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Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 1

July 1, 2019

California

City approves high-speed Internet agreement by Tammy Murga, The Signal 

“The city of Santa Clarita, much like other businesses and organizations within it, has a growing need for a faster and more cost-effective Internet connection,” the report reads. “As the city continues to move toward Internet-based applications to provide improved and more efficient service options for its current, and growing, population, the need for faster and more diverse options for Internet services becomes of greater significance.”

 

Colorado 

Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem can sign broadband contracts over $100,000 without Board approval by Tyler Pialet, Estes Park Trail Gazette

 

Iowa

City council moves forward on improving Ames Internet service by Jake Webster, Iowa State Daily 

 

Kentucky 

KentuckyWired project overcomes squirrels to complete long-delayed initial phase by Alfred Miller, Louisville Courier Journal

‘Closing the digital divide.’ First part of long-delayed Internet project finally done by Bill Estep, Herald Leader

 

Maine

Selectmen talk broadband, endorse inter-town committee by Joseph Charpentier, Boothbay Register

 

Massachusetts 

Hilltown Voices: Broadband network largest infrastructure project in Plainfield’s history by Fran Ryan, Daily Hampshire Gazette 

 

New Hampshire

Legislature offers no clear path for municipal broadband advocates by Matt Pilon, Hartford Business Journal

 

New York

A DIY Internet network has drastically expanded its coverage in NYC by Karl Bode, Vice

 

North Carolina

Broadband provider RiverStreet begins contacting residents about possible service, Blue Ridge Now

Leveraging the best requires better broadband by Bob Scott, Smoky Mountain News

The towns across our region have so much to offer young entrepreneurs and young families, and we know that they see that. But how many cannot make a full-time transition to these towns because broadband access remains inconsistent and even unavailable in some places?

And how many of our existing businesses suffer lost opportunities or are unable to recruit those with specialized skills and knowledge for the same reason? Even our municipalities face these issues as they recruit people to fill local government jobs. That is especially the case when a spouse operates a home-based business requiring reliable, high-speed Internet to connect to the larger world.  

Our view: Spur better rates, service, The Dispatch 

 

Tennessee

Bradley County businesses say high speed Internet is key; one company relocates to Chattanooga for better service by Dave Flessner, Times Free Press 

 

Texas

Texas telecom law sets up legal showdown for cities, state by Tessa Weinberg, Fort Worth Star-Telegram 

 

Vermont

Vermont takes rural broadband into its own hands under new law by Katya Schwenk, StateScoop

“We have been waiting for the private sector to serve us, and it hasn’t come,” Clay Purvis, the director for telecommunications at the Vermont Department of Public Service, told StateScoop. “And we’ve waited for the federal government to bring us Internet service, and it hasn’t come. We’ve come to the realization that no one is going to do this for us, and we have to do it ourselves.”

 

Washington

Anacortes sets Internet fees for city network by Jacqueline Allison, GoAnacortes 

 

General 

Ajit Pai is working hard to make broadband users dumb again by Dell Cameron, Gizmodo

The FCC is siding with landlords and Comcast over tenants who want broadband choices by Ernesto Falcon, Electronic Frontier Foundation 

 

Tags: media roundup

Christopher to Talk at Muni Fiber Palo Alto Informational Event July 9th

July 1, 2019

On July 9th, Christopher will be in Palo Alto, California, for a talk on municipal networks and the possibilities as the city searches for better connectivity. Organizers from Muni Fiber Palo Alto will also host a screening of the documentary "Do Not Pass Go." Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the presentation.

Details for the event:

Muni Fiber Palo Alto - How and Why

July 9, 2019 at 7 p.m.

Mitchell Park Community Center

3700 Middlefield Road

El Palo Alto Room West

Palo Alto, California

Google map to the event location

Long Road to Change

For about two decades, Palo Alto has contemplated the possibilities of a municipal fiber optic network. We recently shared an opinion piece by Jeff Hoel, who moved to Palo Alto years ago, in part because he thought the community was sure to invest in citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) infrastructure. As a retired electrical engineer, the ability to get the best connectivity has always been a priority for Jeff. He's still waiting for the city to deploy fiber citywide.

Palo Alto currently leases out dark fiber, generating revenue that goes into a fiber optic fund. With approximately $26 million stashed away so far, Jeff and others are asking Palo Alto to move beyond feasibility studies or private sector partner searches, and build a municipal network. Launching Muni Fiber Palo Alto was one of the first steps to stirring local support; public information meetings like the one on July 9th will also help grow interest.

If you want to sign up for announcements from Muni Fiber Palo Alto you can do it here or sent a note to Jeff at: info (at) munifiberpaloalto.org

Tags: palo altocaliforniaeventchristopher mitchelldocumentarypublic meetinggrassroots

Support Growing for Muni Initiative in Falmouth

July 1, 2019

People in Falmouth, Massachusetts, met on June 4th to discuss the possibilities of developing a municipal network in their city. About 80 people attended the meeting, which they held at the local library. By the end of the evening, attendees had discovered more about the process to build a community network, how their city may move forward, and determined that a key element will be building local support from residents and businesses.

An Advantage on the Cape

Even though Falmouth doesn’t have its own electric utility, as do many towns that ultimately develop municipal broadband networks, the city already has an edge — fiber from nonprofit OpenCape already connects approximately 40 municipal facilities and other community anchor institutions (CAIs). David Isenberg, a resident and former FCC senior advisor, helped organize the meeting and noted that the OpenCape infrastructure will provide an option for better connectivity in the community:

“There is a lot of OpenCape infrastructure in Falmouth that is already here for us to use,” Mr. Isenberg said.

OpenCape could hypothetically manage the community-based fiber-optic network, he said. Other options include the Town of Falmouth, a utility district, the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation or a public/private partnership. A feasibility study would determine the viability of those options.

David Talbot from CTC Technology and Energy was on hand to discuss what sort of issues a feasibility study would address. He estimated that a $50,000 study would help the city determine what assets they have that can facilitate a community network, identify where the existing infrastructure’s gaps are, create a basic network design, and offer a strategy and cost estimates.

Isenberg suggested a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in Falmouth would cost about $30 to $60 million to deploy, but that with sufficient support, the city could find financing. He told attendees:

“The way a community gets a network is primarily through community support,” Mr. Isenberg said. “We can do it together, but it will not be done for us. What has to come first, what has to be the basis for a community network is the community.”

Better Reliability, Economic Development, Local Support

In the summer of 2018, Comcast and Verizon inspired their subscribers to consider the possibility of a community network. There were multiple outages from both companies, including a five-day outage that left Verizon DSL subscribers offline. Falmouth businesses that purchased Internet access from Comcast found it difficult to process credit card transactions.

Local news outlet The Falmouth Enterprise published an editorial on May 30th encouraging local residents to keep an open mind about the possibility of a municipal network in Falmouth. In addition to the possibilities that better connectivity might bring for the local economy, editors write, the city will have more control over matter such as network neutrality and household rates for Internet access.

We imagine most Falmouth taxpayers will hesitate when they hear of the possible cost of creating a municipal system. But they should hear this group out. A municipal system could save money in most households with lower monthly access fees.

Tuesday’s meeting will be a good starting point. We hope this group gets the community’s ear as it moves forward.

The Enterprise has also provided information about municipal networks to local readers by writing about several networks in the U.S., including those in their region, such as Concord and Norwood. They've offered facts on economic development and other benefits in Chattanooga.

Shoring Up Support

Local Courtney F. Bird is leading the efforts toward a muni. He’s consulted with Isenberg to come up with the preliminary cost estimate and he brought the idea to the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) in April. He was pleased by the number of people who turned out in the city of almost 32,000 people and offered guidance for next steps:

“To see this turnout is great, and it’s a great first step,” organizer Courtney F. Bird of Sippewissett Road said. “That is what we need, and we now need you all to go out and sell it your friends, because it is going to be a slog for a little bit. Yes, there will be a feasibility study, but there also needs to be lobbying of our selectmen, there needs to be convincing of all of those people in Town Meeting that raise money, that set the taxes, that vote the priorities. They need to hear from people like you that this is important.”

On June 11th, the EDIC revisited the issue and voted unanimously to commit $50,000 toward a feasibility study.

A few days later, local citizens organized to form a group named the Falmouth Community Network published their support for the decision. They noted that committing funds for a feasibility study doesn’t create guarantees but will bring the information that community craves. The group also recognized that engaging in a feasibility study will put Comcast on notice and may encourage the company to improve service in the area.

The vote by the EDIC to commit $50,000 to a feasibility study of bringing municipal broadband to Falmouth was a bold move. It was, without a doubt, a good move; the idea of closing the gap between the OpenCape fiber optic network and residences and businesses has been out there for some time.

...

A municipal fiber network will require up-front expense. It will be easier to go to Town Meeting for funding with arguments already laid out in a feasibility study. But it will still be a bold move.

Image credit ToddC4176 at the English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Tags: falmouth maopen capemassachusettsgrassrootseconomic development

Report Paints a Clearer Picture of Digital Divide in Pennsylvania

June 28, 2019

Maps produced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) show that the vast majority of Pennsylvanians have broadband access, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. In order to get a clearer picture of on-the-ground broadband access and availability, a team from Pennsylvania State University proposed a research project for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (CRPA) that would analyze millions of speed tests from around the state. A few staff members from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance were recruited to help with the research: Hannah Trostle and Hannah Bonestroo created the maps for the report and Christopher Mitchell contributed policy recommendations. 

Read the full report here.

A Growing Problem in Rural Counties 

The team collected more than 11 million speed tests in 2018 using the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform, which allows users to conduct tests on their actual broadband connections. When the M-Lab’s data was compared to the FCC’s Form 477 speed data, certain discrepancies became apparent. Researchers found that there are actually zero counties in Pennsylvania where at least 50% of residents have access to broadband. 

The findings also showed that not only are median speeds slower in rural counties compared to urban ones, but the discrepancy between FCC data and the measured speeds collected by M-Lab has grown significantly in rural counties over the last few years. This signifies a growing problem for policymakers hoping to bridge rural Pennsylvania’s digital divide. Without a clear and accurate analysis of connectivity, determining where and how funding should be used is difficult. 

Next Steps for Pennsylvania 

Rural communities can face serious economic impacts due to a lack of affordable, reliable, broadband access, so local leaders are motivated to improve access for residents and businesses. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of a number of states with laws on the books that restrict municipal broadband, so governments that are willing to invest in broadband infrastructure are often discouraged or flat out prevented from doing so. Some have nonetheless come up with creative solutions to improve local connectivity, but legislatively  empowering all Pennsylvania communities to pursue whatever model works best for them would be a big step forward.  

As policymakers search for ways to mitigate the challenges of getting connected, we are hopeful that this report’s findings are a useful new data source and inspire other states to complete similar research. 

Read more here.

We discuss this report on episode 361 of the podcast. 

Photo of farm in Pennsylvania by fishhawk [CC BY 3.0]

Tags: pennsylvaniareportspeedtestsfccmappingrural

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 362

June 28, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 362 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher interviews Matt Rantanen, wearer of many hats, about creative solutions for connecting tribal lands. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.

 

 

Jess Del Fiacco: Welcome to episode 362 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This is Jess Del Fiacco filling in for Lisa Gonzalez. This week, Christopher chats with Matt Rantanen, director of technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association and director of the Tribal Digital Village Network. They discuss Matt's experiences finding creative solutions for better connectivity in Indian country, which often involves working throughout tricky terrain. Matt also talks about how the FCC's impact on tribal communities has changed in recent years, why broadband is continuing to become more and more important on reservations, and some promising new tools that are becoming available. We also get to learn about Matt's newest project, a company called Arcadian Infracom that's working to create diverse fiber paths throughout the U.S., thanks to some innovative partnerships with tribal communities. Now here's Matt and Christopher.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and today I'm talking to my good friend Matt Rantanen who — now pace yourself for this — is the director of technology of Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association and director of the Tribal Digital Village Network. Welcome back, Matt.

Matt Rantanen: Hey, good to be here, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: So I'm excited. I know that you have a very interesting project going on in the southwest that we're going to talk about here in a minute, but first of all, I think just for people who haven't heard of it before, do you want to just very quickly remind us what Tribal Digital Village is?

Matt Rantanen: Sure. The Tribal Digital Village is an initiative that was started with a Hewlett Packard grant back in 2001 that essentially was designed to bring resource programs to the tribal facilities of the member tribes of Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association, which there are now 20 member tribes. We were at 19 at the time. And each of the reservations got some funding and computer equipment to build a resource program or resource center — if they already had that, it enhanced it — so that kids had places to go after school to do homework and study, and community members as well. A network to the outbound internet was created to support each of those locations, and that network has grown into what we call TDV Net. And TDV Net is now over 650 miles of point-to-point and point-to-multipoint links with 10 gig fiber at the headend and 10 gig fiber at the tailend of the network for redundancy and about 400 homes and right around 1,500 transient users.

Christopher Mitchell: And you've been on top of all kinds of interesting wireless ways to solve this problem, right? I mean, you have the solar powered antennae in multiple areas, you've been doing stuff in the white spaces with Microsoft, all kinds of stuff, right?

Matt Rantanen: Yeah. You know, you get in a situation where you have really diverse geography, really tough to build situations. We have mountain tops and valleys, and it has presented every single obstacle that you could possibly imagine. So we've come up with every single possible solution. Duct tape, chicken wire, you name it, we've put it together. You know, some of the frequencies that are being becoming available to us, like white space, EBS, and a few other things, we're starting to play in those realms so that we can expand our footprint, shoot through some trees, kind of bend around corners, get some of that neater stuff that works a little bit better than line of sight. So we're excited that there's some opportunity there. But yeah, we've had to pull some tricks out of our hat, that's for sure, to make this happen, and we have 23 towers with 20 of them running off grid on solar.

Christopher Mitchell: Now remind me, we've talked about this before, but what is the state — not that you are representative of all of the tribes across the United States — but what is the situation in general on reservations regarding telecommunications services?

Matt Rantanen: It's still pretty dismal. You know, the plain old copper network to plain old telephone service is still right around 70 percent penetration, so 30 percent of the folks that are on the reservation can't dial 911 on the land line. You know, cellular is starting to creep in a bit, but there are plenty of places where we could show you no signal. The fun thing is to bring representatives of the FCC out to the reservation to drive them around and look at them struggle to try to figure out how to stay connected with their phones. And, you know, as far as broadband technology and penetration in Indian country, projects like the Tribal Digital Village Network, like Red Spectrum in Coeur d'Alene, Yurok and Karuk tribes in northern California — you know, a handful of tribes are actually putting together networks that are serving their communities. And they're actually getting to the point where they're 100 percent access, you know, whatever the take rate is, and so they actually have opportunities for their folks to connect. But it's not widespread. There's 573 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., 320 reservations in the lower 48, and we're looking at, you know, a fraction of those people that have access to this. There's only 12 tribal telcos as well, so you know, the area is still small. We're growing and the shift in the mentality about what broadband is to a tribe and the tribal community and what opportunities may lie ahead as far as education and retaining their educated youth as part of their population base — things have changed. There's been a shift, but we certainly don't have the penetration that we need.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, one of the things that I hope that we'll see is that you'll have more tools. Not just you, although frankly I think I'm always interested to see what happens whenever you get a new tool because whether it's welding in your shop, in your house, or you know, building the networks in different areas, you're pretty handy with it. But I was actually going to try and get into this discussion around EBS, the educational broadcast spectrum, if I remember correctly. What is happening there? I mean, you can assume that maybe a number of the listeners have never even heard of EBS before, so what's happening there? What's the potential?

Matt Rantanen: So educational broadcast spectrum, EBS, was designed essentially to be able to connect educational facilities with wireless, and it is in the sweeter spectrum range, cellular style range. It can be distributed like LTE, and there's a few demonstration projects in Indian country that have been done. One of the leaders in the use of this technology is MuralNet, M-U-R-A-L Net, and the CEO Mariel Triggs is a big advocate for connecting tribal communities. She's working on the ground in the southwest. And they connected the Havasupai down in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and that's one of the coolest projects they use this for. Basically, the spectrum is kind of on the chopping block at the moment at the FCC. You know, the comments are open and potentially closed, I don't know the date, but a lot of stuff has been said. The tribal aspect of things — and a lot of people have pushed on the tribal side of things, all the way up to the chairman of the FCC and the commissioners, that there's a great opportunity for tribes to be able to utilize this spectrum because of the types of spectrum it is, like cellular, and to be able to use it to deploy to their communities. And we're pushing for a tribal priority. The drafts that we've seen of the potential rulemaking are addressing this as a tribal priority. We just don't know to what extent things will change in the 11th hour, but, you know, fingers are crossed because this is another swath of spectrum, it's a fairly big chunk, and it opens up some doors for some real creative use in Indian country.

Christopher Mitchell: What does "tribal priority" mean? Like, what would you be able to do with that?

Matt Rantanen: So, there's an example of tribal priority with the FM radio spectrum. The tribes . . . So typically FM radio has a window of opportunity. The window opens, you can apply for a license, you have a competition between like, you know, the value of what you're bringing to the table, with that license there's a purchase fee, and then there's an award given in a region. So with the tribal priority on that component, if the tribe is serving its own tribal land, that tribe gets priority. There is no fee associated with the license, and there is no window of application; that window is always open for the tribal community. You know, we feel that spectrum over tribal lands, though the United States does not identify that as tribal owned, it would make sense that the tribes would have first access to that because the tribes are typically the carrier of last resort that would serve that community because the incumbents are not interested in serving, you know, a low population density. The lack of ROI just forces them to say that, you know, it doesn't make sense to put the infrastructure in; we can't recover the costs at all. But we can, from the ground up, and we just need the opportunity and the access to the spectrum, so that's kind of where we're coming from.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to ask you a question about the FCC more generally. I don't recall if we've talked about this in past podcasts, but you and I have certainly talked about it in panels we were on together or things like that. You knokw, if we go back to the beginning of the Obama administration, a lot of the public interest groups and myself, we really did not like Chairman Genachowski, thought he got a lot of things wrong. And at the same time I think, you know, your impression is that he actually did a lot for tribes, and I think I like to bring this up because a lot of people forget that tribes have your own interests. You're not just rural America. There's a lot of different issues. And so, I want to get a sense, if you want to just talk briefly about that and then about this whole larger area that I'm trying to set up. You know, Chairman Wheeler came in in the second half of the Obama Administration. I liked him. A lot of the public interest groups liked him a lot more. I think he wasn't as good for the tribes. And then Chairman Pai took over into the Trump administration, and I think on the issue of lifeline, he's been really bad for a lot of the lower income members of tribes living in tribal areas. So I'm curious how it's been more generally though and if you want to just say, you know, a brief overview of your impressions of the FCC over the past 10 years or so.

Matt Rantanen: Sure. So when Genachowski was in place ⁠— well let's rewind one step. We had Michael Copps in there as an interim chair of the FCC and that was one of the best things ever. You know, Michael Copps is one of the biggest champions of Indian country. And I think, moving into Genachowski being the chair, I think a lot of that sentiment from Copps moved forward with Genachowski on the tribal front, and he was there as an advocate internal for a little bit of that time. Obviously the administration, the Obama Administration, was geared towards helping tribal communities on some level, and so you know, there wasn't opposition to helping tribes. I think the real catalyst that caused us to be able to move under Genachowski was the fact that we started the Office of Native Affairs and Policy at the FCC during that time. Geoffrey Blackwell was named chief of that office, and several of the intertribal organizations and tribal leadership groups that are in the U.S. endorsed Geoffery Blackwell to be that position and he was placed in that position. And we had, you know, a very strong advocate inside the FCC who was pushing internal for tribal issues, started the Native Nations Broadband Task Force, of which I served two terms under Genachowski and then I was reaffirmed under Wheeler, and we were able to move the needle quite dramatically during those times. The shift ⁠— essentially Genachowski, in my mind, was like, okay, you know, push everything at me; I'll push back on the things I can't do. And so we pushed everything we could push at Genachowski, and we got 11 out of 12. You know, it was that kind of a win. Wheeler came in a little bit different, you know, coming from the cable industry and the wireless industry and, you know, being in the hall of fame for both. I think, you know, he had a little bit different take on things and he was a little bit more calculatin. We had very good meetings on the eighth floor with him, through the National Congress of American Indians. And he was engaged. He wanted to be supportive, but at the same time, you know, he was playing his role as he saw it, and I think we got less done under Wheeler. I think what happened with Wheeler and then transitioned into Chairman Pai with Lifeline, I think actually it started its genesis with Wheeler and maybe was influenced by Wheeler, and then Chairman Pai was the one that executed on that. And it's unfortunate because that has been very damaging to Indian country. As we saw in court, you know, that decision was overturned, specifically in the tribal areas that that were in question, and you know, the impact of the tribal people was massive. So currently under this administration, though tribes are not a priority ⁠—

Christopher Mitchell: So Matt, quickly, I think a reminder, and let me know if I'm getting this right because you and I have talked about this before, but the issue that has been raised regarding Lifeline is that there are a number of companies that are basically trying to scam the federal government to get these subsidies. And so, they go and they basically pray on low income populations that live in Indian country, and the response from the FCC, and particularly under Chairman Pai, has been to say, well, let's just not give any money to Indian country effectively to try and, like, harm the scammers, but also having this effect of taking phones away from, I don't know how many people, but lots of people who really need them.

Matt Rantanen: Yeah. So it gets even worse than that. So essentially what he's done, Chairman Pai has done with Lifeline in his thought process on how to solve the waste, fraud, and abuse is to carve out on the map areas where he feels the waste, fraud, and abuse is the heaviest. So if you're going to be looking for a kickback from the federal government and you're going to scam the federal government, you're going to look for the biggest kickback, biggest bang for your buck. Well, tribal community Lifeline gets a bigger discount and a bigger payback rate from the FCC than a normal Lifeline customer off of reservation or off of tribal lands because the opportunity on tribal lands is far harder to connect people than it is in non-tribal lands. So obviously they're praying on the biggest dollar that they can recover from the FCC. And so we've seen actual pickup trucks full of phones drive into fiestas and powwows and actually hand them out off the back of a truck. We've actually witnessed them asking, "Okay, what's your name?" And then you know, the husband comes up and says the name and then signs up for the phone, and then the wife is standing there and then ⁠— you know, the tribes don't exactly understand the rule makings on how this is actually supposed to be distributed, and then they say, "What's your name?" and she explains her name as the same last name and the same household. And then what they do is they tweak the spelling of the last name and hand the phone to the woman. And then, let's say there's a 17 year old child in the house that's with the group at the time. Then they will ask the name of that person and they will tweak that last name or they'll tweak the address to cook the database. You know, it's super frustrating to see that happen. So basically by redrawing the line on the map, he is effectively saying that he has the ability to change sovereign rights, sovereign territory. Those lines on the map are there for a reason. We're sovereign dependents of the United States federal government. He's saying that he can redefine that area and pull services from that when he really doesn't have the right to do that, and I think that's why it got hung up in court.

Christopher Mitchell: So I want to get back then to the overall impressions, aside from just Lifeline, but any sense of how priorities around the needs in Indian country have changed under the Trump administration.

Matt Rantanen: So interestingly enough, I don't know that we are in favor at the moment with this administration, but we ⁠have the opportunity —

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to the club.

Matt Rantanen: Yeah. We have the opportunity, however, to adapt, right? So we see opportunity even though there is, you know, a different playing field and a different set of players with some of the announcements and some of the focus that's happened. And we think to gain more voters that are aligned with this administration the administration is looking to serve broadband to rural customers throughout the United States. They're very focused on rural connectivity, and those rural voters are typically farther to the right on the spectrum of politics then to the left. And so, that would increase the voter base and service to the voter base that I think aligns with the administration, which, you know, be it what it is, we have the opportunity to convert that into opportunity for rural connectivity and tribes are 90-some percent rural, and we can take advantage of some of those opportunities that are coming out. And we can even actually get funding and things through like the RUS program with the ReConnect and different things to be able to bring rural broadband out, as long as we bring that broadband out with a focus on the region instead of just a micro focus on the tribe.

Christopher Mitchell: This is a great opportunity then to talk about your next project because you're not busy enough, you don't travel enough. You're working on Partnering and Business Development for something called Arcadian Infracom. What is the deal with that?

Matt Rantanen: So about a year and a half to almost two years ago now, we ⁠— we meaning the original four or five people from Arcadian Infracom ⁠— got together around a meeting at PTC, Pacific Telecom Conference. A couple of problems presented themselves to the group on a couple of individual pathways, and like minds together trying to solve the same thing — it was one of those epiphany moments when, you know, the cofounders of Arcadian Infracom, Dan Davis and Derek Garnier, thought, "Oh, what if we do this?" And then the other one was like, "Yeah, if we did that, we could do this." And then all of a sudden this spawned a broadband fiber infrastructure building company, not a service service provider but an actual dark fiber builder, that is serving the top tier customers, that being, you know, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, as the top tier customers connecting their data centers through, through new — and then, you know, quotes around that — "new" routes through the United States to be able to create diversity in the fiber paths that don't exist today. Everybody seems to be building on the same Rights-of-Way, and it presents a real security risk for the infrastructure as well as just a risk in failure, to build in the same Rights-of-Way and not have a more diverse fiber structure of the United States or fiber map of the United States. So one of the things that happened —

Christopher Mitchell: It's not like we're seeing unprecedented hurricanes, fires, and other forms of flooding and natural disaster. I don't know why you would be worried about that, Matt.

Matt Rantanen: Yeah. Global warming, what's that? I could talk about that all day long with Tribal Digital Village and solar panels. Oddly enough, we get way more clouds than we ever have in the last 19 years. I've been here for 19 years and I've seen three to five days in storms on average in the beginning. We are now seven to 10 days in the clouds without solar recovery, so yeah, I don't know what you're talking about. However —

Christopher Mitchell: Brutal. Go ahead.

Matt Rantanen: This diversity in the fiber path build creates opportunity for a bunch of reasons. So, these over the top hyperscalers, whatever you want to call that top tier customer level, is driving the fiber map, is driving the build map in the United States today and globally. It's not the carriers anymore. The carriers are more reactive than anything. They're picking up, you know, fiber assets on routes that are being built, but they are no longer capital heavy where they can actually go out and build new infrastructure, greenfield infrastructure. So a company like Arcadian Infracom is timed perfectly to be able to support these top tier customers, and that is the business model. However, we have a freedom in design of that route. We have the ability to draw new lines through the map. We all know that 20 years ago, 19-20 years ago, when all seven of the networks that were built across the United States were built and valued on route miles built in a day: "How valuable is that company? I don't know. How many miles have they built?" Well, that kind of a race across the country with fiber build really dictated how that fiber was going to be laid. It was avoiding every pitfall, every geographic, obstacle, every tribal reservation because they did not have the time to negotiate an easement or a right of way on each of the reservations of the 320 land masses they had to get around to get across the country. They created this map on the United States where there's these giant holes in the fiber. There is no opportunity. So these new lines that Arcadian Infracom are drawing between these data centers for these high value customers. You know, they have to be from A to B with a certain amount of latency. Well, within that latency there's a lot of leeway on where that route lays on the ground.

Christopher Mitchell: So if for instance, you know of Amazon and Facebook, just for me to pick out two companies. They may have data centers in, like, parts of Colorado or New Mexico, and you're basically going to get fiber between the two of them but in the course of how you do it, you can figure out whether you want to connect pueblos or other reservations or if you wanted to avoid them, which obviously in this case you wouldn't want to do.

Matt Rantanen: Sure. So our CEO, Dan Davis, essentially built, bought, and acquired fiber for CenturyLink for the last, I don't know, 15 years. And so he is self aware that he was part of that problem in consolidating all those fiber companies into one, and in the process, in his original builds, when he built one of those networks across the country that he was very aware of avoiding those pitfalls. He is now doing penance, if you will. We're holding him to the grindstone. He is going to lead this charge by dragging that fiber path through little town USA, zigzagging it back and forth to catch every reservation, every opportunity that the region needs, the rural region needs and leaving connectivity opportunities at the doorstep. So one of the things I did in the Obama Administration was work with the CTO of the United States to identify a solution for tribes and why they don't have access to fiber. Well it was a mapping project. We worked with all of the carriers. We overlaid, you know maps under a nondisclosure agreement over the reservation boundaries. We did some mapping work. There are 8,000 middle mile fiber miles missing from the map to be able to connect to reservations. So just to get middle mile fiber to a key location on each of the reservations in the lower 48, 320, that's how many fiber miles are missing ⁠— 8,000 miles. So this kind of a build drags that fiber path and presents opportunity and connectivity at very affordable rates at the doorstep of each of these locations ⁠— Little Town USA, tribes, pueblos, you name it ⁠— across that landscape, and with our partners and other small carriers, they will be able to build out those regions.

Christopher Mitchell: That's pretty great. What are ⁠— is there, like, a first project that you can talk about or is this something that's not public yet?

Matt Rantanen: No, so there's an announced route. It's on the website. So we did a little play with the "dot" and the ".com" so it's arcadianinfra.com. A-R-C-A-D-I-A-N-I-N-F-R-A.com. If you go there, you can scroll down and you can see the map. There's announced ⁠— there's a solid line on the map that looks like a "Y", and it goes from Phoenix through Cameron, Arizona, to Salt Lake City and from Phoenix to Cameron, Arizona, to Denver, Colorado. That "Y" creates a convergence path intentionally on the Navajo reservation. One of the things that happened and that is actually happening this year is the coal burning power generation station that's on the Navajo reservation is shutting down. It is a massive percentage of the tribal income annually. It is approximately 3,000 jobs. And you know, it shifts the landscape on the reservation and they're definitely trying to figure out how to solve that. Well by converging three fiber paths on the reservation at that location in Cameron, Cameron has access to multiple water sources, the utility company of the tribe has access to that, there are multiple power providers that are in that region that can provide redundant power source, and the fiber build from Arcadian would provide diverse routes in and out of that potential data center location.

Matt Rantanen: So a data center build is imminent on the Navajo reservation. We can't pick up 3,000 jobs with that, but you know, there would be a lot of workforce needed throughout the phases of the build of that and then the maintenance of that moving forward. Not to mention, it just creates a lot of opportunity on the reservation. So that's the first announced route. There is a route that has a dotted line that goes east and west off of that route. It's supports Los Angeles, essentially through Flagstaff running on the I-40 to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then through to Dallas. That east-west route is, you know, in the works and we're comfortable putting it on the page because we've had conversations with each of the states involved, a lot of the key stakeholders involved, and it will be the next route. And it's very exciting because it will do things like connect all of the southwest universities to capacity for their super computer centers. It will do things like bring data center traffic for some of our customers east-west at a capacity that they don't currently have through that region. It connects oddly, like, Dallas to Salt Lake, which isn't really a direct path currently. You don't have to go around the Navajo reservation anymore. You can go through the Navajo reservation, where before you used to have to go sometimes from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles to Phoenix or from Denver to El Paso to Phoenix. Now you can go Denver to Phoenix. That's a huge shift. It also changes the landscape on where people are placing data centers and you know, growing opportunities moving forward.

Christopher Mitchell: All right, well I remember that one of the challenges you had ⁠— I mean, I can't imagine with how much satisfaction it is that you can talk about having a 10 gig link on both sides of your network now, because there was a time when there was no off ramps, right? You had fiber nearby but you couldn't touch it.

Matt Rantanen: Yeah. It's been amazing. Indian country has that problem, right, with the 8,000 missing miles. Well, we identified a fiber opportunity close to the TDV network, and I could not for the life of me for at least six years break into that fiber. I could not get the fiber. And then when I could finally get access to the people that would finally sell me the fiber, you know, $17 a meg per month, which you cannot afford to do at scale. And so, you know, it was a relationship with a state CIO. It was a public announcement of tribal aligned with government. It was them getting me in the door to the right negotiation people. Well, with Arcadian Infracom and I'm with a group of people that understands that level, right? So I'm in the door doing business development, helping do this. So Arcadian worked a year in secret with the Navajo nation to be able to go across the reservation. The Navajo nation has been advertising for decades a $1 million a mile easement if you want a Right-of-Way across their land, 27,000 square miles or something crazy. You know, it was a $1 million a mile, linear mile, and it was basically a sign on the outside of the reservation that said, "Go away. We don't want to deal with you anymore," because they've been mistreated for so long. Well, they actually came to us about how to solve the problem with the closing down on the power generation station and what could they do with it. And they were thinking data center and data center makes a lot of sense. The problem is data center without fiber is a warehouse, a rather hot warehouse. So, you know, the real solution to the problem is a fiber path through the reservation, and the tribe is benefiting greatly from the relationship and the easement. They're actually getting dark fiber, they're getting lit services, 400 gig lit services on reservation, and they're getting revenue share off the top. So it's a great opportunity, it's a great relationship, but we hope we're changing the landscape for future fiber builds from other companies to work more closely with the tribe as a partner rather than just an obstacle.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, I've really appreciated this discussion to get a better sense of what's going on and that there's progress. You know, it's really great seeing that there's so many more opportunities on the horizon.

Matt Rantanen: Yeah. I mean, there needs to be many more obviously, but you know, this is a big start. We hopefully will shift the landscape a little bit with the way that we've done this deal, and as this starts to gain momentum and more builds come online, we think we can, you know, make a difference. And that's what we're here to do. We're trying to help solve that rural connectivity problem. You know, America's got a lot of people that live outside the city centers and they just don't have access to the resources they need and a lot of those people are on reservations, so it's really important to get those people connected.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Thank you Matt.

Matt Rantanen: No problem, Chris. Good to talk to you.

Jess Del Fiacco: That was Christopher and Matt Rantanen discussing connectivity in tribal communities. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.orgs/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 podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons. Thank you for listening to episode 362 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Updated Report Shows How Cooperatives Are Bridging the Digital Divide

June 27, 2019

Decades after bringing electricity and telephone services to America’s rural households, cooperatives are tackling a new challenge: the rural digital divide. New updates to our report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, originally published in 2017, illustrate the remarkable progress co-ops have made in deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country. 

“Cooperatives should be the foundation for bringing high-quality Internet service to rural America... Small towns and farming communities need robust Internet service to support their local economies, educate themselves, and generally improve their quality of life. Cooperatives have quietly proved that they can build Fiber-to-the-Home networks that are capable of speeds of greater than 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps). More than 140 cooperatives offer gigabit service to residents or businesses.”

The report features new maps showing overall growth in areas served by co-ops, as well as expanded information about state legislation that supports co-op investment in broadband networks. A few important takeaways:

  • More than 140 co-ops across the country now offer residential gigabit Internet access to their members, reaching more than 300 communities. 
  • Co-ops connect 70.8 percent of North Dakota and 47.7 percent of South Dakota landmass to fiber, and residents enjoy some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the nation.
  • Georgia and Mississippi have overturned state laws banning co-ops from offering Internet access, and other states, including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas, have implemented legislation that will further ease the way. 

Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them. 

Read the full report here.

Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era (2019)Tags: rural electric coopcooperativemapreport

Telecom Expert Doug Dawson Addresses 5G Myths and Health Concerns

June 26, 2019

Protestors around the country have taken a stand against 5G ⁠— often based on myths of health effects from the new technology. But Doug Dawson at CCG Consulting argues that the protestors do have an element of truth. Dawson addresses these health concerns around 5G and small cells on his blog, POTs and PANs. The first item of business that Dawson takes care of is explaining in clear terms what 5G even is. Then he dives into what the actual health effects are and how concerned we should be.

5G Basics

5G is confusing because it actually refers to three types of technologies: mobile cellular, gigabit radio, or high-speed wireless connections. Protestors have conflated these types of 5G together. Dawson explains the differences among these technologies and whether there are actual health risks to any of them. He also notes that 5G is not going to be here any time soon:

"It might be a decade until we see a full 5G cellular installation. There are 13 major specifications for improvements between 4G and 5G and those will get implemented over the next decade. This won’t stop the marketing departments of the cellular carriers to loudly claim 5G networks after one or two of these improvements have been partially implemented."

Health Concerns

Most of the 5G technologies should not pose a problem; the concern is with the particular technology that uses millimeter wave spectrum. Some research suggests that this can have ill effects on the environment. Other studies have shown few health effects, such as this article about millimeter wave spectrum and lab rats, but more research is needed. Dawson points out that most countries, including the U.S., have agreed to explore millimeter wave spectrum deployment except for Belgium, which has banned it until there is more research on the health effects. He describes the potential problem here:

"A deployment of millimeter wave loops means constantly bombarding residential neighborhoods with millimeter wave spectrum from poles on the curb. The other planned use of millimeter wave spectrum is for indoor routers that will transmit gigabit bandwidth inside of a room. People can clearly decide to not use millimeter wave routers, but have no say about a carrier introducing it into the neighborhood. Protesters have a valid concern for this technology."

We recommend reading Dawson’s whole article on POTs and PANs.

 

Tags: small-cell5GccgWirelessmobilespectrum

Building a New Path Toward Tribal Connectivity - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 362

June 25, 2019

Matt Rantanen, director of technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association and director of the Tribal Digital Village Network, has been working for years to get tribal communities connected to broadband. In his conversation with Christopher, he talks about his experience with creative wireless solutions, the potential of the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) to get folks connected, and shifting attitudes around the importance of broadband.

“We’re trying to help solve that rural connectivity problem. America’s got a lot of talented people that live outside the city centers, and they just don’t have access to the resources that they need — and a lot of those people are on reservations. So it’s really important to get those people connected.”

Matt’s newest venture, Arcadian InfraCom, is creating new, diverse fiber paths thanks to innovative partnerships with tribal communities. Phase 1 of their plan, scheduled to be completed in 2022, will connect Salt Lake City to Phoenix and Phoenix to Denver, with add/drop locations within the Navajo Nation and throughout Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.

We talked to Matt previously on Community Broadband Bits episode 76 and on an episode of our Community Connections series. Check out our other stories on tribal lands connectivity here.

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

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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: audiobroadband bitspodcasttribal landstribal networkfixed wirelessspectrumnative americansunderservedfcclifelineredundancydark fiberright-of-waydata center

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 24

June 24, 2019

Alabama

Government grant will help provide broadband access to Coosa County residents by Sean Ross, Yellowhammer News 

 

Connecticut

Legislature offers no clear path for municipal broadband advocates by Matt Pilon, Hartford Business

 

Florida

Gainesville City Commission votes to seek help and more information on broadband options by Joseph Hastings, WUFT

 

Indiana

State, regional leaders talk broadband in Monroe County, Ind. by Ernest Rollins, The Herald-Times

 

Kentucky 

Kentucky deploying 'armored' Internet fiber to fend off hungry squirrels by Karl Bode, VICE

 

Massachusetts

Lowell eyes new broadband network by Elizabeth Dobbins, Lowell Sun

In a presentation to the subcommittee, Bradshaw said the city could use the network to secure connections between city facilities, introduce WiFi zones, connect cameras to provide security and traffic management, introduce "eHealth" to ensure more patients can be managed from home, use "eLearning" to improve access to education and reduce snow days, run community outreach kiosks or utilize ground sensors to streamline maintenance.

 

Michigan

Traverse City, MI braves the wrath of telcoms lobbyists, pushes ahead with municipal fiber network by Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

 

New Hampshire

New Hampshire towns still struggle to lure broadband by Liisa Rajala, NH Business Review

 

Ohio

Council to consider budget amendments by Thomas Robertson, Zanesville Times Recorder

 

Tennessee

Rural Americans in need of better Internet services by Miguel Marquez, SiouxlandProud.com

 

Utah

American Fork looks to build $25 million broadband infrastructure by Carley Porter Daily Herald

“One of the things we’ve seen is that a large majority of our citizens either work from home part-time, full-time, or would work from home if they had connectivity,” Bunker said. “And so part of what we’re seeing as the growth is the need for this service so our (residents) can actually do work from their place of residency.”

 

Vermont

Broadband crucial to Vermont's future by Tim Briglin, Vermont Business Magazine

 

Virginia

City of Radford and Montgomery Co. survey residents to expand broadband, WDBJ7

 

Wyoming

Union expands fiber-optic broadband in Sublette, Sweetwater, and Lincoln Counties, SweetwaterNow

 

General 

Why we can't forget cost when discussing broadband mapping by Amir Nasr, New America

The latest FCC plan to boost US broadband? Prevent competition in apartment blocks by Kieren McCarthy, The Register

Broadband Roundup: 5G needs fiber, Anchorage wireless project and budgeting for broadband in Fort Collins by Masha Abarinova, Broadband Breakfast

 

Tags: media roundup

Ponca City Upgrades from Fixed Wireless to Fiber

June 24, 2019

Ponca City, Oklahoma, is a small community of about 24,000 just 30 miles off of I-35. Although known for its history museums, Ponca City also has a rich history in its publicly owned network. The city was one of the pioneers of citywide Wi-Fi in the 2000s, and now they are embarking on a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. Construction on the first phase of the network will be complete with customers online by mid-July. We spoke with David Williams, the Director of Technology Services, to learn more about Ponca City’s project. 

The First Phase

The first phase of the new FTTH network is a small section of the city, a 1 mile by 1.5 mile rectangle bounded by Bradley Avenue, Highland Avenue, 14th Street, and Union Street where the city is primarily deploying aerially on poles. The entire city is only about 20 square miles and the entire network for the city will eventually be a mix of underground and overhead deployment, matching the municipal electric network infrastructure.

The engineering estimate for the first phase puts the cost at approximately $3.5 million. The city estimated how many people will sign up for service (the take rate) very conservatively and is on track to meet its target number.

Williams said they chose to focus exclusively on Internet service and will have no data caps or subscriber contracts. There will be an activation fee with two payment options: a one-time payment of $200 or $10 per month for 24 months.

Residents can choose from three speed tiers — all are symmetrical:

  • 50 Mbps for $60 per month
  • 100 Mbps for $100 per month
  • 1 Gbps for $250 per month

Service for businesses will also be available; rates are available on a case-by-case basis.

There were about 395 pre-sign ups for the city’s fiber Internet access service according to Williams. Pre-sign ups are non-binding expressions of interest in the project. When the city’s contractor began connecting people’s homes to the network, the city saw a surge in pre-sign ups even before the network was lit. The form to pre-sign up for the first phase was available until early January, but Williams expects to see another surge of interest once the network goes online. 

According to the Federal Communications Commission Broadband Map (December 2017), residents in Ponca City currently have access to broadband service of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload via a variety of technologies: cable, ADSL, fixed wireless, and satellite. FCC data, however, is notoriously flawed because it often overstates coverage. Ponca City Now reports that a 2015 survey found that 84 percent of the Ponca City Utility Authority customers were unhappy with the community’s Internet access options.

Research Creates Good Networks

Before building the network, the Technology Services department dove into the research on other FTTH networks run by cities across the country. They developed a conservative take rate estimate based on what other communities of a similar size had experienced. Then Williams's staff worked with the Finance department to balance revenues and expenses throughout the project, and considered lessons learned from a number of municipal networks that had not turned out as expected.

The city has also been installing extra conduit whenever the streets are open with excavation, a practice that will make a future citywide rollout of the FTTH network easier. Smart conduit practice, including this type of dig once approach, has helped many other communities create environments that encourage better local connectivity. In Lincoln, Nebraska, the city began with an extensive conduit system that has attracted a private sector partner to invest in FTTH. Similarly, in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, the city's dig once approach combined with other policies are bringing better Internet access to residents and businesses.

Williams said that the first phase is being treated as a learning experience and have experimented with ways to make the residential installs as quick and efficient as possible. Ponca City also could rely on its own experience running a citywide fixed wireless network. Their celebrated fixed wireless network will continue to be available to residents, and it continues to operate well. Williams told us that some people have bought boosters to use the free citywide fixed wireless service indoors. The network, however, was not designed with video streaming in mind; the FTTH network will be future-proof and able to meet increased demand.

Delays and Goals Build Excitement

Lighting their new FTTH networks has been delayed slightly by the recent weather. Oklahoma has suffered under some severe storms, and Ponca City was hit with major flooding. For instance, this video below shows a parking lot under a sea of water. 

The flooding slowed the project by a few weeks, but it has mostly dried up after washing away a few roads. Instead of floating around the parking lot, people will soon be surfing the net on this new city owned network.

Although Williams expects the network to likely generate revenue for the city, the community is investing in the project for other reasons:

“It’s a quality of life issue. [The network] needs to pay for itself… [but] the goal is not to be a revenue generating engine.”

Photo of Ponca City downtown by Jeffrey Beall [CC BY 3.0]

Tags: ponca cityoklahomaFTTHmuni wirelessupgrademuni

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 361

June 21, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 361 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, our very own Jess Del Fiacco speaks with Christopher about 5G hype, open access networks, federal broadband subsidies, and more. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.

 

 

Jess Del Fiacco: But I think we're glossing over the takeaway, which is that 5G is going to cure cancer.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 361 of the Community Boadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Yes, it's true: the 5G hype has now reached the same level as the old timey snake oil salesmen, and Christopher has something to say about it. This week, he and our communications specialist Jess Del Fiacco tackle a questionable ad from Verizon along with several other timely topics. They discuss a recent report from M-Lab that compares real world Internet access speeds and self-reported results from ISPs. Jess and Christopher also discuss the recent news about Ammon, Idaho, where their software defined open access fiber network is creating a competitive environment where Internet access rates are incredibly affordable. Along with Ammon, they discuss the open access model and some of the pros and cons. Lastly, we hear a discussion about the possible cap on the Universal Service Fund. Christopher talks about the fund, what it does, and explains what might happen if this idea is adopted. Now, here's Jess and Christopher.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and we're back with another of a perhaps series that we'll call perhaps either "Chris Unleashed" or Chris Unhinged," depending on your point of view. But we have Jess Del Fiacco back in the studio/office to talk about a couple of topics that are a little bit hot in the news.

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, at least from my perspective. I mean, you know, national media might not be paying extremely close attention, especially to this first one, but we'll see.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, it's not like an incredible breaking news story about who has just surged one or two percentage points up among their 23 competitors for an election that won't be held until sometime in another person's lifetime, for what it seems like right now.

Jess Del Fiacco: But anyways, happy to be back. It has been awhile.

Christopher Mitchell: People usually say that like, "Oh, it's been awhile. I'm so glad I haven't seen you in that long."

Jess Del Fiacco: I guess we can kick things off with this fun commercial that I've brought you.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that's actually why I'm a little bit giddy because this commercial is amazeballs. I'm talking ⁠—

Jess Del Fiacco: Maybe not what I would call it, but ⁠—

Christopher Mitchell: That's what your generation would call it. I'm pretty sure I'm 40 and I understand these things.

Jess Del Fiacco: Sure. Whatever makes you feel good.

Christopher Mitchell: So we're about to react to a 60 second advertisement from Verizon for a product that I think most of our listeners will be somewhat familiar with, at least intellectually. And it came to me out of the blue because it's a show by Mike Pesca, who does a daily show for the slate, a podcast, that's pretty eclectic. It's very interesting. I think he's a fascinating, interesting mind. He's, like, a former jeopardy contestant. The guy's quite sharp. He's had Susan Crawford on, so we know that he has pretty good choice in who he's interviewing. And there's just this ad that he read. As I was listening to it, I don't remember if I almost fell off my bike or dropped a dish when I was doing the dishwashing, but I was just like, what is going on? So I want people to hear this and then we're gonna talk a little bit about it.

Mike Pesca: Doctors are doing the best they can to fight cancer, the most challenging disease humankind has ever faced, but they're often limited by 2D images to understand a patient's 3D anatomy. What if this could be different? Dr. Christopher Morley and Dr. Osamah Choudhry created Medivis, a technology that can take two dimensional patient imaging, whether an MRI or CAT scan, and convert it into three dimensional holographic renderings. This will fundamentally change how doctors visualize cancer. Dr. Morley and Choudhry thought this technology might just not be possible because computing power just wasn't there. But Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband will give them the ability to do this. Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband will help give doctors the ability to fight cancer like never before.

Christopher Mitchell: Alright, Jess, I don't even know where to start. I want to start eight different places.

Jess Del Fiacco: I mean, the thing is that it's almost beyond parody, you know?

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And, like, this is going to be an ad in the future on Idiocracy II, the sequel.

Jess Del Fiacco: And we've spent some time thinking it over. I mean, we've tried to parody it, and it's really too bad that the memes that we've made about it don't translate well into a podcast format because we've had some fun.

Christopher Mitchell: It would be like trying to make a movie parody of Scary Movie, which is itself a parody of scary movies.

Jess Del Fiacco: But I think we're glossing over the takeaway, which is that 5G is going to cure cancer,

Christopher Mitchell: 5G will cure cancer. All those people who are worried that it might cause cancer do not have to worry and we don't have to care if it does.

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Because as Lisa said, famous editor, we imagine that we'll soon see a future of people clustering under 5G nodes to smoke their cigarettes knowing that they can do it safely there.

Jess Del Fiacco: I'm really looking forward to the next in this series of ads where 5G, you know, tackles world hunger. You know, maybe it solves climate change for us.

Christopher Mitchell: I think 5G is gonna help me pick out my clothes in the morning, and I'm looking forward to that because it's one of the hardest decisions I have to make, as you can tell with the rotation of the six outfits that I wear into the office. We could just keep making fun of this, but I want to bring it back a little bit because there's literally been ⁠— I think it's more than five years ⁠— businesses that exist in places like strip malls that have fiber optics there with radiologists who interpret 3D images on fiber optics. And you know what? They don't do it on AT&T and Verizon. There's this insanity, this idea that like, "Oh wow, soon we'll be able to transmit all this stuff on 5G," as though we can't do it right now because like ⁠— okay, let's just say that the doctors are using 5G. So they're using a device, maybe a tablet, maybe some holographic display, and there's 5G for a hundred meters, 300 feet, 200 feet, and then it's fiber the whole rest of the way, I don't know, 10,000 miles around the world, 5,000 miles, 2000 miles across the U.S. ⁠— who knows? Like, the idea that we're waiting for 5G is just so ridiculous. I mean, let's just be very clear about this future that Verizon expects, which is that they're envisioning a future in which I'm, what, on the operating table perhaps and I'm expecting Verizon and AT&T to keep their network up long enough to operate on me? This is ridiculous.

Jess Del Fiacco: But this is Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, Chris, so . . .

Christopher Mitchell: You're right. I forgot. Yeah, it's like, you know, for all the Michelob drinkers out there, you know the difference between a regular and ultra.

Jess Del Fiacco: This is next level.

Christopher Mitchell: That's right. This is Ultra Wideband from Fios, and as Katie reminds us, it's almost like Verizon forgot about that little thing called the Fios that they built in many places, some of which they sold to Frontier and Frontier's in the process of probably selling it for scrap. I don't know what Frontier's doing, but Verizon has a ton of fiber connecting places like hospitals. And the idea that they're like, let's just throw all that crap away because we can use this unreliable network of 5G where as long as there's no trees between you and your node, it's going to be great. And another thing Katie pointed out was the perplexing thing they said that it's about computing power, and 5G is about the ability to move information quickly in high volumes and to a large number of devices supposedly. Those are the advantages over the existing wireless network. And so, it's a classic muddle of "we don't know what we're talking about, but we're pretty sure you know less about what we're talking about."

Jess Del Fiacco: We're going to make it sound real good.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, Lisa was suggesting that we may see a lot of college premed folks ⁠—

Jess Del Fiacco: Jumping ship.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, they're gonna leave premed and go to Verizon. Exactly. But the final bit of thing ⁠— I would pull this back to a little bit of reality. I actually don't know if anyone has credible estimates right now. I've heard a lot of people talking about 5G and how much we're going to see deployed because it's quite costly, and I just saw an estimate ⁠— I believe it was $250 million to bring 5G to all of San Jose alone. That's an incredible amount of money considering that that's not to connect every home because we already know that 5G, with the nature of the wireless, cannot connect every home because there could be trees in the middle of it or the building house materials or any number of other factors that makes wireless not suited for this. Estimates for nationwide significant 5G coverage are like $250 billion. Wall Street is not looking to ⁠— it's not like they're like, "You know, we got a quarter of $1 trillion and we don't know where to put it. Maybe . . ."

Jess Del Fiacco: "What could we possibly do?"

Christopher Mitchell: "Is there something that has ultra in the title? Because that's pretty promising." I think there'll be less yucks in the rest of the topics that you're going to blindside me with that I'm in no way prepared for, Jessica.

Jess Del Fiacco: Well, let's hope so.

Christopher Mitchell: So what else are we talking about?

Jess Del Fiacco: Well, our next topic, you know, it's brand new news for you I'm sure, Chris, that it's possible FCC maps might not be totally accurate.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, I'm very disappointed. I did not see this coming. I understand that there's gambling in Las Vegas as well. It's been a hard morning for me.

Jess Del Fiacco: But some good news is that we worked with M-Lab to kind of investigate what's happening in Pennsylvania ⁠— new report where we produced some maps.

Christopher Mitchell: That's right. So Sasha Meinrath, who's a professor at Penn State University now, is someone that I have a history of collaborating with. He had actually created the Open Technology Initiative and then the Open Technology Institute at New America, and it was under that auspices that M-Lab was created. He asked us to work with them on a project to really provide good policy advice and a good sense of what broadband was like in Pennsylvania, and so we worked with them on that. And there's some key takeaways. I mean, Sasha's goal in this, which I strongly supported, was to create a template that other states could use and we really hope that that happens. So, M-Lab had 11 million speed tests over 2018. they found that the median speeds in most areas were below broadband and there were zero counties where at least half of the populace had speed tests reflecting broadband.

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. And this is pretty far off from the FCC's maps, which show right around a hundred percent broadband availability?

Christopher Mitchell: They did at different times, and that's where I want to make sure because there were times in which it's at 100 percent. I'm not sure if that's the current map because the FCC then realized that they had made a significant error in including a provider that just said, "Hey, everybody, we're doing fiber to everyone and wireless to everyone that can do a gigabit. Wonderful news!" The FCC originally included those numbers in its estimates and has since revised them, but the FCC's numbers are indeed far rosier. Now, I want to point something out, Jess, and I think that's important, which is that the M-Lab data itself is also not perfect, which is to say that we have two bounds basically. We have the self reported data, which is cherry picked and almost certainly dramatically overstates access, from the companies that are reporting it to the FCC. Now M-Lab's relies on people who are taking speed tests in their homes or from their mobile devices or whatever, and we can track it back and know which ISP and generally know their geographic area pretty closely to where they are. But, we don't know if they are hardwired into the access point. We don't know if there's a lot of congestion on the line at that moment. And so, if it was M-Lab alone, I might be a little bit concerned about the accuracy of it, but the M-Lab data lines up very strongly with data that we've seen from Microsoft and from — there's another major company that has done this aside from Netflix, which is what I was going to come to. Netflix, I don't know if they've published it officially, but they also have this kind of data and they know who gets what kind of connectivity from their hits against their website as well as their streaming. So what we see consistently is that the M-Lab data is pretty close to what multiple independent tests are using in terms of how people actually use the Internet and what their real connection is like regardless of how it's advertised.

Jess Del Fiacco: So what I thought was one of the most interesting things from this report was that the discrepancy between those FCC numbers and M-Lab's findings was growing in rural areas much faster than urban areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I mean, back when you were not yet in this amazing job that you have at ILSR —

Jess Del Fiacco: A whopping 10 months ago.

Christopher Mitchell: I would say actually back in like 2012 and earlier, the cable companies were pretty famous for advertising speeds that most people did not achieve. Especially when you got home from school or after work, the three o'clock to five o'clock and then the primetime hours, people would not get anywhere close to the advertised speeds. DOCSIS 3.0 and now DOCSIS 3.1, which are the technical names for the way that they use the cable lines to get us broadband access over our cable modems, that really solved that problem in the way they engineered it. And so I would say that in urban areas and on cable networks, there's gonna be some people who are in neighborhoods that have problems, but for the most part we see cable networks largely delivering what they promise. I think this is very true of Comcast. I think it may be less true of Mediacom, but when I look at this speed test data, it suggests to me that the cable companies in general have figured this out. They can deliver what they're promising. And in areas that are reliant on DSL, which is more rural areas, they're actually going backwards. They're going backwards because what happens is that you have a maximum throughput to your house really based on the copper line to your house and the condition of it and a number of other factors. But it used to be that that was what slowed you down. You couldn't do better than that. But now, you have congestion in a different part of the network in many cases, we think. And so you have CenturyLink, Frontier, Windstream, AT&T — these companies aren't making the needed investments. And so people in rural areas are going from slow to slower rather than slow to a little bit better, and I think that's a major cause of concern. It's not surprising for those of us who have been watching it, but I don't know that many policymakers are really aware of that right now.

Jess Del Fiacco: So you made some policy recommendations in this report. Do you want to talk about some of those? What can Pennsylvania do differently?

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I mean, Pennsylvania is one of those states that limits local authority to build networks, so what do you think we recommended to them?

Jess Del Fiacco: Step one, support local broadband solutions, maybe?

Christopher Mitchell: You could even say it more broadly, which is to say, right now Pennsylvania says certain entities that are very interested, in some cases, in investing in broadband may not do so. So let's say we want more investment. Let's make the restrictions that stop some investment go away. That's one. One of the things that we did that I'm proud of is try to identify local cooperatives and private companies that are investing — well, no, I don't remember. I think Pennsylvania may not have a single telephone cooperative, but I'm suddenly doubting myself on that. They have one electric cooperative, which is moving forward aggressively, and they actually have won some of that money from the CAF II auction, the Connect America Fund auction, recently last year. So those are, you know, the kind of entities we normally support, but there's also some local telephone companies that have invested in Fiber-to-the-Home, and we wanted to highlight them. We wanted to highlight that there are companies who have been really harmed by the pole attachment process in Pennsylvania, where companies, as in the case with PPL in an area — when I grew up, PP&L at that time as they were called, People Power and Light, I believe. They were the electric company, and so I'm very familiar with them. I remember my grandparents ranting about them for no good reason. But they have been really difficult to work with for local providers like MAW, which is trying to work in a partnership with the city of Lancaster. So we wanted to make sure the state was aware of that and that there were other cases in which investor owned electric companies are really getting in the way of more investment. So we made that recommendation and we wanted to make sure they were aware that Pennsylvania is about to get more money than any other state — and you're nodding your head.

Jess Del Fiacco: You know, the Tri County Rural Electric Cooperative is getting some money from CAF II, I believe, but a majority of that funding is going to Viasat, who we have some criticisms of, possibly many criticisms, because what they're providing isn't actually broadband and them getting that funding means that these problems aren't going to be solved.

Christopher Mitchell: Exactly. And so all those areas that Viasat's getting money for also means that that Tri County cannot get money from the ReConnect fund from the United States Department of Agriculture, which is supposed to encourage rural broadband. You have a situation in north central Pennsylvania in which you have some areas that are getting Fiber-to-the-Home, the best network you can possibly get, and then just next to them are people who are getting subsidized satellite service, which is not broadband, which will result in declining economic opportunities, and which the presence of them getting that subsidy means the ReConnect fund will not fund in those areas. So that's a major cause of concern. So you know, I'm excited about this Pennsylvania report. I'm hoping that we'll see others iterate on it. I certainly hope that we're able to improve on it over time, but I think there's some really important things that we did in there that will help move the conversation forward.

Jess Del Fiacco: Definitely. And I think we're ready to switch gears to a more positive story out of Ammon, Idaho. Most of our listeners are already going to be familiar with Ammon, where they're working on an open access model in their city, and they've got some good news. And the good news is that they've got free Internet access now.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, depending on how you want to break down the costs, to be clear.

Jess Del Fiacco: Free is in quotations, and we can get into that I think.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm sure that, you know, for the people who haven't read my back and forth with Dane Jasper on Twitter, it's only because they haven't gotten to it yet as they religiously follow my Twitter feed on this subject of what exactly it costs. Which I really appreciate people like Dane who get involved in this because, you know, Dane Jasper runs Sonic ,a great company in California, and he's a sharp mind, and even though he and I disagreed on a couple of points, those sorts of conversations are what makes Twitter valuable, I think. So at any rate, Ammon allows multiple operators on its network. It added a new operator and it changed the competitive dynamic. And what happened was they dramatically lowered the price, and so I think gigabit went down at that time to $10 a month or so. Do you remember the first drop?

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, so they got that new provider and you know, competition changed and prices dropped a bit. So gig access was around $15, but then it dropped again down to around $10 I believe.

Christopher Mitchell: There's a couple of points here that I think are interesting. First of all, maybe just noting that this is not the total cost to the homeowner, and the way Ammon's network works, which we've described in multiple podcasts and we have a great video about, is that there's a set of fees. And so, there's a construction fee, which can be a onetime cost to the home, which might be on the order of $33,000 or so, and you could pay for that at one time if you wanted to or you could amortize it over 20 years with an assessment on your home that works out to on the order of $16-17 per month for 20 years. So that's one fee, and that fee will go away if you pay it off and you never have to pay it again. A second fee, which is assessed by the city to maintain the fiber and keep it going is $16.50 a month. That does not go away, and so if you pay that, you don't really have access to the Internet, but you may have, like, some other city-type services available and more over time. But the key is then that you can choose service providers over a portal on your home computer, and that allows you to switch among providers. And this competition is one in which we see the providers jockeying to provide lower prices, and as a result of a new provider entering, we saw a gigabit decline by roughly 30% from $15 to $10. And then, there was another sort of brief skirmish and price adjustment in which one of the original providers on the network, Fybercom, decided to start offering a 15 megabit symmetrical connection for free, no charge. You know, an interesting dynamic is, as we understand it, that may not have actually led to them having a lot more customers. Like at the time that it happened, I believe 48 hours later —

Jess Del Fiacco: No one had signed up, right? For the free version.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, exactly, but people had maybe switched over to that because they had a sense that that was the kind of company they wanted to support, that was, you know, kind of thinking in that direction. Fybercom's a local wireless ISP that operates on the network, and I found them to be pretty innovative. It's kind of fascinating to see what happens. Now, I do want to say that I am a little bit concerned. I don't think this is all good news. It is good news for those of us who are trying to figure out how to lower the price. To be clear, if you've got the free service from Fybercom, then you would be paying $16.50 a month to have a fiber that was maintained in case of problems, and you may or may not be paying for the cost of the connection if you'd paid it off already. So free in this case means $16.50 a month, which is still pretty nice.

Jess Del Fiacco: Less than what I pay.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. But the thing is a concern among some, an honest concern — there is a lot of fake concern from people who are just trying to preserve the status quo, but a real concern is that in an open access model with so few barriers to entry, the cost would decline so much that it would be hard to make money. And at that point the market becomes unstable, companies start to go bankrupt, and you have acquisitions and it's just not the kind of thing people want because people don't want their email provider or their Internet access company to suddenly disappear overnight. So, you know, there's reasons to just keep watching this experiment happening with a lot of hope. But I wanted to raise that, that over time what we're hoping for is market stability and that there are services these companies offer that allow them to make a margin and allow for new companies to come in and sort of innovate and that sort of a thing — not just that we want to think that low prices are the sole objective of these kinds of investments because it can be counterproductive.

Jess Del Fiacco: So on last week's podcast, we talked about SiFi Networks moving into Fullerton, California. What sets that network apart from Ammon? Can we talk a little bit about the differences?

Christopher Mitchell: The first thing is actually I didn't get into the technology in that interview, and so I don't think SiFi will enable people to switch with just a click of a button in 30 seconds, which is something that SiFi may add over time but their main goal is bringing choice in, you know. But what I think I see out of this news out of Amman, this news of SiFi being one of — it's certainly the largest United States-based, privately-funded open access network — is that there's still a lot of innovation to do. I think this is a model that's promising for communities to look into. I'm excited at, like, SiFi giving an opportunity to more ISPs like Ting, like Gigabit Now and others who are going to be trying to use this model and see if it works. And over time we have, I would say, you know, between 100,000 and 250,000 people that could have access to open access fiber in Washington, there's 25,000 or so in Utah maybe, there's going to be a thousand in Ammon by the end of the year with rapid growth there, Fullerton we're looking at 150,000 — but when we have 2 million, 5 million people with open access choices, you know, which will take us a few years to get there — and I should note, we also know Lit Communities with Brian Snyder is working with Medina, Ohio, and so there's a lot of opportunities to get a sense of what's happening here and I think we're going to see a lot of progress on it and this idea of giving a single network and having multiple providers competing on it. I'm excited for it. I think there's been some challenges. There's been some setbacks. We have better expectations. And I don't want to set a date on it because I am terrible at deadlines — Jess is laughing at me — but we are working on a report to try to summarize everything that's happened in open access in the United States. You have one last one before I'm totally unhinged or unleashed?

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. So one last topic for this, you know, little bit of a meandering conversation that we've had here. You have a take on the —

Christopher Mitchell: Do I ever. I don't even know what you're gonna ask me.

Jess Del Fiacco: — on the potential cap for the Universal Service Fund that, you know, other people haven't brought up yet. So could you talk a little bit about your thoughts on that?

Christopher Mitchell: Right. So it's worth stepping back for a second because I may even make a mistake here and one of our astute listeners may correct me and then next week I'll have to offer an embarrassing correction. But we're talking about Universal Service Funds, [which] is basically four services that are funded with a tax on certain kinds of telecommunications services, and that money goes to offer service in places in which the market would underinvest otherwise. And so, there's like a healthcare fund, there's a high cost fund, which is the one we pay the most attention to that brings service out to low-income folks, there's the lifeline fund, and there's the one that I always forget, which is embarrassing because I'm supposed to know this sort of stuff cold . . . E-Rate! How could I forget E-Rate? It's the one I probably knew the most about earliest, one of the easier ones to grasp, which connects to schools and libraries. And so, that money comes from a pot that is not from the general treasury but from this tax. And so, certain kinds of providers to collect it and other providers don't, and that creates a lot of tension. Some of the municipals have to pay into that fund, and so from that perspective, I'm very sympathetic to the provider feeling, which is that, you know, this tax which has changed based on the amount that's used in the fund, is . . . You know, the question is that originally these programs were funded with money that came from long distance charges, and as the business models have changed, there's just ,a lot of the companies involved with say, unfairness, I think, as to how we raise this money. Now, the nice thing is that Congress doesn't have to appropriate it, so we don't have to worry that when some people inaccurately call Lifeline the "Obamaphone program," which I don't think Ronald Reagan would be very appreciative of since he started that program to make sure that everyone could have a phone, that Congress couldn't just slash that funding. It's its own funding mechanism. But the problem is that it's multiple billions of dollars per year, and there's a sense that it should be changed significantly and I think we're about to see the rate go up still further to I believe more than 20% is the expectation on these services. And so, there's concern, and there's some people who are saying that we need a cap. And their proposal is right now we have one cap for the four programs. And so, you know, maybe let's just say it's $5 billion and then you know, if Lifeline runs out of money, too bad, or if E-Rate runs out of money, too bad. The problem then is that then we have Lifeline competing against E-Rate, and so you have people who are getting $10 a month service to have phone service, which is essential to talk to their doctors. Many of us who don't use phones forget how important it is, especially if you don't have a home Internet connection. I realize that this may seem exceedingly rambly —

Jess Del Fiacco: We're getting there.

Christopher Mitchell: — but to some extent it's hard to avoid that in USF discussions. The point is, is that I think I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that like, A, this money could be spent better; B, this is not an entirely appropriate way to raise the money for important programs. But my belief is, and I believe SHLB has just made this point — the Schools, Hospitals, and Libraries Broadband coalition, which we're a member of — that we don't even know how much money Lifeline is going to use because a lot of people who are eligible don't have access to it, don't know about it. And so we're going to cap it and then turn people away who are in need. That seems wrong. I mean, if we're going to have a cap, we should have a sense of what the expectations are rather than just saying we're gonna have a cap and too bad for people who don't fit under it. And then, I think FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel memorably said that we don't want to have a hunger games between these four programs in which, you know, you don't want people on E-Rate to be dissing the Lifeline program or the rural hospitals or healthcare program. If we're going to have caps, it strikes me that it should be on a per program basis rather than just across the four and have them fight it out. So I think this is an important issue. I think it's really important that people understand, you know, how this money gets spent because then maybe there'll be some pressure to improve upon the program rather than just having this, to most people, obscure regulatory agency deciding this and having a fee show up on their bills when they get their cell phones or their home telephone service bills. So there are better ways to do it, but it's an important issue to keep an eye on because, you know, as we see these services change and the business models change, there's a status quo bias that we just end up with a program that may not be funded in a way that still make sense today and some significant problems we have to work on.

Jess Del Fiacco: So in the end, you think it's worth talking about, you know, debating whether or not there should be a cap or what kind of cap there should be, and instead maybe we should focus our energies on thinking about how these programs are funded and what we should change about that?

Christopher Mitchell: It's a hard question that I do not know how to answer, and so I'm probably going to end up weaseling out of it in the next 30 to 90 seconds.

Jess Del Fiacco: If you did have an easy answer, that might solve a lot of problems for a lot of people.

Christopher Mitchell: Washington is so broken. Like it's just — it's so broken. I mean, it's just frustrating because for instance, Lifeline, which is also increasingly used for broadband service, is $10 a month, and that made sense when when you could have telephone service at $10 a month. There's not a lot of broadband options that are worth anything that you can get for that. The broadband market is so broken that to then provide a subsidy that's gonna make a difference in people's lives, it's hard to figure out how to do that. So that's why from our perspective, I would say, I don't know what the federal solution is, and we spend our time trying to figure out how to work with motivated localities, communities and counties and cities, that can make a difference. And they can do things like they did in San Francisco and the partnership with Monkeybrains, in which they can lower the cost. And then, maybe a federal program could help people with that if there's still a cost that has to be leftover or maybe that's not even necessary. And so, I don't know what the answer is, but it's important that people hear both sides. One, that I think a cap overall is damaging. Two, that these programs, the way they're funded is not appropriate in 2019 anymore, I don't think. And that three, there is no hope.

Jess Del Fiacco: You know, according to FCC commissioner O'Rielly, one of our favorite people up there —

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, he loves us too.

Jess Del Fiacco: — you know, the biggest concern is overbuilding and avoiding wasting money on that, so as long as we can keep that out of the equation, we'll be all good, right?

Christopher Mitchell: It's remarkable how, after a hundred years of the U.S. Government basically believing monopoly — and not without good reason — believing that monopoly was the solution, that you should just suddenly say, okay, no more monopoly and we're not going to fund any competitive network, even though companies like AT&T have had a hundred years of unfair advantages over their competitors in the market. And so, it would crazy to give a dollar to a company that wants to connect some customers that AT&T has left behind if AT&T has any plausible connection to them. This whole discussion of overbuilding is frustrating because it gives you a sense of how lobbyists rule D.C. United States federal policy is competition, and it's the sense of yes, well competition just means the government doesn't do anything and AT&T rules, but in theory, Jess, you and I could start a company that would dethrone AT&T because there's no government regulations to stop us. That's not how markets work. So overbuilding's a hot button for me. Commissioner O'Rielly I think, does a disservice to what even his own goals are in talking about overbuilding in that way because I truly believe that he wants to see a competitive market, but I don't think he has a sense of how to get there at all.

Jess Del Fiacco: I'm sorry, I set you off on our last question here while we're trying to wrap up.

Christopher Mitchell: There's almost nothing you could ask me that wouldn't set me off. I mean, you could note that the Pennsylvania report both capitalizes and does not capitalize the word "Internet," and I almost pulled my hair out this morning when I noticed that. No, I'm sure that I have other hot button issues. Let's talk about my love for Vin Diesel.

Jess Del Fiacco: I don't want to get into that conversation at all. I'm sure it's lengthy.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you everyone. You know, we have an email called podcast@muninetworks.org in which you can tell me you want to hear less from me and more from guests or you want to hear Jess be able to get a few more words in because I talk too much, which is something I'm trying to work on.

Jess Del Fiacco: I just need to be a pushier host, that's all.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I think we need to get you — I actually have tomatoes in the fridge.

Jess Del Fiacco: Just things I could throw at you? Yeah, that'd be ideal.

Christopher Mitchell: It would distract me enough for you to get a word in.

Jess Del Fiacco: Okay. Well thanks, this has been a good talk.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Thank you, Jess.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was our communications specialist Jess Del Fiacco with Christopher discussing some of the issues in the news, including 5G hype; Ammon, Idaho; the M-Lab report; and a proposed cap on the Universal Service Fund. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 361 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

VICE Covers Study On Broadband and Unemployment

June 21, 2019

VICE interviewed Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR's Community Broadband Networks initiative, to get his perspective on a new study that shows high-quality broadband access lowers unemployment rates in communities. His contributions are below: 

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told Motherboard that EPB not only drove higher employment via its own operations, but also likely contributed to an increase in hiring by regional private ISPs forced to do something arguably alien to them: compete.

“AT&T and Comcast have probably increased their sales staff and local employees to deal with the competition,” Mitchell said. “So that is an impact on unemployment just among the firms offering broadband services.”

...

Mitchell conceded that measuring the economic and employment impact of better broadband can be difficult, but said there’s no doubt that the city’s foray into broadband provided profound benefits to the region as a whole.

“I think this field of study is quite complicated but we know that Chattanooga has attracted many new companies to the Gig City precisely because the city has built the infrastructure of the future,” he said. “If it did not increase employment opportunities, that would be shocking.”

Read the full story here

 

Tags: press center

SiFi Networks to Deploy Open Access FTTH in Fullerton, California

June 20, 2019

In an April press release, SiFi Networks announced that they will be developing a privately funded open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in Fullerton, California. The project will serve the city of approximately 140,000 people, with ISPs using the SiFi fiber network  to compete for subscribers. 

Getting Commitments 

SiFi approached Fullerton in 2013 after the city’s bid to bring Google Fiber to town didn’t succeed. City leaders were interested in the prospect of bringing a FTTH network to the community as an economic development tool and, after bringing the proposal to the city council, decided they wanted to work with SiFi. The project aligned with several aspects of the community’s Fullerton Plan, a revitalization and economic development master plan.

As part of the discussions, SiFi informed Fullerton that they would wait to begin construction until after 25-year Right-of-Way (ROW) permits were granted and the company had obtained lease agreements from ISPs who wanted to offer Internet access via the network. As part of the arrangement, SiFi planned to pass every premise, regardless of what type, by the end of 2021. In January 2014, the Fullerton City Council authorized the City Manager to enter into a Negotiation Agreement (NA) with SiFi Networks. Since that time, both parties have been working to fulfill the necessary steps to move ahead with construction. 

Now that funding is in place, ISPs have committed, and permits are prepared, both parties are ready to begin the project.

SiFi will use a microtrenching method to install most of the conduit and will begin with what they call the “pilot phase” located in the southwest corner of the city. SiFi will take the opportunity to refine installation and delivery techniques, allowing the company to more efficiently deploy in the remaining zones around the city. Microtrenching is one of the tools SiFi uses as part of their FOCUS system of deployment.

Project Development and Funding

The project will be funded by the Smart City Infrastructure Fund, managed by Australian firm Whitehelm Capital and APG, centered in the Netherlands. The fund is designed specifically to provide long-term funding for Smart City initiatives and to encourage environments that are “more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

The Fullerton project, a SiFi FiberCity network, will be the inaugural investment for the fund, but according to the joint press release, other cities have expressed interest in developing similar projects.

“We are excited to deliver our first FiberCity™ in the USA, an investment that sets the standard for fiber optic infrastructure as a core utility. We believe that this business model can transform the telecom market in the United States. Privately funded, open access networks will not only benefit residents and businesses but provide citywide platforms for Smart City applications including 5G, IoT and more.” stated Ben BawtreeJobson, CEO of SiFi Networks. 

SiFi Networks is also working with other communities, including Saratoga Springs, New York, and Salem, Massachusetts. The company designs, funds, and builds the fiber optic infrastructure and works with Internet access companies to establish services on the network to serve businesses and residents in the community.

Typically, these arrangements include contracts that transfer ownership of the fiber optic infrastructure to the municipality when the agreement ends. 

The ISPs

Ting and GigabitNow have already signed up to deliver Internet access via the SiFi Network. Ting will offer residential symmetrical gigabit service for $79 per month and are taking early sign-ups now. GigabitNow is advertising a similar product along with a symmetrical 250 Megabits per second (Mbps) product for $60 per month and is also taking early sign-ups. Other products, including voice and a range of business services will be available.

For Ting, the venture into Fullerton will be the eighth community where the Canadian company plans to provide fiber connectivity, six of those communities having already launched. In many of those places, including Westminster, Maryland, and Centennial, Colorado, Ting is partnering with municipalities and providing services via publicly owned infrastructure.

You can hear Ting’s Director of Market Development and Government Affairs Monica Webb and Vice President for Networks Adam Eisner discuss the evolution of the company and some of the lessons they’ve learned as they’ve deployed networks. They talked with Christopher for episode 357 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, recorded during the April 2019 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas.

GigabitNow builds their own infrastructure and delivers Internet access as a division of its parent company, IsoFusion, located in Seattle. The company came about as a partnership between two other ISPs in the Tacoma and Seattle areas. GigabitNow works in multi-tenant buildings as well as households and business premises. They have most recently developed a network in Issaquah, Washington, that serves about 4,000 premises.

The Community of Fullerton

Located in Orange County, about 11 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, Fullerton is a little more than 22 square miles in area. Along the north and western areas of the city, lies a low mountain range named Coyote Hills and former citrus fields are now growing housing subdivisions. The city’s economy has, at various stages, been driven by oil production, agriculture, food processing, and the aerospace industry. Now, California State University’s Fullerton campus employs more people than any other entity in town, with St. Jude Medical Center and U.S. defense contractor Raytheon among the top employers. In addition to Cal State, four other colleges and universities have campuses in Fullerton.

As the birthplace of the Fender guitar, Fullerton has established solid connections to the music industry and developed a strong music scene. Local music festivals, colleges, and numerous venues attract musicians from all over the state and farther.

Residents in Fullerton have access to Spectrum Cable and DSL from AT&T throughout much of the city. AT&T U-verse is available in a section of the city and Sonic offers its fiber optic connectivity in a very small section of town. With an open access network passing every address and the possibility of multiple options available to every premise, current Internet access companies will need to be at the top of their game to retain existing subscribers.

Cautiously Optimistic

Open access networks offer subscriber choice, encouraging providers that offer services on fiber networks to go the extra mile for customers, offer competitive rates, and innovate. Likewise, existing ISPs that face competitive forces in Fullerton will need to improve their services  to retain subscribers. This arrangement allows Fullerton to increase competition, bring gigabit service to their community, and do so without bonding or borrowing. They’ve found a way to reduce the risk that comes with inactivity in a community that needs or wants better connectivity. 

The tradeoff is that Fullerton has no say over this network and SiFi and/or ISPs will decide the rates and terms on which local businesses and residents can use it. We learned key lessons in places such as Champaign-Urbana, where a private sector partner chose to sell its assets, that it’s prudent to include protections in such an agreement. Fullerton will have little capacity to guard its interests if SiFi decides to sell, goes bankrupt, or is acquired by an undesirable company, such as Comcast. Fortunately, that seems unlikely at the present moment. 

With new approaches in funding, deployment, and urban connectivity, the Fullerton project has the potential to set a new bar for competitive Internet access in densely populated cities. SiFi’s approach is exciting and will help to spread the gospel of the open network. The more ISPs willing to work on open fiber networks, the better. 

Learn more about the project by listening to Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 360. Christopher interviewed Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of SiFi Networks.

Image of Cal State Fullerton by Arnold C {Buchanan-Hermit}

Tags: fullerton cacaliforniaFTTHmicrotrenchingpartnershipopen accessting

Study: Apartment Renters Consider High-Speed Internet Access a Must-Have; Nearly Half Would Pay More for Fiber

June 19, 2019

When a renter looks for their next apartment, each weighs various amenities according to their own needs. In a recent study released by BroadbandNow, for almost 39 percent of survey respondents high-speed Internet access came in as a “must-have” feature.

Cleaning and Connecting Most Important

The survey sought opinions from almost 5,800 apartment dwellers, who ranked high-speed Internet access on par with a dishwasher, but below an in-unit laundry. Covered parking, a fitness center, and access to a pool came in well below convenient laundry and fast connectivity.

Renters who already have access to fiber connections were more likely to choose high-quality Internet access as a “must have” according to the survey. Only about 7.5 percent of those who responded to the survey connect with fiber and most rely on fixed wireless, about 35 percent. Current fiber subscribers are also the most likely to feel that their Internet access speeds are “good” or “very good” — a whopping 75 percent.

Approximately half of respondents said they would pay more for a place where they can access fiber. When considering rent, those who already have fiber, 35 present that said that they would be willing to pay an additional $50 per month in order to continue to use fiber for Internet access. About 17 percent of those who do not use a fiber connection, about 17 percent, said they would be willing to pay the extra $50 per month.

Landlords Take Note

Real estate experts have documented the benefits of fiber optic Internet access on both single-family homes and multi-dwelling units (MDUs). At the end of 2016, the FTTH Council (now the Fiber Broadband Association), created an infographic to help visualize the opportunity fiber creates for MDU landlords and building owners.

Based on research from RVA, LLC, American and Canadian renters are willing to pay $80 per month more on a $1,000 per month unit that has FTTH. Like the BroadbandNow research, RVA surveyed renters for their opinions.

Review the BroadbandNow report here, which offers visualizations in the form of comparative graphs of survey results.

You can also listen to Christopher’s podcast interview with Michael Render, Founder of RVA Market Research & Consulting, recorded in 2018. Render discusses the firm’s work, including the Internet access trends that separate the needs of homeowners and apartment renters.

Tags: ratesmdusurvey

5G Absurdity, Ammon Affordability, Speed Realities, and USF Caps - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 361

June 18, 2019

This week, Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco interviews Christopher about some of the many events that we’ve been following lately.

Jess and Christopher start off the show with a healthy dose of outrage as they comment on an advert from Verizon that takes the 5G hype just a little too far. Next they discuss a recent report from several authors, including Sascha Meinrath at Pennsylvania State University. We helped develop the report, which used data from Measurement Lab (M-Lab) based on real world Internet access speeds as compared to self-reported data from ISPs.

Read the report here [pdf].

During the conversation, Jess and Christopher also talk about the recent media reports on super-affordable Internet access in Ammon, Idaho, where the city’s software defined network is creating choices for residents and businesses. They talk about Ammon’s infrastructure and other possibilities for open access, along with pros and cons. Lastly, the interview turns toward a hotly debated policy proposal that would cap the amount of funding allocated to the Universal Service Fund. Christopher explains what the funds are used for and what concerns need to be addressed with the proposal.

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

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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. 

Broadband Availability and Access in Rural Pennsylvania in 2019Tags: audiobroadband bitspodcast5Gmobileammonidahoopen accessuniversal service fund

Why Your Internet Sucks: Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj Boos Comcast, Cheers Muni Broadband

June 18, 2019

In the most recent episode of his weekly Netflix show Patriot Act, comedian and former Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj answers the question we’ve all asked ourselves: “Why does my Internet service provider suck so much?” To figure it out, the show, which features research from the Community Broadband Networks initiative, takes a deep dive into Internet access inequality, lobbying telecom monopolies, inept federal regulators, municipal broadband networks, and more.

Minhaj, citing our Profiles of Monopoly report, points to monopoly broadband providers as one of the main reasons for slow speeds, poor service, and uneven access. He calls out Comcast in particular:

“Now look, all of these companies are terrible, but Comcast deserves a special place in Hell . . . In fact, Comcast has been called “America’s Most Hated Company” . . . The emotions are real. People hate Comcast.”

Later, he notes that the federal government shares responsibility for the sad state of affairs:

“The most frustrating part about the broadband cartel is that the government isn’t just letting this happen; it’s helping it happen. They are protecting broadband monopoly power over the public good, and most of the blame falls on one agency: the Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC.”

In the episode, Minhaj also explains how the FCC’s data collection methods vastly overstate broadband coverage, calling Form 477, which the agency uses to collect deployment data from providers, the “government version of ‘grade your own quiz.’”

As a counterpoint, Minhaj highlights how communities across the country, like Chattanooga, Tennessee, are building their own broadband networks to get around monopoly providers and sluggish regulators:

“Small cities are going DIY, and they’re setting up their own Internet. It’s become known as municipal broadband, and it is phenomenal. It turns out, when cities create their own Internet, then their own broadband customers get faster speeds, lower prices, and better customer service — you know, all the things that violate Comcast company policy.”

Municipal broadband, he says, is creating competition and faster, more affordable Internet access:

“Chattanooga forced Comcast to magically find a way to offer the best broadband they had ever offered. After years of people complaining, Comcast was like, ‘Sorry, bro. Just saw your text. I can totally turn on that good Internet.’”

For more, stream the full episode on Netflix, or watch a portion of the show below. If you are one of the millions of Americans who don’t have access to high-speed broadband, the episode is also available to rent on DVD.

Check it out:

Tags: press centervideonetflixcomcastmonopolychattanoogacoloradolobbyingform 477fcc

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 17

June 17, 2019

Arizona

The Havasupai Tribe secures license to build-out their community broadband network by Mariel Triggs, People-Centered Internet

 

Florida

Consultant’s report: Cheaper, faster Internet possible in Gainesville, but not without
 significant challenges by Joseph Hastings, WUFT

“There are scenarios where the city could provide low-price broadband while operating a fiber business that would be self-sustaining and profitable and that wouldn’t need any subsidies from GRU or the city,” the report states. “However, creating such a business is no slam dunk.”

 

Georgia

Internet far slower in Georgia than reported by Mark Niesse and Nicholas Thieme, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

Idaho

Small Idaho city shows the benefits of open access broadband networks by Karl Bode, Techdirt

 

Iowa

FD looks for more broadband by Bill Shea, The Messenger 

iVinton continues to move forward in the plans to bring broadband to Vinton by Valerie Close, Vinton Today

 

Massachusetts

Wendell approves 7.6 percent budget increase by David McLellan, Greenfield Recorder 

Wendell has been working toward creating a town-owned broadband system — legally known as a Municipal Light Plant — under the state’s Last Mile program. The high-speed Internet service is not estimated to begin until next year, but several articles anticipating the network’s completion were passed.

 

Pennsylvania

Access issue slows fiber-optic network launch in Erie, Pa. by Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times

A team of researchers just showed how the FCC wastes billions on rural broadband by Katie Patrick

Make improving rural broadband service a priority, Tribune Democrat 

 

Virginia

FCC authorizing funds in Virginia for rural broadband by Julia Varnier, News 3

 

General

In our opinion: Access to Internet for rural America is moving at the speed of dial-up, Deseret News

Survey explores broadband impact on local economies, telehealth, education by Craig Settles, Benton Foundation

Rural electric cooperatives: Pole attachment policies and issues by Brian O’Hara, NRECA

Smart cities and digital equity by John B. Horrigan, NDIA

How’s CAF II doing in your county? By Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs

Capito’s bipartisan bill to provide data on broadband adoption, deployment passes Senate, The Ripon Advance 

Broadband roundup: Texas Rural Funds Collaborative and Infrastructure Zone in Indiana by Emily McPhie, Broadband Breakfast 

“Texas children aren’t able to complete homework assignments,” he said. “Senior citizens are unable to access telehealth networks that could help them. Our small businesses and agricultural producers are being left out of a global market.”

AP: 3 million US students don’t have home Internet by Michael Melia, Jeff Amy and Larry Fenn, Washington Post

The ability to pay for broadband, Benton Foundation

FCC to vote on proposal for improving broadband mapping by Emily Birnbaum, The Hill

Flawed US gov. data is hindering ‘necessary’ Internet service for tribal communities by Dana Nickel, The Globe Post

Like politics, all broadband policy is local by Craig Settles, GovTech

 

 

Tags: media roundup

Davis, California, to Examine Incremental Muni Fiber Deployment

June 17, 2019

Finding the right moment to move forward with a publicly owned broadband infrastructure investment isn’t always cut and dry. Davis, California, has considered the possibilities for the past three years and at the June city council meeting, decided to assign city staff the task of examining the details of an incremental fiber optic network deployment. “We can’t approve a municipal fiber network today,” Councilman Will Arnold said, “but we can kill it, and I’m not willing to do that.”

Broadband Advisory Task Force

Davis’s Broadband Advisory Task Force (BATF) recommended to the city council that Davis move forward with developing a fiber optic network. The task force has examined the issue since it was formed in 2016, at the urging of citizens who formed a group calling themselves DavisGIG. The group’s main purpose has been to encourage the city to begin the process of examining the possibility of developing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

The city hired Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting, which worked together to deliver results of a feasibility study with recommendations in March 2018. They concluded that a citywide build out funded completely with one bond issue wasn’t feasible. In their opinion, Davis would require additional funding, such as sales tax or property taxes. Citywide deployment, which consultants estimate to be around $106.7 million, would be high due to poor pole condition, labor costs, and high housing density. An incremental approach, however, is a goal that Davis should consider.

Read the feasibility study here [pdf].

Still Needed

The consultants found that Davis would certainly benefit from a publicly owned fiber network. A significant digital divide problem and lack of choice in Davis has residents and businesses caught with few options. After examining possible models, Finley and CCG suggested that one possibility is a public-private partnership with one service provider.

The BATF and CCG collaborated on a follow-up residential survey, asking potential subscribers how likely they would be to switch from a private sector Internet access company to a municipal ISP. In a letter from the BATF to the city council:

The results: 21 percent of homes said they would definitely buy broadband from a new city fiber network and another 31 percent said they probably would. Thirty percent said they might.

“This is significantly lower than what the consultants have seen in many other markets,” [city] staff reported.

Nearly 80 percent said they would be lured to a new network by lower prices; 62 percent by faster speeds; and 43 percent by better customer service. 

While the survey results aren’t as encouraging as those advocating for a municipal fiber network in Davis would like to see, members of the BATF express the direct and indirect benefits that fiber connectivity would bring to other sectors in Davis. UC Davis, local schools, and libraries all need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Davis has in recent years also searched for ways to retain and attract new economic development to the city of 67,000. 

In an opinion piece in support of fiber infrastructure in Davis, Robert Nickerson who is an owner of a local Internet service provider recently wrote in the local Enterprise:

Businesses would come and stay here if they could connect their buildings to one another for hundreds of dollars a month instead of thousands, and be able to have it available in days versus months. Having the reassurance that the community manages fiber optic infrastructure throughout the community and offers leased access to it lets businesses know we prioritize what they need. It changes the calculus from locating in Davis to a potential drawback to a solid plus.

Doug Walter, president of the board of the nonprofit Davis Community Network (DCN), stressed the ability for the community to have local control and to ensure nework neutrality. DCN provides Internet access and related services to local nonprofit organizations, public agencies, schools, and individuals.

Unanimous Vote

Even though several council members expressed hesitation, after discussion the entire board voted to continue investigating an incremental deployment approach. Several community members encouraged the vote, including former City Council candidate Ezra Beeman, who described his interest as a local entrepreneur: 

“I’m a small-business owner, I’m one of those folks that works downtown in the Internet black hole … It’s enormously difficult when service cuts out, lags and there’s nothing I can do about it because I’ve got no other options."

Image credit Miles530 [Public domain]

Davis Feasibility Study, March 2018Tags: davis cacaliforniaincrementalfeasibilityeconomic developmentdigital divide

Loveland, Colorado, Announces Pulse Municipal Network

June 14, 2019

While Loveland’s proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park might be the lifeblood of this “Gateway to the Rockies,” the Colorado city is finding a new heartbeat with its planned broadband network, Pulse.

Loveland (pop. 76,700) announced the name and branding of its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network at a launch event on May 30, the Denver Post reports. As part of the Loveland Water and Power department, Pulse will connect the city’s residents and businesses with fast, reliable, affordable Internet access. At the event, City Councilmember John Fogle said, “Bringing broadband to our community is one of the biggest decisions City Council and city staff have made in the history of Loveland.”

Loveland Looks at Broadband

The name Pulse may be new, but Loveland’s planned fiber network has been six years in the making.

Loveland took its first major step towards municipal connectivity in 2015 when 82 percent of voters chose to opt out of Colorado Senate Bill 152, which prevents local governments from investing in broadband infrastructure. Then in the fall of 2018, after working with a consultant on a feasibility study, Loveland City Council decided to move forward with a municipal broadband network. Councilors had originally planned to pose the question to city residents in a special ballot, but with the community’s overwhelming support of the 2015 referendum in mind, they chose to proceed without the public vote.

While planning the fiber network, Loveland officials consulted other communities with successful municipal broadband networks, including Longmont, Colorado; Wilson, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. “[We] picked their brains so thoroughly, they don’t want to come here anymore. It’s because of Longmont that Loveland is getting fiber,” Fogle said at the Pulse launch event.

Taking the Plunge as Pulse

In a press release announcing Pulse, City Manager Steve Adams explained the choice of the network’s new name:

“The rhythm of life here in Loveland is vibrant and full of energy, reflective of the people who comprise our great City . . . Pulse builds on the facets of our community that make Loveland great and powerfully connects us all to the many incredible resources both in our city and throughout our world.”

According to Loveland’s broadband business plan [pdf], the objective of the fiber network is to provide fast, reliable, affordable Internet access with superior customer service citywide. Municipal Fiber Manager Brieana Reed-Harmel explained, “Pulse has everything you expect from the city-provided services you currently use — reliability, fair rates, and excellent, locally-based customer service.”

Loveland plans to offer Internet access and voice services and is considering video services. The city’s business plan tentatively lays out three tiers for residential broadband subscribers:

  • 25 Mbps symmetrical - $19.95 per month
  • 300 Mbps symmetrical - $49.95 per month
  • 1 Gbps symmetrical - $79.95 per month

Earlier in the year, Loveland issued bonds to fund construction of the Pulse network, for a total of $95.4 million. The city will start deploying fiber in September and is planning a kickoff event to celebrate. Construction of the citywide network will take three to four years to complete, but Pulse will connect its first subscribers in the beginning of next year.

Loveland’s municipal connections are also helping the city shave network costs. To streamline deployment and save money, the city is partnering with nearby Fort Collins and Estes Park, which are also planning networks, to split the cost of backhaul connection to the greater Internet.

The Loveland community can’t wait for better connectivity. At the Pulse launch event, Adams quipped:

“If I had a dollar for every person who asked, ‘When are you connecting to our property?’ I wouldn’t have needed to issue a bond. This is a celebration and a step closer to realizing our goals and getting our community connected.”

Loveland Broadband Utility Business PlanTags: lovelandcoloradomuniFTTHutility

Ammon Continues to Expand Open Access Network, Super-Affordable Rates Attract Attention

June 13, 2019

Ammon, Idaho’s open access software defined network has earned accolades from industry experts and been hailed as a model approach for other communities. It has been praised for serving the community, providing reliability, and offering affordable options. Amid news of expansion, the positive effects of competition via the publicly owned network have recently flashed across news and social media. People who don’t live in the Idaho city are shocked to learn how affordable high-quality Internet access can be. 

Growing a Good Thing

In March, City of Ammon Fiber Optics began to deploy in the city’s Bridgewater neighborhood, where they expected to connect around 300 of the potential 500 subscriber households with this particular expansion. Three more neighborhoods are lined up for expansion this summer and into the fall.

The city provides several options for residents in Ammon, including the Local Improvement District (LID) approach, to finance expansions of the infrastructure. Their method allows the community to continue to build the network without borrowing or bonding. Community members within the boundaries of the project area can sign up at the beginning of the process to pay for connecting over a 20-year period. If they decide to pass initially and connect later, they must pay the connection fee out of pocket. In 2018, the city of Ammon developed this explainer video:

If people want to pay the full connection fee all at once, they have the option to do so, but many people choose to pay through the LID. Connecting to the networks usually costs between $3,000 - $3,500. Groups of neighbors come together to create the LIDs because deploying in an area where there are multiple homes interested in connecting to the network is less expensive than a single home connection. The more property owners who opt in to connect to City of Ammon Fiber Optics, the lower the cost is to every one who wants to connect.

Keeping it Clear

To most people, connecting to the Internet means a bill from an Internet access company such as Comcast or AT&T. Subscribers who obtain Internet access from large corporate ISPs often complain about confusing monthly bills with charges that they don’t understand, but rarely do the national ISPs address those concerns. 

When Ammon learned that people in the community might be confused about how to connect and what monthly fees they would pay, City of Ammon Fiber Optics scheduled a public meeting to address any misinformation. According to the Post Register, “a few dozen” people attended the meeting and many of them asked questions related to the costs to connect and to sign up with Internet service providers.

Ammon’s SDN network offers a range of services, including four options for Internet access to residents. The presence of competition in Ammon has helped keep local prices reasonable, with average rate for symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) capacity service at around $10 per month. On the City of Ammon Fiber Optics FAQ page, the city provides a price break down:

This is an estimated monthly breakdown we’ve come up with to show you what the average cost looks like. Keep in mind, the installation fee is paid annually (or all up front lowering your average monthly cost) and we are just showing an average estimated cost per month. Depending on the installation cost of the project and the service you choose, the cost may differ.

Installation = $22.00/month (averaged - if not paid in full)

Maintenance and operation = $16.50

Service (Internet Only), 100/100Mbps (no cap) = $9.99

Total= $48.49 for 100 Mbps fiber Internet. Going to 1 Gbps only increases the monthly costs $15 for a total of $63.49. This is where the economics really shine!

FyberCom, one of the ISPs offering service via the network, offers free basic Internet access at 15 Mbps FyberCom’s service is below the FCC-defined definition of broadband of 25/3 Mbps, but for people who don’t use many devices simultaneously, send large files electronically, or aren’t interested in applications such as gaming, the service suits their needs.

Apples to Apples

Recently, Ammon Mayor Sean Coletti tweeted about the super-affordable rates derived from the city’s open access investment. The Register caught on to the tweet and pointed out that, while customers need to pay for installation and maintenance to the city, getting broadband from City of Ammon Fiber Optics is still a better deal than buying it from AT&T:

For example, AT&T offers "speeds up to 100 Mbps" in California for just $40 a month, according to its website. There are a few caveats though.

•It is "up to 100Mbps" – which in reality often means significantly less

•It has "limited availability in select areas" – you need to call to find out

•It comes with a 12-month contract, with a $180 early leave fee

•It has a data-cap of 1TB with a $10 charge for each additional 50GB after that

•It comes with unspecified taxes – that can typically cost an additional $10-15 a month

•It doesn't mention the fact you need to pay an unspecified installation fee

•It doesn't mention the fact you will likely have to "rent" its equipment to get the service.

In fact, AT&T offers what looks to be an identical service right next to that $40 a month service for $60 a month - the only difference being no data cap. The actual real cost that consumers will end up paying over the year of the contract is around $90 a month once everything is included.

Choices Choices Choices

As Mayor Coletti points out, it’s providing a place for the competitive market to operate that brings great prices and service to folks in Ammon:

“We don’t interfere with any decisions to raise or lower service prices. We’ve just watched as it has fallen. These are insane prices. They may be the lowest in the whole country. We believe in a market-driven economy on this system. That’s the magic that we’ve created that hasn’t been available before,” Coletti said.

Cat Blake from Next Century Cities tweeted a screen shot of the multiple options subscribers have when they connect to the city's fiber network:

 

(find a larger version here)

Bruce Patterson, the city’s Technology Director, described how Ammon’s infrastructure is designed to encourage competition:

“The beautiful thing about the marketplace is that you don’t have to install a completely different wire to your home — you have all of these choices on one wire. That’s why we feel this is the future,” Patterson said. “We have truthfully separated the cost. That fiber really belongs to that property owner, it increases the value of their home, and they should be able to decide what’s on it. The reverse of that is the traditional model, where the operator owns the wire, and they say what’s on it and if you want someone else, you have to have another wire run to your home, and that’s the only way to get another choice.”

Check out our video that described the way their network encourages competition and the resulting benefits:

Learn more about the network and how Ammon developed the open access SDN by listening to our podcast episode 86:

 

episode 173:

episode 207:

and episode 259:

Photo of Peterson Park in Ammon by Sociotard [CC BY 3.0]

City of Ammon Fiber Optics optionsTags: ammonidahoopen accesssoftware defined networksaffordabilityratescompetition