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Up North Blandin Border to Border Conference Reminder!

muninetworks.org - October 20, 2017

Next week’s Border to Border Broadband Conference from the Blandin Foundation promises to be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people with an eye on infrastructure. This year, the event is titled “Bridging the Gaps - Expanding the Impact” and will take place at Madden’s on Gull Lake. If you haven’t already made your plans, now is an excellent time to plan on heading up north to enjoy some fall weather, Minnesota style. 

The folks at Blandin shared more information about the event and we want to pass it on to you:

Minnesota is hosting its annual Border to Border Broadband Conference October 25-26 in beautiful Brainerd Minnesota on Gull Lake.  Come learn about Minnesota's broadband innovative broadband infrastructure grant program that has had a significant impact on broadband deployment in some of the most rural places in Minnesota. 

Blandin Foundation will present new research demonstrating the impact of investment in broadband infrastructure and adoption on five rural Minnesota communities where world-class broadband is meeting smart economic development strategies.

Providers and communities will host eight interactive learning stations showcasing successful rural projects funded through Minnesota’s Border-to-Border grant program.

Pre-conference sessions will include a Broadband 101 Workshop and a Digital Inclusion Showcase:

Laura Withers, Director of Communications, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association; Roberto Gallardo, Assistant Director, Purdue Center for Regional Development; and Aaron Brown, Iron Range storyteller, blogger (http://minnesotabrown.com/)  and broadband advocate; are among the conference’s featured speakers.

Learn more at the conference website.

Tags: minnesotablandin foundationeventruralinfrastructureconferencecooperativepartnershipgrant

Local Voices Support Muni Telecom Utility In Fort Collins

muninetworks.org - October 19, 2017

With election season fast approaching, Fort Collins is buzzing with the possibility of municipal broadband entering the quaint Colorado town. In addition to talk among neighbors, advocates supporting the measure are expressing themselves with letters to the local media.

If ballot measure 2B is voted through, it would allow the city charter to be amended to include high-speed Internet as a municipal utility. It’s been two years since Fort Collins and other Colorado communities opted out of SB 152. And this November they’ll vote on whether municipal broadband should be an option for their community.

Talk of Muni Broadband Bubbles Up

Recent op-eds have raised the ballot issue and unflinchingly come down in support for municipal broadband. Zach Shelton, a Fort Collins dentist explained in his piece that

In order to continue to grow and facilitate healthy families and communities, we must have access to reliable and fast Internet that can connect our medical record system and servers between offices. Broadband is the glue that connects all of us in the medical field and has increasingly become an equally important tool in our doctor bag.

David Austin-Groen admits his initial apathy to the municipal broadband debate, but concedes, finding foresight, and gets right to the heart of the problem:

We simply cannot rely on the private sector to provide this service, if they ever do, and we certainly can’t live on hope that they will act in the community's best interest.

Community members and organizations have begun a lively debate over the issue. The Citizens Broadband Coalition is actively advocating for a yes vote on the ballot measure. Colorado State University recently hosted a presentation and panel discussion that shed light on both sides of the debate.

This isn't the first that locals have written to the news to show that they believe Fort Collins is capable of offering high-quality Internet access. This summer, resident Ray Franklin wrote in to compliment the city's knowledgeable staff. He pointed out that personnel will be a major factor if the community moves forward with the municipal telecommunications utility. "Does the city have the right technical staffing for the job? My answer is an unqualified yes."

Tim Tillson of Fort Collins urged voters to look to the future when considering how to vote:

The argument that 1 gigabit is more than any application needs is like arguing that Los Angeles doesn't need four-lane freeways because no car is four lanes wide. It's about total traffic, and how demand will grow as internet applications needing higher capacity are deployed nationwide.

Competition is Key

David Austin-Groer has taken heed to this essential aspect of the community-owned fiber model and emphasizes its ability to also strengthen local economy. “Fast internet makes Fort Collins competitive, attractive to current and new businesses, and new residents to empower our local economy.”

A New Approach

Fort Collins was in talks with potential private sector partner Axia after voters opted out of SB 152, but the prospective deal fell through. With that option off the table, and with the potential pitfalls that accompany public-private partnerships, creating a publicly owned broadband utility is considered a good option. As echoed by many commentators, the town's economic viability is dependent on high-quality connectivity; passing this ballot measure would be a critical step in getting closer to that goal. The discussion will no doubt hurdle on and in the coming weeks, Fort Collins may have a new tool for building local power.

Tags: fort collinscoloradoelectionutilitylettermediasb 152

AT&T Accused of Digital Redlining in Detroit

muninetworks.org - October 18, 2017

In Detroit, AT&T is facing a formal FCC complaint accusing the telecom giant of deploying discriminatory “digital redlining” tactics. This is the second such complaint filed against the telecommunications giant since the first of the year.

Demanding Equality in Connectivity

The complaint filed by civil rights attorney Daryl Parks says the FCC violated the Communications Act which forbids unjust and unreasonable discrimination. A month earlier, Parks filed a similar complaint on behalf of three Cleveland residents. In both instances, Parks and community members maintain that AT&T is withholding high-speed Internet from minority neighborhoods that have higher poverty rates.

These complaints fall under Title II of the Communications Act, which contains not only net neutrality rules but important consumer protections regarding discrimination. Title II SEC. 202. [47 U.S.C. 202] (a) clearly specifies:

It shall be unlawful for any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.

The first complaint filed in Cleveland last March was prompted by a report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Connect Your Community group. Their analysis concluded that the disparities among neighborhoods are a product of over a decade of deliberate infrastructure investment decisions, resulting in digital redlining. Their well-documented maps help visualize these disparities among neighborhoods.

The Roots of Redlining

Redlining is defined as denying or withholding services to residents of a certain area based on its ethnic or racial demographic. Redlining has been deployed for decades, most notably by the banking sector and their mortgage lending departments. Beginning in the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) compiled homeowner data for booming cities— primarily in the rust belt— and they drafted maps with red outlining city blocks containing “undesirable inhabitant types” of high-risk. The maps were sectioned off into four categories: Grade A (“highly desirable”), Grade B (“somewhat desirable”), Grade C (“declining”), and red were Grade D (“to be avoided”). In Richmond for example, the damning red of Grade D was almost exclusively assigned to areas described as “negro”. The historical consequences have been disastrous, primarily for low-income communities of color across the nation.

This history, coupled with the onslaught of ballooning telecom monopolies following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, created a favorable environment for disinvestment in low-income neighborhoods. From the mid-1990s onward, FCC regulators have allowed numerous monopolies to form under the condition that they strive to provide universal service— this same sentiment was echoed with the recent merging of AT&T and DirectTV. But in the absence of any real FCC oversight, these mega companies are willfully ignoring agreed upon terms and neglecting to invest in less profitable areas like the lower income neighborhoods in Detroit and Cleveland. The same neighborhoods that were subjected to racist housing policies and loan services more than eighty years ago lack high-speed Internet access.

NDIA’s report does not specifically invoke race or ethnicity— opting for the phrasing ‘lower-income neighborhoods’. The socio-economic realities of these communities, a result of the banking industries mid-century redlining tactics, has become the impetus for new types of discriminatory investment in these same areas. Moreover, the current low-income status’ of neighborhoods in Detroit and Cleveland are very much a product of earlier redlining tactics by mortgage lenders. This low-income status is now being touted as a rationale for skirting telecommunication investment (“digital redlining”) in these neighborhoods. Bottom line: high-speed Internet service isn’t offered based on your individual income levels, it’s very much dependent on where you live.

AT&T is avoiding investment in low-income communities because they don’t expect substantial returns. Private companies need ever-increasing profit that will keep their shareholders happy. It’s the same logic for not investing in rural communities. Parks argues that in these communities of color, AT&T is knowingly or not, perpetuating an oppressive legacy rooted in racism and demands a shift from this damaging legacy.

Exploiting Already Underserved Communities

The FCC complaint cites Dr. Brian Whitcare’s analysis of publicly available datasets submitted by AT&T on its Form 477. Whitcare specifically looked at Detroit and found that AT&T hasn’t made significant investments to support its improved fiber technology in census blocks with poverty rates above 35 percent.

Joan Marsh, AT&T’s chief regulatory and external affairs officer plainly stated

“We do not redline,” adding “Our investment decisions are based on the cost of deployment and demand for our services and are of course fully compliant with the requirements of the Communications Act.”

When AT&T and DirectTV merged in 2015, there was a clear condition mandated by the FCC: AT&T would be required to offer an affordable Internet plan for low-income households. AT&T created a program called “Access” that allowed low-income residents access to their lowest-tier 3 Mbps plan for $5 per month. But because of insufficient infrastructure in many sectors of Detroit (outdated copper wires), many households’ maximum download speeds topped out around 1.5 Mbps. As in Cleveland, AT&T’s decrepit infrastructure in these communities created atrocious download speeds that, through an absurd loophole, allowed AT&T to manipulate the mandated FCC terms and deny these households enrollment in the Access program. The sole remaining option for households deemed ineligible for the Access program was a normal plan that was six times the cost. That said, it appears AT&T has revised the stipulations recently so these households can join the Access program and pay a reduced rate for their sluggish Internet.

Even with the revised plan, Parks adamantly opposes the poor connectivity and service being doled out to Detroit's low-income and historically disadvantaged communities of color.

"There are some commodities we ensure people have. We don't give people inferior water service if they live in the wrong area. We don't give people inferior electric service if they're living in the wrong area."

Tags: detroitmichiganlow-incomelawsuitfccclevelandnational digital inclusion alliancedigital divideinfrastructureincumbent

Garrett County Builds Better Connections By Combining Technologies in Rural Maryland - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 275

muninetworks.org - October 17, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 275 - Natural Resources Business Specialist Cheryl DeBerry and CIO Nathaniel Watkins

Maryland may be home to our nation’s bustling, urban capital, but on the other side of the state are the Appalachians and many rural communities that struggle with poor Internet access. One of those communities is Garrett County. Residents, businesses, and institutions have limped along for years using outdated connections.  Some people don’t have any access to the Internet; all that is changing.

In episode 275 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, the county’s Natural Resources Business Specialist Cheryl DeBerry and county CIO Nathanial Watkins join Christopher to discuss the initiative that is changing the local connectivity landscape.

Cheryl, Nathaniel, and Christopher discuss the project that combines fiber, fixed wireless, and TV white space technologies in order to reach people and businesses across the county. They also talk about how a significant portion of people in the rural community simple can’t afford the high cost of satellite and how mobile Internet access just doesn’t cut it in a rural area like Garrett County. Cheryl describes how the project is an economic development initiative and Nathaniel shares more details about their need to combine technologies and the results.

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

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: garrett county mdmarylandappalachiansruralregionaleconomic developmentfixed wirelessmobilewhite spacespodcastaudiobroadband bits

Eastern Tennessee: Newport Smart Grid, Morristown Incubator

muninetworks.org - October 17, 2017

Approximately 30 miles separate Morristown and Newport, but the two are joining forces to better connect local businesses and residents as entrepreneurs take up residence in the region's newest high-tech work space.

An Incubator for Innovation in Morristown

SkyMart Venture Place is a new cooperative workspace stirring innovation in the quaint downtown district of Morristown.

Morristown was on the forefront of implementing city-wide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) back in 2006. Today their gigabit network MUS FiberNET is fostering innovation in this thriving co-working space and helping neighboring communities bridge their connectivity gaps. Lynn Wolfe explains that the new space has helped support her in the early stages of her business. “[SkyMVP] gives me a place—with super-fast internet—to come and do my internet marketing, and it has been very beneficial for that and being able to upload my training videos,” Wolfe said.

SkyMVP’s doors opened in August of last year and it’s become a hub for local entrepreneurs. The space allows members to hold workshops, rent office space, and network with other professionals.

Similar incubator projects are underway in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley and Indianola, Iowa. SkyMVP is yet another example of how gigabit connectivity can spur positive transformations for local communities. Morristown’s decision to invest in FTTH infrastructure is emboldening their local economy and potential for small business growth in the area is promising. Sky MVP has even begun offering a course for budding entrepreneurs and a handful of free workshops.

Expanding the 'Net in Newport

Morristown’s leap in connectivity is spreading. Morristown Utility Commission (MUC) is partnering with Newport Utilities (NU) to expand Internet connectivity in the region. MUC and Newport officially announced a 7-year contract in which MUC will supply NU wholesale Internet access and third-party Voice over IP services.

As part of a smart grid project, Newport is able to capitalize on their proximity and relationship with Morristown and bring better connectivity to residents, businesses, and other entities. The initial stages of laying 13 miles of the community-owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks is underway and Newport residents expect to start obtaining services from NU Connect by January 1st.

This is an exciting development for building local power and expanding connectivity, but it also has the potential to become a model for other similarly situated communities. The agreement has allowed Newport to improve its local telecommunications at a cheaper cost than if it had to deploy the project from the ground up. Inline with other FTTH communities in Tennessee, Newport Utilities plans to offer a affordable monthly plan; $40 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) and gigabit access is available for $100 per month. All speeds are symmetrical.

Newport recently received a $21 million loan from the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to expand their smart grid project, which will allow them to bring high-quality connectivity to their entire service area. The smart grid applications will also allow NU to maximize the electric system's efficiencies and reduce outages. They anticipate construction to be completed during 2018.  

Tags: gigabittennesseeincubatorFTTHnewporteconomic developmententrepreneurshipmorristownruralmunismart-grid

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 274

muninetworks.org - October 16, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer join the show from Mason County, Washington, to discuss how a publicly-owned network delivers high-speed Internet service throughout the county. Listen to this episode here.

Justin Holzgrove: They didn't bring pitchforks, but they brought their pens and they were ready to sign up with their checkbooks. And they said, "Bring it on. We want this now."

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Public Utility District 3 in Mason County, Washington, delivers symmetrical gigabit connectivity to every customer in its service area. They have no speed, capacity or data thresholds. You have access to a gigabit regardless of whether you are in a rural area or within city limits and whether or not you're a household, business, or one of the ISPs that work with PUD 3. This week Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer from PUD 3 in Mason County spent some time talking with Christopher about how the Public Utility District is working to bring high quality connectivity to each customer. In addition to describing their plan to build out and manage their network, Justin and Joel share the story of how connectivity has come to be offered from PUDs in Washington. Now here's Christopher with Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer talking about Public Utility District 3 in Mason County, Washington.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I am Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with Justin Holzgrove the Telecommunications and Community Relations Manager up at Mason County's Public Utility District number 3. Welcome to the show.

Justin Holzgrove: Hey how's it going?

Christopher Mitchell: It's going well. I'm excited to learn more about what you're doing. But first I have to introduce our other guest. Joel Myer the Public Information and Government Relations Manager at PUD number 3. Welcome to the show.

Joel Myer: Thank you it's a beautiful day in the Fiberhood.

Christopher Mitchell: That's good. Joel I'd like to start with you. Could you just tell us a little bit about maybe Mason County, how it's situated, and a little bit of the background of the Public Utility District.

Joel Myer: Sure. Mason PUD 3 is located on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The main city in our service territory is the city of Shelton. The county has about 60 somewhat thousand residents, and it's relatively defined by natural resources including forest and aquaculture. We have a large number of seasonal customers that we serve for Mason County PUD number 3. About 25% of our customers as a matter of fact are seasonal, they come here for the beautiful views, the water and the forest. But we have approximately 34,000 customers that we serve with electricity but we also of course as is the focus of this interview have a fiber optic network that supports our network and also provides services via wholesale to customers throughout. But in terms of the history of PUD 3, it's an interesting rocky start but I think that it is proved for the customers of Mason County a real benefit. The Washington State Grange back in the 1920s was very upset that there wasn't enough electricity being brought out to rural areas in Washington State and if it was brought out by the companies that provide electricity at that time, it was brought out at extremely high cost and high rates. In the 1920s the Grange started a petition drive in Washington State and Washington State's initiative number one, the very first one that was brought to the legislature in the state's history to form Public Utility District for electricity and a number of other services that are outlined in the state law. It got onto the ballot and was overwhelmingly approved. Mason County PUD number 3 and its partner that were the only county in Washington State as two operating public utility districts within its boundaries PUD 1. PUD 1 started service in 1934, PUD 3 had to go through a long list of legal challenges until in 1939 we were authorized by the state supreme court to start serving customers. Our first customer base was eight customers and that's grown over the years as it's gone forth but public utility districts in general and Mason PUD 3 in particular has always had kind of the long view. What do our customers need to be successful in either their home life or in their businesses? How could we provide better service to do that? We've just slowly grown our systems benefits and its capabilities to meet that. In the late 1990s we started looking at using the fiber optic network to support our facilities and in 2000 the state legislature authorized the authority to sell wholesale. But Justin has a lot more information of how we went from there.

Justin Holzgrove: I think it's a really great story when we talk about the origins of public utility districts, how they were formed for the very purpose of bringing a required utility, a necessary utility, an essential utility to the rural communities in that case it was the electricity. We take that for granted now but today, we're looking at that as high speed broadband as an essential utility, and we're working as a public utility to bring high speed broadband to communities that are in the rural setting, rural context that don't have other options for high speed Internet. We see a lot of parallels between the electrification of rural Mason County, rural America if you will and the high speed broadband infrastructure being put into rural America. We're happy to continue our legacy to help support our customers in that way.

Christopher Mitchell: Justin I get a sense that with the utility district the fiber was probably built first to support actual infrastructure probably electricity, water services maybe, but the infrastructure that you are already doing.

Justin Holzgrove: Yes absolutely that's correct. The primary goal of our fiber optic network is to support as you said electrical infrastructure. That means we network our facilities in the field such as substations or reclosers, regulators, different offices. We have several communications towers throughout Mason County. We have the fiber backbone too and they support things like our grid modernization project, advance metering infrastructure and our radio system. So they are increasingly communicating to each other and operate the system. We do have a very extensive fiber network throughout Mason County, but it is primarily backbone and part of our history on that is when we first started putting this up there was a great interest from some of the larger customers as well, as we were putting this up. They had a real need for higher bandwidth services. As we expanded for electrical needs, we also were able to pick up a couple of our larger customers. We had goals of picking up our top 20 and then it grew to top 50 customers. We brought our fiber network to area such as our poor districts and throughout our downtown districts. But when it gets into the rural communities, we found ourselves in, we didn't have a plan to have a long-term expansion and a long-term plan to serve all customers in our neighborhood if you will. We had to really solve that problem.

Christopher Mitchell: This is something that I actually in some way sympathize I suspect with you Joel in that I've seen where residents can get quite forceful about really wanting to see the utility district being more aggressive in building out fiber. Whereas, you might find other people are equally aggressive about the public utility district not doing it. I'm curious, tell us a little bit about that, and I think that maybe things came too ahead a bit in 2015 for you.

Joel Myer: That's a very good point because over the years, I think the word we became somewhat the victim of our success on the electric side, and the expectations of what we could provide on the broadband side. For example over the years that we have had the authority from the state legislature to provide wholesale telecommunications. We have heard long, loud and often from many of our customers that not only do they want broadband in their areas, they want PUD 3 broadband because their expectation is that our servers would be as good if not better than our electric side. Which brings the discussion of the wholesale versus retail relationship that we can have with our customers. But I would say on our list right now of our 34,000 customers, we have a continuous list of about 4,000 residents, customers that are clamoring for it in their neighborhood. Some, they just don't have service. Some, they don't like the service they have because it's either too expensive or too slow or not reliable and then they look at us and they go, "You're always reliable with your electricity, and your prices are pretty good. Why don't you work to get it out to us so that we can have the same type of quality for our broadband." The big balance is that wholesale, retail relationship kind of holds us back but also provides the opportunities for local economic development through the formation of businesses that can be that retailer for us.

Christopher Mitchell: And Justin I'd like to get a little bit of your perspective on this with how you are expanding the fiber network to some of these residents, what that plan is. Maybe we can just start by where Joel left off. I looked at your website and there's several companies that are offering very high speed services. How exactly is that working out for you?

Justin Holzgrove: I think it works out well and it works out better for our customers when we have a selection of retailers for them to choose from. As we know competition brings price down, it brings the best out of everybody whether it's sports or in business and as we've had more retailers join our network and offer their services to our customer, our customers are benefiting. They're benefiting by a faster speed and lower prices. That's one of the things that we really like about our network, it's open access non-discriminatory so our customers can choose any of the retailers that are partners with us and that's a really big win.

Christopher Mitchell: Justin let me ask you this because one of the criticism we've had sometimes in theory, sometimes in practice is that in an open access environment like you have in which there's actually a fair level playing field. Inevitably one or two firms capture most of the market anyway. Is that something you see or the distribution of subscriber split a little more evenly among the service providers?

Justin Holzgrove: We have a handful of service providers. They all are participating from my perspective at a level that suits their business desire. So we have one service provider that maybe isn't so much interested in growing their business. Their desire is to focus on the handful of customers that they have and they're doing well with that. We may have another business retail service provider that's been there since the beginning and they have the majority of the customers because they have maybe a more robust name and the history there. And we have one who is a little bit newer and they're doing a really good job of being competitive and doing a lot of marketing and advertising about the benefits of fiber all the way to the home. So they are, as we expand the network are picking up their share of customers as well. It seems to work out really well for us. We also have two providers that are focusing on business or enterprise services and that's a really good niche for them and that's working out well for them as well. They aren't interested in doing residential and in some cases not the other way vice versa. So it seems to work out well.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that it's a really good perspective of a reminder that even if businesses isn't capturing a massive part of the market, they might be fine with that. It's a good reminder. So how are you expanding the network given all this incredible demand to go further with it?

Justin Holzgrove: Well, Chris I want to go back a little bit to the 2015 kind of point that we ran into and I think that that's a good place to tell the story of where we sort of pivoted with our network. We have extended the network to most of, not all of but most of the areas where we need it for the electrical distribution system. Well, that's always growing. Mason County is a defined area and we're pretty well spread throughout there. We've also worked with NoaNet and we've established several contracted cell phone towers. They have paid to expand the network to some areas as well. So we have a pretty widespread backbone.

Christopher Mitchell: NoaNet for those who haven't run across it is the Northwest Open Access Network. Let me strongly encourage you, if you're unfamiliar with it to go back in our archives, we've done several interviews with them. So Justin please pick up with how you're expanding it beyond the electrical and where it was in 2015.

Justin Holzgrove: In 2015 we really were beginning to make a pivot with our philosophy on how we approached the expansion of our fiber network. As you know we've talked about this, we're able to sell the excess capacity on our network with fiber and today's optics in electronics, that is near limitless. The only thing that we are limited by was where the actual physical connections, the physical strands of fiber. So we're just really working hard to try and figure out what's our philosophy? What are our construction centers, how are we going to engineer and design this. We're a bunch of electric utility folks not so much telecom folks. With electricity, it's easy, you find the wire you cut it back and you put a hot clamp on it and there you go. But as you know fiber it's a little bit different. As we are exploring on the construction side on how to do this, we're really getting a lot of pressure and interest from our customers to expand fiber to them. Everybody wants it and they want it now. We had a high speed broadband expo where we invited our customers in, then we focused on several areas that were rural, folks on several areas where we thought there maybe some possibilities in doing some pilot project expansion. We had over 800 people join us on a Thursday evening, I believe it was in May 2015.

Christopher Mitchell: That's crazy.

Justin Holzgrove: They didn't bring pitchforks, but they brought their pen and they were ready to sign up with their checkbooks. And they said, "Bring it on. We want this now."

Christopher Mitchell: When 100 people show up at a meeting on a Thursday night that's considered huge, 800 is off the charts so congratulations and I guess caution.

Justin Holzgrove: I think you're on it there. I don't know that we were so wise with this. It was all part of the process and the process is necessary. We had 800 people ready to sign up right now and that was a big deal. We had a place for them to share their interests, record their address, we had this thing where you could stick a dot on your home location in Mason County and so we have this large poster size chart of Mason County that looks like it has a chicken pox because everybody wants it all over the place. We had a bunch of stations that could need our retailers, the active ones that are on our network, ones that interested in expanding, see their services. Really it was a positive step because it made our customers' interests very clear. They want to see the fiber network expanded. Unfortunately you mentioned caution, we have this term that we sort of developed around that point called anticipointment. This is where people are anticipating something but are disappointed when they can't get it. That really sort of became the theme of our fiber network unfortunately, that wasn't the intention but that kind of became a reality. So we went from 2015 from that kind of big kind of landmark event to really needing to buckle down and get our construction standards figured out. So we tried several different ... We had been working on several different distribution models and we were able to identify a couple of ways that we wanted to go about it. We moved into a distribution hub and a RC terminal ready to connect terminal model for our neighborhoods and we focus on areas where there's overhead power or where there's a conduit available. And so we built a couple of networks in several of the more 'densely populated' and I put that in quotation, areas in rural Mason County where they didn't have any other access to high speed broadband available. So we've built these networks and we're able to work out some things with our process and really establish some really good construction and engineering standards and establish some cost measureables so that we could move forward and look and see what it would take to really roll this out much, much broader. While we were doing that, we also did a survey. We did survey with our customers, that's in this past Winter 2016 to 2017. We did a statistically valid phone survey. So asked several questions such as, "What kind of broadband do you have now so we can measure the need?" Then we wanted to measure the desire. "Are you interested in seeing the PUD expand?" We also asked, "If we expand are you interested in paying a little more per month on your broadband bill to pay for the cost of the expansion?" And the overall answers were, "No we don't have broadband access or we're not satisfied with it and yes we want PUD to build it and yes we're willing to pay extra." So that was the part of serving our customers with a statistically valid phone survey and then several months later we did an online survey so that we could give everybody the opportunity to respond if they wanted. We also had a mail and valid as well if you will. And the results were pretty consistent across the board.

Christopher Mitchell: Joel I'd like to bring you back into this. One of the thing we've seen with surveys in some of the other public utility districts is a question of whether they want to modestly increase the price of electricity to help finance the cost of the fire burning. It sounds like you're actually focused on making sure the broadband customers alone are the ones paying for the expansion. I'm curious can you tell us a little bit about your thinking about that.

Joel Myer: We've seen this question come up again and again at other utilities in Washington State as to whether or not customers, A want it, B would be willing to pay extra on their electricity bill to share the costs of bringing the service out. And it's been kind of mixed in the answers and the results. For example in one study I remember there was a question about that and so the utility started to expand and when they expanded and started talking about an adder on the electricity bill. People suddenly got all excited about it. So it proved that while your survey may say that the actual implementation may not be as real life there. So we wanted to make sure that those who would benefit from the broadband service would be the ones that would be actually paying for it, which is their vote, if you will paying with their dollars, that "Yep we want it, we're willing to pay for it, here's my check." That would come through the retailer. Seeing those experiences and also our gut feeling as to how our electrical customers would feel if there was an adder on to their electricity bill for it, gave us that kind of weathervane to move us in that direction. We did and I think it's really interesting when you start taking the look at the Fiberhood project, which we will discuss later that people are boarding with their dollars and their feet on this. That they want it, they're willing to pay for it and will.

Christopher Mitchell: Joe one of the things that we recently did an interview with Kitsap where they're using a model where the people in a neighborhood can petition the utility to expand it. I think you're going in a little different direction. Maybe you can explain that model and just enlighten us a little bit about that.

Joel Myer: There are various funding models that are available to the public realm in Washington State help fund facility expansion and growth. Most of those tend toward the local utility district, local improvement district type model. They're very, very intricate and cumbersome and take a long time to form and also to close out. One of the things that Kitsap has done and I applaud them for that is that some of their local utility district extensions have been in part of other utility extensions as well. So it's kind of a package of utilities that's moving into a community so there's a greater benefit than just the broadband coming in which makes it a little bit more easy to use those state funding models. Because one of the things that you run up against is if you do an improvement through a local utility district or a local improvement district, the value of your property increase is the most that you can charge for an assessment for bringing that improvement to the property. So if the property improvement is $1000 in valuation, that's all you can charge them under state law. Your extension could cost more than that per customer. So taking not only the cumbersome nature of those funding measures but also some of the legalistic restrictions that are placed on you and how you can access it, that for local utility district expanding broadband and no other public utility is part of it becomes a little bit of a problematic approach.

Christopher Mitchell: Justin you want to just dive in and talk about you've expanded.

Justin Holzgrove: We were looking at all of these different inputs and pieces and of information from our engineering standards to our customers desire to the survey responses to the LUD models that some of our neighbors were using and we decided that there had to be a way to blend all of this together and create a solution that would be able to meet everybody's desire. And that's birthed our Fiberhood program. Fiberhood program is really quite simple. The PUD has reviewed its service territory and has designated specific boundaries or borders, we have 20 onwards and that represents the potential to serve several thousand customers. Within these Fiberhoods we've let customers know that they are up for consideration of potentially receiving a fiber network being expanded to and built throughout their neighborhood. We've partnered with COS systems, coos is what we've been calling it in-house, systems they're out of Sweden and they have a fantastic software platform that we've been using to communicate and interface with our customers on this.

Christopher Mitchell: That's the service zones platform right?

Justin Holzgrove: Our customers log on to our website, pud3.org/fiberhood and they launch the COS system service zones application and all they have to do is type in their address. If their address is within a Fiberhood, then they're able to make a commitment. Once 75% of the customers was in the Fiberhood, make commitment, PUD 3 will extend fiber and build a distribution network to serve them. It really is quite simple and it's very, very successful so far. As I mentioned we have about 20 Fiberhoods, we launched it in early August and we have several that are very, very close. One Fiberhood is about seven signups away and we have others on its tail we are very excited about that process and we're looking forward to launching that.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious, the ones that are the most popular, that are the closest to hitting fruition. Are they ones that have zero service providers currently or are they ones who are more ... They have an option but they're not happy with it?

Justin Holzgrove: We didn't qualify customers that have other service provider options in Fiberhood. Really if you're Fiberhood, you have a DSL or worse so these people are ones that don't have any high speed broadband options available. We have several providers in Mason County and we are staying out of their territory for several reasons. The first is we want to focus on those that don't have service, just like that public utility model in the beginning that we talked about. We want to make sure we're providing service to those that don't have it available. We also don't want to infringe upon or over-build a private company, that's their deal. They should be working on that. We also don't want to expand the network very near them in which case they would then over build us. That's not good either. We have our focus on our customers that don't have other service options.

Christopher Mitchell: Some of my aggressive listeners, myself included would say, I hope that over time you will be expanding your network to everyone. Presumably it will be up to people themselves whether or not ultimately you are competing with some of the existing providers. I'm just in the sense that while I certainly agree with you that you want to be careful about respecting the private investments that others are making to some extent you may see some negative side effects if you have partner areas that have over high quality network and areas that served but served poorly by a cable company or something. They might get more frustrated. In the longer term I'm curious if you think that you'll be expanding that network into more areas.

Justin Holzgrove: I would say that in the longer term is a long term for us. We have a very large and very real community, Mason County and there are many, many, many areas that do not have other options. The work ahead of us is great and we want to make sure that we are meeting the needs of those that don't have options before we need the needs of those that do have options or maybe are receiving poor options. So well, that may change, right now our focus really is on those that don't have options. I think that that's just a look at Mason County. Our trees outnumber our people by a lot and so we are quite rural here.

Christopher Mitchell: It is worth remembering that western counties can be the size of eastern states.

Justin Holzgrove: Yeah, that is a good point. We are the size of Rhode Island I believe. Is that correct Joe?

Joel Myer: That is correct.

Christopher Mitchell: There's some good perspective there.

Joel Myer: It is correct. It's interesting to note when you take a look at the various municipal broadband models throughout the United States, that there's a panoply of it. I mean you've got cities who are given broad authorities by their states to provide a number of services for their citizens. In Washington State where the law is silent on an authority, it's assumed that a city or a county or a general government have the authority to do it. That's why you see some cities are going out and they're building municipal broadband networks on their own and competing as a retailer because they have authority under it. You have electric coops that can pretty do almost anything they want, going out as a retail service provider and using their member revenues to build that up. They are not under a state chatter so therefore they can do things like that. Whereas, Washington State Public Utility District law is a little bit different. Whereas as I mentioned where cities were silent on authorities, that they have it as long as it's legal. Public utility district only have the authorities that are expressly given to them under Washington State law. So if it doesn't mention it, we don't have the authority. So specifically the authority we have is wholesale, broadband services or telecommunication services that will always require a retailer as the contact with the customer. Our customers are initially the retail server providers, the ultimate customers of those retail servers provided are the end users and we have to make sure that that model is followed very carefully because it's being very closely watched not only by the legislator and state regulators but also folks who see this as competition.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've seen in a lot of places is that model is particularly challenging financially, which is one of the reasons that we've mentioned that no one at the Northwest Open Access Network because you were one of the founding members. I think the success of that organization is one of the reasons we've seen Open Access be more successful on Washington State than in other states.

Joel Myer: I agree the NoaNet has gained the capacity and the reputation of being a very good partner with people who either are funded or get service from it. We are really proud of that because it's a unique type of organization. I think that it will only continue as that reputation for a can do it attitude and good management of assets continues for NoaNet. It will continue the expansion to very rural areas of Washington state.

Christopher Mitchell: Justin speaking of expansion to rural areas, there's always the question of how one pays for it. So within the system that you've described, with the service zones from COS. How exactly does it work then that you can afford to build this out?

Justin Holzgrove: Add that to the challenges of being wholesale only and as a public utility district, we have to do everything at cost so there's not a profit margin here. Our revenues need to equal our costs and that's to the benefit of our customer. The way that it works is once Fiberhood reaches 75% threshold in economic construction list and we build the network, we have what we're calling a construction adder. This will be $25 charge per month on top of the customer's Internet, retail service providers bill and this $25 per month is to recover the cost of building the fiber extension, the distribution network and all the way to the home. So we're building all the way to the home with fiber and this $25 per month will last for 12 years. So it is a 12-year term and if a customer comes in and takes service on day one and we build to their home and connect them, they take Internet service then they pay their $25 per month. But maybe life happens. Two years down the road, they move or lose their job or life changes somehow and they say, "Gosh, I just can't afford to have Internet again or right now." Then they don't take Internet service and they don't pay that $25 per month. On the other side, let's say somebody maybe has a piece of property that they haven't developed yet but they still are interested when they do move into the county to get fiber, they may sign up on the COS software and see if they're interested but once they reach their goal and once we've built the network then they're not ready to connect. Maybe six years down the road, they do show up and they build a home and want to connect with fiber, well their $25 per month starts when they start taking service and it only lasts until the end of that 12-year term that the Fiberhood is under. So it really is tied to only the customers that are taking service are paying to help recover the cost of the investment. I think we talked about that earlier in the show, that was pretty important that we weren't having all electrical subscribers subsidize the cost of the fiber expansion and even within the Fiberhood, if you aren't interested in it, you didn't sign up for it, you're also not paying for it. I think that's the really key piece here.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the things that may help you out with that where that may not be as viable in other areas is that you are building to areas where they have no choices and so you know that you're going to get a lot of people to connect and so you don't really have to worry too much that those economics won't pencil out for you I'm guessing.

Justin Holzgrove: Correct, yeah that's exactly right. We are looking at a cost recovery model basis that is pretty conservative and it lasts over a longer period of time. In these rural communities what we often see is that there are lower economic abilities to pay for the large line expansions upfront. So by spreading it out over that 12-year time, we're also allowing maybe some of our lower income or the customers that couldn't afford that to be able to have access to high speed broadband. I think that's a really key piece to it too. To other listeners that might be interested, we looked at several models, many. But two of them that came to the front that we really explored were they putting a lien on a property for the investment and we found that that was just going to be too cumbersome both legally and in enforcing. And the other was the personal loan. We thought that also was very limiting in ability and so instead of tying the $25 to the customer's PUD electric bill, we decided to tie it to their Internet service provider bill. That way we could ensure that if you weren't taking service and therefore weren't benefiting from the network, you also weren't contributing to it. Our customers I will say in the survey preferred it to be on the PUD's bill, I think it's because we're a trusted community partner but we found that there were some struggles with that. If a customer didn't pay their Internet bill, could we disconnect their electricity? No. If a customer didn't pay their electricity bill, could we disconnect their Internet? Well that really is tied together. Maybe they didn't pay their Internet extension payment, so then we'll have to let their retail service provider know we're going have to disconnect them and that would be exposing potentially a personal hardship to the retail service provider or that would get in the way of their business relationship. So that was messy as well. So we found that putting that $25 construction adder on top of the $35 per month for gig service which goes to the retailer bill, it just became really clean and it would nice defining line on who's paying for what service.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a great description of a interesting approach on one of many that I hope is going to bring high quality Internet service to everyone in rural America. So thank you both for coming on the show to tell us more about what you're up to.

Justin Holzgrove: Happy to do it Chris. That's really great of you to invite us and we look to tell the story, we're really proud of it and we're also in agreement if everybody in Mason County could have a gig up gig down service through PUD 3 fiber that'd just be fantastic.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you it's been a pleasure.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer talking about Public Utility District #3 in Washington and how they're bringing high quality connectivity to every customer in Mason County. We have transcript for this and other community Broadband Bits 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 on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed to Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 274 the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptmason pud 3pudpublic utility districtutilitynoanetopen accesswashingtonwholesale-onlypublic meetingruralgigabiteconomic developmentelectricityelectrificationgrassrootsfiberhood

Community Broadband Media Roundup- October 16

muninetworks.org - October 16, 2017

 

Colorado

Letter: Municipal broadband connects us all by Zach Shelton, The Coloradoan

Broadband is the glue that connects all of us in the medical field and has increasingly become an equally important tool in our doctor bag. Please vote yes on 2B to ensure we have the opportunity as a city to improve our internet infrastructure to meet the needs of our clinic and many other businesses and individuals in Fort Collins.

Letter: Broadband represents Fort Collins' future by David Austin-Groen, The Coloradoan

FAQ: Fort Collins broadband on the November ballot by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

 

Florida

Commentary: Cable competition? Winter Park considers it, and Spectrum gets nervous by Scott Maxwell, The Orlando Sentinel

For consumers, though, fear and competition can be good.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from consumer-advocate groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is cheering on Winter Park and other cities, encouraging them to invest in technology and become less reliant on cable and internet providers that have near-monopolies in many markets.

Of course the cable companies will protest, said Christopher Mitchell, the president of the Minneapolis-based Institute. “They’ve fought it in every single city,” he said. “But this is like Starbucks telling a city they shouldn’t have their own coffee machines.”

 

Idaho

SDN Streamlines Virtualized Open Access Network for Idaho Municipality Ammon Fiber by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

 

Massachusetts

Milton to study town broadband service by Fred Hanson, The Patriot Ledger

“Comcast, with its market power, is able to charge whatever they want” and provide subpar service, subpar speed and capacity,” he said….The town could provide the service cheaper because they would not need to make a profit, Chamberlain said. It could also lease out portions of its system to third parties for additional revenue.

 

North Carolina

Officials boost innovation economy by Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Times

 

Pennsylvania

Our view: Push needed for high-speed rural internet by The Editorial Board, Go Erie

 

Tennessee

How Chattanooga used fiber to buoy the rest of its tech community by Anna Hensel, Venture Beat

 

Virginia

King George survey looks at internet gaps by Cathy Dyson, The Free Lance Star

 

Washington

Who wants a fiber network? City asks residents to take survey by Joan Pringle, Go Anacortes

Another Shot for Municipal Broadband in Seattle by Heidi Groover, The Stranger

 

West Virginia

Commission to hold broadband hearing by Hampshire County Commission, Hampshire Review

Broadband co-op begins to take form by Tina Alvey, Register- Herald

 

General

Comcast Is Abandoning Customers In The Name Of Free Speech by Susan Crawford, Wired

FCC’s claim that one ISP counts as “competition” faces scrutiny in court by John Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC's Republican majority voted in April of this year to eliminate price caps in a county if 50 percent of potential customers "are within a half mile of a location served by a competitive provider." That means business customers with just one choice are often considered to be located in a competitive market and thus no longer benefit from price controls. 

Electric co-ops eager to expand broadband connections to rural areas by Dave Flessner, Times Free Press

ISPs don’t want to tell the FCC exactly where they offer Internet service by John Brodkin, ArsTechnica

"Rural areas may have large census blocks in which only a few people have access to Internet service," the non-profit Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) told the FCC. Address- or street-level data would be the most useful for analyzing rural areas, the advocacy group said.

"For rural census blocks, at least knowing which road segments Internet Service Providers can reach will help with estimating how much of the population in a rural census block actually has access," the ILSR said.

The ILSR also suggested an alternative to address-level data that might be easier to compile. ISPs could report which road segments they can reach in rural areas, the group said:

"This information should be easier to compile than geocoding addresses and can be compared to locations of small towns and other roads. Most state and local governments have information on their road networks publicly available, and providers can use that as a starting point."

Tags: media roundup

Anti-Muni Bill In Michigan Pulls No Punches

muninetworks.org - October 16, 2017

Torpedo legislation aimed at municipal network initiatives don’t usually appear in October, but Michigan’s year-round legislature is making 2017 atypical. Last week, Freshman Representative Michele Hoitenga from the rural village of Manton in Wexford County introduced a bill banning investment in municipal networks.

HB 5099 is short; it decrees that local communities cannot use federal, state, or their own funds to invest in even the slowest Internet infrastructure, if they choose to do it themselves:

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT: 

SEC. 13B. (1) EXCEPT AS OTHERWISE PROVIDED IN SUBSECTION (2), A LOCAL UNIT SHALL NOT USE ANY FEDERAL, STATE, OR LOCAL FUNDS OR LOANS TO PAY FOR THE COST OF PROVIDING QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE. (2) A LOCAL UNIT MAY ENTER INTO AN AGREEMENT WITH 1 OR MORE PRIVATE PARTIES TO PROVIDE QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE. (3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, "QUALIFIED INTERNET SERVICE" MEANS HIGH-SPEED INTERNET SERVICE AT A SPEED OF AT LEAST 10 MBPS UPSTREAM AND 1 MBPS DOWNSTREAM.

The exception allows local communities to engage in public-private partnerships, but the bill’s ambiguous language is likely to discourage local communities from pursuing such partnerships. As we’ve seen from partnerships that have successfully brought better connectivity to towns such as Westminster, Maryland, communities often took the initiative to invest in the infrastructure prior to establishing a partnership. Typically, the infrastructure attracts a private sector partner. If a community in Michigan wants to pursue a partnership that suits the exception of HB 5099, they will first have to grapple with the chicken and the egg dilemma.

Rather than put themselves at risk of running afoul of the law, prudent community leaders would probably choose to avoid pursuing any publicly owned infrastructure initiatives.

Munis Gaining Ground In Michigan

Michigan already has a significant state barrier in place; municipalities that wish to improve connectivity must first appeal to the private sector and can only invest in a network if they receive fewer than three qualifying bids. If a local community then goes on to build a publicly owned network, they must comply with the terms of the RFP, even though terms for a private sector vendor may not be ideal for a public entity.

Nevertheless, several communities in Michigan have dealt with the restrictions in recent years as a way to ameliorate poor connectivity. They’ve come to realize that their local economies and the livelihood of their towns depend on improving Internet access for businesses, institutions, and residents.

Sebewaing

In 2013, ”Sugartown,” became the state’s first publicly owned FTTH network. The community’s municipal power and water utility operate the network, which has significantly reduced connectivity costs for local businesses and community anchor institutions (CAIs). Residents used to depend on dial-up, but now they pay about $35 per month for symmetrical 30 Megabit per second (Mbps) Internet access and can obtain gigabit connectivity for $160 per month.

Learn more about Sebewaing, Michigan’s First Gigabit Village, in episode 126 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Holland

Just this past summer, Holland decided it would offer services directly to the public and recently decided to expand its pilot project offering FTTH services. Holland also allows other ISPs to offer services to the public via its fiber optic infrastructure. It’s too early to tell if HB 5099 will affect Holland’s plans to expand their pilot project, but they are probably preparing for the worst.

Christopher spoke with Broadband Service Manager Pete Hoffswell for episode 269 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. They discussed the long history Holland has with its fiber optic network, their plans for expansion, and the plan behind offering services to the public.

Lyndon Township

The most recent community to take steps toward publicly owned Internet infrastructure is Lyndon Township. Forty-three percent of registered voters in this rural township turned out to overwhelmingly approve a measure to increase property taxes to fund the project. People in the southeastern rural community are fed up with useless Internet access from satellite and DSL. They’re tired of being rejected by the incumbents who refuse to upgrade to high-quality services because the community doesn’t offer the profitability to justify the investment. 

Christopher talked with people from Lyndon and the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) about the initiative in episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bit podcast.

Seven communities in Michigan belong to MBC and are searching for ways to improve connectivity in their community. The growing interest and willingness to invest locally in publicly owned networks reveals the problem in rural Michigan. As a legislator from a rural community, it’s disappointing that Hoitenga would rather work for incumbents AT&T and Charter Spectrum than for her constituents.

Fingerprints Of The Telephone Companies

HB 5099 refers incorrectly to “high-speed Internet access” as 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, which are the typical advertised speeds for DSL connections. It appears as though the drafters made a printing error by flip-flopping the speeds for upstream and downstream. As DSL subscribers know, rarely do their connections reach the advertised speeds, especially at peak usage times. Another factor to consider is that 10 Mbps/1 Mbps is well below the FCC's definition of "broadband," which is 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Once again, policy makers are trying to drive speeds in the wrong direction in a thinly veiled attempt to keep speeds slower so CenturyLink, AT&T, and Charter Spectrum don’t feel pressured to invest to upgrade services. Here we have another legislator going out of her way to satisfy incumbents, rather than allowing constituents to pursue their own initiatives to improve local connectivity.

In Committee

Republican Hoitenga is Chair of the state’s Communications and Technology Committee, where the bill now rests, so HB 5099 is likely to be heard. If you live in Michigan and want to contact members of the committee to express your displeasure about this bill, you can obtain contact information for all the members at the committee page.

Did She Really Mean It? 

In a recent announcement about the public safety FirstNet project, Hoitenga said:

“The continuing amazement around certain technological advances is made up of three core factors – how the technology better connects us all, how it improves our everyday lives and how it makes us safer.”

Hoitenga’s HB 5099 contradicts her statement on FirstNet. If the bill passes it will prevent local communities achieving the factors she considers "amazing" by blocking their ability to tap into high-quality connectivity through local self-reliance.

Image of the Michigan Capitol Dome by San906 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

House Bill 5099 TextTags: michiganlegislationmi hb 5099Sebewainglyndon township miholland miincumbent

Say "Hi" To Our New Policy Interns!

muninetworks.org - October 13, 2017

You may have noticed two new writers at MuniNetworks.org lately. Welcome Christopher Barich and Matt Marcus to the Community Broadband Networks team. Chris and Matt will be contributing to research, writing stories, working on resources, and helping keep up with all the developments in this sphere: 

 

Christopher Barich: Before joining ILSR, he interned with the U.S. Department of State and the Hudson Institute. He is a current MN Army National Guard officer and veteran. Christopher holds a Master’s of Public Policy in Global Public Policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.

You can find him on twitter at: @chris_barich

Matthew Marcus: Matthew has a BA in Political Science and International Relations from CUNY Hunter College. Before joining ILSR, he worked as a Communications Associate at Medha Learning Foundation in Lucknow, India. He is a freelance writer, avid music collector, and lover of short fiction.

He’s on twitter at: @matthewmarcus91

We feel lucky to have both Christopher and Matthew aboard to help us share the news about publicly owned networks and telecom policy.

Tags: newsinstitute for local self-reliance

Webinar: Municipal Broadband Feasibility Studies, Oct. 18th

muninetworks.org - October 13, 2017

When your community needs better connectivity, the best place to start is with a feasibility study, but each community's needs vary and what should you expect from such a study? What kinds of question should you ask? What should a consultant offer your community?

There is no single answer, but the best way to prepare is to seek out information on feasibility studies and determine what is right for your region or town. For communities in the planning phase of developing a municipal broadband network, Vantage Point Solutions is hosting the webinar: “Feasibility Studies for Municipal Broadband: The Good, the Bad, and the Best Practices.”

From the invitation:

When it comes to developing and expanding municipal broadband networks, there is no one-size-fits-all model. Proper planning will ensure the right solution is identified before significant time and money is invested.

In this webinar, Vantage Point Solutions will provide you with best practices and guidance on what you should do during the planning phase of a broadband project - and what you can save for later. This session will help you avoid pitfalls that create delays and problems and maximize the success of your planning process.

The webinar discussion will be led by Dusty Johnson and Lori Sherwood on Wed Oct. 18th at 3:00 pm. Register here.

Learn more about the art of the feasibility study from some of our Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes: 

Tags: webinarfeasibilityconsiderationevent

Mount Washington, Massachusetts, Set To Debut New FTTH Network

muninetworks.org - October 12, 2017

Mount Washington, Massachusetts, is set to light up its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network this month. By “building our own Fiber-to-the-Home broadband network, we are taking an important step in securing our community’s long-term vitality and sustainability,” says Selectboard Member Gail Garrett

Mount Washington Recap

Mount Washington is nestled within the forested Taconic Mountains area located in the southwest corner of the state. The roughly 150 full-time residents have been frustrated with the lack of connectivity. "Everybody's had it with their current connections” said Garret and believes the town “deserves the same opportunity to connect to the internet as those in larger communities.” 

The final estimates for the network came in at $603,000 but the town planned for any unanticipated make ready or dig costs and prepared for a high estimate of $650,000. To fund construction, Mount Washington authorized the use of $250,000 from their stabilization fund in 2015, received $230,000 in federal and state funds from the Massachussetts Broadband Institute (MBI) earlier this year, and established a plan to borrow the remaining $400,000 through a state loan program. This spring, received an additional $222,000 grant from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, which will allow them to pay down the debt sooner and have the network paid off within five years.

The FTTH network is set to provide residents who opted in, over 60 percent of the town, with up to 1 gigabit of upload and download speeds. To opt in, residents deposited $300 per household and committed themselves to three years of data and telephone service on the FTTH network.

According to Mount Washington’s Broadband Business Plan, the town will be charging $75.00 monthly to subscribers for access to the FTTH network. Internet Service Provider (ISP), Crocker Communications, has contracted with the town to provide Internet and telephone service over the network and will be charging subscribers $44.95 per month. Overall, the subscribers will be charged $119.95 monthly and the ISP will remit $75.00 per subscriber, per month, back to the Town to cover all maintenance and operation costs.

Like many other rural communities, Mount Washington suffered for decades from lack of investment from incumbents. Residents relied on a patchwork of DSL, dial-up, and expensive satellite. Degraded infrastructure made Internet access almost impossible and negatively impacted voice services. Many times rainfall would wipe out their ability to make a simple phone call. 

"A Number That Keeps Climbing" 

“[Ninety eight] connections are planned, a number that keeps climbing as the start date nears. The town has 146 premises that are candidates for broadband connections, including Town Hall and the highway department”, Garrett told the Berkshire Eagle. The project had been temporarily slowed due to delays in make ready work on the utility poles, but Mount Washington expects the network to go live mid-October.

According to Garrett, one side benefit of the FTTH network has been the increased interest in real estate in Mount Washington and houses on the market have been selling. According to a 2015 study funded by the Fiber Broadband Association (formerly Fiber to the Home Council) in conjunction with the University of Colorado and Carnegie Mellon, fiber connected homes jump approximately $5,400 in value

"We've had great interest because of broadband," Garrett said.

How does Garrett feel now that her town is close to realizing its vision? She told us:

“It was very time consuming working through the details...but we are almost there and I can't wait to have a reliable, fast Internet connection!!"

Gail Garrett joined Christopher Mitchell and Lisa Gonzalez for episode 212 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast in the summer of 2016 to describe the project and why they felt it was necessary to invest in their own infrastructure. We’ve been following Mount Washington since 2015; check out our other stories.

Tags: mt washingtonmassachusettsruralFTTHmassachusetts broadband institutevoicegigabitfundingfederal grantgrantmuni

Mason PUD 3 Responds to Muni Fiber Demand with Fiberhoods - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 274

muninetworks.org - October 11, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 274 - Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer of Mason PUD 3

Mason County Public Utility District 3 covers a large area with a lot of people that have poor Internet access. If "PUD" didn't give it away, it is located in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula and had already been investing in fiber as an electric utility for monitoring its internal systems.

Mason PUD 3 Telecommunications & Community Relations Manager Justin Holzgrove and Public Information & Government Relations Manager Joel Myer join us for episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss how they are expanding their open access fiber optic network to the public after seeing tremendous support not just for Internet access but specifically for the PUD to build the infrastructure.

We talk about how they are financing it and picking areas to build in as well as the role of the Northwest Open Access Network, which we have discussed on previous shows and written about as well. We cover a lot of ground in this interview, a good place to start for those interested in open access and user-financed investment.

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Image of the Mason PUD 3 Fiberhood courtesy of COS Systems.

Tags: mason pud 3pudpublic utility districtutilitynoanetopen accesswashingtonwholesale-onlypublic meetingruralgigabiteconomic developmentelectricityelectrificationgrassrootsfiberhoodaudiopodcastbroadband bitsfinancingfees

Tennessee Electric Co-op Ready For Fiber Pilot In Bradley County

muninetworks.org - October 11, 2017

Another rural electric cooperative is set to bring high-quality connectivity via fiber optic infrastructure. Volunteer Electric Cooperative (VEC) in Tennessee will be investing in a pilot program in Bradley County by year’s end.

A Learning Process - The Pilot

When it comes to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via publicly owned Internet infrastructure, Chattanooga is typically the first location on everyone’s lips. Unfortunately, neighboring Bradley County has struggled with chronically poor connectivity. Even though Chattanooga would very much like to expand their reach to serve Bradley County residents and businesses, restrictive state law prevents the city from helping their neighbors.

Last summer, VEC saw an opening when the state legislature changed existing barriers that prevented electric cooperatives from offering broadband access or from applying for state grants to deploy the infrastructure. VEC is currently in the process of preparing grant applications through the state’s economic development commission. 

The purpose of the pilot, according to VEC President Rody Blevins, is to determine the level of interest in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity in Bradley County. Areas VEC chose for the pilot include homes where there is no service and premises were there are more than one option.

"We are doing that to discover how many would choose our services who have no options as well as those who do have a source for broadband service already available," Blevins said. "That helps us looking at the bigger financial model."

"If we have real low response, that's going to hurt us," he added. "We are not for- profit, so this thing has to pay for itself overtime. If I show my board it will never pay for itself, we can't do it. But, I don't think that's going to be the case."

Blevins told the Cleveland Banner that the cooperative estimates the cost to cover 75 percent of Bradley County would be approximately $40 million. He went on to say that if 50 percent of households in the pilot areas chose to sign up, “we would be in pretty good shape.” 

Working With Another Co-op

Basic service in the pilot area will include 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) and faster speeds will be available, including gigabit connections. VEC hasn’t decided yet, but they are considering adding a lower cost 25 Mbps tier. In addition to Internet access, premises in the pilot area will be able to sign up for packages that include video and voice.

VEC is teaming up with Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative for the pilot project. Twin Lakes offers services in the northern sections of VEC’s service area; Bradley County is located in VEC’s southern service area. The service will be marketed under both cooperatives’ brands. While prices in the pilot area have not been announced, Twin Lakes now advertises symmetrical gigabit access for $99.99 per month and 100 Mbps download/ 25 Mbps upload for $79.99 per month. Twin Lakes also offers several other tiers, the lowest being 4 Mbps / 1 Mbps for $39.99 per month.

The electric cooperative is in the process of contacting the approximately 200 households in the pilot area asking them if they want to be connected when equipment arrives. VEC plans to begin serving participants by December 1st and they anticipate results from the pilot project to be available within six to twelve months. Once they determine the success of the pilot, VEC will decide their next steps.

"Most Realtors now ask, especially in the rural areas, if broadband is available," [Blevins] said. "Ten years ago, you never asked that question."

”We have already had someone working on this for almost a year. These are huge numbers for us."

VEC and Twin Lakes are two more in a long list of rural cooperatives that see the critical nature of high-quality connectivity to their members. As national providers continue to concentrate on densely populated urban areas, rural co-ops are picking up the slack and filling in connecitvity voids like the one in Bradley County.

Tags: bradley countytennesseerural electric coopcooperativetelephonevideoFTTHpilot projecteconomic developmentgigabit

Franklin County Infrastructure Bank To Invest In Grove City, Ohio Fiber

muninetworks.org - October 10, 2017

On August 1, 2017, the Franklin County Infrastructure Bank awarded Grove City, Ohio a $2 million loan to support their construction of a municipal fiber optic network. 

The Grove City Plan

According to the city’s Request for Proposal (RFP), the city is focused on first establishing an institutional network (I-Net) and plan to expand it to serve local businesses over time. The initial fiber optic network will connect Grove City to the South-Western City Schools, the townships of Jackson, Prairie, Pleasant, and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO). The goal is to create a network with a baseline of ten gigabits symmetric service, ten times the speed of current connections provided by Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable).

According to Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage, the increase in network speed will attract businesses and will generate a 100 new jobs for the city. Josh Roth, Senior Program Coordinator for Economic Development and Planning, has said “that Grove City has committed to one hundred jobs over the next three years.”

During the August 1, 2017 general session, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners  passed the resolution to authorize the loan to the city of Grove City. 

Franklin County Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce celebrated the project:

“[T]he fiber optics really makes a difference because companies will look at whether to expand or move there [Grove City]. It could be a deciding factor. Those are jobs that are retained that you may not see."

For more information on the positive relationship between publicly owned Internet network infrastructure and reyaining or attracting jobs, check out our economic development page.

In addition to the FCIB loan, the city authorized a $4.8 million bond issue for the design and construction of the network. South-Western City Schools, Jackson, Prairie, Pleasant, and SWACO will all pay an annual fee to connect to the network; that revenue will be used to pay off the bond. An October 2016 Grove City Dispatch article reported that the South-Western City School District will increase their capacity 10-fold, but continue to pay the same rate they currently pay the incumbent. Now public dollars will stay in the region to be reinvested in the local community.

The project hit a snag earlier this summer when community leaders had to contend with unanticipated make ready costs. Final fees determined by electric provider American Electric Power and AT&T were much higher than original estimates. The City Council chose to appropriate an additional $2.7 million from the the city’s general fund to cover the costs and proceed with the fiber optic project.

Grove City, Ohio is located in Franklin County, just 20 minutes southwest from downtown Columbus. The city covers approximately 16 square miles with a population of roughly 38,000.

Public Bank for Infrastructure

According to a January 2017 paper by Policy Matters Ohio, local governments have lost over a billion dollars in revenue over the last seven years due to the state “cutting revenues to local government, eliminating the estate tax, ending reimbursements for local taxes abolished earlier and slashing revenue sharing.”

Faced with constrained financial resources, municipal governments like Grove City are looking for alternatives for investment in their public infrastructure projects that could increase economic growth within their communities and create more full-time jobs. Enter the Franklin County Infrastructure Bank.

The Franklin County Infrastructure Bank (FCIB) is a loan fund established in 2015 by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners by utilizing a quarter-cent increase in sales tax to fund public investment in local infrastructure projects. According to the Franklin County Economic Development and Planning Department, which oversees the FCIB loan fund and the “InfrastructureWorks” program, it was “designed to encourage and accelerate public sector investment in infrastructure projects that result in economic growth and job creation.” The fund currently has an annual budget of $3.5 million for loans and officials plan to use surplus revenue to boost it to $30 million over the next five years. 

FCIB provides up to 10-year below market low interest loans to municipal governments within Franklin County. The loan amounts are capped at 50 percent of the total cost of the project and typically up to $1 million. Loans can exceed $1 million if funds allow and if the the Loan Advisory Board would recommend so, such as in the case with Grove City. Loans can be used for traditional municipal infrastructure projects, such as roads, electricity, and water, or economic development projects such as broadband, fiber, and transmission infrastructure.

Fiber as Infrastructure

In September, Ohio State Senators Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) and Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) announced bipartisan legislation (SB 376) that would invest in future broadband infrastructure projects. The program is modeled after the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. The state fund will create a $50 million per year grant program using an existing funding stream from “Ohio Third Frontier” bond revenue. It plans to award grants of up to $5 million to build broadband infrastructure. During the press conference, Senator Hite stated that “[w]e are woefully behind in expanding broadband access in the State of Ohio.”

In parallel to the state fund, the FCIB is trying to fill in the gap and identify fiber infrastructure projects worth investing in. In October of 2015, the FCIB awarded the City of Upper Arlington a $1 million loan to assist in the construction of a $2.6 million municipal fiber optic network. Over the next three years, the county estimates the project will create over 300 full-time jobs.

As Commissioner Boyce of the FCIB stated, “Infrastructure is one of the best things we can do with our tax dollars. There are so many multiplying impacts.”

Since 2015, FCIB has allocated over $5.6 million in loans for infrastructure projects and created nearly 900 jobs.

Tags: grove city ohohiofundingstateinfrastructureloanbondI-Netregional

Community Broadband Media Roundup- October 9

muninetworks.org - October 9, 2017

Arizona

Contentious broadband meeting by Alexis Bechman, Payson Roundup

 

Colorado

County agrees on plan to finish broadband project by Niki Turner, Herald Times

 

Idaho

Unique Model Makes Citizens A Funding Partner In Broadband Network By Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

The Ammon Model by Bryan Clark, Post Register

Participants in Thursday’s conference praised a revolutionary model that uses upfront public investment in order to create a marketplace where residents benefit from intense competition between private internet service providers, competition that’s rarely seen elsewhere in the market.

“Ammon has inspired many other communities around the country,” said Chris Mitchell, policy director of Next Century Cities. “… Ammon has one of the most replicable models (for municipal fiber-optic systems).”

 

Pennsylvania

Slow internet plagues rural areas of Erie County by David Bruce, Go Erie

 

Virginia

Orange County Broadband Initiative Moves Forward by Jennifer Walker, NBC 29

This grant will lay the foundation for future internet plans in the Orange community and act as an additive to programs that are already in place.

“Through the partnership that we’ve been able to establish with the county, we can expand that service out beyond the schools to the community and that’s what’s really important about this project. We reached out to the county early on to ask if they were interested in partnering with us when we knew that we had this opportunity and we think that it’ll expand way beyond the classrooms to the community and that’s what’s going to be very important for Orange county,” said Brenda Tanner, Orange County Public Schools superintendent. 

 

General

Hill Democrats Unveil Broadband 'Better Deal' by John Eggerton, Multichannel News

The future of the internet is up for grabs — theoretically by Ryan Barwick, The Center for Public Integrity

Changing Broadband Definitions by Martha Buyer, No Jitter

For the good of all, Congress must ensure net neutrality by Jimmy Lee, Crain’s Chicago Business 

Defining Digital Down by Tom Wheeler, The Brookings Institution

Ajit Pai Is Preserving A World Where The Digital Divide, And ISP Profits, Can Grow by Maya Wiley, Fast Company

Our View: FCC plan leaves rural America in Internet slow lane, Editorial, Press Herald

Categorizing those 19 million Americans as “unserved,” as the FCC does now, is a reminder to policymakers and service providers that rural parts of the country are being left behind on one of the basic necessary components of modern life.

But under the new administration, the FCC is considering a change. Wireless internet accessed over a phone would be counted as broadband, and many of those unserved Americans would instantly become “served.” That would remove any requirement for the federal government to act on their behalf, but it would also leave them stranded with substandard technology.

The U.S. Has Shocking Internet Access Disparity, But That Can Change, Next City By Marybeth Seitz-Brown and Rakeen Mabud, Next City 

Tags: media roundup

Couldn't Make It To Ammon? Event Videos Now Available

muninetworks.org - October 9, 2017

You may not have been able to get to Ammon, Idaho, to attend the official lighting ceremony of the community’s open access fiber network. Perhaps you weren’t able to watch the stream to the event either; life is demanding and sometimes we just can’t fit everything into our day. But you can still watch the event at your own pace because we’ve broken down the presentations and panels for you.

 

Deb Socia (NCC) & Jeff Christensen (EntryPoint) Introduce Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=35m30s

 

Mayor Dana Kirkham :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=43m46s

 

State Senator Brent Hill :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=47m38s

 

Keynote: How Does the City of Tomorrow Get ‘Smart’? 

Glenn Ricart, Founder and CEO, US Ignite :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=53m5s

 

Panel - How do we make ‘smart cities’ a reality?

  • Glenn Ricart, Founder and CEO, US Ignite
  • Shawn Irvine, Economic Development Director, Independence, Oregon
  • Aarushi Sarbhai, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Utah
  • Jeff Peterson, CTO, EntryPoint Networks
  • Moderated by Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=1h14m20s

 

Bobbi-Jo Meuleman, Chief Operations Officer, Idaho Department of Commerce :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=2h27m29s

 

Policy Discussion: Does government have a role to play? 

Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Networks :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=2h29m58s

 

Economic Feasibility: Is it time for a New Model?

Michael Curri, Founder and President, Strategic Networks Group :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=2h46m27s

 

Panel - Infrastructure as a Platform :

  • Michael Curri, Founder and President, Strategic Networks Group
  • Roger Timmerman, Executive Director and CEO, UTOPIA Fiber
  • Bruce Patterson, Technology Director, City of Ammon
  • David Shaw, Shareholder, Kirton & McConkie
  • Moderated by Jeff Gavlinski, Senior Director of Business Development, Ex2

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=2h59m53s

 

John Wuu at Virtual Gateway Labs :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=4h18m10s

 

Video Address - Tom Wheeler, former FCC chairman :

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=4h22m57s 

 

Panel - The Ammon Story :

  • Bruce Patterson, Technology Director, City of Ammon
  • Dana Kirkham, Mayor, City of Ammon
  • Brian Powell, City Councilor, City of Ammon
  • Scott Hall, City Attorney, City of Ammon
  • Matt Hulse, Neighborhood Champion, City of Ammon
  • Moderated by Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Networks

https://youtu.be/YvBTjaoPRuc?t=4h31m10s

 

To learn more about the network, the community’s initiative the create its great open access resource, and the benefits it’s already bringing to Ammon, check out the report by Paddy Leerssen and David Talbot from Harvard University's Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH). We've followed Ammon's progress as well and have published a number of stories and podcasts with Ammon's Technology Director Bruce Patterson.

Tags: ammonidahovideoopen accesseventchristopher mitchellmunicompetitionsoftware defined networks

Fiber For Key Industrial Areas Coming To Somerset County, Pennsylvania

muninetworks.org - October 6, 2017

Over the past several decades, the population of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, has incrementally jumped up and down, but today's population is the same as it was in 1960. In order to boost economic development and encourage growth with more jobs, community leaders are deploying fiber for better connectivity in several industrial areas.

Financial Help For Fiber Connectivity

In May, U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced that they would provide a $569,000 grant to the county to help fund the project. The EDA consider the project worth while because they expect the project to retain 20 existing jobs, generate 42 new jobs, and stimulate $25 million in private investment.

County officials intend to combine the EDA grant with an additional grant they received in January from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC grant of almost $949,000 will allow Somerset County to dedicate approximately $1.5 million to run fiber four industrial parks. The County will match the grant award in order to fully fund the 22-mile network, which will expand existing Somerset County fiber infrastructure. View a map of the proposed expansion here.

Lack Of Meaningful Connectivity In Rural Pennsylvania

Recently, the County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with a firm to oversee the project. Long-term goals are to improve connectivity for approximately 1,100 businesses and 3,900 households along with local community anchor institutions (CAIs) and other entities. Approximately 18 percent of the people in Somerset don’t have broadband as defined by the FCC (25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload) according to Form 477 data. The number is likely much higher, however, because Form 477 data tends to overstate coverage, especially in rural areas. Shortly after the county received the EDA award, two local Internet service providers expressed interest in delivering services via the new infrastructure.

The largest community is the county seat of Somerset with approximately 6,200 residents. The remaining boroughs and census-designated places vary in population from about 4,000 to less than 30. There are approximately 77,400 people scattered over the county’s 1,081 square miles along Pennsylvania’s southern border. Like many other rural areas, Somerset county’s low population density and widely dispersed population centers don’t appeal to national ISPs; they view such an environment as not worth investment.

Retain And Attract

In order to keep jobs and opportunity in Somerset County, community leaders realized they needed to take steps

“Definitely, the high-speed portion is where we're lacking,” said Somerset County Commissioner Gerald Walker. “For our existing industry in the county, so much of their ordering … is done over the internet anymore. It just hampers them in their ability to work to their full potential.”

After receiving the EDA grant in May, Commissioners immediately started planning for the next steps:

“As we move forward, it just becomes more and more important to be able to connect with everyone instantly,” Commissioner Gerald Walker said.

Commissioner John Vatavuk agreed: “We’ve got to get with the 21st century here.”

Tags: somerset county papennsylvaniaeconomic developmentruralindustrialfederal grantappalachiansgrant

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 273

muninetworks.org - October 5, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 273 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Grace Simrall and Chris Seidt of Louisville, Kentucky, join the show to discuss how their community is taking advantage of the statewide network KentuckyWired. Listen to this episode here.

 

Grace Simrall: This overbuild has significant access capacity. We designed and built for the future.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 273 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Louisville, Kentucky is taking advantage of an opportunity to drastically reduce the cost of fiber deployment as the state's KentuckyWired Project routes through the area. In this interview, you'll hear Grace Simrall, and Chris Seidt explain how the city will expand their fiber footprint. They'll describe their plans to use the new resource for municipal facilities, public safety, and smart city applications to improve life for residents, and visitors. Now, here's Christopher with Grace, and Chris talking about what's happening in Louisville.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self Reliance up here in Minneapolis, and today I'm speaking with Grace Simrall, the chief of civic innovation and technology for local metropolitan government in Louisville. Welcome to the show.

Grace Simrall: Thank you so much for having me, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: We're also joined by Chris Seidt, the civic technology manager for the city. Welcome to the show.

Chris Seidt: Thank you so much for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: I think a good place to start would be to just, you know, for people who haven't been there, it's a wonderful place. Grace, maybe you can tell us a little bit more about what people should know about Louisville.

Grace Simrall: Basic fact, we are the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, our population is about 750,000. We are a combined city, county government. We merged over 12 years ago, and in terms of geographic spread we have roughly under 400 square miles of urban, suburban, and rural all in our combined county. We are also known for bourbon, that is something that we've prided ourselves, recently, and county, in fact the Urban Bourbon Trail starts in Louisville, Kentucky.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. It's hard find an urban area that doesn't have a recent bourbon bar addition, so it's a great time to note that. Chris, can you tell us a little bit about what a civic technology manager does in Louisville?

Chris Seidt: Sure. The rule to Louisville is fairly new. It was created a little over a year ago, and the focus is to work on technologies that are more public facing, so working for a IT department in a city government, traditionally, we focused on serving the needs of our internal customers on terms of law enforcement, public works, and so this rule was created to take technology to the frontline to the citizens, as we're seeing Smart Cities evolve, we're seeing more technologies being presented to the public, and so my role is to help facilitate those additions in our city, and also to help with broadband expansion as my background was primarily in infrastructure and networks when I was working on the inside of the IT department, so now we're trying to take that to a more public facing kind of approach to IT, so now citizens will start seeing things in the right of way that maybe they haven't seen before, in terms of digital kiosks, and public Wi-Fi hotspots, things that are fairly new to our community.

Christopher Mitchell: Let me just ask you to follow-up on that, briefly. What sort of applications are you thinking are going to make a big difference in coming years?

Chris Seidt: In terms of applications, we think there's a lot of potential with Next Gen 9-1-1, in terms of the functionality with how citizens interact with them, today you'd pick up the phone and you dial, and you get routed just like you did 25 years ago over your phone, sometimes we know where you are, because you're at a physical building a lot of times we're reliant on triangulation for the cell tower location. If you're a visitor in our community, you may not know what street you're on. Next Gen will allow us to drill down to a level to get your GPS coordinates from your phone to be able to text message with you. A lot of folks may be in the position where they can't communicate with us over a phone, verbally, so presenting those options wherever residents will be able to digitally engage with us, even in a crisis situation, we think has a lot of value and potential. We also are seeing a lot more interest in the kiosk space, in terms of way of finding, and providing visitors and residents with information about where to find things. Those are two areas where we're seeing a lot of activity right now.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I guess, we'll soon be beyond the you are here map, and it will be obvious that you're there, because it will be customized for you.

Chris Seidt: Correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Grace, one of the things that originally led me to work with you, to talk with you was an exciting fiber project that I expect will be the backbone of some of these applications, and technologies. Can you tell us what the city's doing in that regard?

Grace Simrall: We had a unique opportunity this past budget cycle to realize kind of the first step of our foundation in our dream to becoming a Smart City, so when I tell people that Louisville aims to be a Smart City there are steps that we can take to get there, and one of the most important foundational infrastructure pieces is in fact fiber. Back to the opportunity, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has a very large middle mile fiber project to connect all 120 counties together. Part of that is to lay 90 miles of fiber within Jefferson County, which is where Louisville is located. We were presented the opportunity to participate in what's called an overbuild with them, so when they pull a strand of fiber for the states, they can also pull strands of fiber through the city, would be metro owned, and at a significant cost savings. Now, when we looked at the map, because of the route to connect all 120 counties, there was this, a portion of our city that has been historically underserved, and continues to be underserved, which is an area we call, West Louisville, now that was missing, because of the geographies of the city is bound by the [inaudible

00:06:31] Ohio River, so it doesn't make sense for fiber to run that way, we'd either be running into Indiana, or just in different states across the Ohio River. We added a proposal, besides participating with the state to do a whole build out in West Louisville to make sure that those residents also could benefit from having fiber deliver services, middle mile services to metro facilities, and services.

Christopher Mitchell: Just to emphasize that because I think when we start talking about cities building fiber it bears repeating that this is not a project to connect homeowners, or even business, I believe, it's specifically for municipal uses.

Grace Simrall: That's completely correct. Metro has means, and in fact our needs continue to grow every day. I think a lot of cities can relate to that. For example, our public safety technologies rely on having high fidelity, high availability, high quality, network speed, and network connectivity, which is something fiber can provide, and we're limited right now to the current fiber footprint, so by expanding our fiber footprint by five times this will give us over a 100 miles of fiber that's spread out throughout the county. We'll be able to then strategically deploy those public safety assets. The needs are very great, not just buildings, but it's even been like traffic lights, public safety cameras, sensors that really enables a Smart City.

Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned that it's a really good deal, what's the approximate cost for this 100 miles of fiber?

Grace Simrall: Working with our partners at the state, we estimated to do the full build at total costs to be over $15 million dollars, and our whole budget appropriation was 5.4 to do the same thing.

Christopher Mitchell: Is that, if I recall correctly, the cost of doing most of that fiber is actually dramatically lower, it's the commitment to making sure the entire community benefits is what drove the cost up for building out into the western part of the city, right?

Grace Simrall: That's correct.

Christopher Mitchell: We always like to [inaudible

00:08:38] that, because one of the reasons we support city's making these investments is to make sure that everyone benefits. You're developing this plan, and I'm curious, if we step back to when all of a sudden you start hearing some opposition, what was happening there, before this plan was adopted?

Grace Simrall: As far as opposition goes, you know, initially, it really was just paid social media at the national level, and at the regional level. There were a few groups that were associated with different national groups that are historically known to opposing anything that's publicly owned. We kept an eye on it, but we really didn't think much of it in those early days when our budget proposal had been put, and made public.

Christopher Mitchell: Originally, it was just kind of this thing, and you thought, well this is outsiders, we don't have to worry about it, how did it escalate?

Grace Simrall: It became very clear when we started talking to our council members that first of all it was a very complicated project, so to be fair, even for those who are very technical well versed, it is a complicated project. The complications with a project the fact that it was tied to this state level work that had, had some delays. It muddied the waters in their minds, and it became very clear that they were concerned, so we had to spend a lot of time educating them, and explaining how the partnership, and the relationship would work, what new world, fiber build, which is by far the most costly in terms of cost per mile, why that was so critical, and important, it was education all the way up until the final vote.

Christopher Mitchell: It seems to me that probably the opposition had a sense, too, that if you miss this window there's no coming back, because it would be so much more expensive to do it later.

Grace Simrall: Oh, that's exactly right, and because of the kind of urgency around the availability for the partnership this is it, if they were able to block it, we really wouldn't have another opportunity at this for a long time.

Christopher Mitchell: Chris, I'm curious, how you observed this, and whether you were surprised by any of it.

Chris Seidt: As an employee of government for over 14 years of my career, it wasn't the first time I had seen political opposition to, and information technology department project. You know, there's always been hesitancy around cost of investments around replacing something like your email servers, or some other internal project that kept the lights on for the city government, but often times we didn't really run into any political opposition with this particular project. It was very obvious pretty quickly that we had a lot of people that were opposed to this, and our city had never really undertaken a fiber project of that scale, so it was fairly new to us as a city government to go down that path. Like we said, we have a little over 20 miles of fiber over the 20 years that we've had a fiber network, and that's been built out in pieces over time, so it was never really a big budget ask, and never really drew a lot of attention, but as soon as we went public with the amount of fiber that we were planning to put in, and the budget requests was a little bit larger than what they typically see from the IT department, in terms of capital projects, it definitely was a first for me.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I find interesting about this is that when we find these groups that are opposed to the public doing this, often they cast themselves as being protectors of the taxpayer, and yet if I had to guess this project is probably going to be saving taxpayer money, because these facilities need connectivity, someone is going to provide it, and in our experience the city doing it themselves is the most cost effective. I'm just curious, do you have a sense of how this project impacts taxpayers?

Chris Seidt: There's a couple different ways it impacts taxpayers. One, we are extending our connectivity to facilities that previously we've had the lease circuits from, so the recurring bill for those leased circuits will go away. In addition to that, we're adding some capabilities to city government that we have not had before in different parts of the community, in terms of connecting our traffic signals, and adding connectivity for public safety cameras. Today, if the police department deploys a public safety camera unless it's a long one of those routes that we own with fiber, which is very few right now, we have to pay a carrier to connect that camera up, and provide the monthly service, and so there's a bill with that. Then, the traffic signals outside of our interstate reign, where a lot of the suburbs are at, where we're seeing a lot of population growth, and a lot of the traffic problems, those signals are largely just timed signals with no connectivity back to our traffic control center. When we get complaints from citizens about the lights not working correctly, or backups, we have to send somebody out to either do a study, or re-time the light, which requires more man hours from our traffic engineering group, so there's some costs that we haven't quite been able to quantify yet that will likely be impacted in a positive way for taxpayers, because we're deploying these technologies.

Christopher Mitchell: Grace, did you want to add anything?

Grace Simrall: I just want to stress that if cities are serious about making Smart City investment, and they haven't thought through the connectivity piece they'll discover very quickly that, that's where most of the cost will come from is this recurring charge and it scales with size of the Smart City technologies that are being deployed. We can certainly talk about costs that are avoided, and begin to quantify that as well.

Chris Seidt: There's a soft cost around security, too. For everything that we put on a cable modem, or DSL line, those are all Internet facing devices at that point, so there's an inherent risk with that device being out there, so we've seen in the past year a number of breaches where IOT devices were breached and used in attacks on various organizations as part of the DDOS. By keeping the network internal to city government, we're able to protect those IOT assets with our perimeter defenses and to keep those from being publicly exposed where anybody can go directly after them.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to do a little bit of translation to make sure people to that, because I think it's a really important point. When you're leasing connections, what you're saying, is the devices themselves are kind of exposed. I'm sitting here in Minneapolis I could try and hack into that device, because I have access to it on the public Internet, but after you've built your network I would have to somehow breach your highly defended ring, your interconnectivity and then find the device inside the network, so at that point the device is no longer a potential entry point, and your network is much better defended, and your devices don't have to be, you don't have to be as worried about them, because there's no way for you to upgrade many of them yourself, these are commercial devices.

Chris Seidt: That's absolutely right.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to come back to how you responded to this opposition campaign, but first I just want to take a second to ask if you have talked to some of the people that were concerned, and now that you've had more time to educated them, and they've gotten away from the heat of that moment. Have peoples concerns softened somewhat, Grace?

Grace Simrall: I certainly think so. I mean, part of it was just a matter of having a very strong education campaign. This type of project not only is it complicated from a technology standpoint, it's actually complicated in terms of benefits, if it was just a single benefit that would be a really clear message, but because it was an enabling technology filled with so many benefits [inaudible

00:16:37] when we said, "Oh, this will also enable public safety," people said, "Wait a second, we hadn't heard you say that before," and we said, "Well actually we had, it's just that it does so many other things you might have not heard it in that list of benefits." At this point, the kind of sentiment that we get from both council, and residents in our community is that they're very excited about this. They want to hear about progress and we certainly are looking forward to being able to share that progress when it's further along.

Chris Seidt: And, I would point out, too, that the vote to approve the budget for this project when it was finally voted on was unanimous.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, let's talk about how you got to that unanimity then, first of all, what's the time frame that we're talking about, from when you seriously became concerned to when the vote was? Are we talking about days, or weeks, or what kind of time?

Grace Simrall: I would say it was months. It was probably like a month and a half. Maybe almost two months.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Grace Simrall: We made our budget proposal announcement in mid April, and we really didn't kick into high gear with our education process, and outreach until beginning of May.

Christopher Mitchell: What kind of education process? Was this individual meetings with concerned people, or, I mean, was it, were you mostly concerned with members of your governing council, or was it more about the public, or both?

Grace Simrall: It was both. We certainly held as many meetings as we could with council members. I lost count, I think we met with just about every single one of them before the vote was taken. Some of them more than once. We also went to their caucus meetings to make sure that we were available to answer questions. We met with residents in the community. The mayor has, for example, something called, The Innovation Advisory Council, and so we met with them, and educated them, so that they could understand, and they'd be advocates if they so chose in the community, and invited them to the budget hearing process, so that they could be part of this process.

Christopher Mitchell: Chris, as someone who in some ways and I might simplify what you were saying from your background to like coming from someone who's I think more on the geek side of just getting things done and suddenly being exposed to this becoming political, I'm curious if you have any reflections on that.

Chris Seidt: I wish that I had more vision that we were going to run into the opposition, as I feel like we would have better prepared our initial budget documents to reflect on some of the things that would be pointed as flaws when they were really to the benefit of the overall community. You know, we were attacked on a few different angles about the benefits, and as Grace said earlier there were so many of them that people narrowed in on a couple, and tried to attack those points, but the points weren't really wrong, they may just not have been accomplished in a way that they were traditionally use to. A carrier could come in here and very easily sell us gigabit services at our facilities. What they're not looking at is what does that cost over a 10, or 20 year period of time, because we've had fiber in the ground for 20 plus years, now, as a city, so we know that we have that kind of a life expectancy, so when we're looking at the recurring cost to connect a building, you know, if you're looking at a 10, or 20 year time frame the investment upfront makes a whole lot of sense, but there was a lot of focus from the questions we were getting in terms of, why don't we just X thousands of dollars per month for the service, and do you really need a gigabit service? That was a question, I think that came up more than a couple times was, do they really need it? As part of the innovation team we were trying to look at how the city operates not just now, but also how we're going to operate in the future, so with all these Smart City technologies coming down the road we had to not only educate folks about the fiber and the benefits, but also about the Smart City technologies that were coming along that were going to be layered on top of that. I think that was where if I had to go back I would have done a better job of educating, not just on the fiber investment itself, but on educating around the technologies that would enable for tomorrow.

Christopher Mitchell: Grace, I'm curious what points sort of resonated the most as you were going through this process of educating, I guess I have a bias to assuming that it often will be about just the cost savings, and the economics, but was some of it also more technological in nature, and educating them as to the technology benefits?

Grace Simrall: Yes, certainly. Again, back to that whole challenge around a project like this that has multiple benefits, we wanted to be able to educate them about the future of Smart City, and what that means in terms of technology. We also wanted to educate them about equity. One of our core governing values is compassion, and when we say that what we really mean is we want to enable and create an environment to allow people full human potential to flourish. That sounds rather abstract, and yet it's something that we apply to all of our work, every day. When we looked at, again, what kind of investments we're making in underserved communities, especially ones that have historically been repeatedly underserved, and under invested in, we want to paint the picture of the future possibilities for those neighborhoods, so that children who are doing their homework have access, and not just have access, but have high quality access, those who are applying for college, applying for financial aid for college, again, have access and the means to do it. Those who are looking for jobs. All of these activities rely on network connectivity. When you look at either access from actual access to connectivity, physically as well as the cost it was something that we wanted to drive home. And, we kept stressing, this is middle mile, so we weren't necessarily delivering the final mile to residents, but again, and yet another benefit of this project is that this overbuild has significant access capacity. We designed and built for the future, even in terms of storing count, so we would be able to strategically lease out access capacity to encourage small and midsize Internet service providers to deploy final mile service to residents and businesses in the company. Frequently we hear from them that the cost, you know, there's a barrier to entry in the market, and that's the middle mile.

Christopher Mitchell: A quick clarifying question, so when you talk about the kids being able to do their homework better, and things like that, is that because you're going to be serving community centers, and libraries, and things in those areas with higher quality service?

Grace Simrall: Yes, in part, so certainly, when we talked about metro facilities that we would be able to immediately connect, we were very cognizant in what Louisville could point out which of those are community facilities that would be able to benefit immediately. Now, that said, there's also a significant part of why it's so complicated this extra piece where we could enable different Internet service providers into our market, or deliver to areas of rural that they haven't been able to before by giving them the ability to lease that access capacity on the middle mile.

Christopher Mitchell: And, that's what I wanted to follow-up with, you said, strategically, and I'm curious, I think a lot of people in earlier days, perhaps, would build out a network like this and they would build it so that the endpoints, the points to get into the network were always at the community facilities, did you engineer it in a way that better enables potential other lessors, or lessees, I forget, which is which, but whoever wants to lease it from you to be able to access it more conveniently?

Chris Seidt: We've been intentional with some of the routing that we've done with our fiber routes to make sure that we pass multiple points of presence, and have facilities near those locations, if not, in them, that will allow for widening that fiber from a carrier. We have also been diligent about making sure that we have ample amounts of splice points along the routes, so that those smaller providers, or any other provider, for that matter, can access a fiber and get from where they're at to where they need to get to on that backbone.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. That's what I was hoping to hear, and that's what I felt like a lot of people need to understand when they're laying these networks out is that, that's the key to making it useful. Are there any concluding thoughts? I'll start with you, Grace, this has been really helpful to get a better sense of what you've done, but have we left anything out?

Grace Simrall: I think one thing we learned in the process is that there are champions both in the community, and on the council, so find those champions, find those who not just are more technically inclined, or informed that, but who understand the vision, and make sure you work with them. We really benefited from finding those champions, both in the community and on council.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Chris, any other concluding thoughts?

Chris Seidt: I think we will spend more time this year with members of the council, and our leadership to make sure that we're continuously educating around not just the fiber that we're doing right now, but also the technologies that we're going to be putting on top of them. I think starting early on that is critical to our long-term success.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you both for coming on to share the lessons. I think these are really important lessons that people will get a lot out of, and hopefully they'll have fewer close calls as a result of them. Thank you, both.

Chris Seidt: Thank you.

Grace Simrall: Thank you so much for having us.

Lisa Gonzales: That was Christopher with Grace Simrall and Chris Seidt from Louisville, Kentucky describing the city's fiber project. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits 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 podcasts. You can access them on Stitcher, Apple Podcast, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you Arne Huseby for your song, Warm Duck Shuffle license and creative comments, and thanks for listening to episode 273 of the Community of Broadband Bits Podcast.

Link: Tags: transcriptlouisvillekentuckyanchor institutionsciosecurityCost Savingslessons learnedmisinformation

Can't Be There? Livestream of Ammon Launch Oct. 5th

muninetworks.org - October 4, 2017

If you can’t make it to Ammon to attend the launch of the city’s ground breaking open access fiber network, you can still enjoy the festivities. The event will be livestreamed starting at 10:30 eastern at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmATax9osBK4K2ZUiAtjXmQ/live

Ammon’s Mayor Deb Kirkham, State Senator Brent Hill, and even former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a video address, will share thoughts about the city’s pioneering infrastructure and what it means for this Idaho city of about 14,000 people. Christopher is in Ammon to celebrate with the community and speak on the significance of this local project.

If you need to brush up on Ammon’s software defined network (SDN) and the ways it has already improved life in the community, read our coverage before the event on October 5th. You can also take a few minutes to listen to episodes 259, episode 207, episode 173, and episode 86 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to listen to conversations that describe the evolution of Ammon’s network.

Lastly, check out our video about the network and hear from the people in Ammon who are early adopters:

Tags: ammonidahoeventsoftware defined networksopen accesschristopher mitchell

Aurora's Fiber: "A Big Attraction" In Illinois

muninetworks.org - October 4, 2017

OnLight Aurora, the nonprofit ISP serving Aurora, Illinois via publicly owned infrastructure, is bringing more companies to the second largest city in the state.

"One Of The Reasons We're Here"

Scientel Solutions, a wireless communications company with headquarters in Lombard, Illinois, is making a move to Aurora. The company plans to build its own 12,000 square foot office building and an accompanying warehouse in the community where they will be near a local data center.

The data Cyrus One data center was only one reason Scientel chose Aurora, according to the company’s attorney Richard Williams:

“In addition to being near Cyrus One, Williams told aldermen the company also was lured by OnLight Aurora, the city's fiber optic network.” 

"Fiber was a big attraction to us," Williams said. "That's one of the reasons we're here."

Rather than continue to lease its Lombard location, the company has decided to invest in its own property. In addition to constructing the facilities, Scientel will erect a communications tower on its new site. Lombard is approximately 25 miles east of Aurora, closer to downtown Chicago.

Scientel will bring 30 Lombard employees to Aurora and hire 20 more employees to work at the new headquarters.

Unexpected Benefits

Back in 1995, city leadership decided to invest in publicly owned infrastructure to reduce telecommunications costs, upgrade to a faster network, and obtain the reliability they couldn’t get from incumbents. At the time, the city used patchwork of different connections and while some facilities obtained adequate connectivity, others in the more far-reaching areas of the community depended on old leased lines that weren’t up to task. Employees in some offices traveled to offices where connectivity was better in order to complete specific tasks that required better connections.

Rather than continue to pay $500,000 per year to telecommunications providers to pay for multiple leased lines, community leaders saw the wisdom in fiber optic investment. Construction on the 60-mile network started in 2008, lasted for three years, and allowed Aurora to save $485,000 per year on telecommunications costs. The final cost to deploy was approximately $7 million.

While the original goal was to cut municipal costs and improve connectivity for the city, the network has generated other benefits. In 2011, the network attracted a $12 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to upgrade traffic signals as part of an Intelligent Traffic System (ITS). The grant allowed Aurora to pay off the original cost of deployment.

In 2012, the city’s broadband task force formed nonprofit ISP OnLight Aurora. The organization has driven better connectivity for community anchor institutions (CAIs), schools, and businesses. Learn more about the community and OnLight Aurora by listening to Christopher’s conversation with Alderman Rick Mervine in episode 123 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from 2014.

Tags: auroraonlight auroraillinoisnonprofitanchor institutionseconomic developmentinfrastructuredata centertraffic lightsCost Savings
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