muninetworks.org

Syndicate content
Updated: 8 hours 6 min ago

Western North Carolina Residents: Take this Online Broadband Survey!

November 17, 2017

If you live in western North Carolina and struggle with the lack of quality Internet access, the Southwestern Commission — a council of local governments for the region’s seven westernmost counties — in cooperation with the MountainWest Partneship are urging residents to take this survey. Counties in the council include Haywood, Swain, Jackson, Macon, Graham, Cherokee, and Clay.

The goal is to quantify the demand for Internet regionally, focusing on individual counties as opposed to census blocks, in order to better determine accessibility issues. It’s an important process to show Internet providers that there is demand, debunking ISPs claim that rural demand for high-speed Internet doesn't justify the investment. Better data can also establish a foundation for future funding opportunities.

Sarah Thompson, the executive director of the council explained,

It’s really in my opinion one of the most important parts of the process. You’re basically showing [internet service providers] that there is demand, it’s showing even when there is service it’s subpar. In order to move forward with projects, we have to have that data to back up the need. To show that there are opportunities.

FCC’s Inaccurate Data Collection

Through the FCC’s form 477 data collection efforts, the Commission attempted to carry out these crucial first steps in showing aggregate demand and problematic broadband service. The data was compiled into the easily accessible National Broadband Map.

Data is collected from ISPs and it provides information to the FCC based on which census blocks ISPs serve. The problem is that this data exaggerates where coverage is available in rural areas where census blocks can be very large. Areas that may appear on the FCCs maps to be served or to be served with better connectivity are often in reality not served or served with Internet access much slower than FCC mapping indicates. Because state and federal entities typically award grants and loans to communities with the greatest need first, incorrect mapping eliminates rural communities from funding opportunities when they need it the most.

Not only that, but the FCC neglects to collect other important data on speeds and pricing. For years, broadband policy experts have pressed the FCC to require ISPs to provide the information to better assess rural costs.

A Collaborative Regional Effort

Beyond organizing the survey, the seven counties' respective broadband committees are focusing on whatever they must do to make it cheaper and easier for ISPs to serve their communities.

Thompson also explained that individual communities are learning more about funding models, ordinances and policies, and infrastructure.

The training is intended to add capacity to the region. Each county has a team of people educated on how to make this happen.

Representative Kevin Corbin, who works closely with the commission and sits on the Information Subcommittee of the House, has been exploring funding sources for local governments and their prospective broadband projects.

Corbin has ideas about public-private partnerships and utilizing existing infrastructure to extend last-mile connections, but “[i]n the meantime, the most important thing mountain residents can do, if they want better internet access, is take the survey,” says Corbin.

The survey will be open until the end of the calendar year and can be accessed here: http://mountainwest.baat-campaign.com/campaigns/master

Tags: surveynorth carolinaruralregionalfccmappingfundinghaywood county nc

Bring The Story Of Wilson And Pinetops To Your Community

November 16, 2017

The future of high-quality Internet access in Pinetops, North Carolina, is precarious. Nearby Wilson’s municipal fiber network, Greenlight, provides gigabit connectivity for now, but a series of federal level decisions could change the situation at any moment. Now the story of these two communities and their fight for local telecommunications authority has come to life in the film Do Not Pass Go. Local communities can schedule a screening of the documentary. Watch the trailer below.

A Story Worth Telling

Cullen Hoback’s film tells the story that made national news and that we’ve shared as events unfolded.

Wilson, North Carolina’s municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network has benefitted residents, businesses, and institutions in Wilson since 2008. Neighboring rural towns, including Pinetops, had asked Wilson to expand in order to obtain better Internet access but state law precluded Wilson from serving beyond county borders.

When Chattanooga decided to challenge Tennessee’s law that had a similar effect, Wilson joined the motion to the FCC in 2015. The Commission struck down both laws and Wilson took the opportunity to expand service to Pinetops, the small mountain town of about 1,400 people. Pinetops businesses and residents immediately felt the improvement with FTTH. They experienced economic development opportunities and municipal facilities functioned more efficiently.

In the summer of 2016, however, an appellate court reversed the FCC decision and Pinetops was scheduled to be cut off from the FTTH service it had come to depend on. Wilson provided free connectivity for a time to avoid breaking the law, but eventually, the state legislature passed a bill that will allow Greenlight to serve the tiny town—for now. If any private provider decides to enter the market in the community, Greenlight must leave. In other words, state lawmakers in North Carolina are legislating away competition in Pinetops.

Schedule A Screening In Your Community

Hoback’s documentary talks to the people who wonder each day what their Internet access future looks like. The story dives into the issue of local control, publicly owned networks, and community. You can schedule a screening by contacting Deb Socia from Next Century Cities. 

Check out the trailer here:

Do Not Pass Go from Hyrax Films on Vimeo.

Tags: wilsonpinetopsnorth carolinaFTTHfccvideogreenlightnext century citiesrural

Give To The Max Day! Support ILSR And Local Communities!

November 16, 2017

The Community Broadband Networks Team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance invites you to lend a hand as we help build local economies in Minnesota and across the map. Today we’re participating in Minnesota's Give to the Max Day and we hope you’ll take a minute to contribute. Your donation allows us to assist local folks looking for ways to improve connectivity, but it goes even further.

Broadband And More

You're familiar with our broadband work, but the Institute for Local Self-Reliance also works with communities through our other initiatives. Our staff of policy and research experts investigate issues such as independent business, banking, energy, waste to wealth, composting, and the public good. We’ve been serving communities for more than 40 years.

ILSR champions local self-reliance, a strategy that underscores the need for humanly-scaled institutions and economies and the widest possible distribution of ownership. We work with citizens, activists, policymakers, and entrepreneurs to design policies that meet our needs. We want to make sure that the benefits of our political economy benefits all local citizens.

We need your help! Donate here and thanks for supporting our work.

 

Tags: institute for local self-reliancelocalstateevent

Lessons From the Nation's Oldest Open Access Fiber Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 279

November 15, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 279 - Russ Brethrower of the Grant County Public Utility District Open Access Fiber Network

Grant County's Public Utility District was, along with some nearby PUDs, among the very first deployers of Fiber-to-the-Home networks shortly after the turn of the millennium. And per Washington's law, they built an open access network that today has more than twenty service providers.

Grant County PUD Project Specialist Russ Brethrower joins us for Community Broadband Bits podcast 279, a live interview from the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta

We discuss the history of the network and other observations from Russ, who has more direct experience in these networks than the vast majority of us that regularly speculate on them. We also talk about the experiences of open access over 16 years and how they financed the network. 

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

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

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

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

Image of Deep Lake in Grant County © Steven Pavlov / http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Senapa, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: grant countygrant utility districtpublic utility districtruralhistoryelectricityutilitywashingtonfinancingelectrificationaudiobroadband bitspodcastopen accesscompetitionexpansion

OnLight Aurora: Ever Expanding Fiber Optic Network

November 14, 2017

On October 24, the Aurora, Illinois, City Council Finance Committee approved a $40,000 grant to OnLight Aurora to extend the city’s fiber optic network to River Street Plaza area commercial properties.

The City of Light And Dark Fiber

OnLight Aurora is the nonprofit ISP that leases publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure to serve the city’s municipal government, community anchor institutions (CAIs), two data centers (Bytegrid and CyrusOne) and local businesses.

Prior to OnLight Aurora’s network, the city’s previous network was a patchwork of varying speeds and capabilities. The network was old, unreliable for government employees, and expensive. In 2005-2006, city leaders estimated that Aurora was paying nearly $500,000 a year for leased line expenses to telecommunications providers. Now, the city of Aurora saves approximately $485,000 each year by utilizing their municipal fiber optic infrastructure.

The community spent approximately $7 million to construct the network between 2008 and 2011. Aurora initially financed the project with general obligation bonds and estimated payback at 10 years. In 2011, Aurora received a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation. The approximately $12 million FHWA grant financed the upgrades to 60 traffic signals, the installation of extra fiber strands, and the elimination of all remaining initial debt for the network.

In 2012, the city’s broadband task force formed OnLight Aurora to manage the network. Shortly after, the nonprofit received a $1 million Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge award from The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to spur job creation and expand the network further. They used the additional funds to help fund the costs of connecting customers and to reach more institutions such as healthcare facilities and business parks.

Extending The Network

The current network consists of over 60 miles of underground fiber including three self-healing rings. The OnLight Aurora’s network extends it's reach by connecting to the Kane County fiber optic network that was initially utilized to connect CAIs and now offers dark fiber connections to businesses and leasing to ISPs in select areas.

The new OnLight Aurora network extension will connect 14 tenant commercial spaces on the first floor of two buildings along South River Street to the city's fiber optic network. According to Bill Weit, who works in marketing for the city, only three of the 14 spaces are occupied and community leaders feel high-quality Internet infrastructure will make the spaces more desirable. The current extension does not plan to connect the fiber optic network to condominium residents in the two buildings.

Learn more about OnLight Aurora listen to Lisa’s 2014 conversation with Alderman Rick Mervine in episode 123 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: auroraonlight auroraillinoisexpansionnonprofitbusiness servicespublic savingstraffic lightsdark fiber

Community Broadband Media Roundup- November 13

November 13, 2017

California

Gigabit internet should be a universal utility in San Francisco, says city report by Colin Wood, StateScoop

 

Colorado

Despite Comcast's "misinformation campaign," Colorodans vote en masse to reject ban on municipal internet, Boing Boing

Sorry, Comcast: Voters say “yes” to city-run broadband in Colorado by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Colorado Voters Strike Down Comcast's Awful State Law by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

"I was very encouraged with the passage today, and particularly with the headwinds of incumbents trying to misinform the electorate," Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell said of CenturyLink and Comcast's behavior ahead of the vote. "And also, I was very disappointed in the (Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce) playing an active role in misinformation. I think there is some accountability that has to come out post-election."

Comcast has a lot to lose if municipal broadband takes off by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

"Evidence from other cities suggests that a real choice in broadband services could reduce Comcast's revenues by millions of dollars per month," the group, which advocates for municipal broadband projects, wrote in a [Community Broadband Networks’] policy brief. "Competition in Fort Collins would cost Comcast between $5.4 million and $22.8 million per year. In Seattle, robust competition would cost between $20 million and $84 million per year."

Nearly Half of Colorado Counties Have Formally Rejected a Comcast-Backed Law Restricting City-Run Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

In addition to the 31 counties that have voted to overrule the state restrictions, dozens of municipalities in the state have also passed similar ballot measures. Including cities, towns, and counties, more than 100 communities in Colorado have pushed back against the 12-year-old prohibition, according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

19 more Colorado cities and counties vote in favor of city-owned internet, while Fort Collins approves $150 million to move forward by Tamara Chuang, The Denver Post

Fort Collins anti-broadband campaign spends $451,000 by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Fort Collins voters say yes to broadband by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Voters de-Bruce, OK broadband and pot taxes by Charles Ashby, The Daily Sentinel

 

Maryland

Editorial: Broadband an essential part of doing business, Carroll County Times

 

Missouri

Gower gaining broadband internet services by Ray Scherer, News-Press Now

By mid-2018, Gower, Missouri, will start witnessing the many benefits of a full range of broadband internet services.

The community is currently in the midst of a transformation that will deliver a modernized fiber-optic internet system. A partnership with United Fiber, a subsidiary of United Electric Cooperative, is bringing the project to fruition.

 

New Mexico

Community-led networks democratize web by Mark Buell, Albuquerque Journal

 

Pennsylvania

Stuck on slow, Pennsylvania renews push for rural broadband by Michael Rubinkam, The Seattle Times

 

Washington

Comcast could lose $84M in Seattle from muni broadband, new report says by Daniel Frankel, Fierce Cable

 

West Virginia

USDA invests $16 million in rural broadband infrastructure for James Valley Cooperative Telephone Company, Farm Forum

 

General

Comcast wins one, loses one on muni broadband by Daniel Frankel, Fierce Cable

T-Mobile and Sprint officially end merger talks by Andrew Liptak, The Verge

An amateur sleuth dug up at least one dead critic of net neutrality on the FCC website by Michael J. Coran, Quartz

Activists target Comcast over municipal broadband in Seattle, Colorado by Bob Fernandez, The Inquirer

If it passes, Fort Collins officials believe, they could advance the municipal broadband network that its supporters say would cost $150 million and halve prices for 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) service to $70 a month from $150, a local official said.

“Comcast has pretty much cornered the high-end of the [broadband] market and CenturyLink has the low end because they are relying on DSL technology,” Glen Akins, a leader in the Fort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee, said Monday.

How Verizon and Comcast are working to ensure states don’t pass their own net neutrality bills By Brian Fung, The Washington Post

Comcast and Verizon have both asked telecom regulators to make clear that the FCC's new policy on net neutrality — which could be put to a vote as early as next month — will preempt state and local regulations that might read differently. The request marks the industry's latest step to weaken federal rules that regulate broadband companies like legacy telephone companies.

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 278

November 13, 2017

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 278. Christopher Mitchell interviews Dublin, Ohio's City Manager Dana McDaniel to lear more about DubLink and intelligent communities. Listen to this episode here.

Dana McDaniel: Intelligent communities are born out of crisis typically or opportunity our crisis was really born more out of the opportunity side. But it was still a crisis.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 278 of the community broadband pit's podcast from the Institute for local self-reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzales. Christopher recently spoke at an event in Dublin, Ohio, hosted by the Global Institute for the Study of the intelligent community. While he was there he spoke with Dublin City Manager Dana McDaniel about the event and, of course, the community's municipal fiber network that has spurred economic development and provided so many other benefits. During their conversation they discussed the institute's work and their discoveries. Now here's Christopher and Dana McDaniel.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bid's podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for local self-reliance and I'm on site in Dublin Ohio talking with Dana McDaniel city manager of Dublin Ohio and host of The Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community. Welcome to the show.

Dana McDaniel: Well thanks Chris thanks for having me and thanks for being with us.

Christopher Mitchell: It's nice to do the interview after my presentation after I have seen a bit since I have a better sense of what's going on here and it's pretty impressive. Well thanks. Where are we Where's Dublin for people who have never been here and what's it like.

Dana McDaniel: OK well Dublin Ohio is a suburb of Columbus and I think most people probably know Columbus is central to the state of Ohio. And of course--

Christopher Mitchell: Both figuratively and physically

Dana McDaniel: As you go and yeah in a lot of ways that's very true. Yes so we're a suburb of Columbus on the northwest side. We have a population of about 47,000 people are daytime population is closer to 70,000. We have a lot of businesses we have nearly 4,000 businesses in our community and several which are corporate headquarter types so. So we import more jobs than we export which is a good thing.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. It seems like a lot of growing industries here we're here at Ohio University which is not the Ohio State University for people who might be confused but at Ohio University where there's a lot of thinking about the future it looks like.

Dana McDaniel: Right, well we're fortunate to have this Ohio University, a satellite campus. The main campus is in Athens, Ohio, and we're sitting on the Ohio University campus. But yes we are pretty close as well to the the Ohio State University, and it's as you know it's a very large universe you have a great partnership with them as well. So Ohio University is establishing a satellite campus here and has plans for growth.

Christopher Mitchell: So well we're going to talk about DubLink in a second which is the wonderful underground conduit system that you've developed over many years.

Christopher Mitchell: But I wanted to first get a better sense of what -- what's an intelligent community? And what's the institute doing?

Dana McDaniel: Right, so the intelligent community as part of the Intelligent Community Forum which was founded by three members. It is a New York City think tank is it is a way to look at it but they're globally connected.

Dana McDaniel: They have a movement which I which is very much a global movement. It's -- it's really at its core our principles of what they and the folks who participate with them consider to comprise an intelligent community and there are certain indicators that they use as benchmarks so one is broadband meaning, you know, what is the broadband infrastructure in your community the knowledge workforce that leverages off of that. What innovation do you bring to bear relative to those and participate in the global economy, the global broadband economy, and then the others indicators would include digital equity. And that is to what extent can everyone in your community access and participate in this broadband economy and then sustainability, meaning, how is our world going to absorb the waste that we generate? and strike that balance and then the last is advocacy and that is how do you as a community share your story.

Dana McDaniel: And I think the key there is how do you share it so that you're helping others. But equally you're learning from those people that you're trying to help as well and that's that's a lot of what this institute is about. There were two institutes. Initially one out of Mississippi State Cooperative Extension Service that had a real focus on the rural imperative and how broadband affects rural communities. And then another one that was started in Ohio at a Walsh University in northeast Ohio and then that has relocated to Dublin. And we've been fortunate to pick up on all the good work that Walsh did and in trying to carry that forward. The institute really is -- we are a host. It's not a brick and mortar thing. It's really a dialogue and a collaboration. And how do we bring communities together to talk about this thing of -- this notion of the Intelligent community and the vision of the Institute which was actually created by all of its participating members is toward an intelligent Ohio.

Dana McDaniel: So how can we as a state, and with the regions within the state become more intelligent in this concept of the intelligent community.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we are talking about this morning here at this this gathering that you're having today was how you've traveled all over the state and are working with communities all over the state and so we're a big fan of that at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance as local organizing and trying to like help these different communities that are in proximity to each other organized locally along similar lines. Tell us a little bit about that.

Speaker 8: Yeah I think Chris you know in listening to your presentation and getting to know you this morning a lot better I think our missions are very aligned. You know I think we are about trying to help local communities to better their positioning within the world, you know, globally, by leveraging this thing of broadband. Whether that's that physical infrastructure of broadband or how you leverages your access to it but you get to make sure you have access to it right which is certainly a great mission that you all have. And to your to your question about kind of getting this word out around Ohio we have an institute taken the show on the road, we call it, so it's been the ICF road show the institute road show to the five regions of the state central Ohio and of course north as you can imagine north northwest northeast south east southwest.

Speaker 8: And we we went around and talked about the intelligent community movement and what that meant. Again it's not about promoting the city of Dublin at all. It's about the movement. And I think we we really we had good attendance at all those and a lot of cities, even providers -- the industry providers, attended wanting to know what that was about. And I had great dialogue and all those different regions and then we have circled back to the North West region and the southeast region. And I think there's great momentum and if you think about Ohio and the southeast region it is more rural.

Dana McDaniel: Northwest can be a little bit more rural although although there are certainly some some great cities in both those regions but that rural concept seems to play there.

Speaker 8: And how do we help help with that. So that's been a big focus Northeast Ohio is much more dense population wise and they're doing a lot of innovative things Same with Southwest Ohio's more dense. And of course central Ohio is actually the more populated region within the state. So I think our twist has become more rural with this and trying to help other cities and communities as best we can. Not that we have the answers. Again this is about us learning as much -- the things that we brought back to Dublin in just hearing and talking as it has been phenomenal for us.

Speaker 9: Yeah I definitely hear you on that. I mean are you just giving this presentation today that I give I learned a lot in the Q&A and also just as I was thinking about things the audience might find interesting about ability to talk and listen I think is something more people should think actively about. But let me ask you one of the things I feel like an intelligent community exists in juxtaposition to might be a smart community. And often I think we think about smart communities as the largest cities and you're talking about intelligent smaller communities. So tell me a little bit more about what's intelligent and also how that may apply to smaller cities as opposed to just the largest ones that are managing traffic congestion and things like that.

Dana McDaniel: You know you have this big movement now in smart cities and that's a huge thing here in Ohio and especially in central Ohio with some of the grant money that's come down from from U.S. Department Transportation on Smart Cities initiatives. But but not to confuse the two. The the intelligent community really differentiates between the two. In fact, the intelligent community forum and movement really started with smart cities back in the 90s. I believe it was with that vernacular and use. But the idea is smart cities initiatives help cities to work more efficiently whereas intelligent communities help communities to be better communities overall -- is more comprehensive. So I love the question about the small cities because I use this like when I talk about the intelligent community I have a slide and it shows Mitchell, South Dakota, and I can't remember their population.

Dana McDaniel: It's like less than 20,000 home of the Corn Palace. I see and every time I bring this up and I have a picture of the Corn Palace I ask people how many people been in the Corn Palace. Every time I've done this presentation someone in the room was raised their hand which I think is just fascinating and then -- And then I have a picture of Taipei City, Taiwan, which has a population of six million. Both these cities were labeled as top seven communities in the world at the same time. Right. So so what are their stories. Well you know you can imagine what type you know what Taipei's is right. I mean it's huge city it's it's big stuff going on. And when you think about Taiwan and what their wonderful cities do I mean they're all over the place with what they can do and the capacity you think of Mitchell South Dakota. You know we we feel that intelligent communities are born out of crisis typically or opportunity. So what was their crisis and I don't want to do them an injustice. But generally what the crux of it is I took it was they had the Corn Palace but that represented who they were they were an agricultural community based in the corn industry.

Dana McDaniel: Obviously agricultural industry is high tech but they like many of us were losing their youth to other cities. So they wanted to take a look at how do they reposition themselves in this global market in this global world and economy and really focused on the knowledge worker and how do they bring knowledge workers and retain them and or attract them in Mitchell, South Dakota, and it is a great story about how they achieve that and some of it was through broadband and connectivity and the ability to participate in a broadband economy. They have a beautiful story and as it were and not only a story but results and it landed them as one of the top seven communities in the world as judged and determined by the Intelligent Community Forum. But one thing I would like people to understand is that every year they have this, we tease and call it a beauty contest. But it's -- but it is an idea of measuring yourself against these benchmarks these indicators in the story against that and what difference it's made.

Dana McDaniel: Well there are about 400 cities a year from across the world that apply for this recognition and from Mitchell, South Dakota, to be recognized like that is significant. So back to your question that's what applies to small communities or it does apply to small communities as much as it does the very large communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Well it is wonderful to see an organization take seriously the large and the small because we were just watching your presentation this morning about the mid-size and smaller cities in Ohio and how people might think when you hear Rust Belt you might think Cleveland, Cincinnati. I often think of a place in Pennsylvania. But there's a number of other areas that aren't doing as well when actually Cleveland and Cincinnati are doing better than people might assume. It's the mid-size and smaller cities. I think they're almost always passed over and ignored.

Dana McDaniel: Right. And you know that that whole Rust Belt image that we've all been trying to shake. Certainly we went through the rusting of it all that we were really tried to reposition ourselves as the trust built. And it's a very different economy than it was back in the day I loved the -- I wish folks could have seen this and maybe you'll be able to show the slide somehow someday. But they showed Allentown Pennsylvania

Christopher Mitchell: Where I was born.

Dana McDaniel: Is that right? Why. You know what came to mind was Billy Joel is downtown Allentown which I love. And in that story that he told in that song but yet Allen Townes population has just been re-surging compared to all those other former Rust Belt cities although many of those are doing well too. But I just thought that was really cool when you think about that when all that long ago I was in the 80s right when that song came out. And in telling that story and here they are my family is one of the ones that left in the early 90s.

Christopher Mitchell: Is that right. And a Minnesota boy I love it there. Let me let me turn back to Dublin and let's talk about the doublings. Just a brief description of what it is.

Dana McDaniel: Yes so when you think about crisis our crisis was really born out of the opportunity side. But it was still a crisis nonetheless. So I've been around the city now for 29 years so I always bring that up. But I'm an old guy now but I've been here that long but back in the mid-90s if you think about the Telecommunications Act of 96 at that time we were one of the fastest growing cities in Ohio if not in the country at that time and we had just done$70 million of improvements in some roadway. And we had these office buildings coming out of the ground.

Dana McDaniel: And then we had to tell the deregulation of the telecommunications industry and all we could envision was our new roads being cut up over and over. So at the time it was crisis to protect our investment in the right of way because we were afraid they were going to build out their customers one customer at a time which meant how many cuts in the street and so it was a right of way management initiative initially.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who aren't aware the cut is a problem with just aesthetics?

Dana McDaniel: Well it's part of that we had put in this new road system and I could take you to that one road and we've grown so much since then but that one significant branch road is called Boulevard that we did in front of our legacy office parks which you know were in the process of reinventing those two now. But if you think about that at that time we built this new road beautiful roads system beautifully landscaped and yeah we could just picture this thing being cut up and then when you're cutting up your roads you're degrading the integrity of the road and your investment in your public infrastructure has its lifecycle is less every time you cut that pavement. So and at the time boring technology wasn't what it is today we envision road cuts and trenches and all that so. So what we want to do is protect us. We're going to do a right of way management policy which was later adopted really on a regional basis and then we franchised out a conduit system which actually an intern of mine at the time named it DubLink and it was a conduit system.

Speaker 10: And then what happened later a couple of years after that we had the telecom bust and we had companies you know we had not we but the industry had warehouses full of full of fiber sitting unused because of the bust. So the company who put in the conduits system. So the official company and now and then doublings LLC and then they have another subsidiary called Columbus FiberNet where they built we had this conduit system known as DubLink was about 25 miles long and then they put in another hundred miles of that around the whole region where they came to us and said look for dimes on the dollar we can sell you fiber optics.

Dana McDaniel: So would you like to buy fiber optics Well in exchange for letting them build the conduit system. We've got one pipe. So then we said okay for $3.2 million, we've got 125 miles of fiber optics in that one pipe that we owned. And from that we started learning the value of how to interconnect buildings as an economic development tool. We learned to interconnect our own buildings for institutional use and the cost avoidance that we experienced by running our own fiber optic system for our own facilities. And then later we learned the value of subleasing dark fiber. So I'll give you though the so-what did that story sort at the end of the day I can actually attach over 15,000 jobs, attracted retained or expanded in the city of Dublin directly tied to that fiber system. Our lease revenues over the course of those lease agreements will bring us and nearly $3 million. And then our cost avoidance per year is approaching about $200,000 a year times almost 20 years. We've been doing that add all that up. The income tax we get off of those jobs relative the economic development portion of that. We've got about at this point about five and a half approaching $6 million in the system. Our return on investment is over $40 million.

Christopher Mitchell: That doesn't even begin to account from sure efficiencies you've seen as a local government

Dana McDaniel: You can't even quantify that really at this point but there's a lot of them. So that's a great story of crisis borne out and just learning and really the Institute and the ICF movement involvement in that. The ICF indicators really became a context by which then we did economic development and how we did it and how we needed to connect in and function as a city in this global economy.

Dana McDaniel: But then the institute piece of this is we've spent the last 20 years learning this stuff. What a shame for not sharing our lessons -- not that we have all the answers because we're learning. The other thing I'll add to that in the context of us having that system that system is only in our commercial area so it's not in our residential area and we're not running a fiber optic system to all of our residents. Now we are providing 100 gigabit backbone now access to businesses who want to access it. We have we have established this as a research backbone. We're connected into the Ohio Supercomputer Center and in the Ohio Supercomputer [Center] we have a National Science Foundation GENI Rack. So we have companies accessing it for research as well as to the other reasons I told you but we're also fortunate and I don't want to miss this point that we have multiple providers in town. So I have as many as three providers competing in our residential areas and we have many more than that competing in a high density commercial area. So we're fortunate to have that.

Christopher Mitchell: Even though the conduit doesn't go throughout all of the residential areas it has lowered the cost of investment for competing firms so they've invested more themselves because the conduit has gotten them closer to the neighborhoods I'm guessing.

Dana McDaniel: I think there's some truth to that. In the case of some of those especially those who are serving the commercial area because they could come in and lease conduit and not have to engineer it not have to build it themselves. They could lease it. You know some would argue we haven't changed the price on that leasing since it was built in the late 90s, and some would argue well that's that's that's expensive and some are incumbents who just don't want to be in it. But there are a number of those who want to be in it and have deployed in the other conduits and not to mention those who are leasing off of us and all of that by the way is tied into a local -- to local data centers and then in regional data centers as well. So we have a presence in all these data centers so that really helps us we can help facilitate connecting individual companies no matter how big or small you are into a data center where you can cross connect and pick and choose your provider.

Christopher Mitchell: So just to make sure I have a clear picture there is a firm called DubLink and they have a bunch of conduit within that conduit. You have one can do it with a lot of fiber and you can leave that out but you're also making other services available as well.

Dana McDaniel: Correct so we can lease that I split that fiber bundle into into thirds. So a third of it is institutional use which we use for ourselves and will allow other governmental entities to access it as an example word. We're deploying a 100 gigabit fiber optic right now and connecting up all of Dublin City schools. So there'll be a hundred gigabit backbone our Washington Township who overlays us and provides fire service they're connected to it. We're opening up this new US 33 corridor autonomous and connected vehicle court or in cooperation with the city of Marysville and Union County to our north and west with players like Honda and the Ohio State University the Transportation Research Center the U.S. DOT Ohio Department Transportation. We're building a new backbone up there but it's connecting back into our backbone and our data center so that's gives you an idea of the institutional use we sublease.

Dana McDaniel: Like I said in any other thing we do. The other third of that. So that one third is institutional use one third is is is just dark fiber leasing and the other third is what I call economic development and we actually hand off fiber strands to companies. So as an example we have a regional hospital system that has multiple facilities throughout central Ohio. Their entire system operates on our backbone and then we have some of our other corporate entities in Dublin who may have multiple facilities in Dublin or multiple facilities in the region and they operate on our backbone. And by doing that they can experience the cost avoidance model. So there's one other sort of twist to that. And while we've allocated fiber to these larger companies you know became apparent to us that the small company the small medium sized business who keeps their server in the broom closet like I did as a city can actually get their server down the street into an M Plus 2 environment.

Dana McDaniel: They can go down if they want to see the lights blinking on the server I call it and not to make fun of I.T. folks but I tease him about that. They can go down the street and see it it doesn't have to be in the broom closet and it's in this great environment. So we have gotten into extending in the commercial district fiber optics from our backbone into buildings into multi-tenant buildings and then positioned ourselves as a sort of a middleman if you will that that can backhaul the data or the Internet service back to the data center where the small business can come into a data center they can put their server in that data center.

Dana McDaniel: So we give them commercial real estate space if you will for their server in that local data center. And when that's in there they can cross connect and pick from them. I think the numbers up to 13 different providers. So imagine the power of being able to leverage 13 different providers you know you can switch providers routinely If you want. And then we have the ability to crank that up on a hundred gigabit capacity pipe that we have we actually have 100 gig ability there. And so we can push that out to the small and medium sized businesses so it works well for us because we have a lot of R&D companies in town who really want to access that. So we're we're we're in the process of leveraging all of that now that's a long story Chris but that's how all these pieces and parts are working together.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I mean that's that's the bit about history is the longer you go the more you have to. It's hard -- one last question that I'm curious about is expansion. How you prioritize where to expand if you had any challenges with city council not wanting to reinvest or questioning how to reinvest.

Dana McDaniel: Tell you our city council is only one way to describe it. And this goes back now for multiple city councils back into the '90s. All I can say about our council says they get it they just get it now was proof of concept and I have to give them credit they took they took a leap of faith back in the day when we had the opportunity. But I think we saw the opportunity we were able to explain how to leverage it for our own use and then the opportunity to leverage it for other uses came along and you know we strike a tough balance between what what is our role as a city and what is the role of the industry and try to play together well with them. Sometimes that goes well sometimes not so well. But we we work at it.

Dana McDaniel: Now I've talked a lot about the system being available in our commercial area. We have expanded into the residential areas because we're hooking up our schools it's not been our intent to go out and serve the residential area. But what I will tell you I find interesting as we survey our our community every other year, every third year and have been doing that now for a lot of years and we put a battery of questions in there about their broadband service and what we've seen over time and these snapshots of the survey is that their satisfaction rate with their upload download speeds is decreasing. And while it's still relatively good you can see that falling off. Well in this last year, our Chief Information Officer Doug McCollough started engaging some some residents who came to us telling us they were not satisfied with their with their service in the residential areas so we have been having a dialogue with them about why is that.

Dana McDaniel: What does that mean. How can we facilitate the dialogue with the industry to try to make that concern known. So we're having we're in a process of that dialogue. So it's going to be interesting to see where that goes and where that takes us. I think it's important you know we have to address that. You know we talk about the change of the worker. You know the worker is going to change and we need to be supportive of that and we have a lot of people in our city as I'm sure many other cities do that work out of their home. They need that high level service. We've got to make sure it's there.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I'll say the hotel I stayed in last night I'm guessing is near doubling. The AC hotel and the Internet speed was one of the best I've seen it was not as good as the hotel in the city of Chattanooga owns and pumps up an incredible way. But it was I think the second or third best hotel I've stayed up for Internet access. So you're doing something right.

Dana McDaniel: Well by the way you mentioned Chattanooga quite a few times this morning and you know Chattanooga is an ICF community and they were a top seven community when we were. And I would you know Chattanooga really the former mayor there really embraced the ICF movement and I think it I think it had somewhat to do, or helpful with, and helped to inform a lot of what they're doing with their broadband but yeah that they're an incredible case of how to leverage that. And they've done a great job.

Christopher Mitchell: Alright. Well thank you so much for your time today. Thanks for inviting me to get a sense of what it's like here. It's been a great time.

Dana McDaniel: Well it's been great having you. And we learned a lot from you today and hope you'll come back and join us again. Oh I'm pretty sure I will. That

Lisa Gonzalez: was Christopher talking with Dana McDaniel about DubLink in Dublin, Ohio, and the Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community. Be sure to check out MuniNetworks for more on Dublin and DubLink. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. E-mail us at podcasts@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other

ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 278 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcriptdublinohioeconomic developmentinfrastructureintelligent community forumresearchpublic savingsright-of-way

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 277

November 13, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 277 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Luis Reyes from Kit Carson Electric Cooperative joins the show to explain how electric cooperatives are solving the digital divide in rural America. Listen to this episode here.

Luis Reyes: People trust co-ops. They trust Electric co-ops. They've been - been around since the mid 30s. I think there was a lot of faith that we could pull this off and make it as reliable as we made the electric system.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 277 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Rural New Mexico has some of the most scenic landscape in the U.S. It also presents some of the most difficult challenges in getting its widely dispersed population connected with high quality connectivity. The Kit Carson Electric Cooperative it's changing the situation in the north central area of the state. For several years now they've been connecting people in the region with fiber to the home improving connectivity for residents, businesses, and local entities. This week we hear more about the project from Luis Reyes CEO of Kit Carson who gives us a history of the project and how high quality Internet access is benefiting the region. Now, here's Christopher and Luis.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today I'm speaking with Luis Reyes the CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. Welcome to the show, Luis.

Luis Reyes: Thanks Chris. I'm happy to talk to you.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I'm excited to talk to you as well. We've we've been covering a lot of the electric cooperatives getting into fiber networks. You've been doing this longer than many. We've interviewed a few others but I think this is incredibly important for rural America. Maybe start by telling us a little bit about Kit Carson. Where are you located and what's the geography around your area?

Luis Reyes: So Chris, Kit Carson is located in north central New Mexico. So Taos being the center of our system. We sit right in the middle of a mountain range of Sangre de Cristo Mountains which is a spur of the Rocky Mountains.

Christopher Mitchell: It's so beautiful. I've been up, and I've been up in that area a little bit up in Colorado where the great Sander's National Park is. It's -- those are wonderful mountains.

Luis Reyes: You know it is and you've caught us at the beginning of fall and our first snow. So you know Taos sits at about 7000 feet and we rise up to 13000 we have the highest peaks in New Mexico here. And so we have very mountainous territory we do go out into some plains, but it's really a high desert. Carson also has about 30000 members and operates about 2900 miles of both electric and fiber lines today.

Christopher Mitchell: And how has the Internet access before you started for most of your ratepayer members.

Luis Reyes: You know prior to Kit Carson getting into into broadband very very spotty. You know you had certain areas that had access that is really DSL access faster speeds you could probably get into house unless you were a business was probably 3 Mbps if that were in the rural areas. There are people who didn't have access to to any Internet or broadband services unless there was a wireless or satellite solution. So it was one thing that was really keeping the community behind in a lot of aspects until our membership decided that Kit Carson should fully get into a broadband company and offer very fast speeds well.

Christopher Mitchell: And when you decided to do that you were blessed with one of the rare fiber to the home both combination grants and loans from the stimulus projects to expand broadband. Tell us a little bit about how you decided to go into that and and what happened there.

Luis Reyes: So since about 2000 Kit Carson has been a fixed wireless broadband company so we did offer some fixed wireless products to certain areas in probably the mid 2000s we started to install fiber on our electric lines in concert with with building electric facilities that got us probably 100 miles of fiber. When the stimulus came aboard we actually tried, Chris, tmhree different times to build a fiber network that would first enable better services or more services for our electric infrastructure and really broadband was kind of going to be a byproduct at the end we lost to around and then at the end or third round we actually won the $64 million award. $44 [million] was a grant. $19 [million] was a loan to build out a fiber to the home network which we did. So we've built out about 2500 miles of backbone or transmission.

Luis Reyes: And we have about 7000 drops of fiber to the home and we continue to build it. A lot of this is just based on the membership wanting us to get into high speed services and offer opportunities that they were getting with the current providers in the area.

Christopher Mitchell: When I talked to electric utilities that are getting in to some of the fiber networks, one of the things I sometimes get a sense of is that this is so much more important than just broadband or that broadband is so much more important than people realize for an electric utility because as I understand it you're in a rural service territory. You seem to clean D-Minn. on the electric side and increasing mandates to do new investment in generation for renewable or other kinds of requirements that could really put you in a difficult position. So I'm curious to what extent the building the broadband network was in some ways an existential question for the utility as a whole.

Luis Reyes: If you look forward, I do think that electric and communication networks are already kind of being intertwined and I think moving forward with some of the issues that you brought up we have declining energy sales. We have people that are putting our members putting generation resources behind the meter whether its solar panels on the roof, their own wind turbines, with us putting our own solar fleet we are going to have to create what was conventionally a one way highway electricity you know we get it and we deliver to home to really a two way communication to be able to accommodate those members who want to sell energy to us and be able to manage it. We also and we have to manage real time because electricity for all intents and purposes is kind of on the spot usage. There is going to be storage in the future. But we were not thinking that way.

Luis Reyes: Everything with electricity is real time and two-way. I also think that electric co-ops or utilities are going to morph into more service based organizations in which we can have better control water heaters, thermostats, water pumps, stuff that we do now that we probably will have to do real time went forward. The fiber network is going to enable us to communicate with any device with the member and make decisions on which is the best way to handle the electricity that day with the idea of us putting solar arrays you know we have a plant become 100 percent solar by 2022. We're going to have to manage probably 35 different arrays real time to determine what's the best use of those arrays on that given day. And then as we integrate battery storage and just general operations of the electric utility, knowing where the outages are, you know, getting there sooner is going to require two way communications.

Luis Reyes: So it's it's actually as much a putting fiber is as much a function of optimizing our electric grid and giving our members options for power supply. It's as important as getting bandwidth and getting broadband to the home.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've seen in a lot of these co-op territories is declining population. And I'm curious,bBuilding the broadband network are you seeing a change in terms of people where you're seeing either population growth or stabilization.

Luis Reyes: We do see it stabilizing because now we have some true broadband speeds. I mean our system is capable of symmetrical speeds. Give you examples, Chris, our basic package is 40 up 40 down and 100 hundred for businesses. So it's and it's scalable. So there's not an issue with speed. So what we see is a lot of home businesses now starting to to rise. Graphic designers that can live here in kind of a beautiful rural setting but they send their work to the coasts. We see a lot of day traders because of the bandwidth being able to work from home. So we see a stabilization. People aren't leaving. There's actually been about a half percent growth in the last couple of years of population. We've seen more home businesses start to operate that are -- that need a broadband connection and we are getting more inquiries on small startups that are broadband based I would like to set up a small four to eight person business here because of the quality of life but send their work out of state.

Luis Reyes: So we have started to see some of the benefits of having a robust broadband connection that passes every home and business we serve.

Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned that your membership was enthusiastic about taking this on and obviously you had experience with the wireless and doing some of the fiber yourself before you decided to go to every home. I'm curious how has the reception been now that people actually have the option to taking service will kind of take rate or are you seeing.

Luis Reyes: So we have about a 70 percent take rate are our biggest issue now is we are able to hook up people fast enough. We have about 7000 drops probably 60 500 connected. We probably have another 65 to 7000 on a waiting list. It really has been one of those things where we thought we were going to be successful by saying we are going to hit 45 percent penetration for these great services. We've missed that mark almost by by half. And so that's been our biggest obstacle is hooking up people fast enough. And what really has helped is first people trust co-ops they trust electric co-ops have been been around since the mid 30s and so we reliable we got that same type of reception when we went Telecom. I think there was a lot of a lot of faith that we could pull this off to make it as reliable as we made the electric systems in terms of word of mouth Chris.

Luis Reyes: Never gets it how sudden it can be as simple as I get Netflix and its not streaming. The neighbor calls us and says I want one my neighbor has. And so it really has been an explosive business.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah that's something that I've seen as well it's almost viral in terms of how it spreads and we of course saw that with electricity as well when the co-ops were being created. People had trouble visualizing it until they saw it and then they recognized how important it was. Now one of the things you said about the challenge of hooking people up really resonates. And let me paint a little picture based on interviews I've done with other folks both municipal networks and private companies. The challenge of hooking people up is often one of managing the installers and one of the things I've seen is that it's hard to attract high quality people that are going to be representing your business your co-operative and they're going to people's homes and they're signing them up and there's just a lot of management challenges around that and getting the right people and keeping them on getting rid of the people that are not as good at it. Do you have any lessons learned or things that you've adjusted in the course of trying to manage that.

Luis Reyes: I think one of the lessons learned and I guess maybe it comes from the perspective of electric is not really a competitive market. And we train our linemen and since we're the only show in town there's longevity with our linemen where we we're in a competitive market on the telecom side the broadband side. I mean we still have competitors like the incumbent carriers and other Wi-Fi companies. And so once we train someone you have to make sure we compensate them and take them so they don't jump to the other company. That's one of the lessons learned is making sure that we get people that just aren't capable but actually have some loyalty and then we we as a company make sure we have the incentives for them to stay. The other thing that we learned is once we get into a home, the customer the member expects us to basically fix almost everything that is connectable.

Luis Reyes: So you you know you said yeah you said some time to say OK I'm going to get your router going. I mean we get your broadband going and I'm out the door. And you know an hour later they wanted a couple of TVs and they want the iPad to be hooked up. We're learning how to address those type of issues. And that goes to time management because all that happens and Chris is an hour an hour late to the next appointment and then you compound that by we probably have 10 to 12 crews out every single day. You just end up having a backlog by trying to do too much customer service. So really it's trying to find that balance of what we should be doing for the customer and then what someone else should be or how do we educate customers that that's kind of not what we want to do

Luis Reyes: and here's another firm that can do that for you. So I think those are the major things that we have learned. I think the other thing that I've learned more maybe from a personal basis running both an electric and broadband is always taught that electric was king right if you lost electricity kind of the world stops. That's not true. If you lose electricity I think there is a perception from our members that we'll fix that. You know it may take time but the corporate power crews out will fix it. If you lose your broadband it's kind of the end of the world. It's you can't do without your router working you can't do without getting to the Internet. So it's made us change our mindset of how do we properly serve our members to make sure that their expectations of having basically the 5-9 over broadband can be accomplished.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I can imagine that. I'm trying to think psychologically. I've I've run into this a little bit with some of the utilities up in Washington state where after a major fire they were talking to people and saying you know it's going to last a week or two to get your electricity back up and people were saying Yeah yeah yeah whatever when are you going to get my fiber back up. I suspect those people running on generators or some of their own solar because of course without electricity you do not have the ability to use a lot of devices. But I suspect that you know when the fiber goes out and your electricity is still on you're like oh I could use a TV but it's not working, so your life continues more normally. Perhaps you just have a different psychological reaction to it.

Luis Reyes: Exactly and I think what would happen is we're so used now to have cut the cord and being connected. One of the big one of the big drivers for ski areas now resorts is kind of activity. So we surf for ski areas. We meet with them you'd think that when they're big the biggest drivers are as reliable electricity.. Well they have backup generators and that kind of stuff. At the end when they do surveys the biggest issue guests want is to be connected and I don't know if you've ever watched people in resorts are coming off the ski areas doing the selfies as they're coming down a hill. But that's become kind of the norm kind of activity and then fast connectivity because people were kind of in that Snapchat, Facebook era that you know the minute you snap a picture or a selfie you need a post-it and you need a connection.

Luis Reyes: So. So your friends in the rest of the world really are seeing how much fun you have. And I think that's the kind of mindset now as the fiber provider we have to get into is people are expecting just not fast speeds but fast reactions to the devices that are connected to the Internet so that the world can kind of enjoy what they're -- they're living at that moment where you can have backup electricity but you can have backup Internet. Exactly. You get it right we'll persevere if the electricity goes out for a couple hours. But you know and you can notice that when someone can get a signal on a cell phone, and that's important because we have fiber going to cell towers to get these 4G services so you do need fiber. People really don't know what to do without being connected to the phone. They'll move around looking for a signal. So it is actually pretty interesting to just watch people and how fast Internet has changed basically their behavior.

Christopher Mitchell: Also one of the hopes that I think we have in terms of expanding high quality rural access isn't just co-ops like yours that have done it yourself. But the ability to expand and and help other co-ops. Looks like you're starting to work with Continental Divide Electric Cooperatives to help them expand. I'm sure that improves your business case was kind of a win win. What's going on there.

Luis Reyes: Rural areas generally aren't very unique from each other in the sense that they generally lack the same type of services. So as we get into it the community of Grants, New Mexico, where Continental Divide is located probably about 200 miles from Taos. Their members desire the same type of speeds that we're getting and they like the co-operative model where they had to say. So we worked out a deal with Continental divide where we're using our head and our design and replicating it with the help of good engineers in Continental Divide. So we collect all the traffic we help and with design, material construction, to enable our community to get high speed. So you have co-ops helping co-ops enabling rural customers to get high speed. Our first customer, Continental's first customer in that area, was the local bank that needed basically redundant feeds. So the bank had a primary speed and wanted a secondary high-speed.

Luis Reyes: We've been successful in making Continental's the primary speed and the incumbent the secondary kind of realizing the same issues we have is through word of mouth. Now they have waiting list the people who want to be connected and Chris for the same reasons. It's just not entertainment. It's for economic development. It's to support any broadband based businesses as simple as getting a credit card you know credit card machine they're working with the local schools. So it actually has been probably one of the more gratifying projects we've done because what we set out to do initially is create a model that could be replicated at other co-ops and other rural communities. And that started to happen with a co-op that's about 200 miles from us.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let me ask you is a closing question have you had in the incredible reactions from many of your members in terms of how excited they are how this has changed their lives. You'd like to share with us.

Luis Reyes: Yeah I mean we've had people that really had moved to town for the quality lives and we're professionals. So I mentioned early graphic designers that actually lived at the base of the wilderness and were about to leave and go back to Los Angeles where it was heavily populated a lot of smog. And you were basically a number we made them our first customer and they've been able now to get that quality you actually want it get the work in the morning to do their graphic design. They hike in the afternoon and they become big advocates. Another kind of feel good story is we have a branch of SMU University here in the mountains that did a lot of archaeology and their enrollment was decreasing because they didn't have the bandwidth to be able to talk to the Dallas campus. Once we introduced our product to them they were able to use iPads so that students could build and show their professors or teachers in Dallas some of the pottery and artifacts they found.

Luis Reyes: Since then it's increased both the offerings that some you can make plus the enrollment. So really has had a profound impact on those people who need it either for business or education so far. And we think that's just going to continue to grow because at the end a lot of people live in rural areas for the quality of life. And I think it's a co-op's mission to be able to enhance that through the products we serve.

Christopher Mitchell: So I actually I just came up with one additional question that I want to ask you because you have experience with fixed wireless in the Midwest and in the Appalachians. One of the challenges with fixed wireless is there's a lot of trees in the way. I don't know if that's one of the issues you have but one of the ongoing problems we have is I think too many people don't understand that we can do high quality fiber networks in rural America. People want to settle often for a wireless solution. Do you have any advice for people that are trying to weigh fiber versus wireless for last mile in rural areas.

Luis Reyes: Well you know I think at the end if you have your preference hard line hardware fiber is going to be the most flexible today and going in future because it's so scalable. We have fixed wireless and you do have issues with trees. You have addressed the issues with distance and then you have the issue with access points once you kind of Saturnian access points all the speeds start to diminish. When you have a fiber network you know we can offer good services to every single one of our 30000 customers and really not push our head around that much. And so if you're looking out to the future and thinking that we certainly are going to be in the Internet of Things at the residential level then finding a fiber solution is going to be the best investment long term especially for cost of utilities.

Luis Reyes: You can you can run the fiber within the electric line along the same rights of way. So there's not an additional cost to kind of optimizing your investment by using the same structures. That's what we see and that's what we advisors. Is going to be here for a lot longer than radios. You know all that's happened with radios is it's kind of a laptop in a year. The next best model comes up and then you're wondering should I change them up because people want better speeds with a fiber network all you do is kind of just turn up the dial and you get the fast speeds.

Christopher Mitchell: Those are some great examples of what people should be thinking about. Is there anything else you want to tell us about your network your approach.

Luis Reyes: You know I think the most important thing with our approach is we did get buy in from our community I think in general people want better services better connectivity. I think most people understand the world is changing and you have to have that kind of robust network. But in getting buy in from the community both the residential elected officials and the private sector it really helped promote these products as a truly local product. And so you had a lot of member buy in and very very little pushback. What we're trying to do and so I really do think that's one of the common threads that ties in. You know we serve Chris but 29 different communities including two two Indian tribes. Fiber has kind of made the comment thread that has tied really three together. And so I think that's the one thing I would advise is to make sure you get buy in from the community you serve.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's a wonderful way to end the show. It's a it's a very good reminder that people need to take to heart. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your wisdom with us.

Luis Reyes: Chris appreciate it. You have a great day.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Luis Reyes CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. They were discussing the rural cooperatives project to bring high quality connectivity to their service area. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcasts@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. You can follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by Also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons. I want to thank you for listening to episode 277 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptFTTHruralelectricelectricitycooperativekit carson electric cooputilitynew mexicoWirelessfixed wirelesslessons learnedcustomer servicestimulusgranttake ratepartnershipcontinental divide electric cooperative

ECFiber To Will Expand To Six More Vermont Towns

November 13, 2017

In August, East Central Vermont Telecommunications District (ECFiber) released their 2018 construction plans to expand fiber optic network to the towns of Braintree, Brookfield, Granville, Hancock, Rochester, and Stockbridge in east-central Vermont. 

Homegrown And Community Owned

According to Irv Thomae, the District Chairman:

“Our mission is to build and operate a universal, open access, fiber-to-the premises network, ensuring state-of-the art connectivity to every home, business and civic institution in all of our member towns. We are pleased that thanks to our recent financing we can at last provide near-universal coverage to six more towns.” 

As of October, ECFiber has built over 420 miles of fiber optic cable and connected over 2,000 active customers in parts or all of their 24 member towns. They plan to complete another 170 miles of the network by the end of 2017 and another 250 miles in 2018. “We plan to continue this process of filling out towns until the entire District is covered,” says Thomae.

ECFiber is a consortium of 24 Vermont towns organized as a Communications Union District under Vermont law (30 V.S.A. § 3052). ValleyNet, a nonprofit organization based in Royalton, operates the community owned fiber optic network. The Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure provides symmetrical speeds from 17 to 700 Megabits per second (Mbps) with no data caps. Top speeds will increase to gigabit connectivity later this year.

In the organization’s infancy, ECFiber submitted several funding proposals to obtain grants or loans under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), but the funds were awarded to other local incumbent providers. From that point on, ECFiber utilized an innovative self-financing model by issuing promissory notes in a private placement offering. After a few rounds of fundraising and outside investment, ECFiber went live in 2011. The network has been expandingincreasing in speed, and keeping rates in check ever since. Currently the District funds projects with revenue bonds; revenue from the existing customer base has been sufficient to cover all financing.

Overbuilt By The Obsolete

Incumbent provider FairPoint Communications, continues to overbuild DSL infrastructure in the same areas already served by ECFiber FTTH network. 

In 2015, FairPoint Communications received federal funds from the Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) program, almost $8.8 million per year for six years (totaling roughly $52.8 million) to provide DSL connectivity to over 28,000 homes and businesses in Vermont. Connect America Funding (CAF) to deploy DSL in the ECFiber service area provides approximately $1,860 per premise, which is comparable to ECFiber deployment costs per premise for fast, reliable, redundant fiber. The FTTH network supplied by ECFiber is also future-proof while the FairPoint DSL is already becoming outdated.

Learn More On The Evolution Of ECFiber

For more coverage on ECFiber, check out Christopher's recent interview with Carole Monroe, CEO of ValleyNet, and Irv Thomae, District Chairmen of ECFiber Governing Board. They talk about the new District designation, plans to expand the network and recent developments surrounding overbuilding by DSL provider FairPoint. Go back further and listen to Carole Monroe discuss ECFiber self-financing model and how the network came into being. You can also check out our previous coverage of ECFiber.

Tags: ecfiberVermontexpansionsymmetryregional

Lighting More Opportunity In Roanoke Valley, Virginia

November 10, 2017

In October, the Rowan Oak Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA), celebrated the completion of a 25-mile expansion of its open access fiber network. The completion of phase II of the network comes soon after the RVBA established office space in September and after the RVBA announced that it will be connecting new apartments in downtown Roanoke.

Growth Is Good

The $3.4 million expansion extends the network to a local library and toward the Tanglewood Mall. To celebrate, RVBA held a lighting event at the library. Last year, the Roanoke Board of Supervisors included the funding for the expansion in the budget, despite an intense astroturf campaign by local incumbents to turn constituents against the network. Supervisor Joe McNamara supported the expansion early on and spoke at the lighting ceremony.

With the new addition, the RVBA network totals approximately 80 fiber miles in the cities of Roanoke and Salem. This new expansion marks the beginning of more connectivity in areas of Roanoke County that are outside town limits.

Setting An Example

The project has piqued interest among neighboring counties. According to the Roanoke Times, Botetourt County is working with the RVBA on ways to improve connectivity and the Franklin County Board of Supervisors has announced a public hearing on forming its own broadband authority

As RVBA CEO Frank Smith said in his speech at the lighting ceremony, communities like Roanoke County need high-quality Internet access to compete with other places that also focus on quality of life as an economic development tool. He referred to the fact that Roanoke is not only competing with large cities, but must consider their standing against small and mid-sized communities such as Bozeman, Montana. He noted that a high percentage of high-tech companies are locating in places other than the largest cities because their talent want access to a quality of life that isn’t available in the large metros. The RVBA network is one tool in the community’s toolkit.

Check out the rest of the lighting ceremony here. The video runs about 13 minutes:

 

Tags: roanoke countyvirginiaopen accesseconomic developmentroanoke valleyruralexpansionvideo

Rio Blanco County To Eliminate Third Layer

November 9, 2017

Just days ago, voters in more than a dozen Colorado communities chose to opt out of SB 152 the way Rio Blanco County did in 2014. The rural western county has since started connecting residents and businesses to high-quality Internet access via its publicly owned open access fiber optic infrastructure. Due to high demand, they recently announced that they’re making changes in their business plan and taking a more direct role in operations.

Until now, Rio Blanco County has worked with Colorado Fiber Community (CFC) under a three-layered plan in which CFC contracts with the county to perform maintenance and operations on the network that the county owns. Local ISPs LAI and Cimarron use the infrastructure to deliver services to the public and work directly with subscribers. The county has decided to end its agreement with CFC and take over operations and maintenance.

Too Much Good Internet

The popularity of the project created its own problems when the demand for service far outpaced estimates. CFC budgeted $1.5 million to fund connections in a timely manner but quickly depleted those funds. The county had expected a take rate of 40 percent, but this September CFC anticipated a take rate of 75 - 80 percent.

Without additional funding to expedite installations, CFC would have been limited to connecting 10 - 15 premises per month. Such a rate would only meet about ten percent of the expected demand, when considering more than 100 premises had been connected in August.

Rather than dramatically slow the rate of installations, Rio Blanco County Commissioners decided in September that the county would pay for the first $1,160 required to connect each premise. Property owners are responsible for any additional costs. The Commissioners voted to use reserves to fund the remaining drops.

County Commissioner Si Woodruff told the Herald Times earlier this year:

“We promised the people we’d build a system. I think the commissioners made an agreement and we need to put a price tag on it and get it done.”

“I don’t want to see the county lose money, but we need to finish the project,” Woodruff said. “Voters approved it by a large margin. We also didn’t ask the voters for any money to get it done. If we made a mistake, let’s do what we can to fix it.”

Trimming Down

In October, Commissioners and other county departments took the advice of IT Director Blake Mobley and unanimously voted to move maintenance and operations in-house.

“This gives us a much higher probability of being financially profitable,” Mobley said, and it will keep the money within the county instead of profit-sharing with CFC, which is an out-of-county firm.

As an enterprise fund department, all profits will remain within that department.

“The feeling is the new department should be self-sustaining financially,” Mobley said.

“CFC is facilitating the transition and they have been splendid in performing that for us,”

Mobley will head up the new communications department as a half-time position and two new full time positions will be added. CFC will continue installations through December 15th, when winter weather is expected to end connections until spring.

[Commissioner Shawn] Bolton said, “Nobody had a crystal ball to foresee this kind of success.” 

Learn more about Rio Blanco's project to serve this very rural area from our interview with Mobley in 2015 and our onging coverage.

Tags: rio blanco countycoloradoruralopen accessFTTHfundingtake rateregional

Livestream The Indigenous Connectivity Summit From Santa Fe

November 8, 2017

In addition to municipal networks and rural cooperatives, Native American Tribal Governments have been instrumental in recent years in bringing better connectivity to rural areas. Many large incumbent providers won’t serve tribal lands because, as with other rural areas, they don’t consider the investment profitable. As a result, some of these communities have exercised their own resourcefulness and invested themselves through a range of creative solutions.

In order to share discoveries and methodology, the Internet Society has organized the Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The event started this morning and runs through tomorrow. The agenda includes presentations from all types of experts who’ve worked on tribal community networks and topics cover business models, advocating, digital tools, and a range of other matters.

Check out the agenda here.

We realize this is last minute, but the folks at the Summit are live streaming the event so you can still almost be there.

You can also watch the event on Facebook.

Tags: eventtribal landstribal networkvideoconferencenew mexicosanta fe

Local Authority Wins Across Colorado; Comcast Loses In Fort Collins

November 8, 2017

Voters in 18 19 Colorado communities chose local telecommunications authority with an average rate of 83 percent. In Fort Collins, voters weren’t swayed by rivers of cash Comcast threw at them in the final month leading up to a ballot issue to pave the way for local fiber optic Internet infrastructure. By a comfortable margin, ballot measure 2B passed, allowing the city to proceed as it examines ways to improve competition and connectivity.

Fort Collins Voters Say Yes To 2B

Voters chose to amend the city charter in order to give the city council the ability to authorize the municipality to offer telecommunications services as a utility, rather than taking the issue to the voters in a separate referendum. The measure passed with a comfortable margin: 57 percent of voters approved the proposal.

The city has been investigating ways to improve connectivity for several years now because CenturyLink and Comcast are only providing a patchwork of substandard services. As a forward thinking community, Fort Collins wants to be sure that they don’t pass up any economic development opportunities. City leaders also feel that a municipal network is best positioned to offer affordable Internet access as a way to create an environment that is equitable and inclusive, especially for Fort Collins schoolchildren. The city is home to Colorado State University, which needs high-quality connectivity for research purposes. When considering the city’s social, economic, and development goals, the future ability to invest in Internet infrastructure makes sense. Comcast sees the measure as potential competition, the ultimate threat.

In order to allow the City Council to, at some date in the future, authorize the city municipal utilities to provide telecommunications services, Fort Collins needs to amend its city charter. Without this amendment, the City Council will need to take the issue to the voters, rather than by granting permission via ordinance. If Fort Collins decides to work with a private sector partner to deliver services, these same restrictions apply.

As we’ve covered in recent weeks, Comcast has dumped oodles of cash into the Fort Collins race with misleading ads from an organization called Priorities First Fort Collins. When we released our policy brief on Comcast’s investment in the Fort Collins and in the Seattle elections, they had only invested around $200,000 in Fort Collins. By the election, that figure had jumped to more than $450,000. Fortuntely, voters in the city weren't fooled by Comcast's lies and are willing to give their leaders a chance to explore options.

Download the policy brief here for details on Comcast’s strategy and why they tried to buy the Fort Collins election.

More Communities Go With Local Authority

In addition to Eagle County and Boulder County, sixteen municipalities in Colorado voted on whether or not to opt out of restrictive SB 152. The 2005 law prevents local communities from offering advanced telecommunications services to the general public, either on their own or with a partner. In the past two years, scores of local voters have taken advantage of the law’s opt out provision and chose to reclaim local authority. Many of them have not taken concrete steps to build publicly owned infrastructure and are content with knowing that they have the option in the future.

Some, like Larimer County, have hired consultants or allocated funding for feasibility studies to take a closer look at their options. Other communities that have opted out in recent years have taken decisive action, such as Steamboat Springs and the state's celebrated community network, NextLight in Longmont.

For places like Greeley, opting out is a step in a process that has already started. Encouraged by interest from new business in the area, they've funded a feasibility study with nearby Windsor to examine ways to improve connectivitiy. In order to have all their options available, Greeley put the SB 152 opt out question on the ballot. Other communities have ideas how they want to move forward. Alamosa, which passed the ballot measure this election, wants to make better use if its existing dark fiber resources, but doesn't want to run afoul of the law.

Fort Collins opted out of SB 152 in the fall of 2015 and yesterday's vote was a critical step to ease their process and encourage competition. In every community that has put the issue on the ballot, voters have approved the measure to reclaim local authority. In keeping with almost all of the referendums we’ve watched, voters this year approved the decision to opt out by wide margins. Voters in Smowmass Village overwhelmingly approved opt out with 90 percent of the vote; the lowest approval was 61 percent.

The YES votes broke down like this:

Eagle County: 85 percent

Boulder County: 82 percent

Alamosa: 71 percent

Avon: 83 percent

Dillon: 74 percent

Eagle: 85 percent

Fort Lupton: 66 percent

Georgetown: 76 percent

Greeley: 61 percent

Gypsum: 85 percent

Idaho Springs: 70 percent

Louisville: 82 percent

Manitou Springs: 84 percent

Minturn: 81 percent

Monte Vista: 61 percent

Silverthorne: 85 percent

Snowmass Village: 90 percent

Vail: 85 percent

Update Nov. 9: We just learned that the small town of Kremmling presented the opt out issue to voters. It was their only ballot issue this year and it passed with 88 percent of the vote.

Update Nov. 14: We've learned that the community of Rifle held an election back in September to ask voters to opt out. They also passed the measure. 

Local Folks Decide To Act

Yesterday’s results reflect the connectivity needs of small, mid-sized, and regional Colorado communities. The overwhelming approval rates reflect voters’ awareness that they can no longer wait indefinitely for big incumbent ISPs. They know they need high-quality Internet access and they know they need it now. Many of these communities are watching towns around them make economic development strides, bring better educational opportunities to school children, and offer advanced telehealth options and they know better connectivity is the driver. In addition to staying competitive, these 18 19 communities are now able to decide their own fate through local authority without the hamstring of state intrusion.

For a visual of what counties and municipalities have now opted out of SB 152, we've updated our map:

 

Tags: coloradofort collinselectionsb 152referendumlocalcomcastsnowmass village covail cosilverthorne comonte vista cominturn comanitou springs colouisville coidaho springs cogypsum cogreeley cogeorgetown cofort lupton coeagle coeagle countydillon coavon coalamosa coboulder county

Intelligent Communities In Dublin, Ohio, And Beyond - Community Broadband Bits Episode 278

November 7, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 278 - Dublin, Ohio, City Manager Dana McDaniel

As an increasing number of communities invest in and explore the advantages of publicly owned networks, Christopher finds himself making more trips to cities and towns across the country. In addition to sharing what we discover about all the communities we research, he absorbs what he can from others who also document the way local folks are optimizing connectivity. Sometimes, he’s able to interview people like this week’s guest, Dana McDaniel from Dublin, Ohio.

Dana is City Manager of Dublin home of the Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community, part of the Intelligent Community Forum. In addition to discussing the purpose and principals of the Forum and the Institute, Dana describes how the both use data they collect to share knowledge.

Christopher and Dana also spend time on the many benefits of the publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure in the Columbus suburb and the situation that led to their initial investment. Dana describes how fast growth in Dublin led to the community’s decision to protect other types of infrastructure and take control of their rights-of-way. Over time, they expanded the network, which led to economic development, cost savings, and private investment far beyond their expectations. It’s a great story they want to share with others.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: broadband bitspodcastaudiodublinohioeconomic developmentconduitright-of-wayinfrastructureintelligent community forumeventpublic savingsresearch

Community Network Inspires More Jobs In Clarksville, Arkansas

November 7, 2017

Earlier this year, we shared the story of Clarksville, Arkansas, and described how they used supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) to make efficiencies in their municipal electric utility. The resulting fiber optic infrastructure reduced energy costs and allowed them to better manage other utilities but also gave Clarksville the opportunity to explore high-quality connectivity for the community. Their investment is paying off and bringing new jobs to Clarksville.

Stepping Up Economic Development

In a recent press release, the Clarksville Regional Economic Development Organization (CREDO) announced that Monro Shoe has entered into a partnership with Clarksville Light & Water (CL&W), the city, and CREDO to expand its production and add 25 new positions. The community’s gigabit fiber optic network played an instrumental role in the expansion. In addition to better connectivity, CL&W will provide an energy audit to help the company cut production costs.

Serving The Clarksville Community

Clarksville’s population is just under 10,000 with Tyson Foods, Haines, and motor control manufacturing processor Balder as some of the largest employers. University of the Ozarks also employs many of the people in Clarksville. CL&W plans to connect the University to the network in the near future.

Community leaders wanted to be sure to use the network to serve all sectors of Clarksville when they pounded out their plans for the network in 2015. They chose to allocate a designated number of strands each for educational facilities, healthcare institutions, public safety needs, and government facilities. The municipal utilities used another segment, and a sizable segment was left open for future economic development use, such as the connectivity arrangement for Munro Shoes. As Clarksville’s network serves more entities we expect to see more positions added to the community; after all, they're just getting started.

Learn more about how publicly owned networks bring better opportunity by perusing our economic development page.

Clarksville Announces Munro Shoes Expansion Press ReleaseTags: clarksville arArkansasmunieconomic developmentjobselectricityCost Savingsruralscada

Community Broadband Media Roundup- November 6

November 6, 2017

California

San Francisco Has Approved a Plan For City-Wide Fiber Internet by Brad Jones, Futurism

As of last week, San Francisco is the first major city in the United States to commit to connecting each of its homes and businesses to a fiber optic network. The Fiber for San Francisco Initiative has recommended that procurement for a fiber optic network in San Francisco begin “as early as possible.”

To close the digital divide, California approves $330 million broadband infrastructure fund by Colin Wood, StateScoop

 

Colorado

Comcast Tries to Derail Fort Collins Community Broadband by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Of course if companies like Comcast really wanted to prevent towns and cities from getting into the broadband business, they could provide cheaper, better services. These towns and cities aren't getting into broadband because it's fun, they're doing so because they're so disgusted by duopoly pricing, service quality and abysmal customer service that they're looking for more creative alternatives.

Small providers whose aim is network competition have met stiff resistance by Charles Ashby, The Daily Sentinel

A shifting focus: Is broadband infrastructure a function of government or business? By Charles Ashby, The Daily Sentinel 

Digital Divide by Charles Ashby, The Daily Sentinel

Bid for broadband partners comes up empty for Fort Collins by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Comcast And Big Telecom Spend $200K To Block Small Colorado Town From Exploring Municipal Broadband by Shane McGlaun, Hot Hardware

 

Iowa

Public input sought on faster internet for Belmond, The Belmond Independent 

 

Maine

Jay voters to decide broadband initiative funding at Nov. 7 vote by Ben Hanstein, The Daily Bulldog 

 

Missouri

Rural Broadband Access Is Focus of McCaskill Oversight by News Release, KOAM

McCaskill also recently backed bipartisan legislation to ensure Missourians in rural communities receive reliable and affordable phone call quality. Additionally, McCaskill introduced the Community Broadband Act to improve internet access in rural communities by protecting the rights of localities—which often face significant cost and other barriers—to build municipal broadband networks

 

North Carolina

Speakers tout benefits of public broadband by Brie Handgraaf, The Wilson Times

 

Virginia

Confronting Virginia's Rural Broadband Divide by The Editorial Board, News and Times Advance

 

General

San Francisco, Seattle Planning To Launch Citywide Fiber Networks To Bury Telecom Monopolies by Brandon Hill, Hot Hardware

“Municipal broadband is one of those issues where we know the right thing to do and we keep not doing it because of power and money,” Moon added. “The way you combat that is with an irrefutable vision and a broad coalition that’s building that vision together."

Verizon has a new strategy to undermine online privacy and net neutrality by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Verizon asks FCC to preempt states on internet privacy by Colin Wood, StateScoop

Big telecom companies have ignored "overwhelming demand" for privacy protections for consumers for years, Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told StateScoop in an email.

"Given how many times Verizon, among others, have violated the trust of their customers, it is inevitable that local and state governments will respond to popular demand to reinstate basic protections," Mitchell said. "The big cable and telephone companies have made their bed — now they get to lie in it."

Tags: media roundup

Mount Washington Lights Up At Last

November 6, 2017

After a long and arduous process, the folks in Mount Washington, Massachusetts, were finally able to light up their publicly owned fiber optic network last week. According to resident and Select Board Chair Eleanor Tillinghast, “We are thrilled. We’re going to be the envy of everyone.”

It's Finally Here

As we reported last month, the community was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to finish up the last steps to begin connecting subscribers from the town's 146 premises. Approximately 100 are connected and will take services from local Internet service provider Crocker Communications. In addition to providing Internet access, the ISP will handle billing for the city, provide 24/7 tech support for subscribers, and monitor the network. The infrastructure will be maintained by the company that built it for the city, NextGen Group. Mount Washington owns the infrastructure.

Gigabit connectivity is available, but most subscribers have opted for 500 Megabits per second (Mbps). All speeds are symmetrical, which makes Mount Washington’s network valuable as an economic development tool. Community leaders are already seeing in increase in real estate transactions that they relate to the new network. “People may have ruled Mount Washington out before,” Select Board Member Brian Tobin told the Berkshire Edge. “But we just catapulted ahead of other towns in terms of amenities.” As a potential quiet retreat for New Yorkers located in the Taconic Mountains, Tobin and Tillinghast expect to lure more urbanites who want to work remotely for part of the week. Tobin also has a Manhattan apartment and says that his Internet access speeds in the city are only about 117 Mbps download with slower upload speeds.

A Long Process That's Paid Off

Up until now, many of the community’s residents relied on expensive, unreliable satellite Internet access. The remote nature of Mount Washington kept incumbents from investing in cable and only a few had access to DSL. In 2013, the community formed a broadband working group and began investigating options. We've documented the story and spoke with Select Board Member Gail Garrett in 2016 for episode 212 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

The town had to obtain special permission from the legislature to pursue the network without forming a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the public entity that manages a broadband network under state law. Mount Washington was able to convince lawmakers that such an agency would be cumbersome for them because of their small population.

With state and federal funding administered by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and a grant from the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, Mount Washington has been able to draft a plan to quickly pay down their $400,000 loan. In total, the network has come to about $750,000.

Subscribers will pay $119.95 per month for both voice service and Internet access, which in many cases will be less than what they paid for slow and unreliable satellite. As people switch from their satellite connections to the municipal network, the difference is obvious. Jeb Rong, resident, electrical engineer, and one of the people spearheading the project:

“It’s been a very long process. But so far the reaction from people is amazing. Last night, I helped a homeowner transition from Wi-Spring — the speed was maybe 1.5mb — and we tried out Netflix and the content came through instantaneously. It was very fine, jaw dropping, really.”

Tillinghast agrees. The day she was set to switch from satellite Internet access to the municipal network happened to be her wedding anniversary. She and her husband discussed how to celebrate:

“He asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner. I told him I wanted to go home and switch over our service. That would be much more exciting.”

Tags: mt washingtonmassachusettsmassachusetts broadband institutemuniFTTHruralgrantfederal grantloaneconomic developmentreal estatesatelliteuploadsymmetry

Two More Communities Set To Conduct Studies

November 3, 2017

Santa Clarita, California, and Larimer County, Colorado, are the next communities considering connetivity options; both are ready to begin broadband feasibility studies.

Exploring Options in Santa Clarita

Santa Clarita, California, is located within Los Angeles County just 45 minutes north of the city of Los Angeles. The city is the third-largest in the county, with a population of 213,000 residents covering 62 square miles. The city already uses a fiber network for public safety and economic development, but want to investigate how to take their investment to the next level.

According to the city’s September 2017 press release, Santa Clarita has contracted with a consulting firm to conduct their broadband feasibility study. First, they will evaluate the effectiveness of existing broadband infrastructure for businesses and community anchor institutions (CAIs). Second, they will survey community representatives, institutions, and businesses to understand their specific broadband needs, identify challenges, and propose solutions to improve access.

In 2016, the city signed a dark fiber lease agreement with a Southern Californian telecommunications provider. The ten-year contract allowed the company to provide services via publicly owned fiber optic cable originally installed for traffic controls. The intent of the agreement is to improve high-speed Internet access for local businesses.

As the press release by the City of Santa Clarita suggests, the city is looking to further expand broadband services for residents and businesses, and to enhance its own municipal efficiencies.

Larimer County After The SB 152 Opt Out

Larimer County, Colorado, is located two hours north of Denver and is the the sixth largest county in the state by population. Most of the more than 300,000 residents live in the county's more densely populated communities of Fort Collins, Loveland, and Windsor.

On November 8, 2016, voters passed an exemption to Senate Bill 152, which prohibited the county from engaging in the provision of advanced telecommunication services either directly or with a partner. The 2005 law had been lobbied heavily by big incumbent cable and telephone companies. In recent years, communities across the state have been reclaiming local authority by opting out through local referenda. This year, at least sixteen communities will be taking up the issue.

On September 9, 2017, Larimer County received a $82,000 grant from the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Broadband Program to help fund their broadband feasibility study. 

Jacob Castillo, Director of Larimer County Economic Development, stated that Larimer County is

"Recognizing that broadband services are critical to the long term economic health of the region, this feasibility study will give us important insights that will help us assess how we may be able to improve access to high speed internet in unserved and underserved areas.” 

The broadband feasibility study will be part of a larger community project, the “Larimer County Mountain Resilience Plan”. The multi-phased plan is aimed to encourage development across the county. In an interview with Matt Lafferty, Principal Planner for Larimer County Community Development Division, when ask how the broadband project was involved with the resiliency plan he stated, “As roads have been important to the economy, driving it in prior decades; broadband is the new 'road' to the emerging and future economy, vital to our communities’ infrastructure needs.” 

Tags: coloradocaliforniasanta claritalarimer county cofeasibilityregionaldark fibertraffic lightssb 152economic development

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 276

November 2, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 276 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Allband Communications Cooperative is the story of large corporations, government bureaucracy, and intrepid individuals. Listen to this episode here.

Ron Siegel: It's not as easy as just saying rural broadband needs to happen. I mean, it needs a really hard look at how it's going to get done and how it's going to get paid for it.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 276 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Allband Communications a cooperative in rural Michigan began bringing telephone services to the community in the early 2000s. No private sector providers served the area. It was only a matter of time before they started offering some of the best Internet access to their members via their fiber network. This week, Ron Siegel from Allband visits to share the interesting story that started when one driven individual discovered a need and worked with his community to fill it. Learn about what Allband has done, what they're working on now, and what sort of challenges they face in the state of Michigan. Here's the interview.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with Ron Siegel, the General Manager of Allband Communications Cooperative in Michigan. Welcome to the show.

Ron Siegel: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Christopher Mitchell: This is a story, the Allband story, that I think is really unique and I don't see that to say that it's interesting, but it's literally unique. I don't know if there's another organization like yours. We'll get to that in, toward the end of the show, where you came from, but I think it makes sense to dive in with you know what are you doing where are you located.

Ron Siegel: We're located in the north east lower peninsula of Michigan. We're about our home base is about 30 miles southwest of Alpena, Michigan. And we are essentially a Fiber-to-the-Home provider. We've been doing Fiber-to-the-Home for over 12 years now. You know we provide 100 megabit Internet. This was actually a greenfield area meaning that nothing was ever built. I know I'll save that for the history and discussion but that's really what we're doing is expanding our fiber presence as much as we can and we do that through unique business models and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears by me and a lot of other people who are bored and just trying to get these pipes to these people and to build a good foundation for the future out here and right now we're over 400 miles of fiber and we cover an area that's about 300 square miles and it's about a density of about one and a half people per mile and they're rural, rural areas. So it's definitely one of these situations where you would not expect to see a network like this in an area we're in but through a lot of you know unique opportunities and utilizing subsidies, and some of -- the some of subsidies from the government, which has been you know under a lot of change for the last seven six - seven years. But that's how it kind of got started. It's very wooded, very hilly. There is some agricultural areas but we are in a very wooded area. We bury all of our fiber. So we've kind of done that to maintain the serenity of the area. It's been an interesting story it's been an interesting uphill battle, but we're quite proud of what we did. And I've been here since I got out of Michigan State University. I got my Master's in telecom and I actually wrote my thesis in rural telecom development. So it's been very interesting to take my education and kind of be thrown to the wolves up here and build this company from the ground up and watch the impact it's had in our community. It's just been really great and it's been hard at times but it's very fulfilling to see what we've done for the people.

Christopher Mitchell: So when you see the community in the 300 square miles is that entire areas in which there are no other providers in which you were the first? or is there a mix?

Ron Siegel: We actually have three entities now. We've started referring to ourselves as just Allband Communications. But the original entity and the parent entity is Allband Communications Cooperative. That's a not-for-profit. It originally covered eight hundred seventy seven square mile area and that's the area of our regulated exchange. So the co-op is actually technically an incumbent local exchange carrier because there was nothing here previously. It was a black hole that was left behind. It was one of like 15 actually in the entire state back when we first started this. That the independent large independents like GTE or the Bell companies left behind because there was no reason to build. As time went on we started identifying and our local residents or on here started requesting service and found out that they couldn't get it nor would they ever get it because it wasn't a tariff area and that's essentially why we started the co-op. We worked with the public the you them machine the Public Service Commission and the FCC and USAC and we had to go through a lot of red tape to get waivers to be classified and I like which was at the time we were the first one to get that designation in like 30 years.

Christopher Mitchell: If I could just break in for a second. It's worth noting for people who are more on the broadband side that historically the telephone companies were incumbent telephone these back when there was no competition and then in 1996 we created this new thing called CLECS which are competitive local companies that were the new competition that team in and so those kind of odd to create a new incumbent because there just aren't that many areas where there was nothing previously.

Ron Siegel: Yeah. And because of this black hole or an area or actually we call it an assigned area meaning that you know no incumbent carrier or phone company a traditional carrier was basically had a license to serve it. It never got served and it all started. And I don't want to jump into history too soon. But you know our president tried to get a phone from GTE at the time and couldn't found out that he lived in this black hole area and that's what started all this. And you know everything is broadband centric now everything's about broadband and you know landlines are kind of the thing the past is we know and you know it's at a point where a lot of these larger companies are starting to dismantle their copper in lieu of wireless because that's where our ally is. But in these areas like we're in we still don't have quality cell phone coverage so having these landline connections and having 911 is critical and that's really why Allband was started originally was to provide 911. So you know we got a loan from the Rural Utility service and were able to get waivers from the FCC to be classified as an eyelash.

Ron Siegel: And that allowed us to get high cost loop funding from us and allowed us to work with the national carrier so she can participate in their pool system. So basically if we hadn't done that and we built this network we would have been encouraging people you know three quarter dollars a month for phone and because it was Greenfield because nothing was here because the cellular networks are non-existent because there was no base line infrastructure. We decided even back then to do Fiber-to-the-Home. And it was a great decision because we've had this wonderful foundation and we've gone from offering three mega Internet all the way up to a hundred and higher now. And once we built that out when Obama took office and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act took place we were very blessed to work worked very hard to get a 100 percent grant from that. And we were able to expand north and south. Our Rob Creek exchange which is the regulated phone exchange to serve people that didn't have broadband so to answer your question in the co-op area was originally built because it was absurd with phone and broadband obviously. Now back then that was a time when we had like 1 1 PC per household. Now it's different these days. And then we form Allband Multimedia which is our non-regulated entity and that serves the other areas we're in north and south of our regulated exchange and those are areas where no broadband existed which obviously was a requirement from the agreement. That's how we got our start.

Christopher Mitchell: While we're back in history I think it maybe was just go through the origin story and just the quick version of it which you know as I understand starts with the telephone company quoting an outrageous price to your founder and then when he finally agreed to pay it, saying "we're not going to even do it at that price."

Ron Siegel: Yeah it's an interesting story and you're right it is unique and it hasn't been duplicated and others tried to duplicate it. But regulatory reform kind of got in the way of that unfortunately. But yeah our founder John [Reigle] he was building a house on his hunting property up here that was in his family for years and called G.T. and got a phone number assigned and they came out and said "well we've got a problem here. you're four miles from or near pedestal" and he was "what are you talking about" I have my number here he goes well you understand like we have to build for miles to get to hook you up. And he actually because of the necessity for his business and a lot of other reasons he actually worked for them to pay a significant amount of money. And it's a story that is actually quite it was duplicated by people around here trying to get phones and giving you know exorbitant huge bills and he actually went and paid it. And but right when he did that Verizon took over GTE and they came back and gave him his check back and said we're never going to serve you. And he was like What are you talking about. You're in an assigned area. We don't have to serve you nor will we. We're not terrorists can we can't. This isn't our exchange.

Christopher Mitchell: And I think it's worth noting that he had decided to invest in building a larger home there on the promise that he would be able to connect it and them changing their mind and changing their policy was not just a matter of telling someone "oh it's unreasonable" but he had made a significant investment with that promise in mind.

Ron Siegel: Correct. Yeah you know that's the problem right. You know when you're a large corporation you're probably talking to somebody in Texas or the East Coast or something. They didn't know. The whole idea of having these on the side areas are just completely like you know like mind blowing to people because we live in a modern world where cell phone is really your main method of communication and now we're in a broadband world. But even back then there was absolutely zero cell phone coverage. And John actually started this co-op literally by driving 10 miles down to the gas station in Curran and sitting on the phone literally all day. I mean, the folks at the gas station got to know him so well they would bring them coffee throughout the day. He was just sitting there on the payphone because it's the only way you could get calls out. And you know so when this happened to him he started researching this more and started talking to neighbors and found out that it was actually a very traumatic issue because people were dying. Up here we had you know there was a young boy that drowned. There was a gentleman who had a heart attack and the wife couldn't call for help and she by the time she drove in Alpena and got in the ambulance back where he had died alone on this floor. There was fires and car accidents that you know. And John one time I think actually had to help with a near fatal or fatal car accident I don't recall so you know going beyond his economic needs and his you know convenience needs and the fact that you know we had this thing called universal service that said everybody was entitled to a phone. He identified, this was a problem. And so what happened is he called the Michigan Public Service Commission you know file a complaint and see what they could do. And they basically said sorry we can't do anything we can't make them serve you. It's not a tariff area. Well ironically that was a very wonderful gentleman named Ron Choura who has since passed away many years ago. If you want to talk about a man that was very pro-consumer and trying to you know sift through all the red tape he really wanted change so Ron was actually adjunct faculty at Michigan State University and that's all I got involved in this as I kind of had this awakening at the end of my bachelor's. You know what I'm going to do with my life and I started asking my professors for some real world experience.

Ron Siegel: And he got me involved in John what he did John. It is he partnered with Michigan State University's telecom department and I helped lead a group of students on how to improve broadband and phone up here and we got a grant from the Link Michigan initiative which was an old broadband development grant the state of Michigan which they really need to do more of those. And that's been the seed funding to start L-band and that's how we were able to get our application built for us and go in higher the attorneys. So it was really a grassroots effort of a lot of different entities. Northeast Michigan Council of Governments and Michigan State and Michigan the FCC are us. I mean, it was really a wonderful exercise and we were literally the poster child of us at the time. Now that's gotten a little bit more complicated since reform started in 2011 and we've actually been fighting for our survival. But I'll be honest with you that's a whole other podcast. We could do. That's kind of how we got started.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say fighting for your survival I think one of the concerns that people have about subsidizing rural networks is the idea that they would need indefinite subsidy. Is that something that that's true or are you able to if you didn't get any more grants would you be able to continue operating the network you have.

Ron Siegel: You know it's it's more complicated than just saying that. I mean, when we entered into this it was a joint effort by the FCC and the Rural Utilities Service to basically when we applied for its funding from our US they said one of your prerequisites is you have to get approved as an island so you can get support. And the FCC looked at it they looked at the business model they knew it was a very rural area. They knew what Congress intended to do with USF and they said this was in the best interest of the public its in the best interest of the constituents so they went ahead and approved it. And you know it's been a long road because when you're in a rural area you're dealing with right away issues you're dealing with construction issues there's a high expense and I mean, obviously the the business model of rural broadband just doesn't work with the free market. I mean, the free market fails rural areas I think you probably better than anybody know that. And that's why you need a creative subsidy. So to answer your question, I mean, really it's not indefinite. I mean, you have to remember about USF is this it's a cost recovery mechanism. It's not like we're just getting the free money. We had to spend the money for two years and survive for two years before we started getting our high cost loop's support. And it's a recovery of that investment or of that operating expense to keep the costs down for the consumer so people out here and anywhere no one who would pay$400 for a phone. I mean,this is not how it works and that's a problem for. And as your plant depreciates And as you start rolling your customer base your dependency or your cost per loop starts to come down. And that was the problem in 2011 when they reformed us and put a cap on it we were way above the cap. Really you know we're not looking for funding for ever. I mean,I am very proactive in leveraging this investment. We've been blessed with out here in trying to do more of it. The original model was is we're going to take this money out from our U.S. you know everyone sees it sees that to make sure that these people out here can get serviced. Just like Congress intended and we're going to need the subsidies to pay back this lot. RUTH RUSSELL because there's no r y on this network and know really a way to do wireless at the time wireless wasn't even something I would even entertain you know even though suggestions were made to use satellite phones and things like that. And this is crazy. But yeah I mean,really what we're looking for is to continue the support so we can pay back as Russell. But we've been very very proactive with the limited resources and staff we have out here to continue to grow our loot base continue to work with the government and the local municipalities to allow access. But you know for example we have a larger area in our exchange it's very hard to get to because it's all privately owned roads. In Michigan there's no real eminent domain or anything like that. So if I need to get an eagerness for utility in some of these areas easements from like 20 people and if one person on that road decides to be a holdout or doesn't want to work with me then everyone else can't get phone service. So it's it's tough.

Christopher Mitchell: It is worth noting that Indiana just dealt with this for their electric co-ops. And so there may be some model legislation in terms of easements that you might be interested in seeing if the machine legislature would consider but I think it's worth revisiting just how rural you are. I mean,you said you're dealing with these smaller cities there is one and a half people per mile. And you know I think rural often starts for the private sector had like 11 people per mile and the electric co-ops that I'm familiar with can often build without subsidy to five people per mile. Boone you're down to one and a half people per mile. I feel like you know I feel like much of rural Michigan probably looks at you and says well these guys are really rural.

Ron Siegel: You could kind of job plus sign over the long peninsula of Michigan you know and demographically the west side the northwest side of the state. You know here in the Traverse City we have Pitofsky and believe in other areas over there that are still tremendously unsure of too. But it's more of a touristy site on that side over here. You know you have a lot more people coming up for hunting and fishing camping. It's more blue collar. It's you know more economically distressed. That's the way it is. You know when you factor all that in into the world this you have this disconnect with people want it where they don't want to pay for it and they can't afford it. And you know that's hard for an ISP or a rural provider like me and that's where subsidies come in. I mean,I mean to cut to the chase there's two words that really explain rural broadband. And that's that's that's subsidy and that's density. And if you don't have the density and the subsidy and nothing is changed and you know I don't want to go on a political rant. But you know rural broadband has this constant cyclical political discussion. Every politician whether or not they want to get elected for the first time they get re-elected. They listen to their constituents the constituents go to the politicians and complain about not having access because the big companies aren't doing it. They're not listening. You know they make these efforts to aggregate demand and they're not doing it. And then they look to companies like me and I don't have a magic wand. You know I am a very unique case and I do what I can. But you know without the subsidies I don't know what we really can do. Over the years it's taken over a decade but we're finally getting people understand that you know let me put my fiber in closer to the road where it's not so expensive. You know we have our federal government talking about the structure things happening. We have a lot we have millions of dollars going to the price cap carriers like frontier with cash to them.

Christopher Mitchell: You said millions but it's actually billions and billions billions. But you're right.

Ron Siegel: And you know that's going into a legacy technology called DSL which you know if you talk to people up here people are not happy with and I don't mean to be bashing on them but you know it's frustrating when the the real pioneers of rural broadband the independents have been fighting all these years and all of a sudden we see millions and millions of dollars going to the big companies and we see you know little guys are left to fight over chicken bones and these USF caps and things like that. And there's a disconnect between rural broadband and politicians. I'm sorry. You know they think wireless is everywhere it's not. They think wireless magically appears on towers. Well guess what if you don't have a baseline infrastructure to support those towers it's never going to happen and everything is based around and our why everything and without the government providing subsidies for example you do a lot of stuff municipal broadband.

Ron Siegel: I listen to your podcast. I've listened to see when I've gone to visit freebooting. I've worked closely with Holland in Michigan to see you know how we considered politically you know try to provide some kind of municipal and you know now I'm seeing legislation come out from our own state saying they're trying to limit what funding municipalities can get so frustrated because it seems like we worked so hard from here and we're in the trenches and we're just not getting the support we need and you know there are grants out there that can get grants and things like that but they're highly competitive a lot of them go to tribal nations and we're left here kind of getting creative in that kind of segues into what we're doing now we've actually fortified the ones he called the Allband's Center for Education and Research and that's a traditional 501C3 that is focused on using our broadband infrastructure in others around here like Mare network for example had built this amazing middle mile that reach network which I'm sure you know about and companies like us who are not for profit are trying to work with them to help build communities to help look at ways we can address societal needs so I don't see three entities we're using to do research. We're trying to work with entities like the DNR and governments and schools to say look we have this very rural area. An example is we have you know wildlife issues up here like chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis which is affecting your economies and the property values of our hunting properties up here. What we're trying to be a facilitator for data collection where you know we can accept the money and get grants and work with these entities to use our fiber to do wildlife research to do broadband work. Farms then a welfare to do telemedicine research you know anything you can use broadband for. When I talk to our legislators and I look at these you know especially junior politicians and they say you know if you're putting put on these these appropriations committees you're deciding how much money is going to each area. If you give me any area in politics I can show you how broadband can help it. Right. And until people start looking at that and looking at broadband as a gateway service as a utility they're not going to get it. And that's what we're trying to do is we're trying to get create and we have this amazing backbone we have access to an amazing statewide backbone and we're really trying to look at you know how we can use this fiber investment that the federal government has and the U.S.'s ratepayers have blessed us with to do more with it. And now we're even looking at wireless.

Christopher Mitchell: You know you mentioned about how broadband makes everything better. I'm reminded of I think it was in the 80s I was when I was growing up there was these ads everywhere. That was from BASF. And they would say you know BASF we don't make the products that you use but we make them better. And it really is sort of similar when I'm looking at broadband. I mean, broadband itself doesn't necessarily solve all these issues but it makes it gives us new tools to use. And particularly I mean, one of the reasons I didn't want to interrupt you as you were you know being passionate there is I feel like people need to understand it. I mean, you're here trying to make this work you're doing you know you're doing what needs to be done to make sure that the rural America is not left behind in the ways that we decided in the past that as a country we were not going to leave it behind for electrification.

Christopher Mitchell: We're not going to leave it behind for telephone and we've reap the rewards of that. And people need to be reminded. But in the meantime I think you're up there doing this work so. So I do I appreciate that you use the term in the trenches.

Ron Siegel: I mean, I'd love for the FCC commissioners for example to make a little feel good about here. I post them for several days. I'd keep them busy on what's going on. And you know I'm not saying or they're not trying to do what's best for their constituents but it does. There seems to be a disconnect whether it's the state or the federal government and it's not as easy as just seeing rural broadband needs to happen. I mean, it needs a really hard look at how it's going to get done and how it's going to get paid for. And when I look at the stuff we spend money on in our government and you know look defense is important don't get me wrong but we're spending millions and millions moves on missiles and I get chastised for wanting to spend millions of dollars on 9/11 Fiber-to-the-Home in a rural area. You know that's what frustrates me is that criss cross and you know in 2011 came around and they started reforming us. We started getting a lot of political negativity towards the home. It's gold plated -- doing fiber in rural areas is gold plating. Well you know Google started a trend and now everyone is doing Fiber-to-the-Home and it's the next big thing. And if you don't have an area that has anything why would you put in copper. It doesn't make any sense.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that people will suggest is wireless magic wireless specifically will just solve all of these problems. And so I'm curious as we wrap up the show if you can just give us a sense of of what the real world is like how you're using wireless and in how it plays into your overall solution.

Ron Siegel: So since I've been here you know I've worked in you know kind of rubbed elbows with a lot of WISPs up here and you know they've been you know they've been using license 900 megahertz things like that. And I always give you guys credit because it's long gone back to when I was in college. They were trying to do something you know something better than dial-ups something better than satellite and you know but it became tough. And you know it seems like in rural America you're always chasing demands of society. You know there's a big difference between you know third world countries that are just getting broadband in areas in our country that are like a third world country. But you have consumers that expect something and trying to keep up with the demand and the insatiable broadband demand of our public these days can be hard. I don't have a problem with fiber but I've always been kind of anti wireless up here mainly because of the terrain we're in we have a lot of trees which is the number one enemy of wireless. A lot of that being coniferous trees. You have a lot of cells and you know it's tough and you want to be able to give somebody the future proofed a technology that is future proofed and workable and can support the insatiable demand of families. Now with several devices in their home so I've been kind of anti-worker list especially during the era time because I was worried you know what's going to happen if the government keeps investing in this wireless technology that has a 5 to 7 year lifespan on it. Are you going to come in and give them more money to replenish it. Because I doubt that they have enough depreciation accrual going on to reinvest in these networks. But you know now we were actually working on tv white space technology which is kind of you know in its pioneering state but we're we're working with Meritt network and Microsoft right now on piloting TV white space up here. I'm working with five gigahertz technology and some of the denser areas I'm trying to find a magical recipe to combine or cambium tight type 5 gigahertz technology in more of the more populated at least in terms of rural ness more of a populated pocket areas and then looking at stuff like white space to kind of serve the needs of the outliers. But you know the goal here is we want to start leveraging this far more in one of the problems we have is they have they struggled to find good backbones in rural areas at a fair price and we've been able to put this fiber in. So we're trying to find new ways to do that you know and it's the idea of going from macro pop to micro pop you macro pop is putting up a$250000 tower like LTE companies versus micro Pop where if I have a mile mile and a half road in a rural area and I didn't have enough funding or demand to put fiber down it I can take my fiber in it at the beginning of the road on the main road put up a little point to point wireless node. Shoot it down the road and then put up a little like you know five gigahertz distribution node there and serve like a pocket of six people at the end of the road and do it to the point where I can financially afford to put it in and actually get my money back on and continue to accrue money for future investment.

Christopher Mitchell: And that's real world scenarios of how you get the job done when you have the tools you have. Thank you for sharing that with us. You know it's really useful to get a sense of how people are making this work in the real world and what the real challenges are. You know just to document it and hopefully we'll get this to some of the folks that are making decisions and maybe they'll learn a little bit.

Ron Siegel: I appreciate the time and appreciate the opportunity to tell our story. And I also appreciate what you guys do you guys do a tremendous job. I enjoy listening to your podcast very much.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Ron Siegel from Albany Communications, a rural Michigan cooperative. We have transcripts from this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. E-mail us at podcast at MuniNetworks stack with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter his handle is at community next. Follow MuniNetworks stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 276 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Comcast Buys Elections To Prevent Competition In Seattle, Fort Collins

November 2, 2017

Fort Collins Update: On November 3rd, Comcast's front group Priorities First filed their most recent campaign report. The report showed that the group spent and additional $256,326 on the Fort Collins campaign between October 23rd and November 1st. This brings big incumbent spending to stop compeition to almost half a million dollars. 

As the company with one of the largest ISPs in the nation, Comcast Corporation makes daily investment decisions. They choose to put company funds into a variety of ventures, from theme parks to hair color; all that matters is that the investment pays off. This election season, Comcast is once again devoting funds to an investment it considers necessary - influencing elections in Seattle and Fort Collins, Colorado. We've prepared a policy brief to look deeper into Comcast's investment into the elections.

Download the brief hereComcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Millions in Revenue from Real Broadband Competition.

We’ve written about lobbying dollars from big national incumbents so many times we can do it in our sleep. Comcast doesn’t want competition from any other provider. We know that subscribers complain year after year in surveys about the ISP and each year Comcast makes it at or near the top of the list of most hated companies. It’s reasonable to expect residents and businesses to switch to some other ISP if given the opportunity. If the new entrant happens to be managed by a utility they know and trust, the chances of them switching are even greater.

How many subscribers could Comcast lose in Seattle or Fort Collins? What sort of revenue would they lose if faced with competition from a municipal Internet network? We made some conservative projections and discovered that their contributions to local political races were small compared to potential losses they face if the results don’t go their way.

Seattle

In Seattle, Comcast and CenturyLink have donated $50,000 to a political action committee that supports a candidate opposed to publicly owned Internet infrastructure. This is only the latest attempt of the two national ISPs to influence the city’s mayoral elections; in 2013, they contributed similarly to Ed Murray, who went on to win the election. Murray was also opposed to the publicly owned option.

In our analysis, we’ve run a range of possible scenarios and offered both a conservative Comcast loss estimate and figures based on higher loss of subscribership. For example, if 20 percent of the city’s 138,000 current Comcast Internet access subscribers choose to switch to some other ISP, the company could lose $1.38 million per month based on monthly rates of $50 per month.

This is just one example of the losses that we calculated. We've also accounted for rate adjustments due to the effects of competition and considered the losses Comcast would face when subscribers abandoned video services. Check out the policy brief for more results and details on our methodology.

Fort Collins

While the election in Seattle is to fill a position of power, the Fort Collins, Colorado, vote has a more direct impact on Comcast’s potential position in the community. Voters in the north central town of about 59,000 households will decide whether or not to change the city charter to allow the municipal utility to offer broadband service. The community has unsuccessfully searched for a private sector partner to improve connectivity via Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in order to establish themselves as a competitive city with high-quality Internet access. City leaders feel economic development, education, and the city’s future depend on the fiber that Comcast can’t or won't supply.

In order to fight off measure 2B, which if passed would amend the city charter, Comcast and the political action committee that the company contributes handsomely to have already shoveled more than $200,000 into the Fort Collins race. All of their money was invested into an intense misinformation campaign.

Using a similar approach that we used in Seattle, we calculated a loss of $373,000 per month to Comcast if 20 percent of their Fort Collins subscribers decided to abandon the company. We applied a similar methodology as in the case of Seattle and discovered that Comcast's investment in Fort Collins is small compared to what they have to lose.

Download the policy brief for more estimates on Comcast revenue loss in Fort Collins. 

A Great Investment For Big Cable

We won’t know the results of Comcast’s investments until after November 7th. The company’s revenue in 2016 was more than $80 billion and their investments in Seattle and Fort Collins barely move the scale. If we look beyond this one election, however, we see the logic in Comcast's investment. From our policy brief conclusion:

Spending a few hundreds of thousands of dollars once or twice to stop a referendum is a smart investment to stop competition that would cost millions of dollars in lost revenue year after year. 

Read more about the elections in Seattle and Fort Collins, what's at stake for Comcast, and our analysis by downloading the policy brief, Comcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Millions in Revenue From Real Broadband Competition

Image of the Comcast Center by Mredden in the public domain and available on Wikimedia.

Comcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Millions in Revenue from Real Broadband CompetitionTags: fort collinsseattlecoloradowashingtonlobbyingcomcastcenturylinkelectionpolicy brief