. How have you been following the very low earth orbit and low Earth orbit satellite discussions? I was curious about that too, because they're talking about launching thousands of satellites.

Travis Carter: Yeah, 4,000 some satellites here.

Chris M: I think, I think each company, so maybe let's say assume you know, eight or 10,000 ultimately. And I was trying to run the numbers on that for everyone in, in these rural areas where some people, including one of our, unfortunately non-technical savvy representatives who thinks he's incredibly technically savvy, says that this is the big solution for everyone. They don't seem to realize that. Once again, I think of this as just being. It's a way of sharing one fiber with all of your friends and relatives and all of their friends and relatives

Travis Carter: People like satellite because it sounds cool and it requires a rocket to install it. Right. But think of it as an access point in the sky. Right? And again, there's only so much spectrum. There's only so you have to have visual line of sight to get to it. There are applications where it makes really good sense. Right?

Chris M: Well exactly. If you're on. I was joking with some of the folks from Colorado, if you're on Pike's Peak, hey, it's great there, but the idea that you're going to have to solve all the problems of rural America is crazy in the. In the same way that. I mean it would be like one, one wireless tower serving all of Minneapolis. The numbers just don't work.

Travis Carter: Let's assume if that was deployed right now. We would probably know where that Malaysian airliner is. The great application for that. We would, you know, ocean liners, a very rural locations and I'm talking not USE rural. I'm talking rural in the middle of Africa or India, Alaska, Rural Alaska. Well, there you go. Yeah, I mean those, those are going to be viable things, but you know, the homeowner in South Minneapolis that wants to watch Netflix and YoutubeTV and play video games that that won't be a viable technology for them.

Chris M: And one other thing, just again on this 5G kick that we're, we're in, we talked about satellites a little bit, but going back to 5G I was just talking with a reporter from Idaho who wanted to know what 5G would mean for Rural Idaho. My answer was, not a whole lot.

Travis Carter: Well, I mean let's, let's go to episode 800 of this show and let's talk about 6G. It's just, it's the next-- again, we've been in the salon and maybe I'm a little cynical after 24 years, but it's just the next acronym and there will be applications for it and there will be scenarios where people use it but it isn't a blanket solution for everyone.

Chris M: Well, and this is one of the things, one of the things we just did a show a couple episodes ago that you listened to on 5G and one of the things that's really exciting is the low latency aspects, but the thing that I feel like most people just keep forgetting is the problem with wireless in my mind is that if it was comparable to a wired connection in price, you still have that issue of reliability when you're trying to stream Netflix and you're having a bad night and it kicks you out a couple of times because there was maybe the wind's blowing or maybe someone parked their car in the wrong space, creating odd reflections. Who knows? It just doesn't work that well. It's my impression

Travis Carter: And that's what people at the end of the day want. When we started looking at building this fiber network in the city of Minneapolis, I attributed it to my water at my home. So I'm 48 years old. I have never called the water company one time in my life. Every time I turned the faucet it comes out. I don't know how it works, but it works. That's the impression that the average citizen has of the Internet. The issue we have is we always are hanging around technical people and everyone that's in this industry, but if you just go out and you talk to the average citizen, all they want to do is watch Netflix, surfed the Internet, do their banking, and they want it to just work like the waterworks works. That's it.

Chris M: I totally agree and that's why I sometimes think all this discussion that policy people have about competition misses the point. I don't think that any use customers are excited about competition, right? No one wants to change their home Internet. They want it to work. People want competition when they're stuck with Comcast because they desperately want an alternative.

Travis Carter: You know, we have a 92 percent retention rate after eight years. It doesn't matter if it's Internet fiber or whatever it is. If you can generate a high quality product at a fair price that works, but look what happened in the auto industry when Toyota and Honda came into the market, GM and Chrysler and Ford could have been there. They chose not to, you know, I'm not saying that we're Toyota, but we're providing a high quality product at a fair price with a viable business model that we're not looking to sell. We're looking to run and operate for the foreseeable future. Big Difference. A lot of these guys are trying to turn and burn and make a big home run for themselves so they can lay on a beach. I kinda like it here and I like doing this.

Chris M: And how many calls did you get yesterday from customers that had a problem with your fiber product?

Travis Carter: It's an interesting statistic that I always like to tell, but yesterday was a really good day. We had seven tech support phone calls. Five of them were indoor Wi-Fi related, so there's still wireless related and the other two were faulty Ethernet Jacks at an apartment building that we had to go out and fix. We were the water company yesterday and I'm pretty happy with that. So our whole concept here is designed around how few calls we get because do you want to call your Internet provider? I don't. I just want to go home and it works.

Chris M: So you have like 25,000 subscribers. Seven of them had a problem, five of them. It was related to wireless gear in their home?

Travis Carter: Correct. It's always wireless and now when I say percentage wise it's 90 percent wireless indoor Wi-Fi related. What generally happens is, again, let's go back to the average person. They don't know how Wi-Fi works. They bought a Wi-Fi router eight, nine years ago. They spent $300 on it. It's theirs. They're proud of it and it's worked, but it can't handle the new fiber speeds. As you know. They don't get the speed test results. I often, I often tell people we're not really in the Internet business. We're in the speedtest.net business, you know, because if they run their speed tests, they don't get their full throughput. They call us. There's a tech support ticket. We advise them that they need to upgrade their router because they need to get to the newer speeds and the newer capabilities. That's usually what it is. So during the winter we have very few calls because no, not a lot of people are coming on the network and the summer at ticks up a little bit with that first time I'm getting connected call.

Chris M: And you still are selling wireless services. What kind of support calls do you get on that side?

Travis Carter: So in our Wi-Fi traditional we get a fair number of calls, where we have to try to adjust the antenna, get a better signal, know there's a lot of noise. So you know, you're constantly struggling in our TDM environment, which is the newer iterations of our wireless. It's a comparable to fiber if it's a fiber attached node. If it's a wireless backhaul node, it's about double fiber so it's still good but it's not as good.

Chris M: So when I tell people that wireless is more expensive over 15, 20 years than fiber, is that. Is that something you're seeing? your entirely underground although you found ways to cut the costs low and given the given the increased support calls the, you know how often you have to change out the equipment and things like that, you know, is that a rough roughly the time in which you have a switchover in, which is cheaper?

Travis Carter: Yeah, I would say that you're spot on. Your capital costs on the front end for fiber are high, the return on investment if you do it right and you get the market share that we're getting is not that long. But the nice part about fiber is I've coined this new -- this new term lately called boring technology and what I mean by that is it just runs. You don't have to babysit it, you know, it's an ethernet switch at the home and it's an ethernet switch and it's a piece of fiber between it. It's highly reliable. Debug. There's not a lot to do with it. Wireless? We have to constantly change out the technology. So we're now just going through again here in 2018 an upgrade in the wireless technology. So what we've tried to do to mitigate the costs of wireless is our version one Wi-Fi, we bought a product from Bel Air and it was a canned system and we put it up and when you want to go to the next system we have to take the whole thing down and put up the new one.

Chris M: Forklift upgrade.

Travis Carter: Exactly. I liked these military shows and I was watching this show and they had a picture of an f 16 fighter and in front of it they had about a hundred different types of munitions. So the idea with that fighter is it was a platform that you could attach anything to. So my theory was why couldn't we do the same thing in wireless? So we didn't have to do this forklift upgrade. We could just change out the access radio. So that's what we have done in the city of Minneapolis to help ease the cost. And the installation is we can take that wireless access point and when this new, the new technology comes out, simply replaced that all the fiber and the ethernet switch and the power and all the support system stays the same and that's helped reduce the cost. But when you have as many access points as we do it is by the time you get done upgrading 2500 of them, you're starting over again.

Travis Carter: And where you run into a real problem with wireless is if you ever have to change the homes, if you're gonna have to go around all the houses and upgrade them. That's a clerical nightmare and a scheduling nightmare and a financial nightmare. All, all while this is happening. That fiber customer hooked up yesterday. We haven't done anything other than bill their credit card every month.

Chris M: Key part.

Travis Carter: So yes, you know, with with fiber I can have a fixed amount of overhead and almost exponentially more customers than I have today. With wireless, it's a, it's a constant, constant upgrade process.

Chris M: Last thing I want to get Travis' marketing tips. We were talking just a little bit before we turned on the microphones. You do incredibly well and even in neighborhoods in which, like I said before, people have the best products available from Comcast and CenturyLink, which I will say are better than -- I mean we rag on those companies, but those companies do a much better job than Charter. I mean, I often say if you are going to be stuck with a cable monopoly, I'm pretty glad it's Comcast or Centurylink may not be the top, but they're there heck of a lot better than Frontier. I'll tell you that right now, better than Windstream. Way Better. So you know, but you go in and you're taking half of the neighborhood in many cases in the first year or two or more. How do you explain that?

Travis Carter: Trial and error. So the first thing we learned was you naturally would assume that you want to go into the most affluent neighborhood. And we did that in the beginning. That was a mistake. When you walk up to somebody as multi-million dollar home and you say, hey, we'd like to save you $20 a month. And they have a Motorola flip phone on there and they're listening to am radio with their black and white TV. That's not your customer. OK. Or you go to the other end of the spectrum. And I always say it's about people that want the Internet. So you know, if you're in a lower demographic, you're probably using your cell phone to access the Internet. So we don't, we don't have a great market share there. It's the middle where you can walk into a middle-class neighborhood and you can say, Hey, I can save you $40. They go, Whoa, that's a bag of groceries. I can give you a high speed Internet. I'm probably 45 years old or younger. I have a desire for it. I might have a Playstation or an X-box in my living room. So it's about desire. And we find these kind of middle-class neighborhoods is, is kind of our key. So what we try to do is we try to do 50 percent of a middle class neighborhood and then we take a year and then we will take 25 percent of our budget and do the higher end neighborhoods and 25 percent and do so we spread out because remember we want to complete the city. We're not kinda picking here and there. It's just realistically where the customers are at. The other thing is we do it contiguous. You just keep moving along because word of mouth

is key: Next door, Reddit, all these online forums, you get a huge market share just from that. And then ultimately at the end of the day it's customer service. Can you put a product where you don't disturb their yard? Will it run non-stop? Will the billing be correct? Here's this is the irony of the whole thing. If we charge you $34, $95 a month, that's what shows up on your credit card. That little piece is so amazing to people that that alone will get you 20 percent market share and you don't play a lot of games with these people.

Chris M: Let me just, let me just share this with you because I had a one year contract with Comcast from some other deal they gave me to lower my price. The only thing I care about is Internet access and I pay extra to have a higher upload speed. So, they came along and they boosted my bill by $30 a month and then they came back to me and said, oh, well, you know, if you take television and phone will lower your bill back down again. And I said, OK, but you're not going to let me use that new modem. I just got top of the line modem for the DOCSIS 3.1 And there's, oh no, we have to use our modem to use a phone service. I said, I'll never going to use your phone service. I don't want it. No, no, no. To get this package you have to pay for the modem every month or we have to buy your own new modem and this and that. All this stuff. And when I was looking at it without taxes and fees and everything else, they're going to drop me down a little bit, but it's all gonna just pop right back up with all those hidden fees.

Travis Carter: It's amazing Billing alone. For me, like I'll get a call from Comcast for my because I have my house and they'll be like, oh, we have this new promotion. My answer every time is don't touch it, don't change it. I don't want any because I don't want to go through the process of trying to fix it. Yeah. Billing and you know, the, the service, the reliability, you know, the customer service where we answer the phone. If there's a problem, we dispatch somebody out in 30 minutes. I never could figure out why Domino's pizza can do it. And we couldn't, you know, we, we've got vehicles running around town instead of sitting there relying on the homeowner to troubleshoot over the phone. Why don't we just send someone over and they can fix it. These little things will get you market share like you wouldn't believe.

Chris M: Last question, last question, which is, you know, you mentioned your highest income the neighborhoods and your lowest income neighborhoods are your worst customers. Why do you want to build the entire city of Minneapolis rather than just starting to head into the suburbs or my neighborhood in Saint Paul after you've hit all the middle class of Minneapolis?

Travis Carter: I grew up in Minneapolis. My business partner, Kurt, grew up in Minneapolis, but it's from my career. I want to be the first NFL city in the US done with fiber with everyone -- everyone. There'll be a fiber cable out in front of every home, every business, every everything. And I'm not saying that the upper income and the lower income are not good customers -- the adoption takes longer. OK, so that's a key point that I didn't make earlier. It's you'll still get the adoption there, but instead of getting it in 12 months or 24 months, it might take you 36 or 48 months to get there. Now this is a key year. This is the very first year where we have a viable television product streaming over the Internet, being in competition with the phone company and the cable company and I think we're going to boost our market share and extra 12 or 15 percent and if you're in that upper income and in that lower income where you're a probably a big TV watcher. This is a big thing we've been missing. So in my original data that was just Internet and phone. Now that we have television in a few; in another year, I'll have better data on those neighborhoods.

Chris M: Great. Well thank you so much once again for sharing your experience with us.

Travis Carter: Yeah, thank you. Appreciate being on the show.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Travis Carter from US Internet. You can learn more about the company@fiberUSInternet.com. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/Broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets follow Muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power, the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 300 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Take Action Screening Guide: Learn About Municipal Networks, Connect With Neighbors, Share This Film in Your Community

muninetworks.org - April 12, 2018

Generate conversation about broadband access in your community with a screening of the short film, "Do Not Pass Go." We have created a helpful guide on how to host a screening of the film in your community. Spend some time connecting with others who share your questions about local options and want to learn more.

About the Film

Documentary filmmaker Cullen Hoback traveled to Pinetops, North Carolina, to experience firsthand the battle between municipal networks and private providers. 

Pinetops is a rural small town that receives high-speed Internet service from the nearby City of Wilson, North Carolina. The large ISPs have tried to put a stop to this with a state law, and all the red tape might kill the small town.

"Do Not Pass Go" from Hyrax Films on Vimeo.

Download the Guide

Not sure how to host a screening? Get going with this guide.

- Basic information about community networks

- Logistics of hosting a screening from location to outreach

- Discussion questions about broadband in your community

The guide is 13 pages long and is available for download as a PDF. We produced the guide with Next Century Cities. 

Host a Screening

There have already been three screenings across the U.S. in Marietta, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; and Rochester, Minnesota. The community group Broadband & Beers has a planned screening for April 17th, 2018, in Boulder, Colorado. Let us know if you show the film in your town!

The film is not yet available for wide distribution, but you can order either a Blu-ray or DVD for a small fee or get a code to stream it via Vimeo at no charge for your community screening. Email liam@hyraxfilms.com to make arrangements. Contact us at broadband@muninetworks.org with any questions or if you're interested in having our expert Christopher Mitchell speak at your screening.

Image of the popcorn courtesy of annca via pixaby.

"Do Not Pass Go" screening guide packet 2018Tags: grassrootspinetopswilsonvideonext century citieseventresourceinstitute for local self-relianceboulder

OnLight Aurora Expanding To Create "Smart Park"

muninetworks.org - April 11, 2018

Last fall, the City Council in Aurora, Illinois, approved a grant to OnLight Aurora to help fund the publicly owned network expansion to more commercial facilities along South River Street. This year, community leaders plan to move north and bring fiber optic infrastructure to RiverEdge Park along the Fox River as they turn the location into a “smart park.”

RiverEdge Park hosts festivals and other events, including summer concerts at it’s pavilion. Public officials want to take advantage of the community’s publicly owned broadband infrastructure for better security and to control parking. The city’s CIO Michael Pegues says that with better parking monitor and control, the city will be able to provide quicker emergency response and more efficient energy use. OnLight Aurora at RiverEdge Park may also generate revenue with kiosks for advertising.

Pegues and other city officials want to continue to grow Aurora’s increasing reputation as a tech-savvy community and to possibly expand the network to serve the nearby communities of Naperville and North Aurora.

“Smart” Attraction

Community leaders, including Pegues and Mayor Richard Irvin, want to cultivate Aurora’s growing reputation as a “smart city.” They’ve already leveraged OnLight Aurora to attract high-tech jobs, such as luring wireless communications company Scientel Solutions from Lombard. Scientel leadership described OnLight Aurora as “a big attraction.” The company will build its new headquarters near CyrusOne, a data center that connects to the fiber network.

The addition of a “smart park” is another creative way to use the publicly owned infrastructure in ways that serve lifestyles of people in the community. Aurora hopes to soon be named a “smart city” by the D.C. Smart Cities Coalition. The Coalition's video describes what characteristics "smart cities" share:

 

Evolution Of A Necessity

Aurora's fiber network began as a way for the municipality to improve connectivity for public facilities, cut telecommunications costs, and find the reliability that incumbents weren’t providing in the mid-1990s. When Aurora needed consistency instead of a patchwork of different connections, they decided to invest in fiber to future-proof their investment.

They had been paying about $500,000 per year to lease multiple lines from different providers and realized that an investment in a publicly owned network could save them significantly over the long-term. The final cost to deploy the network came to approximately $7 million, but they also reduced their costs for telecommunications by $485,000 per year.

In 2011, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) injected a $12 million grant into the network, which allowed them to pay off the original cost of deployment. The FHA integrated the city’s fiber into a project to upgrade traffic signals as part of an Intelligent Traffic System (ITS).

Even though the city had this money-saving fiber asset as early as the 1990s, Aurora didn’t form the nonprofit OnLight Aurora ISP until 2012. At that time, they began serving community anchor institutions (CAIs), schools, and businesses. We spoke with Alderman Rick Mervine in 2014 about the network for episode 123 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

More Innovation Ahead?

As the city continues to explore the possibilities, Pegues told the Chicago Tribune that it may take OnLight Aurora to the municipal airport, expand ways for citizens to access city data online, and establish a cyber security team. They are also considering how public-private partnerships can help them use the fiber infrastructure in new ways.

Tags: auroraonlight auroraillinoisexpansioninnovationpublic safety

Wireless And Wired; US Internet Knows Both - Community Broadband Bits 301

muninetworks.org - April 10, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 301 - Travis Carter from US Internet on Fiber and Wireless Internet Access Delivery

Deploying, maintaining, and operating a wireless network is easy, right? You just put up your equipment, sign up subscribers, and start raking in the dough, right? Not even close, says Travis Carter, one of the co-founders of US Internet and our guest for episode 301 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He should know -- he's deployed both wireless and fiber networks in Minneapolis.

In this episode, we get an update on US Internet’s progress on its fiber deployment. Travis also compares what it’s like to own, maintain, and operate each type of network. There are pros and cons of each and each is better suited for different environments and situations.

Travis and Christopher also talk about some of the marketing approaches that US Internet use after being in business for several years and determining what works in the Minneapolis market. He describes how a local company can compete against the big national ISPs by giving subscribers a good product, maintaining good customer service, and keeping an eye on long-term goals.

Learn more about US Internet in episode 194 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: FTTHcompetitionminnesotacustomer servicetake ratecomcastminneapolispodcastaudiobroadband bitsUS Internetmarketing
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