Feed aggregator

Neighborly Announces 35 Communities Joining Accelerator Program

muninetworks.org - November 15, 2018

Earlier this summer, we talked with Jase Wilson and Lindsey Brannon from Neighborly, the investment firm that uses online investing to allow individuals to invest in publicly owned infrastructure projects, including broadband networks. Jase and Lindsey described a program they had just launched, the Neighborly Community Broadband Accelerator. 

A Boost for Local Broadband

The program is designed to help local communities with necessary tools and financing from the start of their project planning. The Accelerator will provide mapping and community engagement tools, help from experts who will share best practices, and access to industry partners, such as ISPs and engineers. In addition to these and other information perks, communities accepted to the program will have the benefit of Neighborly financing at a competitive, below industry rate cost.

Applications were due by September 28th and more than 100 applications indicate that, more than ever, local communities are interested in taking action to improve connectivity. These 35 communities were accepted into the Broadband Accelerator Program:

  • Fresno, CA
  • Nevada City, CA
  • Oakland, CA
  • Palo Alto, CA
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Salinas, CA
  • Lyons, CO
  • Madison, CT
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Brockton, MA
  • Cambridge, MA
  • Millinocket, East Millinocket & Medway, ME (on behalf of Katahdin Broadband Utility)
  • Windham, ME (on behalf of Lakes Region Broadband Partnership)
  • Blue Hill, Brooksville, Deer Isle, Penobscot & Sedgwick, ME (on behalf of Peninsula Utility for Broadband)
  • Metuchen, NJ
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Portland, OR
  • Harrisburg, PA
  • Block Island, RI
  • Sweetwater, TN
  • Baird, TX
  • Ashland, VA
  • Manquin, VA
  • Richmond, VA
  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • Enosburgh, VT
  • Sauk County, WI
  • Laramie, WY

To get started, communities will receive curriculum from experts in municipal broadband and related policy, including our Christopher Mitchell, Deb Socia from Next Century Cites, and Blair Levin, Senior Fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute. Read more about the list of lecturers for the first cohort.

Listen to Christopher's conversation with Jase and Lindsey for episode 320 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Congrats to these local communities who took the chance, applied, and now have access to tools and financing to help them achieve their vision.

Tags: neighborlyfinancinglocalbondfresno canevada citypalo altojacksonvillenew orleanscambridgeclevelandportlandblock island rivirginia beachsauk county wi

Municipal Broadband PDX Asks Portlanders to Call on Local Officials for Support

muninetworks.org - November 15, 2018

This past summer, a group of Portlanders with digital equity as a primary goal, launched Municipal Broadband PDX. The grassroots organization seeks to mobilize folks from the Rose City to let their local leaders know that they’d like local government to take the lead in bringing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to the entire city. At their official kick-off, our own Christopher Mitchell spoke to the crowd along with Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who pledged her support to the initiative. Now Municipal Broadband PDX is asking Portlanders to answer a call to action to move to the next phase.

A first and important step for any community considering investing in high-quality Internet access infrastructure is to conduct a feasibility study. Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved $150,000 for a broadband study earlier this year along with the communities of Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, and Wood Village. Municipal Broadband PDX has applied to the City of Portland for a special appropriations grant program. The group is requesting $100,000 to add to the pledges from the county and the other municipalities. The Portland City Council is considering the grant applications and results will be announced on November 26th. 

Municipal Broadband PDX asks that supporters contact Portland elected officials and request that the project receive the grant. If you’re interested in making an impact and letting your elected representatives know that you support learning more about local options with a feasibility study, now is your opportunity.

The group has drafted a sample email and a draft voice mail message, along with contact information for decision makers. You can find the drafts and information here.

More on Municipal Broadband PDX

The organization follows the philosophy that Internet access is a public utility and should be provided to every member of the public in the same manner as other utilities we take for granted — as a service that is always there. Municipal Broadband PDX also strongly supports the concept of network neutrality and argues that income level should not be a barrier to Internet access. According to Michael Hanna, a Municipal Broadband PDX representative, “Almost 30% of low-income households in the Portland Metro area lack broadband access, and this disproportionally affects communities of color and other marginalized or under-resourced groups.”

Municipal Broadband PDX's mission is "Internet for the People."

Check out their fun video released at their launch:

You can follow the Municipal Broadband PDX campaign at their website, enroll for updates, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@PublicNetPDX).

Tags: portlandoregongrassrootsgrantmultnomah county orfeasibility

Loveland Community Leaders Decide to Move on Fiber Project

muninetworks.org - November 14, 2018

Until November 6th, community leaders in Loveland, Colorado, vacillated between whether or not to hold a referendum for final voter approval on a muni project. Asking voters to make the final call can remove political uncertainty, but there are times when elected officials have to make the call themselves. When the city opted out of Colorado's restrictive SB 152 three years ago, 82 percent of voters supported the measure. On November 6th, Loveland City Council vacated a previous order to put the issue on the ballot and decided that it's time to move ahead on establishing a broadband utility.

Special thanks to Jeff Hoel who provided additional resources to enhance our reporting!

A Steady Hike Onward in Loveland

Loveland’s population is around 77,000 and growing. The city rests in the south east corner of Larimer County, which is located along the north central border of the state. Located about 50 miles north of Denver as part of the Fort Collins-Loveland Metropolitan Statistical Area, the city is organized as a home rule municipality. Other towns we’ve written about are part of the same statistical areas, including Estes Park and Windsor. They’re one of several bedroom communities where residents who live there work in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins.

Like more than 140 other local communities in Colorado, Loveland has opted out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. Loveland voters chose to shed themselves of the law in 2015 and the city followed up with a feasibility study the following year. Since then, they’ve moved ahead carefully with support from the community, including editorials from local media. City leaders have stated that their constituents also vocalize support for a publicly owned project. Approximately, 82 percent of voters approved opting out in 2015. In 2016, 56 percent of residential survey respondents and 37 percent of business survey respondents stated that incumbents were not meeting their needs. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise the public appears ready for community broadband.

Earlier this year, the city allocated $2.5 million toward obtaining the information they needed to make the best decision in addition to planning and design work. They hired firms to craft a network design and chose an underwriter for the project. Experts estimate the cost to develop the network will run approximately $69 million. The business plan anticipates that 42 percent of residents and 27 percent of businesses will choose the network; Loveland plans to offer Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) services directly to the public. City staff and consultants estimate that the network will begin turning a profit by 2023 and will be paid off within 20 years. A primary goal for Loveland is more competition and the better rates and services that naturally flow from more choice.

Loveland’s staff looked at other possible models, including public-private partnerships, but:

"Staff's assessment of the responses (from six incumbent companies) is that none of the options offer the City of Loveland the ability to substantially reduce the risk of a large capital investment made by the City while still meeting the five primary objectives," [Project Manager Brieana] Reed-Harmel wrote [in a staff report]. "...Partnerships should provide a source of capital, management expertise or reduction in risk. Based on this evaluation and the risk assessment, staff does not consider a public-private partnership to be an optimal solution at this time."

As part of the project, the city intends to pursue regional collaboration efforts with the communities of Longmont, home to publicly owned NextLight, and Fort Collins, where the community is engaged in their own municipal network initiative. The Loveland Communications Advisory Board (LCAB) also recommended working with the Platte River Power Authority. In addition to sharing regional infrastructure, staff, and information, Loveland anticipates a time will come when the three systems may share an after-hours call center for Internet access and electric utilities, said City Manager Steve Adams at the recent meeting.

Adams also told the council that the city will use any surplus revenue for the utility to create a reserve fund earmarked for the telecom utility. They plan to direct those funds to pay off debt early and lower rates for subscribers whenever possible.

To Vote or Not to Vote? That is the Question...

The issue of a referendum on the municipal network has been a matter that the city council has grappled with on several occasions. Everyone seems to agree on the fact that the community needs better connectivity and that a municipal network will benefit Loveland. While some councilors argue that it’s clear that the rest of the community feels the same way, others want a bright-line mandate in the form of a referendum.

Earlier this year, when city leaders didn’t meet the deadline to get the issue put on the November ballot, they considered a special February 2019 election. Those against the idea, argued that the high approval rate of the 2015 SB 152 opt out referendum signaled that voters were ready to move ahead and that holding another referendum was wasteful. 

City Manager Adams estimated a February election would cost about $40,000. City staff calculated that additional interest and construction costs caused by a delay would add millions to the final cost of deployment.

"I'm going to guess that by the time this is done ... that this little adventure is going to cost us $3.5 million to extend this and do an election," said [Council Member John] Fogle, who adamantly argued that the residents already voted in 2015 and, by holding another election, council members are showing they didn't listen.

"It's very disingenuous to ask them to vote again," he said.

"We have studied this to death and now, when the time comes to make a decision, we don't want to make a decision," said Fogle. "I think that is sad."

Members of the council also expressed concern about the short time to prepare for a February election. Councilor Kathi Wright noted that such a short period of time between now and a February referendum would not provide adequate time to raise funds to stave off a negative disinformation campaign that could come at Loveland from rich incumbents. Wright and her colleagues had front row seats to the attacks from Comcast, CenturyLink, and the shell political organizations they funded to try to stop Fort Collins’s muni initiative last year. 

At the October 23rd Loveland City Council meeting, members voted narrowly to take the matter to voters, but just two weeks later, they changed course. On November 6th, they decided to reconsider the issue of a referendum. This time, the decision to ditch the referendum passed 7 - 2. Even those who didn’t support cancelling the vote voiced the opinion that the move to create a muni in Loveland was the best decision. For at least one councilor, the decision in October to take the matter to the voters rested on the fact that he felt important information was lacking at the October 23rd meeting. Once the new resolution to press on without a public vote contained the level of detail he and other councilors needed, he felt the ballot initiative was no longer necessary.

Watch the discussion at the November 6th council meeting. The presentation by City Manager Steve Adams and Project Manager Brieana Reed-Harmel provide details of the plan that helped the Loveland City Council decide to move forward.

What's Next?

The next step will require the council to approve funding. The city plans to issue $93 million in revenue bonds to cover the cost of deployment, reserves, and related funds to ensure a solid start. As the city moves forward, they will also consider internal borrowing and refinancing the bonds. Loveland staff has considered a series of possible risk mitigation scenarios and presented them to city leadership.

Check out the detailed Broadband Update Presentation slides presented at the October 23, 2018, City Council meeting.

Read the Information Summary provided to the city council by city staff.

Check out the city website portal on the project, which includes a guestbook, news and updates, and technology information to help Lovelanders educate themselves. They've even produced a couple of videos:

Image of the Loveland Ice Festival by Jared Winkler [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Information Summary for Loveland City Council Loveland Broadband Update, October 23, 2018, City Council MeetingTags: lovelandcoloradoFTTHelectionutility

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 331

muninetworks.org - November 13, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 331 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. For this episode, Christopher speaks with Kimberly McKinley, chief marketing officer for UTOPIA Fiber in Utah. They discuss the open access fiber network's recent successes and how marketing has played a key role in growing the network. Listen to episode 331 here.

 

 

Kimberly McKinley: We have worked diligently to make sure that people are aware of our service and how you can get it. And right now, UTOPIA Fiber is the highest rated telecommunications provider in the State of Utah.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 331 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, also known as UTOPIA, began when communities in Utah's north central region banded together in 2004. They got together to develop an open access fiber network. Over the past 14 years, they've experienced ups and downs, been attacked by the anti-muni sect, and through it all, gained a wealth of knowledge. In recent years, the project has definitely been on the upswing, and this week Christopher talks with Kimberly McKinley from UTOPIA. They talk about some of the accomplishments UTOPIA has made as it's expanded, the products they offer, and some of the changes they've made. Kimberly and Christopher discuss how UTOPIA's fresh approach to taking control of their marketing has driven a good portion of their success. She offers advice for communities that aren't used to operating in environments where competition demands reaching potential customers. Now here's Christopher with Kimberly McKinley from UTOPIA.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today I'm talking to Kimberly McKinley, the chief marketing officer for UTOPIA Fiber in Utah. Welcome to the show, Kim.

Kimberly McKinley: Well, thank you for having me, Chris. It's exciting to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: I've really enjoyed seeing your presentations in a variety of places — I think probably both coasts and in the middle a few times. But tell us a little bit for people who might be thinking, "UTOPIA? That's interesting." What is the UTOPIA project?

Kimberly McKinley: The UTOPIA project is a interlocal agency based here out of Utah. It's an 11 city open access network based out of basically Salt Lake. It's Murray; it's a little suburb of Salt Lake. And we've been doing this project since 2004.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is actually — I mean, in some ways, you were the ones that kicked off the whole anti-municipal broadband movement because of the opposition you face. So it's been a project that, as we'll discuss, is succeeding despite some pretty heavy hitters trying to shut you down.

Kimberly McKinley: You know, we've had our history as most people are aware. I've been to a lot of these conferences, as you've mentioned, and it's interesting as I sit in presentations how people speak about UTOPIA and how we are a failure, and I kind of chuckle to myself because I know otherwise of what is actually happening on the UTOPIA network.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think a lot of people just aren't aware of the past few years because you certainly wouldn't dispute that UTOPIA really had a few rough years.

Kimberly McKinley: No, not at all. We were bleeding edge when this network started in 2004. It was a little bit ahead of its time. When this project started, nobody understood. Facebook wasn't out there. YouTube wasn't out there. Nobody understood the need for the bandwidth, which we are currently seeing today.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and you mentioned that there is 11 cities. Let's talk a little bit about one of the signs of success, which is [it] seems like you're getting invitations to expand that.

Kimberly McKinley: We are. We currently have about 20 feasibility studies out in the marketplace right now. We just announced that we are going to be building a network down in a small little community in Utah called Woodland Hills. We have started construction in the past week on that network. I think our timeline is to have that all built out by the beginning of spring.

Christopher Mitchell: And I understand that you're going out of state. I saw a press release that you're heading into Idaho Falls, I believe.

Kimberly McKinley: Our relationship with Idaho Falls is a little bit of an interesting one. We are just consultants on that project. They contacted us because they knew that we understand how to do open access networks and what the pitfalls are on these kind of networks. So we're just helping them stand up their network and just showing them what do you should and shouldn't do because everybody understands we know both sides of that story.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, I guess I need to read my press releases more closely, a classic error I'm sure. But the overall news that you're getting, you said, 20 some feasibility studies — I mean, this is something that is pretty new and different, I think, right? I mean, the dynamic in Utah, I think you actually said in one of your events, was that when you would enter an event you might not be excited to be wearing your UTOPIA shirt and now it's a lot more popular than it used to be.

Kimberly McKinley: No, that is, I think, the classic story that I like to tell. When I started working at UTOPIA back in 2010, if I walked into a store with a UTOPIA Fiber shirt, people would tell me what they thought of UTOPIA and how the government should get out of this space and it was just not a proper role of what we were doing. And if I go into, wearing a UTOPIA shirt, to any place now, everybody asks me, "When is it coming and how can I get it?" So it is definitely a turnaround in eight years, and it's been a dramatic turnaround.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and as you, the marketing person, I'm guessing you distinguish this: my impression is that its customers have always been pretty happy with it, but they've been few and far between for, as we mentioned, the historical reasons that we have covered in past podcasts and many others have discussed. The people have always liked the service. I think you've been smeared, and finally the truth is outrunning those smears. You think that's an accurate way of summing it up?

Kimberly McKinley: I think that is absolutely an accurate way. I think the most frustration that people had is because they didn't understand the politics behind what was happening and why they didn't have it in their neighborhood. And I think that is all changing now as we are growing at our fastest pace in UTOPIA's history.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, it sounds like there's multiple ways that you're expanding. And you mentioned the consulting is one thing, which I know that UTOPIA has long been willing to offer advice to cities in a variety of mechanisms, but can you sum up the ways in which the UTOPIA network is expanding currently?

Kimberly McKinley: You know, there's a couple ways. Layton City, they just did a bond to finish building out their network within two years. They saw a huge demand from their residents saying that they wanted the service and they did not want to wait any longer, so Layton City took it upon themselves to issue the bond in order to speed up the delivery of that service.

Christopher Mitchell: And I think roughly half of your cities have universal service now, right?

Kimberly McKinley: Approximately about half. The larger cities are the ones who have the most to be built out still.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, so Layton is showing one model for that. I think in a number of those other ones, if a person wants access, they're paying the upfront connect fee now. Is that right?

Kimberly McKinley: No, we still have that option that is out there, but our most popular option in which somebody can sign up to the UTOPIA network is that they pay a $30 a month fee to UTOPIA and then they choose the service provider which they want. But the all-in costs for most people who sign up on the UTOPIA network is $65, and that's $30 to UTOPIA and $35 to one of our service providers, and that will get you a 250 Meg connection, up and down.

Christopher Mitchell: You know, I think I've done 331 of these interviews, something like that, and as someone stuck with a cable monopoly, I'm a little bit annoyed every time I hear about these wonderful options elsewhere.

Kimberly McKinley: One thing that we just announced not too long ago is our 10 Gig residential service that starts at about $230 —

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, pile on.

Kimberly McKinley: — yeah, $230 a month, and we do have customers on that. And I frequently ask, "what is it does somebody use with a 10 Gig service at home?" but we still have people who are interested in signing up for it.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think I would like one of those connections for at least maybe like an hour to get my photo collection in the cloud, but beyond that I agree. It seems a bit of overkill. So the Layton model is one, but you've recently gone to the bank and come away with funds to expand, you know, in a different model. Can you sum that up for us?

Kimberly McKinley: Luckily, UTOPIA has had its history, but this past year for the first time in UTOPIA's history, we went to the bonding agencies and we bonded for approximately $23 million based off our revenues and not city backing.

Christopher Mitchell: So for people who aren't as financially strong in their background, you know, I think that's a significant sign of confidence from the investors, right?

Kimberly McKinley: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that what we've done for the past eight years has really kind of dictated what people feel about us and how we can move forward in this model. So it's a huge victory for everybody who's been watching this project for many, many years to say that this was even a possibility 10 years ago.

Christopher Mitchell: Speaking of how we've documented that things have changed, you mentioned that you're winning a popularity contest. That's the way a monopoly might have phrased it. What's going on there?

Kimberly McKinley: We have. We have worked diligently to make sure that people are aware of our service and how you can get it. And right now, UTOPIA Fiber is the highest rate of telecommunications provider in the State of Utah. If you look on Google reviews, we're currently at a 4.4. I think Yelp, last time I checked, we were at a 4.5, and this is totally different than the [where] incumbents are in our market. It's exciting to see how much our customers love us and support us in the marketplace.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the things to think about is how that's achieved. So we're going to talk now about marketing, which is where you're strongest and I think perhaps most passionate. You know, what does one have to think about? You're one of, I think, roughly 30 - 32 municipal open access networks. What's different about marketing a UTOPIA than a closed, triple-play kind of network?

Kimberly McKinley: I think this has been an interesting journey for UTOPIA. It is the one I'm most passionate about. This is what I do and what I love every day. We had our morals and we had all our standards of, "If we build it, the service providers will market." Well, it turns out that didn't happen, so what we've done in the past 10 years is really taken the marketing in-house. And we say that this is the UTOPIA brand and we market first and we market our ISPs on every piece that goes out, but we have to be the one who lets the consumers [know], who makes the consumers aware of who we are and [why] we're here and that our cities did this for them and for their future. So it's an interesting role. As I've gone to a lot of these industry events, a lot of people build these networks and they don't understand the importance of marketing, but this is — our network spans 130 miles along the I-15 corridor here in Utah. And it's hard to say [with] 11 cities along that route, "You can just build it and people will come," so we've really taken more of an active approach on this. So we send out mailers, we have direct mail, we have billboards, we have Pandora ads, we have Spotify, Facebook. So we're everywhere to make sure that people are aware of who we are and why we're in this space.

Christopher Mitchell: Now you started there in 2010, so I'm going to guess that first of all there was not a marketing budget of substantial amounts. How did go about internally making the case that this was a worthwhile investment for scarce funds?

Kimberly McKinley: I think it took awhile. I think the marketing budget has definitely grown over the years, but I think success has dictated that we can increase the marketing budget. This year will be UTOPIA's best year, and it will be the year we spent the most on marketing. We are approaching that we're adding 5,000 additional customers by the end of 2018. So that's a huge accomplishment, and I think that goes back to [how] the people and the stakeholders are aware, as they see the results, that marketing is more and more important in this space. And I don't think a lot of cities — when they get into this, they don't understand that. But we have to approach it as a business and not necessarily as a governmental agency because we're not necessarily like a municipal power company. We are competing against major companies, and we can't just sit by and let them dictate the message out in the marketplace.

Christopher Mitchell: Have the ISPs liked this marketing that you're doing? [Do} any of them have any different reactions? Is there sort of like a split among them, I'm curious, at all?

Kimberly McKinley: You know, no, I don't think there is any backlash from us marketing from our ISPs. They have the ability to market on their own, and we encourage it. I am just never going to be dependent on them marketing. I can't be dependent on the growth of UTOPIA on third party entities that are a part of this network.

Christopher Mitchell: I seem to recall there being a UTOPIA RV. And so I'm curious, you know in your marketing, you mentioned a lot of advertising. Does the marketing go beyond advertising or is non-traditional?

Kimberly McKinley: Yeah, no, absolutely. We do not have the RV anymore, but we do have a demonstration trailer. And we have a demonstration trailer with TVs, iPads, and we take it to community events and we take it to festivals throughout the community, so when we go, that people can test the connection and understand the difference that UTOPIA brings once they have it in their house. Because you never want to buy a service necessarily without testing it out, so we want everybody to have a hands on approach before they sign up if they would choose to do so.

Christopher Mitchell: So as we're coming toward the end of our conversation, I'm curious, [to] sort of just end on the hopeful note of expansion further. What is the rate of expansion that you're experiencing currently?

Kimberly McKinley: You know, UTOPIA is growing at its fastest pace ever. It's probably a little too fast for us marketing folks, if that's ever possible. But we're passing about a thousand homes, opening a thousand homes additional a month on the UTOPIA network, so it's an exciting time to be a part of UTOPIA to see the growth that we're experiencing.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I think that that actually means that every year your network is growing by a larger amount than most of the open access networks have total customers.

Kimberly McKinley: It's an exciting time. It's an exciting time to see the open access networks growing throughout the country. It's a platform that when I started at UTOPIA, I didn't think that you would see the growth that we're experiencing, but I'm seeing more and more communities who are embracing the open access networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, so I'm intrigued then. Let me just quickly ask you. Everyone looks at open access and I think they primarily think, "Oh, I'm going to get cheaper access." What is the biggest benefit of this model from someone who's sitting inside of it?

Kimberly McKinley: I think the biggest benefit that I would see is people have choice. And by choice you drive up — the prices do go lower as you mentioned, but the quality goes higher, and if you are not satisfied you can just move to another provider and they can help you out. But it's about choice and it's about free market, and we believe here at UTOPIA that this is infrastructure and that municipalities should be building this infrastructure and letting private sector service providers run along those lines.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you Kim McKinley for coming on the show to to tell us more about UTOPIA, a sense of what's going on. And as we're wrapping up, just remind us, even for people that might be located outside of Utah, you offer consulting services to help guide them along the way, right?

Kimberly McKinley: We absolutely do. We feel here at UTOPIA that we are probably in the best position of anyone in the country to warn people about the pitfalls of open access and help guide them through building their own networks. I always say that if there was a mistake to be made in the early years of UTOPIA, we've probably made it. We might even have made it twice. So we understand, and we can help open access networks in a unique way that nobody else can because we had the success that we're experiencing now, but we've also had the growth and the issues we had in the past.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you so much. It's been fun, and I just have to say that I'm so excited to see this network succeeding because it deserves it after all the hard years.

Kimberly McKinley: It's fun to come to work. I always say, I call it the UTOPIA team here, is that it's never a dull day here and it's exciting to be part of a turnaround story and to be providing this service to our communities throughout the State of Utah and elsewhere.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Kimberly McKinley from UTOPIA. They talked about how things for the once struggling network have turned around. Be sure to check out our other content on UTOPIA at MuniNetworks.org. We also 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 and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 331 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

UTOPIA Is Not An Unreachable Dream, It's A Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 331

muninetworks.org - November 13, 2018

When anti-muni groups have taken aim at publicly owned networks, they’ve often put UTOPIA in their crosshairs. The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency has had times of struggle, but those days seem to be over. The network is expanding, subscribers are touting the benefits that come with the choice of an open access network, and other communities are reaching out to UTOPIA for advice. Days in UTOPIA country are sunny.

In this interview, Christopher speaks with Kimberly McKinley, UTOPIA’s Chief Marketing Officer, about the new and improved UTOPIA. Kimberly describes some of the ways the agency has adjusted their thinking from public entity to public entity with a competitive edge. She notes that marketing isn’t something that organizations such as public utilities think they need to worry about, but in the world of connectivity, strong marketing strategy pays off.

Along with lessons learned, Kimberly shares the triumphs that have turned UTOPIA into the leader in the region. UTOPIA’s footprint is growing, their services are expanding, and they’re influencing more communities. They’ve worked hard to reach this level of success and we see their trajectory to continue upward.

Check out more coverage of UTOPIA on MuniNetworks.org.

Read the transcript for the show.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

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: audiopodcastbroadband bitsutopiautahmarketingregionalopen access

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 12

muninetworks.org - November 12, 2018

California

Why San Jose kids do homework in parking lots by Sam Liccardo, New York Times

This year, we approved landmark deals with several carriers that called for San Jose to facilitate rapid permitting and installation of thousands of small cells — the largest deployment of them in the nation. In exchange, the companies agreed to pay millions of dollars into a Digital Inclusion Fund to pay for broadband connectivity in low-income neighborhoods.

 

Colorado

Editorial: Loveland should move forward with broadband, Reporter Herald 

Loveland city attorney: No conflict for Fogle on municipal broadband by Julia Rentsch, 

Reporter-Herald

Aurora voters pave way for municipal broadband service by Nicole Brady, ABC 7 Denver

Aurora joins more than 90 other Colorado municipalities that have opted out of the state law. Only Longmont has a fully community-operated Internet service provider. It's called Nextlight. And it didn’t happen overnight.

18 More Colorado local governments voted for city-run Internet by Karl Bode, Motherboard 

Loveland council re-votes on broadband, will build network without public vote by Julia Rentsch, Reporter-Herald

 

Connecticut

Regional broadband conference in Connecticut on Thursday, November 8, Broadband Breakfast

 

Florida

City of Opelika and Point Broadband finalize sale of OPS ONE today, Opelika Observer

 

Indiana

Getting rural broadband rolling, WTHI-TV

EDC explores countywide broadband by Bill Rethlake Daily News

 

Maine

How the Internet became less free, Bangor Daily News

 

Minnesota

Lake Connections receives 4 bids by Jamey Malcomb, Lake County News Chronicle

 

Montana 

Microsoft aims to bring Internet to rural Montana by Phil Drake, Great Falls Tribune

 

North Carolina

Tech on Tap: Wilson, NC & Greenlight Community Broadband, WRAL TechWire

 

Virginia

Augusta supervisors to vote on state broadband grant applications by Bob Stuart, The News Virginia 

 

Wyoming

Grant program offering pre-application for broadband to Wyoming communities, KGWN

 

General 

FCC Commissioner slams San Jose mayor for not approving 5G cells… then slams him for approving them by Kieren McCarthy, The Register

It's not clear whether Carr's argument is that 86 cell sites haven't really been approved (they have) or that they have been approved but because they weren't approved earlier is proof that San Jose's approach doesn't work – even though it clearly is working because lots have been approved. Or have they? (Yes, they have.)

 

Rosenworcel proposes 'homework gap fund' to address digital disparity in K-12 districts by Ryan Johnston, EdScoop

Net neutrality-opposing, big telecom-backed Marsha Blackburn wins senate seat by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

 

Tags: media roundup

Breckenridge Releases RFI: Responses Due November 26, 2018

muninetworks.org - November 12, 2018

There’s more than skiing stirring up Breckenridge, Colorado, this winter. Recently, the city released their Request for Interest (RFI) as they search for ISPs interested in delivering services via their future publicly owned fiber network. Responses are due November 26th, 2018.

Read the full RFI here.

Seeking ISPs

The town is working with Foresite Group to develop an open access network in order to bring the connectivity businesses and residents need. In their RFI, they state that the town wants to fill the role of “fiber infrastructure provider” by developing a dark fiber network that will extend to all premises citywide. Breckenridge’s model does not include direct retail services from the city to the public at this time. Community leaders want to create long-term relationships with ISPs, stimulate competition, and discover new uses for the infrastructure along the way.

The city has determined that they will deploy the network in two phases with phase 1 scheduled for completion in 2021; they hope to finish the entire project some time in 2022. The first phase will begin mid-2019 and will focus on the fiber backbone along with connecting approximately 1,000 to 2,000 end users by the first year. While Breckenridge doesn’t have cost estimates for phase 2, they have determined that phase 1 should run around $8 million. The Town Council recently approved funding for phase 1.

The second phase will connect remaining Breckenridge premises, but depends in part on the results of the RFI issue. The city won’t connect premises until they find ISPs to work with and have a more concrete plan of what areas those companies plan to serve and the terms of agreements between the city and ISPs. 

Flexibility Required

Breckenridge’s year-round population is only around 5,000, but visitors can make that number swell as high as 36,000 people. In addition to putting significant stress on wired Internet access in the mountain town, mobile service is overtaxed. The city hopes to use fiber to improve cell service for visitors in addition to smart city applications and niche services, such as home security, telehealth, and a long list of other possibilities.

When Breckenridge voters chose to opt out of SB 152 in 2016, the city had only begun exploring ways to improve their local connectivity. They knew that, unless they shed the state’s restrictive law, their options would be limited. After voters passed the measure to opt out, Breckenridge commissioned a feasibility study and decided that the potential competition and flexibility of an open access network would suit their needs.

Read the full RFI here.

Important dates:

Deadline for questions - November 16, 2018

Responses due - November 26, 2018

Request for Interest: Breckenridge, ColoradoTags: rfibreckenridgecoloradoopen accessdark fiber

Tax Change Deters Rural Co-ops From Expanding Internet Access

muninetworks.org - November 9, 2018

For many rural Americans, the local electric or telephone cooperative is their best hope for finally obtaining modern-day connectivity. With the support of government funding, rural cooperatives have brought electricity, telephone service, and more recently broadband access to some of the most rugged and sparsely populated places in the country.

However, recent tax code changes might prevent co-ops from connecting more rural communities. Cooperatives could potentially lose their tax exempt status if they accept government grants for broadband expansion and disaster recovery — an unintended yet foreseeable consequence of the Republican “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed late last year. In a press release, Senator Tina Smith called attention to the oversight, noting, “This uncertainty has caused cooperatives significant concern and frozen some of their grant applications.”

Who’s Ready for Some Tax Policy?

As nonprofit membership corporations, rural electric and telephone cooperatives are exempted from paying taxes under section 501(c)(12) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). To maintain this tax exempt status, cooperatives must derive at least 85 percent of their income from members (e.g., from selling electricity). This is sometimes referred to as the the member income test or the income source test.

Not all sources of non-member income are included when calculating this percentage. Revenue from utility pole rentals, for instance, is exempted. In the past, rural cooperatives also excluded federal and state grants from the member income test, based on assorted rulings from the Internal Revenue Service (one example is Rev. Rul. 93-16, 1993–1 C.B. 26, which held that a federal grant given to an airport should not be considered income for tax purposes). As long as co-ops treated the government funding as a source of capital, not income, they could accept as much grant money as they wanted without the risk of losing tax exempt status.

A provision in last year’s tax act calls into question whether that precedent will continue to hold. In addition to other changes, the law revised section 118 of the IRC on “contributions to the capital of a corporation.” (The designation of “corporation” includes utility cooperatives as well as publicly-traded companies.) The 2017 tax act amended section 118 such that while capital contributions are generally excluded from a corporation’s gross income, “any contribution by any governmental entity or civic group” is no longer excludable. As a result, cooperatives might have to include government grants in the calculation for the member income test.

It’s conceivable that government grant funding could push a cooperative over the 15 percent limit of allowable non-member income, causing the co-op to forfeit its tax exempt status. The USDA Community Connect Grant Program, for example, has awarded cooperatives as much as $3 million to deploy rural broadband.

Impact on Co-ops, Rural Broadband

This legal ambiguity could prevent many electric and telephone co-ops from pursuing funding for broadband for fear of losing their tax exemption. Without the financial assistance from programs such as Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, cooperatives might just put a pause on broadband projects indefinitely.

That’s a big problem for the rural communities who desperately need better connectivity and are relying on cooperatives to provide it. For some people, co-ops are their “only hope” after incumbent Internet access providers have refused to serve them. The potential impacts of cooperatives providing — or not providing — broadband access are huge. In Indiana, one study found that deploying broadband to all rural areas served by electric co-ops would result in a net benefit of $12 billion statewide.

Of course, the tax code change doesn’t categorically prevent electric and telephone cooperatives from offering Internet access in rural communities, but it unnecessarily deters co-ops when governments should be encouraging them. Government grant programs can be instrumental in getting rural broadband projects off the ground. That same study from Indiana concluded that “some form of external assistance” would be necessary.

Doing What's Best for Rural Broadband

To ensure that convoluted tax policy isn’t standing in the way of better connectivity for millions of rural residents, Senator Smith plans to introduce legislation that would ensure government grants are not counted as income for the purpose of a telephone or electric cooperative’s tax-exempt status. In the meantime, she requested that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig take action to address the co-ops' concerns.

In her press release, Senator Smith pointed out that the tax code change was not intended to impede co-ops from accepting government broadband funding. Rather, the goal was to force for-profit corporations to pay taxes on economic development incentives offered by state and local governments.

Regardless of intentions, Congress needs to correct its mistake to avoid potential wide-ranging consequences. If policy makers had considered the impact on rural communities and properly consulted stakeholders and broadband advocates, they might have avoided thrusting cooperatives into uncertainty. Rural Americans need all their elected officials to make broadband a real priority, which they consider carefully as essential infrustructure — not as an afterthought they dismiss with a shrug and a cavalier attitude.

3D Graphic courtesy of DonkeyHotey (CC by 2.0).

Letter from Senator Smith to Mnuchin and RettigTags: taxescooperativerural electric cooptelephoneruralminnesotatina smithcongressfederalgrants

Yes! You CAN be at Connected New England! Livestream it!

muninetworks.org - November 8, 2018

If you couldn’t make it to Hartford, Connecticut, don’t despair! The good people at Next Century Cities and the Office of Consumer Counsel have got you covered. They’ve set up a live link so you can watch all the great panel discussions and presentations from the Connected New England event.

You can watch the event below or follow this link to watch it directly on Vimeo. Special thanks to the Internet Society for sponsoring the livestream.

 

As a reminder, Gigi Sohn, former FCC advisor, and a Distinguished Fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, will deliver the Afternoon Keynote.

Additional panels will discuss:

  • Municipal Gain Update from the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel
  • 5G & Small Cells Panel - Josh Broder from Tilson will moderate
  • Successful Models Panel - Christopher Mitchell will moderate
  • Financing & E-Rate Panel - Deb Socia from Next Century Cities will moderate
Tags: eventconferencenew englandchristopher mitchellnext century cities

Colorado Voters Continue to Reclaim Local Authority with Gusto

muninetworks.org - November 7, 2018

The march toward reclaiming local telecommunications authority throughout Colorado continued yesterday as eighteen more communities opted out of restrictive SB 152. As in prior years, voters passed referendums with high majorities in every contest.

It’s a Sweep

Once again, local voters emphatically expressed support to step out of the weight of SB 152 and put decision making for local connectivity in their own hands. The lowest passage for this cycle was 62 percent of the vote in Crowley County; the highest occurred in the town of Blue River where 90 percent of voters chose to opt out. Average passage for all 18 referendums came to just under 76 percent of the vote.

We’ve already reported on ballot measures in the municipalities of Aurora, Cañon City, Florence, Fountain, and Erie. Here’s how the “yes” votes shook out in those communities (please note that these numbers are considered “unofficial” and we round up to whole percentages):

  • Aurora: 75%
  • Cañon City: 73%
  • Florence: 83%
  • Fountain: 72%
  • Erie: 86%

Other cities and towns which we recently learned were taking up the issue also passed the opt out issue by wide margins:

  • Blue River: 90% (Wow!)
  • Las Animas: 70%
  • Wheat Ridge: 80%

Counties that we’ve been watching also came out positive. Thanks to Virgil Turner, who is the Director of Innovation and Citizen Engagement for the City of Montrose, Colorado, (and our eyes in the state) we found out that this was a year when the majority of referendums happened at the county level.

  • Alamosa County: 70%
  • Baca County: 74%
  • Bent County: 70%
  • Chaffee County: 80%
  • Crowley County: 62%
  • Fremont County: 72%
  • Grand County: 78%
  • Hinsdale County: 89%
  • Kiowa County: 78%
  • Otero County: 63%

Within Colorado’s 64 counties, a total of 40 have brought the opt out question to their voters; all referendums passed. Now, 62.5 percent of counties in the state are free of SB 152, leaving only 37.5 percent or 24 counties subject to the harmful law.

Fixing Past Mistakes For Different Futures

In 2005, under heavily lobbying influence from big cable and telephone companies bent on maintaining their strong position, state lawmakers passed the law. From that point on, local communities have been precluded from offering telecommunication services or advanced services directly to the general public or with a partner.

As high-quality connectivity has become an essential element of economic development and everyday life for residents, an increasing number of local communities have been considering some level of publicly owned broadband infrastructure. Many have no concrete plans in place, others have only commenced to research possibilities, and a few have established a vision or even designed their planned networks. Regardless of their philosophy on the need to own or operate a municipal network, many communities in Colorado decide to bring the SB 152 opt out question to voters simply because they feel that local communities should have the authority to decide their own path, rather than distant lawmakers in Denver.

For example, Kiowa County participated in a feasibility study in 2017. Fremont County’s economic development corporation encouraged voters in the county and in the town of Florence, which is in Fremont County, to pass their ballot measures. They want to pursue grants and other funding to begin the process of study to seek solutions for better connectivity in the mostly rural region. Florence, with fewer than 4,000 people,  has a Master Plan to develop their downtown center and, while they have no specific plans for broadband infrastructure, they know that better connectivity will be crucial to the livelihood of the businesses there. Cañon City wants to pursue partnerships with private sector partners to fill the voids left by the large national providers.

Congrats to communities now on the growing list of municipalities and counties who have reclaimed local authority!

Tags: coloradosb 152election

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 330

muninetworks.org - November 6, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 330 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. While at the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Ontario, California, Christopher spoke with broadband consultant and practitioner Jory Wolf about various projects happening in California. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Jory Wolf: Regionalism, I think, is becoming very popular with cities — again, combining resources and to be able to create a critical mass to get attention from third party entrants to actually create a competitive network that would provide services to businesses in their communities collectively, at a much lower price [than] if they did it singularly.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 330 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. The 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Ontario, California, gave Christopher a chance to talk to several people for our podcast. One of the people he wanted to be sure to speak with was Jory Wolf, who now works as a consultant. Many Community Broadband Bits podcast listeners already know that Jory was the driving force behind Santa Monica's CityNet. In this episode, Jory takes some time to give Christopher an update on what's been happening in Santa Monica, including their plans for bringing high quality connectivity to residents living in the city's public housing. He also shares updates on some of the many other projects happening in California. In addition to sharing what he's observed about some of the opportunities local governments have been able to take advantage of, Jory talks about several of the regional projects in California. He describes new approaches of public-private partnerships and the way local communities are setting themselves up today for better future connectivity. Now, here's the interview.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Chris Mitchell at the Ontario, California, Broadband Communities Economic Development Summit, sitting with Jory Wolf, who is currently the Vice President of Digital Innovation from Magellan Advisors. Welcome back, Jory.

Jory Wolf: Thank you, Chris. Good to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: Jory, two years ago, you retired from being the CIO of Santa Monica and you've done some interviews with us then. We did a case study on what you did in Santa Monica. Now you're helping many other cities do this. Why don't you just give me a little background of how you're approaching consulting because I think it's a little bit different than how some others do.

Jory Wolf: I look at myself as a practitioner, not as a consultant. I've been building broadband networks in the city of Santa Monica, both wired and wireless, for the last 20 years. [We] started after the 1996 Telecommunications Act, built our first network in 2002, [and] connected 56 city, school, and college facilities by 2004. We connected Google in three locations in the city and had ventured into providing not only businesses but anchor institutions broadband connectivity at speeds of one Gig, and we were using a four gig network for the city, school[s], and the college. By the time that 2010 rolled around, we upscaled the network from one Gig to 10 Gig, and by the time we got to 2014, the network went from one and 10 and multiple Gig to 100 Gig. The city of Santa Monica is unique in many ways from other cities that are venturing into the muni broadband space in that it not only owns, but it also operates its municipal fiber network. As well as implementing a fiber network, we've implemented — for businesses and of course for economic development — we've implemented many smart city applications, including intelligent transportation, improved public safety, many applications for real time parking and congestion management.

Christopher Mitchell: Those are the ones that I was immediately thinking of, especially when my wife and I were in Santa Monica not too long ago and took advantage of those on a vacation.

Jory Wolf: We continued to look at other government innovations. We grew the network. The network then not only included businesses and drew businesses to the area, but it also retained businesses in Santa Monica. That was spread out to anchor institutions, such as UCLA hospitals and clinics. And of course, the schools and the college district continue to thrive and have savings from being on a 10 Gig connection through the CityNet broadband system. We implemented ubiquitous Wi-Fi throughout 80 percent of the commercial corridors and of course continue to look at opportunities to go beyond businesses and anchors. And by just about the time that I was starting to leave Santa Monica and created a utility fund for CityNet, we started looking at the financials and what it would mean in terms of a revenue flow and a break-even to provide residents in low-income housing units with a Gig of broadband. It was clear to us in the math that we were doing that for $69 a month we could deliver broadband to any multi-dwelling unit, and the numbers penciled out if there were at least 14 units in a particular multi-dwelling unit structure. There was a break-even for the city for the switch equipment, for the interior structured cabling that would need to be done to the unit, and any other power modifications that would have to be completed.

Christopher Mitchell: And that's based on units paying $10 a month, I'm guessing, or . . . ?

Jory Wolf: And that was based upon units paying $69 a month for a Gig. If the unit qualified under California Care as a subsidy for low-income housing, then they were able to receive a subsidy and [it] lowered the rate down to $48 per month for a Gig.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Jory Wolf: These were units that are being currently managed by the Community Corp of City of Santa Monica. They manage these low-income housing units. There are 100 multi-dwelling unit properties, and we started with a pilot program for 10 of them.

Christopher Mitchell: And so I think a lot of people go the opposite direction where they're trying to figure out how to do a more basic connection at a very low rate. What experiences has Santa Monica received, you know, from doing your approach?

Jory Wolf: A basic connection for residents where we really didn't want to offer anything lower than a Gig for residents — it doesn't cost any less money to offer 100 Meg versus a Gig to either a business or to a residential location. The equipment is pretty much the same, and any carrier will tell you that, and any product reseller or manufacturer will also tell you the same. A Gig port is a Gig port. You run 100 Meg off of it or you slice and dice it down to anything else, you're still gonna pay for a Gig port, and so you might as well. It doesn't cost us any more. As a matter of fact, for CityNet customers, it was our standard routine if they signed up for a Gig, we would always give them a Gig and a half or two Gig during a six month signup program. And that was a good incentive for them to sign up. First of all, they couldn't even get a Gig from the other carriers because the other carriers hadn't invested beyond their coax and copper systems. So it was a good incentive to get businesses and residents onto the network. And again, it didn't cost the city any more, so why not?

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I guess the question is — and there's an assumption, I think, often that the kinds of low-income households you're connecting wouldn't have that kind of monthly revenue, the ability to pay those monthly bills, but your experience suggests that they are paying those and I'm going to go ahead and guess, are pretty happy with the service.

Jory Wolf: They are. The system is, you know, still in its infancy. I would say that there are still lots of low-income housing properties that need to be connected, and then also to look at other multi-dwelling unit properties that have 14 units or more that will pencil out and a break-even in connecting those properties. Whether or not CityNet will ever advance to providing a Gigabit or multi-Gigabit to single family residences is still not clear. It is possible, but our opinion is those people really don't need an alternative, more affordable solution.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So the reason I wanted to interview you is actually based on a question I'd asked you a long time ago, maybe a year ago or so, about what was actually happening. Because I know that in your work for Magellan, you're working with a lot of cities — a lot of them particularly here in southern California, but also all up and down the West Coast, sometimes working with cities in the middle of the country or the eastern part of the country from what I can tell. And I wanted to talk about some of the different approaches that we're seeing because frankly, there's a number of things going on that we just don't get much news about. And so one of those, I think, is how Inyo is partnering with a number of cities. So why don't we start there and just pick your brain a little bit about what we're seeing with business models in terms of partnerships with this ISP, a regional ISP called Inyo: I-N-Y-O.

Jory Wolf: Well I'm really excited about the whole P3 model. I think a lot of cities are saying, well, how are we going to go ahead and not only fund creating something like this, but we're not qualified to operate something like this? It needs to be maintainable. I don't think that there's a city manager or city council in this country that would want to go forward with a broadband initiative and then have it fall apart. No one wants to be part of a failure, so they want to be sure that it's going to be successful, and they need a solid operator to be able to do that. Interestingly, municipalities typically already have fiber assets to get started with, so a business model has now emerged, which is the predominant model that we see that Inyo is taking advantage of, and that is a P3. So the municipality owns the fiber network, [which] typically comes from a traffic signal system with conduit connecting the traffic signals or from a street light system or any other conduit that they might have underground. Of course, we all know about ways to incrementally build and opportunistically build. When wireless carriers come into town and they want to do encroachment in the public Right-of-Way to backhaul wireless with fiber, or other utilities for that matter, and you do joint trench and you lower the cost, and you joint trench and put in your conduits while they're putting in their conduits. It saves the roadway and it also saves money. But then after you've built this thing, who's going to operate it? And Inyo fills that gap. There are companies like Inyo, and others could be named as well. And of course, I meet with them on a regular basis because they're the partners that I bring to the table for all of our clients that are looking to solve that question for their councils and their city managers: who's going to maintain this and are they qualified to do that? Inyo has the credentials, and of course there are others. And I see cities now being more successful and are approaching broadband more confidently because they have an answer to the last question on maintenance and operations.

Christopher Mitchell: So a city may have conduit on main arterials, may have, you know, some conduit elsewhere, but is the relationship that the city then leases whatever it has to Inyo and they figure out how to extend that and build off of it? And then Inyo owns the rest of that, often the connection to the home and that sort of thing, and then they share back revenue based on the amount that they're leasing? Is that the kind of arrangement?

Jory Wolf: Mostly. That's the typical form of the arrangement. Obviously, cities encourage Inyo and companies like Inyo to continue to expand on the footprint and get to new areas. As the city continues to build out to new property developments or works with developers and developing tracts, as the city continues to look at its smart city initiatives and overlays its smart city and other government innovation with anchor institutions in areas that don't have affordable broadband but need affordable broadband, the answer is how do we maintain all of that for all those varying constituencies? And these P3 public-private partners come in and do that very well for them. And of course, we see the models changing. This is something which is new. I am familiar with Inyo. Inyo actually started with Vallejo in northern California. They then picked up —

Christopher Mitchell: For those of us not from California, that means the middle of California I think technically.

Jory Wolf: Correct. Yeah, but we wouldn't call it central California either.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure, sure.

Jory Wolf: So then after that, they picked up Ontario, California, and they're bidding actually on two other projects: one in the South Bay coalition of 15 governments for a regional I-net on a loop, and then also they're competing in La Mesa for a city network where they need a P3 operator to maintain that for their traffic signals, their smart city, and to build for economic development.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about that South Bay approach. This is something that I think you're pretty excited about, and I think it may be based on a vision you had 30 or 40 years ago even. So what is happening? Well, I guess a first good question is, what is the South Bay, and then what are they doing?

Jory Wolf: The South Bay is a coalition of governments, very much like [how] many governments throughout the country collaborate on local or regional initiatives. And we all understand they have corporate boundaries, but projects and various initiatives cross those corporate boundaries. And it might be transportation, it might be housing, it might be economic development, it might be public safety.

Christopher Mitchell: Or air pollution

Jory Wolf: Or air pollution. Yeah. Or it might be an airport or a port district that they're all very close to, and it could be emissions and from those ports and those airports as well. So they band together, and they work on these local initiatives. In the South Bay in particular, we did a project and we looked at economic development. There was a project that was funded by the Workforce Investment Board, and through the WIB we were able to acquire the funds to answer the question: will broadband be an incentive to facilitate and to expand economic development within the region to be able to develop jobs and retain jobs within the area? The region had started to see some very large employers move to other locations throughout the country. Most of them were blue collar manufacturing jobs, so the region has these very large warehouses. And I'm talking about communities that range from multimillion dollar homes in Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills Estates on the peninsula, all the way north to Inglewood and El Segundo that are not as expensive communities, and then many others in between which are either beach communities or inland communities within the region. The idea here is they did believe and they did want to test the waters. Will a broadband network, a regional system, actually retain jobs? Will it create a new knowledge worker workforce so that they can maintain the value of their homes and their very rich housing stock? They needed to be able to fill the gap, and they wanted to be sure that they found a new instrument or a tool to be able to help maintain and sustain their economic growth. We've seen many things happening within the region. We all know that they not only need to maintain their economic growth, but all communities need broadband. And if they went and tried to do this on a continuous basis on their own, it's divide and conquer and they're all paying more than they should. Our study for economic development identified [that] all of them were paying two to three times more than they should for broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, because a lot of these areas are areas that have some level of decent telephone service. I mean, it may be advanced DSL or might be a less advanced DSL, but presumably almost all of them have cable, certainly at least to anchor institutions. And so it's not a matter of they can't get any providers but probably that the providers who are there are limited and overcharging, I'm guessing.

Jory Wolf: Absolutely. And so there are no third party entrans in this particular region. The cities themselves really didn't have any assets that we could cobble together. Some cities did but certainly not to the extent where we could pull them all together into a regional system. The traffic signal system from most of these communities is managed by LA County Department of Public Works, Traffic Engineering Division, and everything is a point-to-point wireless connection. So obviously fiber was not going to be an answer to be able to connect this using public assets. And so, at the tail end of that study, we reached out to a couple of fiber providers, non-traditional fiber providers, who are just starting to think about, maybe this is something we want to get into also: Southern California Edison, Crown Castle, Zayo, and others. CenturyLink and even Frontier and Spectrum came to the table. We had 17 interested parties at the bidders conference in phase two of the project when we started it up, and we now have some very good responses to the RFP. And Inyo in fact is one of them.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is an RFP to build a fiber network that will be owned by the local governments connecting anchor institutions — is that right?

Jory Wolf: Interestingly, this particular one is a network that is owned by the public-private partner. The cities are the anchors, and the partner provides the fiber connectivity, continues to maintain and expand the fiber footprint beyond city building connections to business connections and to anchors as well.

Christopher Mitchell: This is the kind of model that always makes me nervous because it seems like the local governments then don't have much recourse if things don't go as planned, if the provider begins offering poor customer service or doesn't want to upgrade in 10 years or you know, whatever scenarios I could cobble up.

Jory Wolf: Right. So there is no exclusivity at this point, and the model that we're looking at are contracts for three, five, and 15 years. So cities have the right to individually opt into either a three or five or 15 year program. And after that, if they're dissatisfied with the service, they move on to another provider. And so it's not an exclusive relationship and after the contract expires, they can get out.

Christopher Mitchell: Would they have to then build a new fiber network then as part of a new arrangement if they opted out?

Jory Wolf: They look for the next responsive — the best responsive bidder.

Christopher Mitchell: But that responsive bidder wouldn't be able to use the fiber that was built by the first — is that right?

Jory Wolf: That is correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Jory Wolf: But, understand that there is plentiful fiber within the region of these 15 cities. It just wasn't available to them before.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Zayo, like, presumably has fiber all over the place already.

Jory Wolf: Crown Castle and Southern California Edison as well.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. The Inyo model in particular that we were discussing before we get into the South Bay, it reminds me a little bit of what we've seen Ting doing in Centennial and Sandpoint and Holly Springs. And I'm curious if — you know, as someone who's looked at those I'm guessing — are there any differences there where the city basically has arterial fiber that its leasing to a trusted partner that is going to expand it to the last mile? Are there nuances that are different?

Jory Wolf: Well, we're seeing — take La Mesa, for example. So La Mesa was rehabilitating all of their traffic signal fiber and they decided instead of just pulling a 72 count fiber bundle, they asked us, should we pull another bundle or should we pull a larger bundle? So we all agreed that the best thing for La Mesa to do was to pull their 72 count — and the cost is really not in the fiber itself, [but] the cost of pulling the fiber, and of course any construction which would need to be done to make it all fit and to work within the infrastructure. We decided that they would pull an extra 144 count of fiber, and then we put out an RFI and said, everyone come and tell us what kind of business model you would offer to La Mesa. And we had 70+ interested parties.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the exciting things happening in southern California is Beverly Hills basically just decided — not unlike I think kind of what Hillsboro is doing outside of Portland — hey, we can hire people. We can just go ahead and build Fiber-to-the-Home and operate it. You know, we're a capable city. What's going on there with Beverly Hills, and is there anyone else that you're working with that has a similar approach?

Jory Wolf: Beverly Hills, their model is to not leave any money on the table. So they're not looking for a public-private partner; they're looking for contractual services. So we need to be sure that we understand that that Beverly Hills model is very different. They're not like a Santa Monica where they're going to own and operate it. They are not like a P3 like what we normally see in that they own it and someone else operates it through a P3 arrangement and expands it. The city is going to own it, but the city is going to contract out and select incrementally all the various contractors that will provide the maintenance and operations, including content and other services.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So this is a situation in which they are going to own it and may be able to switch who's providing the services on it and that sort of thing. But it is, you know, broadly speaking, a pretty vanilla Fiber-to-the-Home, publicly-owned network in which they call the shots themselves, and they're just doing a lot more of it on contracting rather than in-house, right? Which makes sense in part because they don't have a municipal electric utility,

Jory Wolf: They don't, and the contracts are going to be managed by their assistant director of IT. They expect to let somewhere between six and seven contracts, including dial tone and video services over the network, and then this would include your standard local TV channels as well. And they're looking to the industry, they're looking for third party partners, to be able to fill each and every one of those particular services on the network. The issue is that when you have that many contractors, you've got a lot of contracts to manage and you've got a lot of things to negotiate. And when you're doing that, there's a lot of things that can go south.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I mean, there's a lot of ways in which I think [they] may not interoperate very nicely, I presume.

Jory Wolf: Yes, and you might be relying on a particular agreement to lease an asset from a third party and that third party changes their mind.

Christopher Mitchell: And I thought Beverly Hills had already started building, you know, had the contracts out. Where are they exactly in the process?

Jory Wolf: I can't speak to exactly where they are, but I know that they're being held up by some earlier negotiations that they had with third parties on using third party assets. The third parties now have come back and asked to renegotiate or are reconsidering whether or not they're going to allow those assets to be used.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. Culver City is building out fiber to local businesses. What's happening there in a nutshell?

Jory Wolf: So it's Culver Connect, and [they're] working with Mox [Networks]. It's a business model where the city actually owns the network, and it's going to be managed in a P3 relationship with Mox [Networks]. Mox will market, maintain, and operate the network and can continue to expand it over time. They will share obviously in the revenue like Inyo does, but be more proactive than Inyo is, in their model and in working in Culver City, more proactive in actually expanding the network.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. What else is happening along those lines? Are there other projects that I'm missing?

Jory Wolf: Oh, sure.

Christopher Mitchell: Of course there are.

Jory Wolf: Yeah. Um, so—

Christopher Mitchell: To be clear, there's probably some that are in opening stages that we're not going to talk about, but these are ones that are fairly public already.

Jory Wolf: Yes, and I think I can safely say there's a new model which is starting to emerge, and I can safely say that using the model of regionalism I think is becoming very popular with cities — again, combining resources and to be able to create a critical mass to get attention from third party entrance to actually create a competitive network that would provide services to businesses in their communities collectively, at a much lower price [than] if they did it singularly. A good model that we're looking at growing — we're really not under contract yet, but I can safely say they will venture either using us or someone else — the County of Ventura is looking at creating a middle mile loop, just like a regional loop in the South Bay, and that middle mile loop will allow all of the cities to connect to a wholesale middle mile loop that's connected to two Internet points of presence. They'll be able to drive down, we expect, the cost per Megabit for broadband and be able to share in some local services, plus expand other kinds of services for mutual aid and other kinds of parking and traffic, traffic signal, regional transportation, and public safety matters.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, Jory, I appreciate you letting us pick your brain on so many different happenings of what's going on here in southern California.

Jory Wolf: Well, thanks Chris, and my pleasure.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with consultant Jory Wolf. Jory gave us an update of what's happening in California. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Send us an email 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. You can subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. Access them wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and don't miss any of our original research. While you're there, take a moment to donate. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 330 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Catching Up in Cali with Jory Wolf - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 330

muninetworks.org - November 6, 2018

This week, Christopher presents the last of the interviews he conducted while at the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Ontario, California, in October. As long as he was in the Golden State, he decided to check in with Jory Wolf, Vice President of Digital Innovation at Magellan Advisors.

Jory may work in the consulting field now, but he’s known by the MuniNetworks.org audience as the man behind Santa Monica CityNet. When he retired from his position as CIO at the city after 22 years, Jory didn’t settle for the slow lane. Now he’s working with communities all over California and in other states find ways to improve their local connectivity.

In this interview, he sits down with Christopher and discusses several of the many California projects he’s been working on, including regional initiatives in South Bay and Ventura County. Jory shares some of the discoveries that local communities have made as they’ve sought out ways to make the most out of their existing assets and develop new types of partnerships with the private sector. With his years of expertise and his ability to find ways to overcome challenges that local governments encounter, Jory has the right skillset to help his clients prepare for a future of better connectivity.

You can also listen to Jory and Christopher discuss CityNet in a podcast episode from 2014.

Read the transcript of the show.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

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: audiopodcastbroadband bitsjory wolfcaliforniasanta monicaventura county casouth bay caregional

CenturyLink Halloween Becomes Horrible Groundhog Day in Endless Bureaucracy

muninetworks.org - November 6, 2018

Halloween is less than a week away, but our horrifying tale of customer service terror is quickly turning into science fiction in which we are caught in an never-ending loop bending time and space. Time for a quick update.

As a refresher, our Halloween story relayed the difficulties ILSR has had in recent months with CenturyLink, which provides Internet access and VoIP service to our Minneapolis office. When we received a new phone for a new employee, there was no AC power cord in the box. After running on a human hamster wheel for months, one of our Co-directors, John Farrell, who had been shuffled from department to department at the ISP in search of a cord had been told that he could continue to try to get one from the company or just buy one on Amazon.

It didn’t take long for CenturyLink to reach out to us, once we shared our story via Twitter, telling us that they were “saddened” by our negative experience with the phone power cable and letting us know that, if we would reach out to them, they’d be happy to help.

 

Anxious to get the conversation out of the public sphere, CenturyLink employees managing the Twitter account requested we direct message them, which we did.

It didn't take long for the nightmare to start all over again as we were looped into an endless version of "Groundhog Day," repeating ourselves and once again being passed from one customer service representative to the next. We've blocked out their names, because we realize that it isn't their fault that the behemoth that they work for is too massive to work efficiently. Over the course of several days, we interacted with several different people, each not completely aware of what the other had been up to in order to tend to our issue.

 

 

After sharing the DMs displaying the endless cycle with our Twitter followers, CenturyLink once again asked us put a lid on the conversation. We yielded, but they would not accept our surrender.

 

 

As of this writing, our phone still has no power cord, but our situation has been submitted to a “business escalation team” who will contact us. In one of the last DMs that CenturyLink representatives sent us they wrote as they were submitting the request to the appropriate people:

"For their reference, will you please provide a detailed description of the issue at hand (as of right now I am gathering that you are in need of a power cord?)"

 

Tags: centurylinkcentury linkcustomer servicebusiness services

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 5

muninetworks.org - November 5, 2018

California

In San Leandro, we are building on public broadband investment for a brighter future by Corina Lopez, National League of Cities

In order to close the digital divide for all residents and further unleash economic growth, federal and state governments must invest more in broadband infrastructure of all kinds, including both fiber and wireless. Furthermore, we will need federal officials and their state counterparts to cease preemptive legislative trends that have tied cities’ hands and prevented public or public-private solutions from taking root. 

 

Colorado

More than half of Longmont has signed up for NextLight, and private Internet providers have reacted by Sam Lounsberry, Times-Call 

 

Idaho

Idaho Falls residents weigh cost/benefits of fiber network by Ryan Suppe, Post Register

 

Minnesota

Tina Smith talks drug prices, healthcare, broadband by Nathan Bowe, DL Online

Ely Broadband Coalition looking for more grant projects by Keith Vandervort, The TimberJay

 

Oregon

Details emerging on broadband network plans by Richard Hanners, Blue Mountain Eagle

Municipal broadband now before Portland City Council, NW Labor Press

 

Tennessee

Organization aims to bring community-owned rural broadband Internet to Sevier County by  Candice Fitzgibbons, Sevier News Messenger

 

Washington

Broadband committee ready to submit grant application by Diana Zimmerman, The Wahkiakum County Eagle

 

General

FCC falsely claims community broadband an 'ominous threat to the First Amendment' by Karl Bode, Motherboard

FCC Republican claims municipal broadband is threat to First Amendment by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Of course, the Obama-era FCC prohibited ISPs—including municipal ISPs—from blocking legal content by enforcing net neutrality rules. O'Rielly and the rest of the FCC's Republican majority eliminated those rules after Donald Trump became president. In fact, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai justified the net neutrality repeal in part by saying the rules were too onerous for municipal ISPs.

An FCC commissioner attacks municipal broadband systems by falsely claiming they're a threat to free speech by Michael Hiltzik, LA Times

Why millions of teens can't finish their homework by Alia Wong, The Atlantic

The future of net neutrality by Evan Malmgren, The Nation 

Verizon just obliterated Ajit Pai's justification for killing net neutrality by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Tags: media roundup

More Than Half of Longmonters Choose NextLight Fiber. Because NextLight Fiber.

muninetworks.org - November 5, 2018

We knew that Longmonters loved their publicly owned network, but recent numbers show how many of them have shunned incumbents to switch. More than half of the market in Longmont has now signed up with NextLight. While NextLight subscribers enjoy fast, affordable, reliable connectivity from their network, benefits from competition are also creating a better environment for Longmonters who have stayed with the incumbents.

When Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) set out to serve the community in 2014, their goal was to reach approximately 37 percent of the market within five years. According to LPC’s Scott Rochat, they’ve blown away that goal and have already reached 54 percent.

No Tricks, Just Gigabits

While large national providers focus their efforts to capture customers with gimmicks such as reduced introductory rates that later increase, LPC has appealed to subscribers with a series of intelligent moves that show their commitment to the community.

At the start of 2018, LPC dropped the cost of their symmetrical gigabit Internet access from $99.95 per month to $69.95 per month. If subscribers have been connected for 12 continuous months, they’re eligible for a loyalty discount which brings the price down another $10 per month. During deployment, LPC created a special program in which folks who signed up for service within three months that service was available in their areas were able to cut yet another $10 per month off their gigabit rate for as long as they stayed connected. These Charter Members are able to take that $49.95 per month rate with them when they move to a different Longmont address where NextLight is available and the rate stays at the premise that they sell.

Approximately 93 percent of NextLight residential subscribers are Charter Members, Rochat told the Times Call. The network currently serves 17,400 premises.

Subscribers who referred friends were also able to get a free month of service for each referral and they had extended the promotion to digital voice service.

Competition=Better Rates, Better Services

The presence of NextLight has inspired both Comcast and CenturyLink to up their game in Longmont. Rates for gigabit access in Longmont compare to those for 250 Mbps in Boulder from Comcast. CenturyLink, which only offers gigabit connectivity in limited markets, charges $85 for a gigabit in Longmont. Rochat told the Times Call.

"We've seen both providers gear up their marketing to the Longmont area, which is not a surprise. Longmont is a competitive market and it should be — when all the providers are offering their best, our community's residents and businesses become the winners.”

It’s common for incumbents to invest in better services in communities that have developed municipal networks or simply discussed the idea. In Chattanooga, Comcast introduced gigabit connectivity to keep up with EPB Fiber. News of the partnership between the city of Huntsville and Google Fiber brought expectations of better rates and services from Comcast. The disinformation tactic is another route Comcast has taken in Longmont to try to prevent subscribers from jumping ship, to no avail.

Topping the Speed Charts

Just a few months ago, PC Mag released its list of Fastest ISPs and NextLight sat comfortably at the top of the list. Also in the top five were networks that involved publicly owned assets, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics, Sonic using publicly owned conduit in San Francisco, and Allo, partnering with Lincoln, Nebraska.

Longmont has been held up as an ideal that other Colorado communities look to as they consider their own possibilities for publicly owned networks. After a failed attempt to reclaim local authority in 2009, the community regrouped and opted out of restrictive SB 152.  Since then, they’ve invested in fiber infrastructure city wide. The network has also worked to provide big bandwidth connections to local schools and other institutions.

Seeing the benefits Longmont has enjoyed from their investment, municipalities and counties across the state have in recent years started opting out of SB 152 in droves. The city has caught the attention of media from around the world. There are now more than 120 local governments that have held referendums; in each case, voters have chosen to reclaim local telecommunications authority — often with huge majorities. Eighteen more elections are scheduled for Tuesday, November 6.

Giving the People What They Want...And They'll Take It!

Subscribers and Longmonters in general speak about the high quality service, performance, and affordability they receive from NextLight. Word gets around Colorado and as more communities step out of the shadow of SB 152, more incumbents can expect to face off with other publicly owned networks interested in serving the community.

Learn more about NextLight’s approach that sets it apart from the incumbent competition by listening to our interviews with officials from Longmont and LPC:

Episode 161 - Longmont Power & Communications General Manager Tom Roiniotis

 

Episode 106 - Vince Jordan, former Telecom Manager for Longmont Power and Communications

 

Episode 68 - Vince Jordan and George Oliver, co-founder of the grassroots group Friends of Fiber

 

Episode 10 - Vince Jordan

 

Image of the Longmont Public Library by Billy Hathorn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: longmontcoloradotake rateFTTHmunicomcastcompetitiongigabitmarketingrates

This PR and Marketing Firm Understands Muni Projects

muninetworks.org - November 2, 2018

For episode 329 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, our guests Deb Socia from Next Century Cities and Bob Knight of P.R. and Marketing firm Harrison Edwards discussed political will and its effect on community broadband network projects. Political will is one of many key ingredients of a successful network initiative, but it's only one of the many balls in the air that a community must juggle to get a project started and keep it healthy. As Bob mentioned in the interview, Harrison Edwards has formed an entire practice area dedicated to the special needs surrounding broadband projects. They recently launched a new website that can help interested communities learn more about what they offer.

It Isn’t All About Political Will

While getting elected officials educated and onboard with the connectivity needs of the community and helping them discover paths to improvement, moving a project forward and keeping it going strong requires much more. The Harrison Edwards team aims to also educate the community and market the campaign around the initiative. They will work to shed light on benefits for a range of stakeholders and will take necessary steps to run interference against misinformation.

Once a project has been approved, the firm will manage community expectations, market the project, and work with the press to help hit the ground running. In addition to bringing projects from idea to reality, Harrison Edwards recognizes that marketing the services offered by community networks is a skill often outside of a municipality’s wheelhouse. With effective marketing to drive up take rates, a community broadband project stands a better chance of long-term success.

Harrison Edwards has established a team whose sole focus is dedicated to community broadband projects. The team includes professionals from the public sector who have inside knowledge about the perspective of elected officials grappling with the decisions associated with these types of projects. They also maintain close ties to industry experts that have worked in the community network sphere, such as COS Systems, Foresite Group, and Nokia. Financial experts that maintain a special interest in publicly owned network projects, such as KeyBanc Capital Markets and Neighborly also partner with Harrison Edwards.

Check out their website to learn more about the services they offer community broadband projects.

Listen to episode 329 of the podcast again to hear the discussion about political will and community network projects.

Tags: marketingpoliticstake rate

Ammon Fiber Optics Declared Consumer Product of the Year in Idaho

muninetworks.org - November 1, 2018

Idaho Innovation Awards recently recognized industry leader Ammon Fiber Optics as the state’s Consumer Product of the Year. The publicly owned open access fiber network beat out companies that make expandable shoes for kids and solar power generators to win the award.

This year’s Idaho Innovation Awards event was organized by law firm Stoel Rives in cooperation with the Idaho Technology Council and Trailhead. According to the event website, it “recognizes innovations, innovative professionals and companies throughout the state” that contribute to Idaho’s economy. The other finalists for the prize were Expandals from GroFive and Kodiak from Inergy.

Belle of the Broadband Ball

Ammon, Idaho, is no stranger to accolades. In 2016, the city’s fiber network received the Community Broadband Project of the Year award from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA). Many others, including a former FCC Chairman, have applauded Ammon’s innovative open access model and funding approach.

Praise for what has become known as the “Ammon model” springs from in the many benefits the network delivers to the community. The Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network brings gigabit connectivity to the city of 15,000, while the open access design promotes competition among Internet access providers. Through software defined networking, the city has made it easy for subscribers to switch providers using an online portal. Ammon also offers affordable “lifeline” Internet access to households struggling financially to keep them connected to school and jobs. Find out how else the network is benefiting the community by listening to episode 259 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. During the interview, Christopher and Ammon's Bruce Patterson also discuss how Ammon is using local improvement districts to finance the network buildout and connect homes.

Watch the video below to learn more about Ammon’s fiber optic network:

Tags: ammonidahoFTTHawardsoftware defined networksopen access

Halloween 2018: The Legend of CenturyLink Hell

muninetworks.org - October 31, 2018

Ghastly ghouls, horrific monsters, and vile flesh-eating creatures roam the earth this night of Halloween, but none evince the evil that has of late entered the halls of ILSR. One of our own has faced the torture of an entity bent on pushing him over the precipice of human endurance, twisting his psyche with the torment of nonsense, and claiming his head for their own.

On past Halloweens we’ve written fun, spooky content about scary telecom monsters and frightening tricks; this year we relay the haunting, dramatic tale of John Farrell and The Legend of CenturyLink Hell

The Hamster Wheel of Phone Cord Purgatory

Unlike Icabod Crane of gothic New England lore, John's head has stayed firmly attached at the neck, but recent encounters with the office Internet service provider have lead him to that dark place where so many others have accidentally strayed - into the no man's land of customer service decapitation.

It all began with a new phone for the office. John, newly appointed Co-Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the head of the Democratic Energy Initiative, had ordered phones from ILSR’s Internet access provider in the past. CenturyLink, which provides VoIP, had provided the physical phones before with no issue, but this time there was no power adapter included in the package. Thinking the oversight would be easily remedied was John's first mistake ... and the first step on his journey into hell.

John reached out to the sales associate who he had worked with when ILSR switched from Comcast to CenturyLink’s fiber service. He explained that the new phone ILSR received didn’t include a power adapter and asked them to order one. To John's surprise and dismay, the sales associate told John that they couldn’t order a solo adapter and referred John to the Mac Desk at CenturyLink. He reached out to the sales people at the Mac Desk, but the answer he received was cold comfort that stirred an uneasy feeling in his bowels.

The Mac Desk sales team responded curtly. Ordering a solitary power adapter was not an option. It was not available in his admin portal, you see, and they could only place "bundled orders." John's head swimmed. In order to facilitate his request (and push him off on some one else), the Mac Desk copied the email to his sales associate — the same person sent John to the Mac Desk in the first place. Like a man wandering aimlessly in a dark, dangerous forest, John had travelled far and gone nowhere. He had made the first round trip in the loop of never ending CenturyLink insanity.

John might have escaped the madness, if he had chosen a different path, but the man's optimism took control of his drive to solve the phone cord dilemma. When the sales associate emailed the team who helped set up the network, John grasped at the possibility that they might be able to help find an adapter for the ILSR phone. Instead, the answer was deafening silence. Weeks of silence.

Fed up and near the end of his abundant patience, John tweeted at the ISP, to which CenturyLink quickly replied. In a direct message, CenturyLink promised to resolve his problem. In order to help, they suggested John buy his own adapter from Amazon, a retailer that ILSR considers a bane on the American retail economy. His head bobbing from the loose interpretation of "help," John pressed the issue to test his own sanity, and received a reply:

 

 

As those who face crippling psychological horror understand, there comes a point when the mind refuses to believe reality because it is so horrid, so gruesome, and so debilitating. Sometimes the consciousness chooses to look away from the facts to avoid descending into madness.

Unwilling to accept the nightmare of the CenturyLink situation, John stepped back to regroup. A month later, after recovering his senses and feeling his strength return, he reached out to someone from the original installation team at CenturyLink. He forcefully pointed out that he had never received a reply, that ILSR still needed and wanted an adapter after six weeks without one. He knew he was toying with the devil, but his own sanity demanded he try once last time.

This time John received a reply telling him that the power adapter was not one of the items they could order for ILSR, that perhaps he could order it on Amazon, and that the email was copied to the original sales people so they could “help.”

The Infernal Depths of the Billing Department

John is only one of thousands of people who have endured horrific customer service torture from a gigantic national ISP and his nightmare wasn’t over. Every month, John is faced with a subtle reminder of the incompetence at CenturyLink when he logs into review ILSR’s invoice. Residential subscribers have the option to download their invoice, but business subscribers such as ILSR, must engage in a time consuming, frustrating process to download their invoice for record keeping purposes. It is here, in the firey hell of the billing department, where John suffered yet another abomination.

As a Co-Director, one of John’s administrative tasks is to review and approve invoices from CenturyLink and he needs to download PDFs for record-keeping purposes. In order to do so, John cannot immediately download a PDF, he must REQUEST that a PDF be generated for download — a process that takes 20 minutes. According to our embattled hero, the amount of time it takes to send the request through the business portal, wait for the request to be honored and notification sent to the subscriber to let them know a PDF is ready for download is just about the same amount of time it takes for the portal to automatically log him out of the system. Every month, John must endure this multi-step process to get a copy of the ILSR invoice.

When he was finally pushed to the limit (around the same time as he faced the CenturyLink phone adapter insanity maze), John finally complained in his logical, patient manner. He was told by a sales associate that ILSR could be switched back to a paper invoice, but that CenturyLink is in the process of becoming an entirely paperless company, so the change would be temporary.

The same person also told John:

“As far as I am aware, and have verified with other teammates and co-workers, it’s just the unfortunate and tedious due process to get your bill. I’m sorry.”

John asked us to omit the sales associates name. "I don't want them to be punished for being honest," he said.

As all good fables, The Legend of CenturyLink Hell offers a lesson, unites us in common experience, and confirms our ideas of good versus evil. With so many subscribers choosing large national ISPs as the most hated companies in America, the common experience and interpretations of good and evil intertwine. With little or no choice of Internet access provider due to the fact that ISPs such as CenturyLink, Comcast, and AT&T have created a monopolistic lock on most of the country, our hero's lesson is a lecture he's trapped in for all eternity as long as ISPs have no reason to better serve subscribers such as ILSR.  

Image of the jack o' lantern courtesy of darf_nicht_mehr_hochladen via pixaby.

Tags: centurylinkcentury linkcustomer servicebusiness servicesfunnyhalloween

O'Rielly Hallucinates, Says Munis Violate First Amendment

muninetworks.org - October 30, 2018

On October 24th, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly spoke before the Media Institute at their “Free Speech America” Gala. In a speech for the telecom-backed group, O’Rielly delivered exactly what many of the big hitters in the audience would want to hear. He falsely accused, with nothing to back up his claims, municipal networks of posing  an “ominous threat to the First Amendment.”

Whaaaa?

Karl Bode reported on the event, noting that O’Rielly goes on to falsely claim that local governments have or will attempt to limit free speech through municipal networks. Bode immediately addressed the baseless statements and reached out to Christopher, who confirmed that, ”There is no history of municipal networks censoring anyone's speech.” Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica also wrote a well-reasoned article reminding readers that O'Rielly previously called rules to protect against censorshop by ISPs "baseless fearmongering." Huh... that sounds right. 

Apparently, the impressionable O'Rielly had been reading up before his speech and had just put down a copy of a document from the Free State Foundation, an organization funded in part by deep pocketed ISPs. The document implied that community networks would be more likely to interfere with free speech. Such is the disinformation game.

The American Civil Liberties Union has addressed this concern in the past because they oppose any efforts to censor speech, whether by government or corporations. In their paper on municipal broadband networks, they wrote:

And indeed, First Amendment principles prevent the government from targeting certain ideas or viewpoints for censorship or reduced access. Governments risk violating the Constitution if they create blacklists of disfavored websites, only permit access to “approved” websites, engage in content filtering, or ban anonymous online browsing or writing.

Subscribers living in communities with publicly owned networks often boast about how satisfied they are with their connectivity, customer service, and the benefits their networks have brought. Big ISPs and the officials they support struggle to find negative things to say about publicly owned networks. As a result, they find themselves relying on false and misleading statements to paint munis with a dark brush.

Bode also noted that publicly owned networks are accountable to subscribers and the local communities they serve, reliable, and have been rated higher than most of the large private sector national ISPs, such as Comcast, AT&T, and CenturyLink.

Christopher scoffed at O’Rielly’s statements and elaborate:

O'Rielly gets it totally backwards. Municipal networks are far less likely to censor because they are prohibited from doing so under the First Amendment. Further, because they are accountable to the community, any efforts to violate freedom of speech would likely result in new leadership for the city following the next election. In contrast, big monopolies like AT&T and Comcast Xfinity are not limited by the first amendment and have very limited accountability if they limit freedom of speech.

Tags: fccmunikarl bodechristopher mitchellnetwork neutrality

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 329

muninetworks.org - October 30, 2018

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits episode 329. In this episode, recorded at the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Ontario, California, Christopher talks with Deb Socia of Next Century Cities and Bob Knight of Harrison Edwards about political will and community broadband projects. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Deb Socia: It's all about ensuring that the citizens are engaged and excited and you are sharing information all the time. And then you end up with a success like that. It's great to hear about those stories.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 329 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher is back from the 2018 Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Ontario, California. While he was there, he recorded several interviews, including this week's episode. Deb Socia from Next Century Cities is back on the podcast, and a first time guest, Bob Knight from PR and Marketing firm, Harrison Edwards joins in. The topic for today is political will. Deb, Bob, and Christopher discuss how political will, or the lack of it, is such a key element in communities considering publicly-owned broadband infrastructure. Bob shares some sobering observations from his company, and the three talk about possible reasons for the challenges behind mustering political will to move beyond discussion to implementation. They also get into the ripple effects that are negatively impacting local communities, and they provide some pointers on what constituents can do to help their elected officials who need the political will to move forward. Now, here's Christopher, Deb, and Bob discussing political will and community network projects.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Ontario, California at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference with another set of live interviews. We're going to talk today with Deb Socia, the executive director of Next Century Cities and past guest. Welcome back to the show, Deb.

Deb Socia: Wonderful to be here. Thanks, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: And we have a new guest that I've been wanting to have on for some time now: the one, the only, Bob Knight — not the basketball coach.

Bob Knight: Duck!

Christopher Mitchell: [laughs] Bob is a partner at Harrison Edwards. Bob, what is Harrison Edwards?

Bob Knight: So we're a strategic public relations firm, a strategic communications firm, a digital marketing firm, and we have many areas of expertise including economic development, government, healthcare, and we've been in the broadband space also for about three or four years now.

Christopher Mitchell: And yeah, I was going to say, I see you at all of these events. You've been reading, hoovering up all the material you can find to think about these sorts of things.

Bob Knight: And certainly listening to the podcast. There is so much great information out there, and our team is really excited to be working with communities and some of our partners on some really interesting projects. Actually we have the only dedicated broadband team in the US in our space.

Christopher Mitchell: And you're located out just outside of New York City. What's happening in Westchester?

Bob Knight: That's really interesting. So we helped the Westchester County Association launched Gigabit Westchester. This was in 2016, and it was a really interesting project at the time. They put together a compact of the four cities in Westchester County — so about half a million people — and the object was to bring gigabit speed broadband to the entire county starting with the four cities. The [county has] about million people, so it's a big project. I think they are finding their way. The Federal Reserve has been a bit involved. Jordana Barton, who I believe has been on on this podcast before —

Christopher Mitchell: I'm not sure if she has or not. She certainly should be, but we've talked about her ideas frequently in terms of using banking regulator tools to improve access.

Bob Knight: So the Federal Reserve right there looking at the economy and they're taking a big look at the digital divide and those issues. And they've identified that basically, without digital inclusion, without access to high speed broadband, digital divide equals economic divide. And our nation's economy really depends on the deployment of high speed broadband. So they see this coming down the pike and they're saying, you know, we're facing downward mobility in our nation without high speed broadband. It's a very, very serious issue. Probably one of the most serious issues facing the US.

Christopher Mitchell: And Deb, what's going on in Next Century Cities? Any exciting news? How many cities do you have now?

Deb Socia: We have 190 member cities, towns, and counties across the country and growing every day. So it's pretty exciting. We do have an event coming up, and it's in Hartford, Connecticut, and our keynote speaker is Gigi Sohn, the wonderful Gigi. And we've got several panels: one of a panel of mayors being moderated by state senator, Beth Bye, and a panel on financing, a panel on successful models. So a lot of really interesting information that we can share with local leadership.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I'm looking forward to it. I'll be there. We're going to talk about political will today — something that, Deb, I know you have intimate experience with and something that actually was prompted by Bob after you gave a presentation on it at the recent Great Lakes Connect. So, I'd like to start off by asking you, Bob, why is it important to build political will? And then we're gonna come back to Deb to get some more examples.

Bob Knight: Just for background purposes, my business partner, Carolyn Mandelker, and I both have political backgrounds. She sits on a planning and zoning commission and used to run political campaigns in New York City, and I'm formerly an economic development official. So having worked and continue to work with government from the inside, we really have a keen understanding of what makes projects tick and why certain projects move forward and why other projects just lament for years and years. And at Great Lakes Connect, to the point that you made, it was really interesting — sort of timing is everything in life. I had given a session on building political will and making the case for project funding. I was doing [it] with Tom Coverick from KeyBank. And the issue throughout the entire conference, it came up in every single session, was you have to have political will to be successful, or oh, how do you build political will? We were hearing from a lot of people. This statistic is startling: 90 percent of broadband projects that have come about throughout the nation actually are not moving forward.

Christopher Mitchell: Of community broadband projects.

Bob Knight: Community broadband projects are not moving forward. It's probably even closer to 95 percent. And there are several factors, but really the main reason is a lack of political will, a lack of community engagement. So we want to change that.

Christopher Mitchell: And you would define that as where the city council takes the idea seriously, the mayor, [and] maybe they form a subcommittee, something like that, but it doesn't go further than that. That's what you're talking about.

Bob Knight: Yes. What happens is that it fails at the polls. It fails. The project fails to get a council vote. And what we're seeing a lot of is when you look at who the project managers are at a municipal level, it's typically a chief information officer or director of finance or a director of technology. By nature — and the word bureaucrat is not a bad word, but by nature those appointed officials typically are a little more insular, and they're looking at budgets and project timelines, and they sort of work behind the scenes. That's what they do versus an elected who's out in the community. So very often the first time a project sort of sees the light of day, it's daylight and it's like agenda item number three or four on a council meeting. Then all of a sudden the public has its backup because these are not inexpensive projects. So the public has some questions. The local reporter is sitting in the council meeting if you still have a local reporter in your community —

Christopher Mitchell: Let's hope.

Bob Knight: Let's hope, and all of a sudden, you know, there's a reaction. And then the city council members become a little scared, and they say, "Well, let's study this further" or "Let's ask some more questions." And we get on this wheel of delay, delay, study, study, and projects are not moving forward.

Christopher Mitchell: So Deb, is this what you've seen as well, or would you come up political will in a different way?

Deb Socia: I think political will is essential if you're going to be successful in any of these projects. But I think the thing that people forget to do is to make sure that they back up and they bring a lot of people on board with them because there's a lot of power in numbers. Right? So when you think about, for example, what happened in Charlotte with Charlotte Hearts Gigabit, which provided the elected officials with a lot of backing before they ever got to the council to deal with making change —

Christopher Mitchell: In this case, to bring Google in.

Deb Socia: To bring Google in. But, think about Mayor Durel from Lafayette, Louisiana, who did the same thing. He went to the people, he talked to folks, he got stories, he got backing, and then he got the project off the ground. And I feel like that's something that sometimes people forget. I think that was the same thing in Chattanooga that when you talk to the mayor of Chattanooga, he is well versed. He's got his talking points, and he's very supportive of the project, and he's supportive of the community. And I think there's a way to make that happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I think one of the reasons that I was excited when Bob suggested this as a topic is something that I've seen and I'm curious to get both of your reactions to this. I don't want to pick on two Next Century Cities member cities, but in this case, I think it's illustrative. Palo Alto has had a successful dark fiber network for many years. We're talking 20 years, and that has generated more than $20 million of revenue, which has kind of been softly earmarked for future fiber related projects. They have not mastered the political will to do hardly anything with that, and in fact they seem paralyzed in many ways. Now I just want to compare that to Mount Vernon where when I talk to Mount Vernon and I say, hey, you know, it's just amazing to me what you've done with almost $0 because they had all of this desire and will and a sharp person, who is just thinking I have a paper clip and a rubber band, and I've got to figure out how to improve connectivity with it. And I asked him one time, you know, like, what would you do if you just had like a few million dollars sitting around? And his mind was blown. He was like, there's so many things we could do. And I think that there's just a difference in mindset. I don't want to ask you to comment specifically on those cities necessarily, but I'm just curious about that dynamic where I feel like you just see a difference. And it's not about whether or not you have resources. It's not about your bond rating. There's a different thing that determines whether or not you're going to take action to improve Internet access locally.

Deb Socia: I think part of the struggle is that by nature governments are risk averse, and you do take a chance when you are putting forth a big project with a big dollar amount attached. And I think we need to help folks think about how to mitigate that risk so that their political future is not at stake. And I think that's been an issue for a lot of mayors. The mayors who step up like Joey Durel, like the mayor of Mount Vernon, Mayor Boudreau, our mayors who are saying to heck with it, this is way more important than my future career. This is way —

Christopher Mitchell: Like Mayor Dana Kirkham, like long before she know how popular it was —

Deb Socia: In Ammon, Idaho, right? These are mayors who really step up and say, I've got to go for this because it's about quality of life for my citizens.

Bob Knight: You know, it's interesting. There's a real interesting dichotomy here when you look at government. You know, how do we measure success? In the private sector, we measure success by showing results. In government, we measure success by following a process, and sometimes results don't have to be equated with that just as long as you're following the process. So there is that inherent tension between the private sector and the public sector in [that] are these broadband projects a success if they keep getting delayed and delayed and delayed further? I would venture to say no, but those internal, in the workings of government, would venture to say yes.

Christopher Mitchell: Before you get to your next point, Bob, I really want to just clarify something that I think we're on the same page on, which is that a community might say, no, this doesn't work for us and that might be the right decision. Right? None of us are suggesting that every city should be moving forward with a specific plan. I think what you are specifically talking about is cities that are basically refusing to make a decision. they're kicking the can down the road.

Bob Knight: Yes, that's right.

Christopher Mitchell: I just want to make sure people are clear that we're not saying every city that has said this doesn't work for us, we're not saying that was the wrong decision. We're talking about the vast majority of those 90 percent in that figure that you cite are where they mostly have not made a decision

Bob Knight: As an industry, we're really not operating with a sense of urgency. The industry isn't, and at the municipal level, we're not. I sort of feel, and this is my own personal opinion, that the window of opportunity is closing for community broadband projects because the big incumbents, they're out there, they're lobbying in the state legislatures. Some of these bills are actually getting out of committee, and they're going to be just throwing small cells up, you know, wherever they want to. The FCC has been very friendly towards that. And so communities are basically like, look, we're still gonna, need the fiber for the backhaul for the small cells and for forthcoming 5G networks, but we're going to be going from a position of power and offense to one of defense, where we're going to be supporting the carriers deployment plans rather than looking at what's gonna be best for each community as a whole. What problems are we trying to solve in the community versus how do we support profits? Very, very different distinction.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I want to come back to your point in a second. Deb, I know you want to jump in, but I also wanted to know, I've been saying this for years that I feel like the window is sort of closing — not in the sense that it will be closed in the way that I think you might be more afraid of, but certainly that the business cases get harder every year because the market becomes more fractured with new business models.

Deb Socia: I think one of the things we have to recognize is the daily reality of the life of a mayor and understanding why they get so stuck. Right? So, if you are mayor, you get phone calls about graffiti, potholes, the streets torn up . . .

Christopher Mitchell: Dog waste.

Deb Socia: Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: Garbage cans.

Deb Socia: And so, I feel like their day is so full of managing that, that sometimes it's hard to take that long look. And I think that it's really helpful for a mayor to step back and have a process in place that includes citizen input that can help them move forward and move past that sort of [problem of] I got to take care of these daily issues — which by the way, for them are small wins. Small wins are good wins. And so helping people look at the future and think here's a big win and this win makes a difference in the life of our residents.

Christopher Mitchell: I like that idea a lot. I would have actually put it on the citizens and the local businesses to say you have to force the mayor to do that good job, but you're putting some of that responsibility more on the mayor to say you need to have a process that is thinking along these lines. I think that's a really good point.

Bob Knight: Well, I think it's actually both, and I want to underscore Deb's point because it's an excellent point. You know, when I was an economic development official sitting in our first selectman's (which is like a mayor) office, and we were talking about attracting a significant company to the town. And I just remember this vividly. He had to get up, pick up the phone because Mrs. Jones was calling because one of the town snowplows took out her mailbox and you know, we had to fix it. And you're right, those are very important, those little victories, politically. You know, when we look at stakeholders, it is the role of the mayor to drive the process. It's the role of other champions and government to drive the process. But it should also be a bottom up approach. And in engaging stakeholders, how you build political will, you build stakeholder will. And I think our industry, when we say stakeholders, engaging stakeholders, I've heard a lot of tactics, but I haven't seen a lot of strategies in place across the country. So groups will say, well, we're going to have a meetup or we're going to have a hive — that's my favorite one. I have no idea what a hive is, and I've been in marketing for for 15 years, but all I know is as someone allergic to bees, I'm staying away from it. The reality is that we're really not engaging the entire community, and this should be an entire community project. We're typically a speaking to young white guys in tech who may benefit from broadband initially, but we're not speaking to our seniors. Guess who goes out to council meetings, guess who votes. It's our seniors. How are they going to benefit from the network? How are your anchor institution is going to benefit from the network? You know, I'm giving a talk today on healthcare. Robust telehealth networks are critical to the profitability of hospitals, often the major employers in most communities. So really, you know, think about the community as a whole and your strategy. And when you engage the community as a whole, you're making your project evergreen because elected officials change. We have elections. Appointed officials leave. But if the community wants it, that project is gonna is gonna live on through change.

Deb Socia: I'd like to jump in and just say, you know, we created a toolkit for cities about tech powered civic engagement, and one of the five important principles we outlined in that was work "with" and not "for." So you're not doing this for somebody, you're doing this with somebody, and when it's a shared goal, there is much more power in it. And I agree, it outlives whomever the elected official might be — outlives their office, not them personally. But I think it's all about building trust, right? It's building trust in the community and transparency and allowing the voice of citizens who are impacted by this potential change to really be heard.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the realities about political will that I think people may not be aware of is how the ecosystem around building these networks is potentially harmed by this perpetual kicking the can down the road. You know, there are supplier companies, consultants. There's a whole range of people that are essential to make sure that communities can build a successful community network. And Bob, you were talking about some of the stresses that some of these folks are facing. I personally know that symmetrical networks had come into this space, tried to work with several cities, and then exited this space because they had this sense that cities just weren't making decisions and they couldn't just go year after year, paying a staff ready to move, you know, at a moment's notice only to have them sitting around in their office doing very little.

Bob Knight: Well, that's right. And, even the multinationals are having a hard time, coming to conferences, talking to cities, working with partners. And these projects really aren't moving forward at the speed that they need to, and some of our colleagues and friends, who we see quite often, they're all saying, God, I'm having a hard time selling this up the food chain that we should be devoting this time and expertise. So —

Christopher Mitchell: Internally in their companies.

Bob Knight: Internally in their company, which puts the broadband industry and it puts communities at risk because we're going to start losing some really good talent that we've all sort of cultivated in bringing to the table for these communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, just to explain that dynamic briefly, because I think too many people think of a company as sort of like a monolithic entity. Why is it important to sell something up the food chain in a supplier company?

Bob Knight: In the private sector, we're always looking at at P and L, profits and losses, and even nonprofit organizations have to have to make money. So if a company is going to invest in sending their people to conferences, there's travel costs associated, or to go out and meet with communities, again, travel costs associated in terms of new business development. They want to see some sort of return on that investment. It's the results, it's the ROI. And if it's not going to be profitable in the broadband industry, if projects are not going to move forward, these companies are going to say, well, maybe let's focus elsewhere in some of our other areas in other product lines and reassign talent. It's a very real threat, and I've been hearing it more and more from several of our partners and others.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. It's distressing, but I understand why it is.

Bob Knight: It is. I mean, look, we're okay at Harrison Edwards. We have several practice verticals, and we're doing some business, we're working with communities across the nation — you know, we're doing okay. And as an owner of a company, we have a long runway and I can control that runway, but there are others who may be in middle management or even fairly senior who are having a harder case. And they have to answer to shareholders at the end of the day too.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's wrap up with a discussion about what you do if you're a member of the community, if you're not an elected official or the mayor, to build political will because I think we've come at this often with what the city council and mayor should be doing. And so, I often think of this as a tripod, in that if you're a citizen, you want to have some support from the business community and the residents — that's one leg of the tripod. Another is city staff. You don't want city staff to be totally opposed to the project because they can veto it even though, you know, public policy doesn't necessarily take into account the opinions of staff officially, they certainly have a lot of power to shape these things. And then the other is your elected officials. So there's sort of three legs of the tripod you have to be thinking about. Deb, can you share? Does that makes sense to you? Have you seen examples of that?

Deb Socia: It really does. And you know, I referred to Charlotte Hearts Gigabit earlier. They really started with the business community, got the business community together, and then spread out to the citizens. All the while, they stayed in communication and collaborated with city staff and elected officials. And they were very successful, and I'm not saying because they got Google. They were very successful as a group of people gaining and garnering energy behind this movement. And I think that's a very powerful message for people to remember, is that you bring people in early and often and you share as much information as you can and you are at the same time as a group of citizens, both pushing the process forward and pulling the elected officials with you.

Bob Knight: I think it's really important when we're talking about community — I'm gonna say something a little controversial now.

Christopher Mitchell: Uh oh, here we go.

Bob Knight: I can just imagine. Here's the little clip before the show: I'm going to say something controversial now. Here's the promo. Our industry relies heavily on social media and broadband champions within the community. And I'm here to say that's maybe not such a reliable resource. Champions are great, but at the end of the day they are volunteers and champions have been known to go off message. There was a meeting of champions in one of the Colorado towns, I'm not going to name it by name, where they had put together, you know, a dozen champions in the various neighborhoods and they held a meeting. And two of the champions, two of the 12, show up and they're off message. They're actually even a little bit negative about the process because they had read something in the newspaper that incumbent had planted, some of that deliberate misinformation that our company tries to correct the record on. So you always have to be wary that yes, a bottom up approach is great, but you do need a little bit of that top down, that three legged stool that Deb was just discussing. Proper community engagement leads to three things: shorter project timelines because the community is behind it, so therefore there's political coverage; there's less cost because the projects don't drag out and further studies and more and more and legal battles; and also stronger take rates. If the community is behind it, they're gonna want [it]. You know, once people get broadband, boy, they sign up for it in a heartbeat. And that's really, really critical. Having the community there, man, these projects move forward.

Bob Knight: I think that's a really good spot to end. Deb, did you want to have any concluding comments?

Deb Socia: Let's just say that I think about some of the things we've heard here already at broadband communities in Ontario and that's, you know, Sandy, Oregon, has a 68 percent take rate, right? I mean that's because the community really cares and the community's really engaged. And Chattanooga, Tennessee announced their hundred thousandth customer. Again, just it's all about ensuring that the citizens are engaged and excited and you are sharing information all the time, and then you end up with a success like that. It's great to hear about those stories.

Christopher Mitchell: And Mr. Knight, would you like to finish up with a concluding comment?

Bob Knight: Well, it actually in cases like that, it's great, and then you switch your campaign to managing expectations, right? You say this all the time, Deb. Government is great at building infrastructure, lousy at operating it. So what happens when you have 68 percent of the community or 100,000 subscribers, you need the infrastructure to set them up, you need the human resources. So there is that messaging.

Christopher Mitchell: I wouldn't have said that Deb said lousy. So Deb, why don't you respond?

Deb Socia: I would say they are great at building infrastructure. They've been doing it for years. They don't always want to manage it, and it is not always in their wheelhouse to manage it. And so I would say it that way. I wouldn't say they're lousy at it. The folks that choose to do it actually are really doing it quite well.

Christopher Mitchell: Well and I think your point is that the things that you do well, Bob, are the things that are really challenging for communities in terms of managing the message and and rapidly changing the message that you're putting out in the media if, you know, you need to on a regular basis in terms of your marketing campaigns and things like that.

Bob Knight: So we actually just launched a brand new website just for this. It's called PRforBroadband.com. PR, like public relations. PRforBroadband.com. And it actually shows the process of building political will, building, community engagement, and also you know how we go about, you know, helping to build higher take rates too. And it really shows what sidelines these projects and really how to help communities become more successful. We want to turn that 90 to 95 percent number around, flip it on its head, and make sure all these community broadband projects are successful.

Christopher Mitchell: Good. Well thanks for your passion. Thanks for coming on to talk with us today.

Bob Knight: Can't be anything but passionate about broadband.

Deb Socia: Thanks for having us, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Deb Socia and Bob Knight. They were discussing political will and community broadband network projects. 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 and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 329 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript
Syndicate content