muninetworks.org

Syndicate content
Updated: 10 hours 58 min ago

Boston Bringing Broadband Ready Ranking To Real Estate

11 hours 52 min ago

Tenants often don’t know what level of Internet access they can expect in a new office location or home until they are already committed to moving in. Boston aims to change the unpredictability and improve the city’s connectivity by working with WiredScore to establish a Broadband Ready Building Questionnaire as part of the city’s planning and development review process.

Thinking Ahead For Better Development

Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) and the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the company. The questionnaire will apply to new projects, planned development areas, and institutional master plans and will be used to assess a project’s impact on matters such as transportation, access to public spaces, environment, and historic resources. The questions will also serve to obtain public feedback.

WiredScore has developed Wired Certification, an international rating system for commercial real estate that offers several levels of building certification based on quality of connectivity. A high level of certification is not based solely on one provider that offers high capacity connectivity to a building. There are a number of factors that determine which level of certification applies to a WiredScore ranked facility.

Specialized For Boston

Boston and WiredScore developed a unique questionnaire that addresses the issues they consider most relevant. In addition to rights-of-way and entry to the building, the partners ask specifics about telecom rooms, delivery of service within the building, and the accommodation of future innovative technologies. They also ask property owners about ISP providers at the address and whether or not tenants have choice.

With better information, commercial and residential tenants can choose a home that fits their needs. According to Christopher:

One of the many problems with Internet access is the lack of reliable information about services at a given location. This agreement between Boston and WiredScore is a step in the right direction - better ISPs thrive in sunlight while the biggest cable and telephone companies rely on ignorance and monopoly.

Developers are not required to pursue certification, and the questionnaire isn’t mandatory. This long-term approach is an inexpensive way for Boston to improve connectivity throughout the community by encouraging competition and education for Bostonians. Developers and property owners also benefit; they're able to market their facilities as certified.

Check out the questionnaire here.

Boston Broadband Ready Buildings QuestionnaireTags: bostonmassachusettsreal estatelocalpolicy

Islesboro, Maine, Releases RFP For Scope B Of FTTP, Proposals Due July 26

June 22, 2017

Last year, Islesboro released a Request for Proposals (RFP) in their search for a contractor to complete Scope A of their Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. Now the community is ready to move on with Scope B and recently released a second RFP for Construction Services for Fiber Optic Broadband Infrastructure. Proposals are due July 26, 2017.

Trading In DSL For Fiber

The town’s 600 year-round island population grows to more than 2,000 during the summer. As we’ve reported in the past, Fairpoint DSL serves much of the island, but residents are tired of unreliable, slow Internet access. They’ve decided to invest in publicly owned infrastructure and work with a private provider who will offer services across the community.

The city website describes the project:

The Town of Islesboro is currently constructing a Fiber-to-the-Premise network.  The network will span approximately 50 miles of fiber backbone, 40 miles of fiber drops, and a microwave wireless component connecting outlying islands. The FTTP network will provide universal access to gigabit service for approximately 675 homes and businesses. Construction of the outside fiber plant was previously awarded via a "Scope A" RFP process.  Installation of equipment and services at the premise was previously awarded via a "Scope C" RFP process.  The Town is now conducting a "Scope B" RFP process for the installation and testing of the transport and access electronics housed in the Point of Presence building.  Please see the documents listed below for complete information regarding this Request-for-Proposals.

 

Important Dates

Notification of Intent to Respond: June 22, 2017

Mandatory Pre-bid Conference Call: June 29, 2017 11:00 A.M. (EDT)

RFP Questions and Answers Conference Call: July 6, 2017

Written questions due: July 13, 2017

Proposals due: July 26, 2017 1:00 P.M. (EDT)

 

For more details on Scope B of the project, read the RFP.

Islesboro, Maine, Request for Proposals, Construction Services for Fiber Optic Broadband InfrastructureTags: islesboro memainerfpFTTHpartnershiptourism

Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit, July 18th

June 22, 2017

Rural areas in southeastern Ohio and north West Virginia are plagued by poor connectivity. In the Appalachian region, people are organizing to find ways to solve the problem themselves rather than face the risks facing communities with no access to high-quality Internet access. On July 18th, the National Rural Assembly will hold "The Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit" in Marietta, Ohio.

Connecting Experts With Community Members

The summit will bring experts together to share their knowledge with participants who are interested in learning more about ways to improve local connectivity. In addition to a keynote address by Christopher, breakout sessions will include topics such as broadband policy, technology, and organizing.

There will also be an afternoon panel discussion titled “Community Ownership Models” and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will be sharing remarks. The event is one stop on her #ConnectingCommunites listening tour around the U.S.

You can learn more about the summit and the speakers at the Rural Assembly website. They’ve also collected a list of resources and want you to share your broadband stories.

Register, Agenda

There will also be a Town Hall later in the evening on the 18th. Check out the complete itinerary online and Register for either event if you plan to attend. The Summit will take place at Washington State Community College and the Town Hall will be held at Marietta High School.

For more and to stay up to date, follow the Summit FB page.

Image courtesy of The Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit FB page.

Tags: appalachiansohiowest virginiaeventconferencechristopher mitchellrural

Louisville's Opportunity: I-Net Savings Now And Later

June 21, 2017

In order to save public dollars, improve municipal connectivity, and enhance the city’s ability to take advantage of various “Smart City” technologies, Louisville is planning to grow its existing fiber infrastructure. Their plan will take advantage of aspects of the KentuckyWired project to reduce costs. An increasing number of local governments have taken a similar common sense approach and deployed fiber optic Institutional Networks (I-Nets). In addition to cutting telecommunications costs, the infrastructure gives communities the freedom to predict future expenditures and find innovative ways to use publicly owned fiber.

Grow What You Have, Smartly

Louisville already owns a little more than 21 miles of fiber within the downtown business district. Under the Mayor’s proposed budget, $5.4 million would be allocated to add another 97 miles to the network. The estimated cost of the project deployment is low for an urban project because there are locations along the proposed route that overlap with the KentuckyWired project. In those areas, the company that is working with the state, Macquarie Capital, will install the fiber optic cables for Louisville alongside the KentuckyWired infrastructure. Macquarie will deploy both underground and on utility poles. This arrangement greatly reduces the cost for Louisville because they only pay for the materials.

According to the city’s chief of civic innovation, without the contribution of KentuckyWired, the project would have cost more than $15 million.

The network is only meant to serve community anchor institutions, along with municipal and Jefferson County facilities; there are no plans to connect homes or businesses. Louisville could lease excess capacity to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the future, which would generate revenue for the community.

In areas where KentuckyWired doesn’t run, such as West Louisville, the city will have to pay the entire cost of deployment. As an example of the savings generated by taking advantage of this larger opportunity, the connection to West Louisville is approximately 7 miles and will cost about $2.2 million. In the areas where Louisville is able to “double up” with Macquarie Capital’s crews for the remaining 90 miles, the cost of the project will be approximately $3.2 million. Funding for the project is part of the larger bonding that the Mayor has proposed; the final proposal will be presented to the Metro Council on June 22nd.

Improve City Services

Saving public funds are a major impetus for the project, but making life in Louisville better is always a goal. The new fiber will allow the city to reduce traffic congestion by connection 130 traffic signs to an ITS, which cuts down on commuter time and improves air quality. City officials also plan to use the network to improve public safety by connecting 18 more cameras. Gigabit connectivity will be available at 31 municipal facilities when the network is up and running, which will significantly increase productivity for city staff.

Public Savings

The chance to save public dollars on fiber deployment at this time will be complemented by savings generated moving forward. Leasing lines from incumbent providers adds up; they often raise their rates with little or no notice, making budgeting from year to year very difficult. Louisville will immediately save $78,000 in annual operating expenses and will have the freedom to use its own fiber network as it chooses without the fear of a provider increasing rates.

Martin County, Florida, chose to end the uncertainly of rate hikes and take back control of outrageous rate hikes from a national provider. When their franchise agreement with Comcast was about to expire, the company proposed an 800 percent increase in rates that amounted to highway robbery. Martin County officials determined it was more cost effective for government operations, schools, and other institutions on the network to invest in their own infrastructure.

Officials in Martin County had opportunities to cut costs similar to Louisville's situation. There were other projects, including an Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) project in process; they reduced costs by sharing conduit space. Working across agency boundaries for a true “carpe diem” is an excellent way to save public dollars and forge relationships that make government more efficient.

Based on the provider's proposal, Martin County and its institutions are saving millions each year, they don’t face surprising rate increases, and they have access to better connectivity. Read more about Martin County in our 2012 report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network.

Santa Monica, California, created a vision for better connectivity throughout the community in 1998. Their vision started with a Master Plan and an I-Net. Working incrementally, they eliminated leased lines from incumbents, which allowed them to save the capital they needed to invest in their own infrastructure. They now have CityNet, a fast, affordable, reliable network; they’ve saved millions of taxpayer dollars and kept local dollars in the local economy. Santa Monica isn’t sending public funds away to the headquarters of the big telecom corporations so they’re able to use those funds for other purposes. Check out our 2014 case study for the details on how they did it.

Louisville leadership knows that now is the time to complete this project at relatively low cost and in a speedy fashion. If they don't seize the day, the project will cost more in dollars and time.

Challenged By Outsiders

The city’s efforts to save significant public dollars are being challenged by a group called, ironically, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. The group is not from Louisville or Kentucky. We’ve seen this organization pop up whenever national incumbent providers want to sabotage municipal efforts to escape their monopoly. Groups like the (TPA) typically offer slanted, sloppy research packaged to appear professional but their material is riddled with errors.

TPA has the distinction of making our page dedicated to misinformation and falsities, the Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies page. To give an example of one recent mistake, they claimed that Rockport, Maine, had spent $2.5 million on a fiber network. The town had actually spent $40,000 and was quite happy with the return on its investment – a partnership with local provider GWI.

A Smart Strategy Others Should Consider

Communities all over the U.S. are saving with publicly owned I-Nets:

Broward County, Florida: Saving $780K per year on connectivity, and additional $28K per year on telephones, and their rates are not longer increasing 15 percent annually.

Ellensburg, Washington: Saving $10,300 per month.

Virginia Beach, Virginia: Estimated savings $500K annually.

Davenport, Iowa: Saving $600K annually.

Falmouth, Massachusetts: Saving $160K annually.

Those of us who follow developments in publicly owned fiber don't always hear which communities have invested in I-Net infrastructure. Often communities take the initiative as a way to get services they can't obtain from incumbent providers, reduce costs, or because they want better control over their telecommunications services. Those efforts typically result in substantial savings and often contribute to economic development, better connectivity in schools and libraries, and lay the ground work for the Internet infrastructure a community needs moving forward. I-Net infrastructure is an investment worth considering.

Image of Louisville Night Sky Line by Stevietheman at English Wikipedia [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: louisvillekentuckyI-Netpublic savingsmartin countysanta monicacomcastbroward countyellensburgvirginia beachdavenportfalmouth ma

Oops! Comcast Called Out For Fabrications Concerning NextLight

June 21, 2017

Sharing information about the fabulous work by communities investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure is a full-time job. So is correcting the misinformation spread by national providers trying to undermine that important work. Fortunately, there are people with firsthand knowledge of those inaccuracies who can set the record straight.

It Started As A Simple Question

A recent post on Reddit shows an email exchange between the Senior Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Comcast and the General Manager at NextLight in Longmont, Colorado. The email started when a resident from Fort Collins sent a message to the city council. Fort Collins is looking at better connectivity and researching their options. 

The Fort Collins City Council forwarded those questions to Comcast and asked some one at the company to explain the difference between their gigabit connectivity and the gigabit service offered by NextLight, the municipal network in Longmont. As can be expected, Comcast’s representative replied with a long list of inaccuracies and outright falsities. In addition to claiming that Longmont’s service adds charges where it does not, Comcast’s rep tries to convince the Fort Collins City Council that NextLight’s service is inferior, but the fact show otherwise. 

Fortunately, the email found its way to General Manager at NextLight Tom Roiniotis, who made the time to correct the misinterpretations. As is often the case in the “webiverse,” the email with accurate information found its way to Reddit.

The post, cleverly titled “GM drops the mic on the Comcast rep” is here, but we’ve also republished it. For some testimonies on Longmont’s NextLight service, check out the comments on the Reddit thread.

ON REDDIT:

Per CORA (Colorado Open Records Act), this email is available to the public. Below is a recent email exchange between the NextLight (Longmont) General Manager and the Comcast Senior Gov't & Regulatory Affairs rep. He refuted most of the information the Comcast rep was trying to peddle to City Council. Both Loveland and Fort Collins City Council received these responses.

All responses from the NextLight GM are quoted below. Original questions are also included.

June 8, 2017

Comcast: If you look at Longmont’s residential rate card, which is attached, the price for 1 gig varies greatly. If you were able to sign up within the first 3 months of NextLight reaching your home, then you can get 1 gig for $49.95 per month but if you miss that window then it is $99.95 per month (see the Terms & Conditions for Charter Member attached).

NextLight: Currently over 99% of LPC’s NextLight Gig customers are Charter Member customers. We’ve found that the community was very eager to subscribe and did sign-up quickly. Those very few that did miss the Charter Member period and signed-up for our standard service offering move to a loyalty rate of just $59.95 after 12 months, as was noted in the related document you sent with your email.

Comcast: In both cases, you also need the Wireless Gateway which is $8.95 per month.

NextLight: Actually customers are not required to lease a gateway from LPC NextLight. Customers have the choice to utilize our service without a wireless gateway, use their own, or lease one from us. Currently over 75% of our customers choose to either not utilize a wireless gateway or use their own.

Comcast: Then there is an installation charge of either $39.95 or $49.95.

NextLight: All standard installations have been and continue to be waived. This is noted in LPC’s FAQ section, in marketing materials, communicated to customers by our CSRs, and recently re-emphasized on our website and rate cards.

Comcast: And if you use a paper bill, that is an additional $2.00 per month.

NextLight: LPC made the decision up front to provide paperless billing as the standard. After all, NextLight customers are internet customers and all have the ability to receive electronic billing. We also considered sustainability/environmental impacts in the decision to not automatically print and mail paper bills. Currently less than 2% of our residential customers have requested a “snail mail”/paper bill.

Comcast: Plus all additional taxes and fees.

NextLight: There are no taxes or other fees for our NextLight Internet customers. Our Charter Members receive an Internet bill for $49.95; not a penny more.

Comcast: Thus, a customer is looking at around either $70 per month plus the installation charge of $40 or $50 plus taxes and fees if you sign-up within the first 3 months or $110, plus installation charge of $40 or $50, plus taxes and fees.

NextLight: This is simply inaccurate – please see responses above.

Comcast: Also, Longmont’s Wireless Gateway is not capable of 1 gig wifi, thus, if you want to truly get 1 gig you have to plug in a hard line into your computer. (See further explanation of wifi routers below.)

NextLight: This is also inaccurate. Nextlight wireless routers are 4x4 MU-MIMO capable and dual-band, supporting connection speeds up to 2033Mbps. The 5GHz wireless AC mode alone supports connection speeds up to 1733Mbps.

Comcast: It is unclear to me if there is a data cap for NextLight.

NextLight: NextLight has no data caps. This is also covered in our FAQ’s, our marketing materials, and communicated to our customer by our CSR’s. We appreciate you pointing out that it is unclear to you – we will look to improve our marketing and communications on this point.

Question from Fort Collins City Council: 1) Why is Comcast offering their 1 gig service to residents of Longmont for only $70/month but is charging Fort Collins customers $110/month to $120/month? Is there some additional value that Fort Collins residents are receiving for their additional $40 to $50/month that Longmont residents are not receiving?

Comcast: As with many of our products and other internet service tiers, our pricing varies by market. Since this is a new product, we are experimenting with consumer demand and acceptance, including pricing as a variable. We are doing this testing throughout different markets in the western United States.

Our everyday price for 1 Gigabit service throughout the entire western United States is $159.95 per month, without a contract.

We are testing a promotional price of $109.99 per month throughout all of Colorado with a one-year service agreement. In addition, we are testing a $70 per month promotional offer in some areas of the state including Longmont, Erie and Niwot (as well as across the entire city of Detroit). Additional prices and promotions may be tested in the future.

Yes, there is the additional charge of $10 for a new modem, which can do up to 9 gigs down over wifi.

This is another very important difference between our product and Longmont’s. If you have Longmont’s 1 gig service and a wifi router, you max out around 150 to 250 Mbps; however, with Comcast’s 1 gig service and new modem you can get 1 gig over wifi. Thus, with Longmont to get 1 gig you must plug in your computer to a hard line; whereas, with our 1 gig product, you and your family can receive 1 gig over wifi.

NextLight: Again, this is not accurate. NextLight provided wireless routers as well as most of the wireless routers our tech savvy customers purchase for themselves are capable of much higher speeds than 250 Mbps.

The most significant difference, as pointed out by Mr. Akins below, is that NextLight provides a true symmetrical 1 Gbps service (that's 1 gig up and 1 gig down), while Comcast's service only provides 35Mbs upload. That means that NextLight’s upload speed is about 29 Times Faster than Comcast's. A 2GB backup to the cloud with 1Gbs upload speed takes less than 20 seconds with NextLight service, but would take almost 8 minutes with Comcast's service. A full PC backup of 100GB (gigabytes) of data to a cloud service such as the popular “Crash Plan” would take about 13 minutes with NextLight compared to over 6 hours with Comcast. Regardless of how fast Comcast wireless routers are claimed to be, they can’t provide upload speeds any faster than the 35Mbps limitation on Comcast’s “1 Gig” service.

Comcast: Finally, as you are aware, we have a data cap at 1 Terabyte per month. (There is less than 2% of all our customers throughout the nation that reach and exceed this limit.) So there is no additional charge for data up to 1 Terabyte, and if you do go over, you can purchase an unlimited plan for an additional $50.

Question from Fort Collins City Council: 2) What are the additional charges, if any, for modem rental, data overages, or unlimited data? Why is Comcast potentially hiding additional modem rental fees and data overage charges and their upstream rate from customers when advertising their service?

Comcast: Please see the explanation above. In addition, Comcast is not hiding additional fees and costs. Please compare the advertising by Longmont with that of Comcast’s and you will find that Comcast is actually more transparent and clearer than Longmont.

NextLight: Again we welcome any input on where LPC NextLight information is unclear in anyway so we can address it. I invite you to touch base with me directly on any future questions or comments so we can ensure all are accurately informed of the NextLight services and pricing available to our customers. Thank You.

Not The First Time, Not The Last...

Fortunately, Roiniotis had the opportunity to set the record straight in this instance, but Comcast has an army of lawyers that get paid handsomely to spread this type of misinformation to local elected officials. The only way to combat these falsities are to stay diligent and to educate people whenever the opportunity arises.

In order to help stop the spread of similar chicanery from big providers intent on limiting competition, we've created a clearinghouse of resources that address misinformation. Check out our Correnting Community Fiber Fallacies page.

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

Image of Security screening at the Clinton Engineer Works. Lie detector test by Ed Westcott (see [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: longmontcoloradocomcastmisinformationlobbyreddit

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 259

June 20, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 259 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell discusses Ammon, Idaho, with Ammon Technology Director Bruce Patterson and Strategic Networks Group's Michael Curri. Listen to this episode here. 

 

Christopher Mitchell: As they understand the model, and that's the key. As they understand the model, they start to understand how to leverage the infrastructure in a way that works for them and their business model.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 259 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I'm Lisa Gonzales. We've been following Ammon, Idaho for some time now, having written numerous stories and producing a video about the Ammon Model. The community is continuing to grow their open access network and also reap the benefits of the public investment. This week, Christopher talks with Bruce Patterson from Ammon and Michael Curri from Strategic Networks Group to offer more details about Ammon's network. In addition to sharing details about community savings and benefits to both residents and businesses, we learn more about the Ammon Model and how it works for subscribers. Before we get started, we want to remind you that this commercial free podcast isn't free to produce. Take a minute to contribute at ilsr.org. If you're already a contributor, thanks. Now, here's Christopher, Bruce, and Michael with more information on the Ammon Model.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another addition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and I'm back with two well known guests to long time listeners of our show. We're going to start with Bruce Patterson, the technology director for the city of Ammon in Idaho. Welcome back.

Bruce Patterson: Thank you, Chris. Happy to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Michael Curri, the president of the Strategic Networks Group with just a lot of analysis of various broadband networks. Welcome back.

Michael Curri: Hi, Chris. Thanks. Great to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: So, I think we're going to start with a brief background to remind people what both of these folks are up to, and then we're going to talk about a really interesting study that looks at Ammon and the benefits to the community from the network. But Bruce, let's start with you. Can you just give us a very brief overview of what Ammon is doing for people that might not have listened to all the times you've been on this show in the past?

Bruce Patterson: Primarily, we started to install fiber infrastructure back in 2010, 2011 and it was mostly to serve the city. And so that fiber was terminated in city properties and it started to deliver city services and it improved our economy and I'm sure we'll spend a little bit of time talking about that. But today we leverage that to provide fiber connectivity to businesses and residents. In fact, we're in the middle of our first local improvement district. Which is really a funding mechanism we're using to deliver fiber to the home, to some neighborhoods in Ammon. And, at this point, we're about half way through that first LID and we have around 100 or just over 100 homes connected and turned up. And we predict we'll have this first LID completed this fall and should have close to 300 homes online.

Christopher Mitchell: And, just for people that remember, Ammon is a small community. It's part of the -- it's right next to Idaho Falls, which is a larger part of the metro there in east Idaho. And you have cable, you have DSL. It's not like you had nothing. You're kind of, basically, making sure that you have the top-notch technology available.

Bruce Patterson: That's right and we're also open access. So, the city actually doesn't deliver any retail services at all. We're just really the road that's used by the providers, and we're happy to have a total of six today. We're bringing on two more as we speak and of those, we've got three that are working to get to the residents and another one interested. So, the choice is provided on our network by having choices and services and providers.

Christopher Mitchell: And, what's happening in the fall?

Bruce Patterson: We're kind of penciling in October fifth. We're going to hold our official launch. So, it'll be the official launch of the Ammon Fiber Network and we're going to try and get as many people from the region and in fact, across the country to come so we can help them to understand what it is we've actually done here in Ammon.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I'm excited to be there. I will be there. And I hope that when people hear what we're about to talk about they'll be more interested in coming as well. Mike, tell us a little bit about the Strategic Networks Group.

Michael Curri: Chris, well, what we do is look at the economic impact and the community benefits of broadband investments. I started this, working on this field in '95. And even back then people knew that Internet and broadband was important, but there wasn't the funding to invest. And so how do you show that return on investment, whether it's a private sector case or a community benefit investment case? So that's what we've done over the last number of years. Once you have it, what do you do with it so you can realize those in business growth and community benefits? Of that of the promise of broadband? It's why people invest in it.

Christopher Mitchell: And how did you get involved with Ammon, then?

Michael Curri: Bit of an interesting story. But I was preparing to present at the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council and in this path, when I was looking at -- they had a lot of unserved and underserved areas. I was introduced to Bruce back in January of this year. And, as I understood the -- got to know the Ammon story better, we started, Bruce and I started working together and documenting what are the municipal cost reductions? The consumer/subscriber savings and economic benefits of what Ammon has done? It's been an interesting path and some really interesting findings. Basically that's say, communities and regions, you can self-finance this if you take a longer-term view of it and you look at it as a community investment.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's dig into the findings. What did you find that you think is really interesting?

Michael Curri: The basis of what motivated the investment was connecting the municipal offices and school districts, and so forth. Municipal facilities. And we found that they are realizing 70 thousand dollars a year in cost savings. And that represents 1.8 million dollars over 25 years, which was the period that when Bruce proposed the investment, that that would be the pay back period. And there was a bit of an ah-ha moment when Bruce and I were working the numbers and we came up with the 69,628 dollars in annual cost savings. And Bruce, you step in here, but you said, "Wow, that's actually paying that back in less time than we had expected."

Bruce Patterson: Yeah, that's absolutely true. It was kind of an ah-ha moment, because one thing is government, that we're good at, is we document everything we do but we don't necessarily revisit those figures and try and correlate them. And so Michael was really great at that. He had to press me sometimes and say, "Can you give me this data?" or, "Can you get me this data?" And we worked through those figures and then as he started to correlate them and pull them together we knew there was cost savings. I mean, that was the fundamental reason we embarked on putting our own infrastructure in was, it was a fixed up-front cost. It reduced our ongoing operational costs, and we got out of outsourcing to multiple providers connectivity, actually improved our operations, reduced the man hours we were spending. So it takes a lot of work to actually go in and start to answer those questions. How much time are we saving? What's that equate to in money? And what are we saving in services that we are paying somebody else for? What does it actually cost us to operate this? And what's the difference between those two numbers? So I appreciate Michael's help cause I don't think we would have got to that point without his analysis.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, to be clear of what that number is, is 70 thousand dollars per year. This is basically what you would have been paying or were paying in the past for connectivity, and now you compare that to the cost of doing your own network and running this and having to take management and everything else, so all of those costs. And you're saving money after you compare those two.

Michael Curri: First of all, it's made up of telecommunications: phone and Internet. And there's what they were paying before for all the municipal buildings and c`onnecting the facilities and there's also cost avoidance because I think the impetus for all of this, Bruce described it. They had a new public works building that was built and to connect it the first incumbent that was approached said, "We're not going to do a fiber connection to that," and the other one said, "It's going to be 80 thousand dollars up front and 25 hundred dollars a month on an ongoing basis. That's a huge expense over a period of time. What can we do with that kind of investment?"

Bruce Patterson: That's correct. And that was probably the turning point that forced us to take a look at what could we build it for ourselves. And interestingly enough it was literally a fourth the cost. So when you look at that 80 thousand dollar price tag, that's because in order for any incumbent carrier to take you into their fiber network they have to extend their existing network and they will take that back to where they have a switch location. Well, the switch location for this incumbent provider was actually further away from the buildings that we were trying to connect than they were from each other. So our distance was greatly reduced by just simply connecting the two buildings. And we didn't frankly care about joining a wider network as it were. We were interested in private network service between the two buildings. So it really just made sense for us. We built it ourselves and frankly it doesn't cost us anywhere near 25 hundred dollars a month to operate it. And we started to operate it at one gig. That actual 25 hundred dollars a month was the price for a 100 meg connection at the time. Now, this does go back a number of years, so in all fairness as we start to talk through these numbers we always have to remember that the numbers we have are a snapshot in time. We've seen that prices drop, bandwidth goes up, but still when any business entity including a municipality has to make a business decision, you have to act on the numbers you have on your fingertips at the time. And as we looked at it it was pretty clear to us that it was better for us to invest, put that connectivity in ourselves, and start to operate it. And then as we did that, we knew we would have access capacity. And that's where the genesis of this idea of, how could we use this for the community, because in reality the community has helped to put this backbone in.

Christopher Mitchell: In just a brief follow-up, Bruce, I'm curious because I've had this conversation with some other cities and school districts that have built their own networks. Some people might assume it's harder and more work when you own the network and you have to manage it. When I've talked to folks they've actually suggested that in many ways it's easier because if something goes wrong they know how to fix it. They don't get stuck on hold with some large company in a data center somewhere, and waiting for them to figure it out.

Bruce Patterson: That's very true. I think the reality is it's as complicated as you want to make it. And that might sound a little over-simplistic, but I think it's a fundamental basic truth about it because most cities have a public works department and those people, they go out and they dig in the dirt, and they do locates, and they repair lines. Is there a little bit of a different skill set? Yes there is. But if you're focused on the infrastructure most cities already have the greatest percentage of the tools they'll need. They may have to add some extra skillsets but they're already engaged in that work. They already work in the right-of-way, it's already their right-of-way, and so for that reason, that isn't a heavy lift. And then you've got to just look inside and ask yourself what your technical skillset is. And again it might be slightly different, but most cities operate an enterprise network and frankly, as everything moves to Internet, everything moves to IP networks, again, that skillset I would predict most cities have in their wheelhouse.

Christopher Mitchell: Great, well, the reason I wanted to bring that up was just to note that these monetary assessments, the kind of thing that SNG really specializes in digging out these hard savings, that's not the total savings. There's other benefits as well that I just want to make sure we get on the record. Now, Michael, I'm curious, what else you found, particularly maybe for subscribers. What kind of benefits did you find for them?

Michael Curri: In essence, saving. 80 percent of them were saving 70 dollars a month.

Christopher Mitchell: Wow. Wow. 70 dollars a month.

Michael Curri: And getting better Internet, yeah. 80 percent of them were getting 100 down free up. With being connected to the Ammon network, the infrastructure was covered, the operations and maintenance was covered. Seven dollars each. And then they could choose what broadband service from the various providers. And Bruce did mention at the beginning of this podcast they've already got a number on and more coming on board. And so for the best deal that they had when we did this, was 75 down, 75 negative bits per second up, for $19.99, which came out to just under 55 dollars. When you add that all up the subscriber benefits, it's pretty significant and it comes out to 31 million dollars over the 25 years.

Christopher Mitchell: Just to make sure people are clear, because we didn't go over this in this call, but the way the network works is you pay a service provider this 20 dollars per month for the low-cost package, which is faster than I'm certainly getting at a comparable price. And then you're also paying the city for maintenance of the fiber, which is $16.50 per month, and then you're also paying -- most homes opt to do an assessment for the one-time cost of connecting the fiber to their home. And so those are three different costs that are paid. Two of them are ongoing forever and those are the maintenance and then the ISP cost. And then once the physical infrastructure is paid off that charge would drop away. But you're summing those together and you have 55 dollars.

Michael Curri: That's right. That's right, and I think the LID1 was 700 thousand dollars for 230 households, which worked out to about 3000 dollars per property, and people will balk at that. That's been amortized over the twenty years to 17 dollars a month. Adding those together, hard connection to the home, the operations and maintenance and the broadband service, they total 55 dollars a month, which is 70 dollars less than the 120 they would otherwise be paying. So that was a big boost to these people who signed up for it. And then if they can realize those kind of savings and have improved service, why not? And so to us what became really interesting about the Ammon Model is that first of all you've got the network with all the municipal buildings and facilities and even the school board. So just to recap, the telecommunication Internet costs reductions for the municipal properties was 991 thousand dollars over the 25 years. The cost avoidance of that new municipal building being connected as we discussed earlier, was 830 thousand dollars. So 1.8. The school district for the three schools that were connected, and there's 12 more that are in the process of being added, but just for those three schools that were connected it's two million dollars. So the network which was a million dollars was paid for by the municipal cost reductions. The school district benefits and then the subscribers are benefiting significantly each month.

Christopher Mitchell: When you total all that up, which you did, you have a town of 15 thousand people and they're saving, you're predicting, more than a million dollars per year over the next 25 years.

Michael Curri: Yeah, it's remarkable. That's why I think it's so important to share this story. Communities and regions that know they need it, I mean, they may not understand it technologically but they know that they need it. If you take a longer-term view of this: 20, 25 years. If you look at it as -- the same way you look at clean water, as roads, as electricity, and we have models for that. Now you're talking about broadband as an essential service. Well, what does that now enable you to do? And I think Ammon is a good case example of, "Here's what you can do." It's a sustainable debt in that way. They pay for it though their reserves, but it's a sustainable debt that is for the vitality of the community because if you don't have it how do you expect to keep the businesses that you have let alone attract ones. I've talked to a community last week that kids can't even do their homework because it's mostly online. How do you expect to keep those families? And so this is essential for the vitality and you can do it in a way that minimizes risk.

Christopher Mitchell: So I think our last bullet point is on economic development. How it impacts businesses, and Bruce, maybe you can kick this off by just reminding us how it is that businesses are presently connected because your first local improvement district doesn't have any businesses in it but you've connected a number of businesses and it sounds like your second local improvement district will have businesses. So if I'm a business, what are my options?

Bruce Patterson: We actually operate two models today. We have a model that goes to the businesses and a little bit different economic model for the residents. We see in the future that it will all be one model. But let me explain to you what I'm saying when I say we have two models. For the residents we maintain a portal process where there are pre-packaged Internet services and other services that they can choose from. And through that website they can then filter the bandwidth they want, or the price they want to pay, or the particular providers that they like, and it will actually present them with all their choices. It's an automated system. They click subscribe, they get that service. For a businesses that doesn't make sense for us today because a business is fairly specific. It wants a certain number of phones and extensions. And it may want very specific bandwidth. So for businesses they approach the city and say they'd like to come onto the fiber system. We build an extension to them and then they have their choice of the six different providers that provide business services. So then they can call them, shop each and every one of them, figure out which one has the package they want, which one has the services they want at the best price, and they make an agreement with that provider. We charge that provider a flat monthly rate of 35 dollars a month for a gigabit connection to that business. So we actually get paid by the provider in that business environment. That's a little bit different because in the residential section as you discussed there are three buckets. There is paying for the installation, which goes on the property, there's paying the city to maintain and operate the fiber, and then they make their deal directly with the service provider which allows them no contracts, the ability to change at any time, and do those types of things. So it's just slightly different for the businesses today, but, as Michael noted, they do get services at quite a bit lower cost than what is available to them across from the incumbents. And we've seen price adjustments on the part of the incumbents and others as they come into Ammon now, to compete with us, which really just improves the options for everybody.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to come back to that in a second, with you, Mike, and then those savings, but first, so, the amount you're charging the providers to use this line it seems when you look at how much that cost would be in other cities, ludicrously small, which to me suggest that the city of Ammon is really prioritizing, making sure that businesses are well connected. Is that kind of your focus? You're not trying to recover everything as fast as possible. It seems like you just really want to benefit local businesses.

Bruce Patterson: That's right. I mean, it's really about what our incentives are and our incentives here are to break even. And we've already figured that we've broken even on the bulk of the investment just from the savings to the city. The city has no incentive to go and make money off of this so we just really want to leverage what we have and as long as a business or a resident comes in and they pay for the extension, which is what we require, we have no investment to bring them on. They've invested. So all we're really going to do is take over maintenance and operation of their extension that they paid for, so the service we render is we will take over maintenance and operation to care for that fiber line that they've put in and we're going to do that at the cost that it costs us to maintain and operate it, which involves locates or repairs. That resident or that business then receives the value for their investment, not the city. And we feel like that's an important distinction.

Christopher Mitchell: And I think this is just the right time to mention the THRIVE, which is another part of your effort to really make sure that you're open for business in some ways. What's happening there?

Bruce Patterson: So for those that are a little bit more technical we offer a software defined network, which means that all of our connectivity is controlled by, in software, which really is how we manage a portal system that allows the end user to provision his own services, and as part of that we have a number of servers, we have some hardware assets. Think of the Amazon cloud, Christopher, you go to Amazon and you get a certain amount of technical resources and you can spin up some kind of technical service or application and then start to sell that across the Internet whether it's on the android platform or the IOS platform, doesn't matter. So Ammon THRIVE is our effort at that. So that's a local effort. We have residents with gigabit connectivity. We have businesses with gigabit connectivity. And what we're saying is if you're a researcher or a developer we're going to give you free service. And that free service can be cloud services. We'll give you hardware assets to create your own virtual servers, to design your own services, and we'll give you free one gigabit path to the addresses in our fiber system to test those. All it really takes is for that developer or researcher to get some local residents to want to participate in their little science experiment, or their development of their Internet of things product. That's where we're at. We want to become an assistant to those, provide a tech hub that others can use to try to develop next-generation services.

Christopher Mitchell: As we get back to the cost savings and the benefits to the businesses I think it's just worth nothing once again what Mike said earlier, which is that a lot of this has come about because of the way you've financed the network. In terms of having so much of it already paid for, it gives you freedom to engage in these other kinds of activities that create soft benefits beyond what SNG has totaled. But Mike, just go back to the businesses that are there today, what kind of savings are you predicting for them based on what you've seen already?

Michael Curri: Well, we're predicting just under 72 thousand dollars per business on average, a year. Before I sort of get into what those numbers mean I wanted to jump back and talk about the financing, because I think this is really fundamental about what Ammon has done. When you have private sector investments, they've got to have certain level of returns, to return the investment dollars that are made, plus they've got a shorter time frame to deal with. And I think I really want to key off on what Bruce said. They're trying to break even in Ammon, and they're looking at it over a longer time frame. So the investment that was made to connect the anchor institutions and those municipal buildings and facilities, that I think is fundamental to the vitality of the community, the ongoing sustainability of that community. And they can do it really cost effectively and they treat it as a public works project. When you then had the neighborhoods then sign up to these local improvement districts or broadband improvement districts, as Bruce already said, when they reach that 60 percent threshold of people signing up, they already had the money to build it so there was no debt that the city had to go in. It was the property owners that said, "We're going to do this, we're going to take on this cost." And so that enabled this to be built. What I find really interesting then is with not only with the cost savings to the subscribers, the reductions to the municipal costs which -- those in itself pay for the network build. On top of it you have now these economic benefits. The businesses need that pipe. A good, reliable, affordable pipe for what they need and that depends, depending on size and so forth. But our research has shown -- we've got a database of over 70 thousand reference and we see that the smaller the business, they may have the pipes, they may not, but the lower the level of utilization, how do they actually? What are those online business practices? The more rural they are the lower the level of utilization, so you can get that bigger pipe. Some of them will use it to their full potential. Fantastic. But 80 plus percent of them aren't fully benefiting from the pipe that Bruce is making available. So when you invest evolving and new technologies, here's what you need to do to be relevant because if you're not online people won't find you anymore. With that kind of economic development and local training and awareness are our findings show that 52 businesses, small businesses, less than 50 employees, would have an annual impact of 3.7 million dollars in annual incremental revenue.

Christopher Mitchell: And so when you talk about this saving of 72 thousand dollars per business that is based not on the fact that they have lower bills because most of them aren't paying that much in their bills. What you're saying is that a community that is properly helping those businesses to take full advantage of it, those businesses will see such incredible process improvements and productivity gains-

Michael Curri: The 72 thousand is the new revenues. Generally speaking they're able to access new markets, offer new services, and so they're realizing new revenues. There are cost savings. Our findings are that they're a fraction compared to the new revenue opportunities. And people realize, "I save time," but they actually haven't quantified the amount of times. But the new revenues show up in the top line and in the bottom line.

Christopher Mitchell: The 78 million dollars of economic development benefits are from businesses being more productive and generally having more capacity to compete and then grow and thrive, basically.

Michael Curri: Absolutely. And I think there's an important element here because communities think, "I put a lot of money to invest, whatever that cost is to build the network." But if you don't give those businesses better broadband we're finding one, they can't grow. If you don't do it there's going to be an opportunity cost as well, and that's something we're getting into as well to looking at that. When you start doing this kind of analysis up front before sometimes even the feasibility or demand study, but looking at these numbers up front to say, we have an idea what the costs would be. Well we can get much more detailed later on in the feasibility, but if we have no idea what the benefits are costs and isolation are prohibitive. So if we understand all these costs reductions, costs savings to subscribers, economic benefits, and community benefits. There's also quality of life. Well, now we can see the benefits far outweigh the costs. Now let's make those decisions to invest the right of money to do this right, to look at the demand, feasibility as needed, and even get into engineering and design. And I think that's what Bruce -- he jumped a couple steps because he realized this is a utility, this is for our future. We need to do this. There is no question we need to do this.

Christopher Mitchell: Bruce, I'm just curious if you have perhaps an anecdote of one business or just any comments you've had from some of the businesses as a result of this network.

Bruce Patterson: Well one thing that we've had happen is there's a business from out of the region. They actually sell Internet of things to buy. It's actually a device that you put into a commercial freezer in a restaurant and it monitors the temperature in that freezer. There's value in the food that's stored there and so forth. So they've taken and monitor it and they run an online service where that little device will report back and people that buy that device automatically get a username and password into the system and so they can create their own notifications and they receive a text message or an email if anything goes out of whack. And they've operated in a rural part of Idaho. They've taken a hard look at the city of Ammon and they are going to relocate into the city of Ammon for two reasons. One, the Internet bandwidth is cheap here, and they can now move away from a cloud service and actually install a server in their business location and host it themselves, which they feel like represents some cost savings, but more importantly it gives them some control and access improvements that they don't really have currently. And then they are looking for houses in Ammon residential fiber areas because the city will provide one gigabit access. Their business is part of the utility service at no additional fee. So we are seeing businesses move in. They're choosing to do it for different reasons but clearly as they understand the model, and that's the key, is that they understand the model, they start to understand how to leverage the infrastructure that works for them and their business model.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, thank you both so much for sharing all this information, and being such pioneers.

Michael Curri: Well, thank you very much, Chris.

Bruce Patterson: Thank you, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Bruce Patterson from Ammon, Idaho, and Strategic Networks Group's Michael Curri. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 259 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcriptammonidahosoftware defined networkscommunity savingscompetitioneconomic development

Minnesota Border-to-Border Grant Program Webinars For Applicants

June 20, 2017

Hey, Minnesota communities, are you looking for funding sources for your broadband project? If yes, and you plan on applying for a Minnesota Border-to-Border Development Grant Program, you should be getting your ducks in a row. The application period is fast approaching - July 3 through September 11.

For the 2017 grant period, the state legislature allocated $20 million to the program to expand broadband service in unserved or underserved areas of Minnesota. As a way to help you sort through the application process, the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development will be hosting several webinars early in the application period.

Dates and times for the webinars are:

Monday, June 26, 
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Central Time)

Friday, July 7, 
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Monday, July 10, 
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Wednesday, July 12, 
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sign up for the webinars and get the details on eligibility, the process, and resources at the Office of Broadband Development website.

Tags: minnesotafundinggrantstatewebinarruralunservedunderserved

RFI For FTTP In Baton Rouge: Response Due Aug. 4

June 20, 2017

The City and Parish of Baton Rouge recently released a Request for Information (RFI) as a way to seek out partners interested in helping them improve local connectivity. Responses are due August 4.

Vulnerable Residents A Priority

According to the RFI, reliable connectivity is not consistent or affordable in many areas of the community where populations need it most. Unemployment is higher than the national average and the community has approximately 26 percent of city residents and 18 percent of parish residents living in poverty. Community leaders want to use the network infrastructure to bring more opportunity to people living in the most poverty-stricken areas of the City-Parish. Economic development, better educational opportunities, and better connectivity at home are only a few of the goals Baton Rouge intends to meet.

As part of the vision described in the RFI, City-Parish officials point out that they want a tool that will enable citizens to be participants in an updated economy, not just consumers of a new data product. Some of the factors they prioritize for their network is that it be community-wide, open access, financially sustainable, and offer an affordable base-level service.  The network must offer gigabit capacity.

Baton Rouge intends to ensure lower income residents participate in the benefits that will flow from the investment; they are not interested in working with partner who doesn’t share that vision. From the RFI:

The City-Parish intends to offset service costs for its most vulnerable residents through a subsidy program that will allow certain portions of the population to purchase service at a discounted rate. We expect respondents to this RFI to be prepared to build to and support those customers—many of who may never previously have had a broadband connection. This initiative may also entail the Partner(s) sharing cost and risk associated with providing low-cost or no-charge service to some customers.

Baton Rouge

Some of the area’s large employers include the Exxon Mobil Refinery, Nan Ya Plastics, and Dow Chemical. There is also an emerging tech industry that community officials want to nurture with better connectivity. Louisiana State University (LSU) and Tulane University have medical campuses and there are nursing schools along with a biomedical research center in the city.

In addition to LSU, Southern University (SU) and Baton Rouge Community College operate in the community. LSU serves 31,000 students; Baton Rouge Community College enrolls more than 8,000 students; and SU’s African American university system enrolls 10,000 students. There are three more colleges in the area and 14 vocational and technical schools. College students are about 20 percent of the city’s population.

Around 230,000 people live in the City while Parish-wide population is approximately 440,000 people. With the City making up only 16 percent of the land area of the Parish, urban population is much denser than in rural areas. The Parish is approximately 76 square miles.

While several providers offer services in the City, including AT&T, Charter, and Cox, the services they offer pale compared to what citizens need.

Publicly Owned Preferred

While the City-Parish states in the RFI that they will consider both publicly owned and privately owned infrastructure proposals, they also note that the city-parish:

…[S]trongly prefers a partnership model in which it designs, constructs, and owns dark fiber network infrastructure throughout the entirety of the community up to a demarcation point in the customer’s home or business, and leases the dark fiber backbone, distribution fiber, and fiber drops to a private partner.

City-Parish leaders encourage potential partners to offer ideas, but they are clearly considering a model in which both parties are motivated to serve as many premises as possible. They suggest award-winning Westminster, Maryland, as a preferred model, in which the private sector partner leases publicly owned fiber and pays one fee to the municipality for the premises it passes and an additional fee when it signs up a subscriber. While Baton Rouge states that it prefers the Westminster approach, it also mentions Hunstville, Alabama, as a possible model.

Important Dates:

June 30, 2017: Deadline for submitting non-binding letter of intent to respond to RFI 

July 7, 2017: Deadline for submitting questions 

July 21, 2017: Responses to questions due (from City-Parish) 

August 4, 2017: RFI responses due

Read the full RFI and Appendices here.

Request For Information for Partnership for Citywide FTTP Network, Baton Rouge, LouisianaTags: baton rouge lalouisianarfiFTTHeconomic developmenteducationlow-incomewestminsterhuntsvillegigabit

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 19

June 19, 2017

California

Closing the digital divide in the Inland Empire by Paul Granillo San Bernardino County Sun

 

Colorado

Louisville to weigh municipal broadband question for November ballot by Anthony Hahn, Louisville News

Regional partnership opportuinities propel Craig, Moffat broadband efforts by Lauren Blair, Craig Daily Press

 

Florida

Living without Internet accessibility in the digital age by Danielle Ellis, WJHG-TV

 

Maine

Rural broadband bill cruises through Maine legislature by Colin Wood, StateScoop

Municipal broadband advocacy groups like the Institute for Local Self-Reliance label bills like this one as tools for the telecommunications industry to limit competition, while taxpayers associations typically argue the measures are necessary to ensure that large scale projects are entered carefully. Controversial research published byUniversity of Pennsylvania Law School professor Christopher Yoo in May found that, according to certain projections, municipal networks are frequently financially unviable.

 

Minnesota

Blandin Foundation awards multi-project broadband grants by CTP Staff, Hibbing Daily Tribune

 

North Carolina

Broadband group begins mapping plans for service by Kurt J. Volker, Smoky Mountain News

 

West Virginia

West Virginia backs broadband competition, with tough consequences for state Senate's president by Colin Wood, StateScoop

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told StateScoop that this law will make it easier for cities to build connectivity where the market hasn't.

"West Virginia is a very challenging state to deploy broadband in," Mitchell said. "It's largely served by a company that has almost no ability or interest in improving broadband service, which is Frontier."

The state is a microcosm of spotty broadband coverage nationally. Ten percent of Americans lack access to broadband, while rural residents are worse off — 23 million people living in rural areas lack access. And 41 percent of schools, or 47 percent of students, also lack connectivity.

 

General

Communities take the search for broadband into their own hands by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

Roads to node-where: UW-Madison researchers have mapped out the Internet by Nathan J. Comp, Isthmus

Rep. Collins introduces broadband tax break bill by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

Image of the cow in the pasture courtesy of DominikSchraudolf via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Ammon Examines Muni Fiber Impact - Community Broadband Bits 259

June 19, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 259 - City of Ammon Technology Director Bruce Patterson and SNG President Michael Curri

For episode 259 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we are going back to the well in Ammon, Idaho - one of the most creative and forward-thinking fiber network deployments in the country. Strategic Networks Group has completed a study examining the impact of Ammon's open muni fiber network on local businesses and residents.

To discuss the results, we welcome back Ammon Technology Director Bruce Patterson and SNG President Michael Curri. After a quick reminder of how Ammon's network works and what SNG does, we dive into how Ammon's network has materially benefited the community.

The city is expected to realize savings approaching $2 million over 25 years. Subscribers will be saving tens of millions of dollars and businesses seeing benefits over $75 million over that time frame. Listen to our conversation to get the full picture.

Bruce has visited us for the podcasts, including episode 207 on Software-Defined-Networks, episode 173 in which he described public safety uses for Ammon's network, and episode 86 from back in 2014 when local momentum was starting to grow for better connectivity. 

Michael has also joined been on the show in the past. He participated in episode 93, talking about the benefits of broadband utilization.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 31 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: ammonidahoimpactsavingscommunity savingsCost Savingscompetitionfiber-to-the-businesseconomic developmentlocal improvement districtfinancingFTTHmuniutilityfeesutility feebroadband bitsaudiopodcast

Holland BPW To Act As Pilot ISP In Michigan

June 19, 2017

The community of Holland, Michigan, has moved carefully and deliberately as it has advanced toward providing better connectivity through publicly owned infrastructure. On June 7th, the City Council held a first reading on an ordinance that will allow the Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) to act as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) as it expands its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project.

Taking Another Step Forward

Holland's pilot project brings high-quality connectivity to several downtown businesses and recently adopted a Master Plan in March to solidify their commitment to more businesses and residents. The ordinance will receive a public hearing, final reading, and likely be adopted on July 19th. It allows Holland to adopt fees and charges related to the new service and will permit the city to comply with a state law relating to rights-of-way and telecommunications providers.

In addition to offering Internet access themselves, BPW will open up the fiber so competing providers can serve Holland residents and businesses. BPW officials are still hashing out rate details, but estimate residential customers who take Internet service from the utility will pay approximately $85 per month for symmetrical gigabit (1,000 Megabit per second) connectivity. Customers who wish to obtain Internet access from a provider other than BPW will pay $40 - $60 per month for transit services from BPW, but will still need to pay an ISP for Internet access. 

One Step At A Time

BPW General Manager Dave Koster explained to City Council members that BPW described the pilot participants’ service so far as “outstanding.” The utility intends to monitor the success of the expanded pilot services for a year and then decide their next step.

Construction will begin in August; BPW expects to start serving new customers in October. BPW officials estimate the expanded pilot will cost $602,000 based on a 35 percent take rate.

Read the ordinance here.

Holland, Michigan Ordinance to Allow BPW to Serve as ISPTags: holland mimichiganordinancepilot projectmuniFTTHgigabitopen access

Mountain Connect 2017 Video Now Available

June 18, 2017

In May, experts gathered in Keystone, Colorado, for the annual Mountain Connect conference. If you weren’t able to make it, select video presentations and panel discussions were streamed via Periscope. Now those videos are archived and ready for you to watch online.

Be sure to check out the Lunch Keynote Panel. The conversation titled "Broadband Policy is Lost in the Woods" included discussion from Christopher Mitchell and Blair Levin from the Brookings Institute; Silicon Flatirons’ Phil Weiser moderated.

While Christopher was there, he also interviewed several guests for the Community Broadband Bits podcast, including Coleman Keane from Chattanooga and Deeply Digital's Doug Seacat

View the discussions from the conference here.

Tags: eventvideochristopher mitchellblair levinconferencestate policy

Co-op, County Collaborate To Expand FTTH Pilot In Virginia

June 16, 2017

Prince George County, Virginia, and its electric cooperative recently entered into an agreement that will allow Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to certain areas in the county. The arrangement came after a successful pilot project that proved residents and businesses in the rural community were interested in better connectivity. The agreement will inject funding into the cooperative's plans to bring high-quality connectivity to all its members.

From Rural Pilot To Proven

In February, officials from PGEC reported to the County Board of Supervisors that the pilot project was under way. The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved the cooperative's formation of its PGEC Enterprises subsidiary, which will offer connectivity to members. The co-op has connected premises along one stretch of Quaker Road in Prince George County, and received applications for installation from more than 40 property owners.

By the time PGEC had finished deploying in the pilot area in early May, a total of 49 premises were connected to the network. According to the co-op’s VP, Casey Logan, that figure represents approximately two-thirds of potential subscribers. 

Jumpstarting Co-op Broadband

The performance agreement between Prince George County, PGEC, and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will provide $1 million to the cooperative in IDA bond funding to expand the pilot project to a wider network. The funds are part of spring bonding that covers a number of county projects. The County Board voted unanimously to dedicate the funds to the broadband expansion project.

In addition to connecting all its substations, PGEC will connect any residence, business, community anchor institution, or public facility within 1,000 feet of a state road along the fiber route. Approximately 500 premises are located within the planned fiber route. The project should take about four years to complete.

PGEC plans to dedicate an additional $5 million to the project over the next five years and has said that, once the 500 premises are connected, they will likely continue to connect premises in their service area.

“When the cable and phone companies couldn’t meet the high speed Internet needs of the communities because of the feasibility of expansion, we made the numbers work,” Logan stated. “We were there first.” 

If fewer than 500 premises are connected within the proposed time period, PGEC will pay back $2,000 per premise that is not connected. The performance agreement also stipulates that the obligation of the contract between the county, the cooperative, and the IDA is a contingency that remains in effect if there is any sale of assets.

So Many Needs, Such Slow Speeds

Many premises in Prince George County rely on satellite, which often has harsh data caps and expensive overage charges. In addition to providing more reliable, affordable connectivity for K-12 students who increasingly need high-quality Internet access for homework assignments, the network is offering better connectivity for emergency services in the county. 

[Casey] Logan said the need for county children to have internet access for their schoolwork was a big part of the co-op’s motivation. “If we didn’t try and do something, generation after generation of our children are not going to have the opportunities they need,” he said.

Cost of service for residents is $82 per month, which includes $75 for symmetrical 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet access and $7 per month for router lease. There is no limitation on the amount of data subscribers use. While the performance agreement stipulates that PGEC provide speeds that meet the FCC definition of broadband (25 Mbps / 3 Mbps) officials from PGEC have stated that the current speed of 30 Mbps may be increased in the future, depending on subscriber input.

The performance agreement requires the cooperative to connect facilities such as to the Central Wellness Center, Prince George Emergency Crew building, the Burrowsville Fire Department and the town’s community center. Each facility will pay the residential rate during the course of the agreement. Later, those facilities will pay commercial rates, which have not been established yet.

With the lack of urban areas, it isn’t surprising that approximately 61 percent of all businesses in the county are home-based. Without high-quality connectivity, however, businesses’ face a limited ability to offer their goods or services to global customers. They also can’t share data rich documents with colleagues, which also limits opportunities.

Co-ops Are Doin' It For Members

At a community meeting in May, Logan told attendees, “We did what we did because frankly nobody else would do it.”

President and CEO Mike Milandro added, “I honestly believe that without this, rural America will die.”

Prince George County is home to approximately 36,000 people, many of whom work in the public sector. There is no major urban area in the county, and much of the 282 square mile county is rural. Agriculture is an important part of the economy and about 2,100 people live in the county seat of the town of Prince George. 

Sparsely populated areas like Prince George County don’t attract the attention of national providers because it isn’t profitable enough to invest with so few potential subscribers who live across the entire county. All across the U.S. rural telephone and electric cooperatives are examining what their members need and considering offering high-quality Internet access. A growing number are offering gigabit connectivity.

PGEC is carrying on a tradition common among rural cooperatives - taking steps to improve life in the community:

“It was a natural for us,” said M.E. “Mike” Malandro, president and CEO. “We’re in the business of putting in infrastructure and providing customer service.”

For the co-op, the impetus to take on broadband was simply to give back to the community, especially in the rural parts of the county. 

Photo of Prince George County Regional Heritage Center courtesy of The Best Part of Virginia.

Performance Agreement: Prince George County, Industrial Development Authority, and PGEC Enterprises, VirginiaTags: prince george county vavirginiarural electric cooperativeFTTHpilot projectbondrural

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 258

June 15, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 258 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Researchers from the Roosevelt Institute join our host Christopher Mitchell to discuss antitrust policy and Internet access. Listen to this episode here.

Marshall Steinbaum: This is us choosing a set of policies that is the worst of both worlds, that is both deregulatory and anti-competitive. Instead you can do both.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 258 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week Christopher visits with two other policy folk from the Roosevelt Institute, Marshall Steinbaum and Rakeen Mabud. Earlier this year the Roosevelt Institute released a report that examines how antitrust enforcement has changed and how those changes have impacted the telecommunications industry. Christopher, Marshall and Rakeen consider how that approach has affected people who may or may not subscribe to Internet access services. You can download the report and learn more about the organization at rooseveltinstitute.org. Now here are Christopher with Marshall Steinbaum and Rakeen Mabud.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell and today I'm speaking with two folks from the Roosevelt Institute. Marshall Steinbaum, the senior economist and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Welcome to the show.

Marshall Steinbaum: Thank you. It's great to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: We also have Rakeen Mabud, the program director at Roosevelt Institute. Welcome to the show.

Rakeen Mabud: Thanks, nice to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: I first was aware of you guys several years ago because of some work that Susan Crawford was doing with you I believe. I saw what really great work you were doing and then I read the Crossed Lines report, why the AT&T/Time Warner merger demands a new approach to antitrust. I thought it was terrific. I'm excited to talk about these kind of issues today but I thought that we'd start maybe by asking and reminding people that it's been 21 years since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 had promised to basically get rid of monopoly and have incredible competition. We'd all see more investment, lower prices and generally higher quality services. What happened? I think maybe Marshall would be the best person to start off.

Marshall Steinbaum: Yeah. I think that that legislation was driven by two major assumptions about the telecommunication sector. Essentially the problems that we've seen in this area are due to the fact that both of those assumptions turned out to be false. When the act when into effect it did not have the effect that was forecast ex-ante. Those two assumptions are that if you allow corporations to compete with one another across modes they will do so lowering prices, increasing variety, increasing innovation and the benefits of doing that will flow to the consumers. Secondly that new technologies would be forthcoming in the field of telecoms, such that the old modes of communication would be made obsolete and thus it was less imperative that they be regulated in the public interest in the way that they had been under 1934 act. There was this idea that technological advance was inevitable. This advance would create new ways of communicating and because we would have those new ways of communicating we didn't need to keep such a vigilant eye on the old ways of communicating.

Christopher Mitchell: It's actually really interesting because in some ways if one or the other had failed you might have had a better environment, but the fact of the first one actually influenced the second one, which is to say that broadband over power lines and satellite, they certainly didn't live up to the hopes of 1996. But some of the wireless technologies probably could have if they were not captured by some of those entities that should have been competing with them.

Marshall Steinbaum: Yes, I completely agree with that. It's not as though we didn't get new technology since 1196. Everyone knows that we did. We had these technologies come in but they didn't actually compete, instead they just merged and the existing dominant players extended their footprint into these new sectors. There was no meaningful sense in which you could get around the monopolized old telecommunications network through the use of some sort of magically competitive new one. I also think that the critical issue here is that we implemented this new regulatory regime in telecoms that said, "Well, we're not going to essentially require the equitability in access that we had under the 1934 regime," but we also at the same time had an antitrust competition policy that was extremely favorable to consolidation. So the whole benefit of deregulation is supposed to be that competition serves the consumer, but what we actually got was not competition but rather just consolidation and deregulated private monopolies, which is sort of the worst of both worlds.

Christopher Mitchell: Because you have economist in your title I want to make one additional point with relation that's a little bit more general and I'm curious how you'd react, which is that this seems like policy makers are Charlie Brown and competition is the football that keeps getting pulled away. I would point to I believe it was Adam Smith who noted that basically if you put a bunch of people who are in the same trade together in a room, the first thing they talk about is how to restrain trade, and yet with policy makers it seems like there's this idea that they really want to be in competition with each other. It seems like a mistake we make over and over again.

Marshall Steinbaum: Yeah, I think that's by design. Charlie Brown kept getting deceived, whereas these deregulatory policies are implemented knowing that they're not going to end up serving the consumer even though the ideology says that they will. What you just described that Adam Smith says, that when companies or suppliers get together they do nothing but conspire against the public interest, that was the ideology that the people who promoted the 1996 act espoused with respect to the old regime, to the 1934. That is, they conjured up this so-called public choice economics where what happened under the 1934 was that cozy old AT&T or Ma Bell in the olden days would get together with their friends at the FCC and figure out how to screw over America. They had this whole ideology of deregulation that was supposed to do what Adam Smith is saying needs to be done in terms of breaking up anti-competitive cartels in a regulated industry. They took that to the table and said, "All right, let them compete with each other. We'll have not just competition between the Baby Bells and among the Baby Bells, the Baby Bells with AT&T and vice-versa and wire line telephone but we'll also have that competitive model replicated over again when we get to these new technologies and broadband and then wireless. It turns out that there was a good reason for the 1943 legislation. In other words, when they tried this deregulatory approach what actually happened was exactly what you described, what Adam Smith said would happen. Which is to say that the incumbent providers free from oversight from the FCC started getting together and figuring out how they could profit at the public expense.

Christopher Mitchell: I think Rakeen maybe you want to come in to tell us a little bit about how this is really impacting people.

Rakeen Mabud: Yeah. I just wanted to point out that it's important to remember that the massive rise in consolidation after the 96 telecoms act had really major implications for digital equity as well. Because the broadband infrastructure is so often build on top existing infrastructure and there are high fixed cost to building that infrastructure from scratch, low income communities are often left out. Both because they've been left out of previous infrastructure investment, what we call digital red lining, and because market concentration essentially incentivizes ISPs to provide service only to areas where they can make a profit. Low income communities, and I should say here that income is highly correlated with race, which is important, are much less likely to be able to pay these high prices. Plus, extremely concentrated markets like telecoms provide a high barrier to entry for new market entrants. So the competition could drive down prices, increase innovation and provide incentives for broadband provision to low income areas. It's really hard to achieve that in this kind of market environment. This type of market consolidation makes the conditions ripe for discrimination by large telecoms providers, which is actually exactly what happened in the 1990s.

Christopher Mitchell: Rakeen, I think it's an interesting question. If we had the kind of market competition that was envisioned and might be possible, do you think that that would lead to better options for low income folks, or just more rigorous competition for middle income and higher income families?

Rakeen Mabud: I do think that it would improve things from an equity lens. Increased competition would essentially do a lot of the things that consolidation stifles. These mega firms don't have any incentive to innovate for example, because they have such a stranglehold on their respective markets. Innovation is really important from an equity standpoint because it means finding cheaper and more efficient ways to deliver good services, which in terms opens up markets because lower cost means that more people will be able to afford the service. In turn previously unprofitable markets would become more profitable for service providers. At the end of the day monopolized private providers are only going to care about serving the highest margin consumer, and that's historically been the case. If we had all Internet infrastructure in private hands, it would cost a lot of money and not even be available to disadvantaged communities. The whole idea behind deregulation suggests that every community can get the level of service it wants, assuming that companies will offer fast and expensive services to those willing to pay a lot and slower and cheaper services for those willing to pay less. But more often than not it's slow and expensive services provided to the rich and nothing for everyone else. A more competitive system really would expend the types of people who have access to services, but also improve the quality.

Christopher Mitchell: I imagine the cable lobbyists response to this, and I'll direct this to you Marshall, would be, "Look, we've invested trillions of dollars, billions of dollars," whatever they want to say. "Speeds have never been higher than they are now." AT&T will say, "There's more than 100 communities in which if you live at the right address you could get fiber. There are people who have choices." What exactly have we not received because of the consolidation?

Marshall Steinbaum: I think Europe offers the most obvious alternative history for what we could have had in the United States. Not to say that their telecoms regulatory or competition policy regimes is perfect, but they have many more options available to consumers at all income levels. Essentially all of those options are better than all of the options that are available here. The mythology that Rakeen just referred, that deregulation is good because everyone gets what they wants simply hasn't been borne out here. Europe has, first of all, a much more stringent set of guidelines that prevent the full consolidation in each of the modes that we've had in this country. That's from the antitrust and competition policy perspective. Secondly, they have much stronger regulatory mandates on companies to provide free and equal service at a high quality to customer bases in some degree regardless of ability to pay. What they have done is retain the flavor of the 1934 regime that was started to be undone by the antitrust case against Ma Bell here in the early 80s. They are operating at full tilt. A telecommunications network where in effect the rich are subsidizing the poor through a pooling equilibrium to use the economics jargon, and we decided not to do that anymore in this country. I think Europe shows that it can be done with the same if not better innovation, the same if not better service. It's not like they're laboring in the medieval past at the way that those same lobbyists you referred to would say, "We've invested and had we not gotten the profits associated with that investment then the US telecommunications infrastructure would be much, much less dense than it is even with lower service." We know for a fact it isn't true.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Many areas would love to have the investment that a few cities have at this point. We obviously see a great disparity across communities. One of the things we've seen and there's good arguments that one may want to have net neutrality legislation and requirements, even if you had robust competition, but when you don't have robust competition it seems all the more important.

Marshall Steinbaum: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: But I think some of the issues around net neutrality, which I suspect almost everyone who's listening understands. It's the idea that your ISP shouldn't be able to overly influence you or tell you how to use the Internet, more or less. I'm curious, I think there are some deeper issues that don't always get discussed unless you're reading all of the personal writings on Harold Feld's blog or something like that. Marshall, I'm wondering if you can give us a sense of something we should be looking at with regard to some of the things that are happening are net neutrality right now?

Marshall Steinbaum: I imagine that your listeners won't be surprised to hear that Ajit Pai has been up to some nefarious dealings in his current position.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, FCC chairman Pai has long been a foe of our way of thinking. We're quite concerned with him.

Marshall Steinbaum: I think what's striking about what's happened since he became the chairman is the surgical precision by which he has operated the different levers of the federal bureaucracy in such a way that it benefits his old friends and colleagues at Verizon and their peers. In particular, as we know he's dismantling the set of policies referred to as net neutrality. One of the ways that that is going to be done is by removing the market participant's recourse to complain about unequal treatment and discrimination from the FCC and its various mechanisms for adjudicating common carriage to the FTC. The Federal Trade commission has a consumer protection antitrust and competition mandate, that's what it does. It is not sector specific like the FCC. What is quite true about the FTC is that it only really cares about what it calls consumer welfare or consumer surplus. Its job, if it has any job, is to serve consumers. Hopefully they're at least doing that. But net neutrality and the issues that arise therefrom are inherently not solely a consumer facing issue. If an upstream content providers feels it's being discriminated against by an Internet provider, by a distributor in any one of the telecoms modes, in order to win a case or win some sort of proceeding before the Federal Trade Commission they have to somehow show that consumers are actually being harmed and that is hard to do. It would be like saying, I'm Netflix say and I'm being held up and forced to pay through the nose by an Internet Service Provide, I have to say that the real entity being harmed here is consumers. That's possible, it's certainly the case that consumers can be harmed by upstream discrimination, but the point is that upstream content providers, they have rights under the communications regulations that go beyond whether discrimination and unfair treatment harm consumers. Under the section 2 of the 1934 act and as extended by the prior administration at the FCC, the content providers can go to the FCC and say, "I've been discriminated against. That's not far," and stop there. They don't have to prove any claims about the impact on consumers. This sort of bureaucratic wrangling, where you take this whole function and move it from the agency where the plaintiff so to speak get a hearing, to the agency that is structurally reluctant to grant a hearing to upstream content providers of various kinds, you're automatically weakening the common carriage principles that underlie net neutrality.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the things to be concerned about is not necessarily where chairman Pai is going right now, but if we see this administration continuing to basically be so unpopular and we see this issue of net neutrality at the FCC also showing so much resistance of the public and businesses to changing the regime, I think one of the things we fear is that congress may come in, and there again we may see Republicans in congress striking a deal in which they're trying to push this to the FTC as well. Is that something that you'd be afraid of?

Marshall Steinbaum: Yes. There's a couple of different FTC process reform bills. I'm not aware of draft legislation that does that but they may exist, I certainly don't have complete knowledge of what's going on in congress in this area. I think your general concern that, either if the administration doesn't think it can get what it wants through the purely administrative procedures, or I think it's pretty clear that chairman Pai is serving the interest of an outside master so to speak. If they don't feel like they can get what they need solely through administrative functions, then they will bring the matter to legislation. Given what happened in 1996 I would fear what that might bring about in terms of congress because these companies, they have lots of influence on both sides of the aisle in congress. On the other hand I think it is fair to say that this very strong ideology that powered the 1996 has tempered to some degree in congress. You're not going to get the one sided hearing that went down in 1996, on the other hand of course that was strongly by partisan legislation, whereas given that one party controls all of congress right now you could see a much more partisan thing playing out, where the ultimate policy outcome is just as bad if not substantially worse than what happened in 1996.

Christopher Mitchell: Rakeen, one of the things that we come back to at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is watching the horror show at the federal level and then trying to figure out what we can do about it at the local level. I think you've been looking at a project that we recently discussed with Joshua Breitbart in New York City about Queensbridge and a large low income housing development. What's going on there?

Rakeen Mabud: As many of your listeners probably already know, there are lots of municipalities getting around the federal policy landscape, experimenting with different models of municipal broadband. One model that I want to throw out there is the model in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the city has established a municipal utility that provides a high speed low cost broadband for all the city's residents. It subsidizes it for lower income people. Another is the Queensbridge project which you just mentioned. This is a demonstration project in New York City and my team at Roosevelt is currently writing a case study on it with Maya Wiley, who is the former counsel to the mayor and actually currently a faculty member at The New School.

Christopher Mitchell: And a wonderful person.

Rakeen Mabud: She's great. She's super sharp. The Queensbridge project, just to give a quick overview, provides a free and extremely fast Internet to the residents of the Queensbridge's houses, which is actually the largest public housing development in all of North America. In the case of the Queensbridge project the city contracts with an outside ISP but owns and maintains all the physical infrastructure. I think there are two interesting things here. First, Queensbridge provides a vision for what municipal broadband could look like in the future. This is a service that's treated like a utility, provided by the government and it's free. Second, I brought up Chattanooga because I think both and Queensbridge provide different models of municipalities experimenting with elements of a public option. I think both models have their merits. In many ways the Queensbridge model prioritizes equity because the folks working in city hall at the time, such as Maya and Josh, realized that even a cheap plan, say $9.99 a month, is $10 that could be better spent on food, clothes or other necessities. The Queensbridge plan really does prioritize providing Internet to the people who are most marginalized from the broader telecom industry. Chattanooga in a lot of ways is more of a traditional public option. It doesn't provide free services to anyone, even though there are subsidies for lower income consumers.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it's worth noting, and I don't know that the utility would provide a free option if they were able to, but Tennessee law does appear to prohibit them from offering a service at below the cost of providing it. That's actually one of the reasons why even though Chattanooga has done everything it can to provide a low income service, paradoxically the state is actually prohibiting them from doing a better job of serving low income folks.

Rakeen Mabud: Right. This is a worrisome trend because we see states across the country imposing these state preemption laws which restricts what municipalities can provide in terms of services. It seems to be on the rise, the states more and more are keeping municipalities from offering these services in a really robust way to their citizens.

Christopher Mitchell: I think we're certainly worried about it more. We're more worried about it now than we have been in the future, but it is worth noting that local groups have been able to stop most of the efforts to establish these. Though we're having more fights now we've mostly seen local groups stopping these efforts. That's been terrific.

Rakeen Mabud: Yes, absolutely. I'm excited to see that there's this increase in municipal experimentation. I really am looking forward to seeing where this goes both with Queensbridge and New York city, but also all of these other municipalities around the country.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I think separates Queensbridge from Chattanooga, aside from a bunch of obvious things, is that Chattanooga built the network using an economic model that pre-supposed the network would for itself out of revenues for the network. Now, the Queensbridge model is fundamentally different. I'm curious if you have a sense of as you think about this, one of the things that worries me is that the Queensbridge in theory could disappear with a different mayor, I suppose. What can we do to make sure that we're making investments that are going to be there for the long haul?

Rakeen Mabud: Yeah, this is something that has been really interesting in digging into this project. This question of, how do you institutionalize these priorities is a big one that's come up over and over again. Certainly in the case of Queensbridge Maya Wiley ended up securing a 10 year capital budget line, so there is a 10 year secured funding source for Queensbridge and all of the projects that come out of the Queensbridge demonstration project. That being said I share your concerns. You have to look out for political ways and whether or not projects like this will be able to withstand them.

Christopher Mitchell: My admiration for Maya grows because the 10 year funding is certainly, it's very smart. Marshall let me throw it back to you for any concluding comments on these issues.

Marshall Steinbaum: I think we know how to do telecoms policy right because we used to do it right. The problem that has arisen, depending on how far back you want to go, whether to 96 or to 82 or potentially even to the 70s, is that we had an ideological revolution that said everything that we thought we knew about how to conduct sound telecommunications policy was wrong and we needed to have a huge shakeup that jettisoned all the principles that we had from the 1934 act. I think now, after 30 or 40, we know that that was one big failure, a tour of disastrous policy making. There's no reason to think that the same principles that led us to the 1934 would fail again. We have lost the capacity certainly for ambitious antitrust and competition policy, and also for public serving regulation in the public interest. Part of that will always include a public option that provides for a competitive alternative and a low cost alternative that reaches all households and connects them to economic networks that are necessary for being an economic person in the modern era. All of those principles were true in 1934 and they're still true now. We don't need to continue to allow the fact that we had bad policy making for 30 years set the parameters for the future. We can do a lot better.

Christopher Mitchell: Just a quick clarification, I think some people might have simplified their thinking about this and think, "Well, the previous policy was one of basically allowing a monopoly, whereas you are promoting an antitrust." Square that circle for me please.

Marshall Steinbaum: I say both. To characterize the debate here, this is a simplification but I think it's basically right. We had one big regulated monopoly doing telephone communications, in the other it was different in broadcast but more or less the idea was you had these large monopolies that served the entire country and they had a mandate to provide equal quality services to everyone. Where they were allowed to charge more to the people that had a high ability to pay in order to subsidize services to people with a lower ability to pay. When Ma Bell was broken up in the early 80s the ideology of that was, "Let's bust up this highly inefficient monopoly using antitrust." Whereas altogether the policy revolution that took place in the 1980s wanted antitrust to be very inactive, to not get in the way of corporations that wanted to merge, they did use it to go after Ma Bell and supposedly introduced competition into this previously highly regulated sector. What that did was kill off again what an economist would call a pooling equilibrium by a strategy of cream skimming. You had upstarts come in, poach the most profitable customers away from the smaller AT&T that came out of the 1982 restructuring. I guess 84 was when it was finally implemented. It made it impossible for the new AT&T to really function and serve in its regulated capacity. They were losing all of their most profitable customers to these upstarts. That led us to the 1996 act where as I said the whole idea was, lift these regulatory mandates off of AT&T and other incumbent providers, let them all compete with each other. We had these regulatory mandates, we also had walls around the Baby Bells that protected their geographic coverage from competition. The idea was, we have these issues in the sector stemming from the break up of Ma Bell, let's solve those issues by injecting yet more competition. Regulation came off and we got all of the catalog of troubles that we've previously discussed. The question is, where do we go from here? I have said that the reason why the 1996 act failed was because of lax antitrust policy. We thought these companies where going to compete with each other once they were deregulated and instead they merged with each other. The whole promise of competition didn't work because of that lax antitrust policy. Europe is the model here. The reasons that incumbent providers have put forward for why they can't do that here are laughable to my mind. This is us choosing a set of policies that is the worst of both worlds, that is both deregulatory and anti-competitive. Should either an administration or congress want to serve the public interest in this area it is eminently technologically feasible and it could be constructed as a policy. We just have chosen not to do it.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it's a really good summary. Thank you both. I'm excited to see what comes next from the Roosevelt Institute as you continue trying to make sure that we're not being abused by both a lack of competition and a lack of regulation.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Marshall Steinbaum and Rakeen Mabud from the Roosevelt Institute discussing antitrust enforcement and how it has affected telecommunications policy. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.com/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org's stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and we want to thank you for listening to episode 258 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcriptroosevelt instituteftcfcccompetitionantitrust

Live In North Carolina? Describe Your Internet Access And Help Build Better Mapping

June 15, 2017

North Carolinians, do you feel like your state is 90 - 93 percent covered with Internet access that provides 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speeds? If you live in one of the state's many rural areas, probably not. The state is now providing an opportunity for North Carolinians to verify and comment on FCC mapping data with a new state broadband mapping tool.

Cleaning Up The Data 

The state’s Department of Information Technology released the tool in May and encourages residents and businesses to test out the accuracy of their premise data. The map uses FCC acquired from ISPs that report coverage and speeds on Form 477. The data, based on census blocks, typically overstates coverage, creating maps that are unreliable and inaccurate. North Carolina officials aim to correct that.

“We want to get better data so we can go back to the FCC and tell them your data says your census block is served, but less than 25 per cent of the people are actually getting service,” says Jeff Sural, director of the North Carolina broadband infrastructure office.

With better data, state officials hope to increase FCC funding opportunities and determine what areas are in the most dire straits regarding lack of Internet access. The tool asks users to review the data that was submitted by ISPs for their address, conduct a speed test, and confirm whether or not they have access to the connectivity that the ISPs claim they do, and if not, provide more accurate information.

Once a threshold of users have completed the test to allow the results to be displayed on the map, the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office will begin sharing the results on the map.

It's A Start

The effort will help obtain a more accurate picture of what’s really going on in the Internet access trenches if residents and businesses participate, but the state needs to go further to ease its connectivity problems. In a recent State Scoop article, Christopher once again pointed out the failings caused by state restrictions that discourage investment:

"[There are] a lot of opportunities with [municipal networks] and co-ops but the Legislature seems unable to comprehend that the big national firms don't care about rural North Carolina," Mitchell said.

In addition to the state law that prevents municipal investment, cooperatives do not have the access to capital for fiber infrastructure to improve connectivity for members. Rather than depending on national companies that have shown their lack of interest in North Carolina investment, the state could restore local authority and give cooperatives the tools they need to offer high-quality Internet access in rural areas.

State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette said:

"Access to high-speed Internet is crucial these days, and I’m encouraged by the fact that this technology will bring us one step closer to making sure that North Carolinians receive the services they need, regardless of their geographic location throughout the state."

Check out the new mapping tool from the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office and if you live in the state, please take a few moments to add your Internet access data. If you know some one who lives in North Carolina, encourage them to complete the survey to help improve broadband mapping data. 

Tags: north carolinamappingruralsurveydatachristopher mitchellfcc

Indiana Eases Easements For Electric Co-ops; FIBRE Act

June 14, 2017

The State Legislature in Indiana sent SB 478 to Governor Eric Holcomb earlier this session; he recently signed the bill into law. Also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, the new law allows electric cooperatives with easements for electric lines to use those same easement for fiber infrastructure. The change in existing law will allow rural electric cooperatives to bring high-quality Internet access to the many rural regions in Indiana that are now unserved or underserved.

Updating Easements For Connectivity

SB 478 applies only to existing easements between electric suppliers and property owners. It doesn’t apply to new electric easements, railroad property, or the installation of new poles, conduit, or other structures. Other exceptions also apply to limit the new easement applications to existing infrastructure. 

The language of the bill provides in detail the steps that a property owner can take if they oppose the installation of the new infrastructure under the purview of an existing easement. It also lays out the information that an electricity provider must provide to the property owner regarding the plan for fiber infrastructure deployment and planned delivery. The bill goes on to establish further procedures if a property owner decides to pursue legal action if they feel their property value is decreased due to the new infrastructure or other related matters.

Lastly, the bill lays out procedural requirements for an electric cooperative that decides to offer broadband Internet. They must create a separate entity and maintain a separate accounting system.

Read the entire bill here.

Learning From The Co-op Guys

Republican State Senator Eric Koch, lead author on the bill, introduced the legislation as part of his ongoing efforts to improve connectivity in Indiana’s rural areas. According to a March article in the Indiana Economic Digest:

A couple of years ago, Koch was working on another issue with the Indiana Electric Cooperatives, and he saw maps of all the areas that are served by REMC’s in Indiana.

“As we were working on this other issue, it occurred to me that those maps aligned almost exactly with ones I had of unserved areas in rural Indiana. … I immediately saw them as the key. I said, ‘You guys got to help me. We have to find a way to leverage your role in rural areas. That was kind of the beginning of the conversation a year or two ago.”

The cooperatives educated Koch about the easement issue. When state laws governing electric line easements were developed in the 1930s, lawmakers couldn’t imagine the need to extend those easements to telecommunications infrastructure. 

The bill passed with strong bipartisan support in both legislative bodies, passing 49 - 1 in the Senate and 96 -2 in the House. The Governor recently signed the bill into law. 

States Can Help Cooperatives Help Citizens

West Virginia also passed policy legislation this session to encourage a cooperative model to expand high-quality Internet access in rural areas. Perhaps other states will follow these two common sense examples and ease state laws that discourage electric cooperatives from doing what they need to do to improve local connectivity.

North Carolina residents and businesses could benefit if its lawmakers looked north to these two states. Electric cooperatives must contend with laws that limit their access to capital for the purpose of offering broadband to cooperative members in North Carolina. We analyzed the situation in our 2016 report, North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

At the ceremonial signing of SB 478, Tom VanParis, CEO if Indiana Electric Cooperatives said:

“Internet access has become essential to the American way of life. Similar to 80 years ago when most rural Hoosiers lived without electricity, much of rural Indiana still lacks quality Internet options.”

SB 478 Facilitating Internet Rural Broadband Expansion (FIBRE) Act - IndianaTags: in sb 478indianalegislationeasementpolespole attachmentsright-of-wayrural electric coop

Roosevelt Institute Argues for Better Broadband Policy - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 258

June 13, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 258 - Marshall Steinbaum and Rakeen Mabud from the Roosevelt Institute

As the telecommunications and broadband market has become more and more consolidated, it has drawn more attention, leading to more attention from people that actually care about functioning markets. Enter the Roosevelt Institute and their report, Crossed Lines: Why the AT&T-Time Warner Merger Demands a New Approach to Antitrust.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Economist and Fellow Marshall Steinbaum and Program Director Rakeen Mabud join us to talk about the failing broadband market and what can be done at both the federal and local levels.

Marshall focuses more on the federal level and antitrust while Rakeen discusses local solutions that local governments can implement. We talk about the FCC, the FTC, the history and future of competition in telecommunications, and how local governments can make sure low-income Internet access projects stay funded in the long term.

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 31 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: competitionpolicyeconomicshistorynetwork neutralityfccftcroosevelt institutemergersconsolidationat&taudiopodcastbroadband bits

Refute Misinformation With Our "Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies" Page

June 13, 2017

As an increasing number of communities investigate the possibility of publicly owned Internet networks, big cable and telephone companies are spending big dollars to fund the spread of misinformation. In order to combat untruths and share accurate data, we’ve created the Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies page. You will find resources to help you identify and respond to some of the most used resources, arguments, and tactics from groups aiming to quash better connectivity through local control; you'll also find the best ways to address them.

Reports, Reports, Reports

A common strategy from companies with de facto monopolies such as Comcast and AT&T are funding reports created by entities that appear to be nonpartisan academic groups. They also fund groups to generate similar anti-municipal network material from organizations that pretend to operate in the best interests of taxpayers or citizens. In reality, these groups produce slanted material intended to capitalize on the lack of information most people have about publicly owned networks. They aim to fill the void quickly and repeatedly with misstatements in order to taint any later discussion of public investment. 

One way to influence decision makers and the general public who are learning about ways to improve local connectivity is by taking advantage of the credibility that may be attached to a seemingly academic report. We provide several examples on the Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies page and offer a few direct responses that point out the many factual and analytical errors.

Similarly, we offer examples of rebuttals to some of the most common arguments against public Internet network infrastructure. In addition to general rumors, we found some excellent rebuttals to specific lies that national providers attempt to spread by repeating early and often.

Information Is Power

The Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies page also takes a look at how misinformation gets started, how it spreads, and ways to stop it in its tracks. From our page:

Keeping the community well informed can prevent confusion and derail misinformation campaigns before they get started. Sometimes, despite best efforts, rumors and misinformation can still spread.

We offer seven “Do’s and Don’ts” that we find effective in repairing misperception. It's important not to alienate the people with whom you want to share information. In addition to examples, you can find links to other helpful resources and we encourage you to check back; we'll update the page periodically with new resources and developments.

Tags: correcting community fiber fallaciesmisinformation

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 13

June 13, 2017

California

Internet for All Now Act passes state assembly by ECT Staff, East County Today

"Jarring" Internet access survey results embolden leaders of citywide broadband by Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner

Internet for all San Franciscans? Here's how it could happen by Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle

“The nice thing about Wi-Fi is that it costs less up front, and you can install it before the next election,” said Christopher Mitchell, a community broadband expert at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, an advocacy group in Minneapolis.

But he noted that Farrell could face intense opposition from big telecom companies like Comcast and AT&T, which provide most of the Internet service and infrastructure in San Francisco.

“There will be a scare campaign involving print mailers, telephone calls and radio messages, saying that community broadband will threaten city finances,” Mitchell said.

 

Georgia

EMCs could help fill broadband gaps by Jill Nolin, Thomasville Times-Enterprise

Nationally, electric cooperatives are relatively new to fiber broadband, but their involvement is “growing enormously,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance. 

 

North Carolina

NC maps out high-speed Internet access across state by Steve Sbraccia, CBS North Carolina

 

General

Two municipal broadband groups criticize data and analysis in U. Penn paper by Casey Ryan, BroadbandBreakfast.com

ISPs denied entry into apartment buildings could get help from FCC by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

 

Image of the cow in the pasture courtesy of DominikSchraudolf via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 257

June 12, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 257 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell and Colman Keane discuss Chattanooga, Tennessee. The city's network has community support with a high number of subscribers. Listen to this episode here.

 

Colman Keane: When you look at Chattanooga, it was really the perfect time, and really a good place to launch this. When you're able to bring something like this to an engaged community, then you can get the benefits that Chattanooga sees.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 257 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Colman Keane is back on the show for an update on the situation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to surpassing expectations for subscribers, the municipal utility is doing very well financially. Electric rates have been kept in check for everyone in the EPB service area, regardless of whether or not they use the fiber to the home Internet service, and the infrastructure smart grid has kept expensive outages to a minimum. Colman and Christopher also talk about the Chattanooga community, and how it's culture has contributed to the success of the network, which has in turn provided multiple benefits.

First, we want to urge you to take a moment to help us out, by contributing at Muninetworks.org, or ILSR.org. Shows like this don't have commercial interruptions, and we like it that way. But they still cost money to produce. If you're already a donor, we want to thank you. Your contributions help spread the facts about municipal networks, so kudos to you for participating. Now, here's Christopher with Colman Keane from Chattanooga's EPB.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell. Again, coming at you from Mountain Connect in Keystone, Colorado, a wonderful regional conference, one of the best in the nation. I'm here today with Colman Keane, the Director of Fiber Technology for EPB Chattanooga. Welcome back to the show.

Colman Keane: Thank you very much.

Christopher Mitchell: I just looked it up earlier. You were last on for episode 175, which would be about a year and a half ago I'm guessing.

Colman Keane: Wow.

Christopher Mitchell: I wanted to tell you congratulations. You gave a wonderful keynote this morning.

Colman Keane: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: Also you've surpassed 90,000 customers.

Colman Keane: It is hard to believe. It's a long ways away from when we started and where we thought we would be.

Christopher Mitchell: Just go over that for a second, because you mentioned where you expected to be.

Colman Keane: Right. In our initial business planning process, we were looking at somewhere around a 30% take rate in order to be break even for the whole project to work. In the plan we targeted having somewhere around 45,000 customers, that was kind of our best case scenario. We're twice that today, so we're very happy. It's been a very good experience for us, and for Chattanooga.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I was curious about is, what causes 89,999th customer to sign up finally? They've had years of this. You mentioned that some of it has to do with your community engagement.

Colman Keane: That is my opinion. I absolutely believe that as time has gone on, just people talking in the community about what a great service EPB provides, because we actually believe in great customer service, and we deliver that. Plus the fact that we have gotten so much press for being Gig City, that the community itself has really embraced that. I think people want to be part of something bigger than they are, and this is just one way of doing that.

Christopher Mitchell: What are the kinds of things the utility does? You're familiar with electric utilities, and there's a continuum. But I think most aren't as involved in the community as EPB does.

Colman Keane: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: What are some of the things that you do, that others don't?

Colman Keane: We have tried to be a good community player ever since day one. That was really one of our key reasons for coming into being, was economic development and quality of life in Chattanooga. But just like every business you get stuck in a rut. After a while you're going to work to benefit yourself, not necessarily the community. Actually, taking this project on has reinvigorized us, and the level of customer service that we give is much higher than it was even ten years ago. I think all of that type of stuff goes into helping us be a better electric utility, by the fact that we have the fiber optics and we're engaging on the customers on both sides. We're going in their houses today and having more one on one conversations than we used to. Used to kind of be this wall, and never go past that front door. Now we are much more involved with our customers, and I think that makes us a better company.

Christopher Mitchell: 90,000 customers out of how many possible?

Colman Keane: There's 170,000 homes and businesses. So basically out of 170,000 potential customers.

Christopher Mitchell: That's including even apartment buildings that you're basically not able to get into.

Colman Keane: That is correct. So we have about a 55% take rate overall, and still growing.

Christopher Mitchell: About how many people take the gig, which is now $70?

Colman Keane: The last time I looked it was just under 10,000, so 9,000 some odd people are taking the gig.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. 10 gig, any takers?

Colman Keane: We have a handful, not a lot. We didn't expect a lot, but it's available for anybody who wants it.

Christopher Mitchell: For $299. I thought it was more expensive.

Colman Keane: No, that's a great deal. As we move forward more businesses will start to take it, then it'll move to the residential, just like the gig did. We saw the same type of deployment with the gig when we first announced it, so -- We're excited to be able to offer it and can't wait for customers to start embracing it.

Christopher Mitchell: You have yet more good news, it's not really that big of a deal, but conceptually it is. The communications division has retired its debt.

Colman Keane: Absolutely. A big hurdle, right? We're very excited about that. The communications side has been cash flowing positive pretty much since year two, and we've been funding new capital developments. We're still building and adding new customers, and that's very capital intensive business. As well as providing significant dollars over to the electric side, which this year was around 30. Next year we're budgeting about $40 million going from the fiber optics over to the electric.

Christopher Mitchell: To be very clear, that is basically your 90,000 customers, who take television, Internet, or phone service, or some combination of them, are subsidizing the rate payers.

Colman Keane: Yes, the electric rate payers. That is exactly what's happening at this point in time. Since inception, we have forgone on the electric side, about a 7% rate increase, which is a pretty significant number.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. Obviously electricity's always a concern, particularly for lower income households, households on a fixed income.

Colman Keane: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a big deal.

Colman Keane: On our electric side we are actively engaging with a lot of different programs to help people make their homes and businesses more energy efficient. It seems counterintuitive, but to us that's good customer service.

Christopher Mitchell: Speaking of good customer service, I wanted to ask this question earlier. I posed a different question this morning, but I actually think -- And I don't know if you've marketed yourself this way. You have in at least one instance, a faster response time than the fire department to a fire. This is remarkable story.

Colman Keane: Yes. No, we haven't used that as a marketing ploy. I will take that back and then talk to our marketing department about it. The information we're getting back out of our system is allowing us to do a lot of proactive things with our customers. We're working with the Department of Energy, and Oak Ridge National Labs to help dealing with the big data problem we have, to figure out what other tools we can use to provide better service to our customers. Finding premature failures of equipment inside their house is one thing that we really would like to get to. We already have examples like you mentioned with the fire.

Christopher Mitchell: You saved a pet I think.

Colman Keane: I saved a pet. Or people who have had issues with their heating and air and stuff like that, where their -- Were going to get huge energy bills. We were able to proactively go warn them, and they were able to get those problems solved quickly. It's just better customer service, and it's a driver for us.

Christopher Mitchell: How often are you polling now to check those smart meters from the homes?

Colman Keane: Every 15 minutes we get back real time. We do have the ability to go out there and ping them, if needed. From meters we're getting it every 15 minutes. From our SKADA system we're getting it every two seconds.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I feel like I'm jumping all around, because this is incredibly exciting, all of the great news coming out of Chattanooga. Although, I do think you've become such an outlier, it's actually harder for communities to try to be you. I literally think it's dangerous for cities to think they could be you. I'm curious, how you react to that?

Colman Keane: They can always be us. We want to encourage them. I think that communities need to go into these with their eyes wide open. They need to realize what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and how they can leverage what they have. When you look at Chattanooga, it was really the perfect time, and really a good place to launch this. Chattanooga had already had a lot of visioning processes, so we had an engaged community. When you're able to bring something like this to an engaged community, then you can get the benefits that Chattanooga sees. It's one thing to build a technical solution. It's another to get people to embrace it, and actually push it to it's full potential. Being able to brand ourselves Gig City, that was a multi tiered approach. Not just EPB, but a lot of movers and shakers in this city getting behind that.

Christopher Mitchell: I think communities certainly could emulate you, and do a lot of things to try and succeed in the ways you've succeeded. However, in my going to Chattanooga, it seemed like you have more people rowing in the same direction than most communities. It takes years, decades to achieve that. This is not just a fiber network that sprung up in Chattanooga. It's more a very smart community that was doing a lot of the right things that built a fiber network.

Colman Keane: Right. We intentionally tried to get the community engaged. We did kind of build it, and kind of sat back on our laurels so to speak. We though everybody was going to embrace it, and that didn't necessarily happen out of the gate. We literally started a process where we spent a year bringing people in from the community. We would bring groups of 15 to 17 people from all walks of life into these, and once a week we would meet with them. You've been to our control center. We would bring them in there and talk about how we built the network, what the network was capable of, and how a community like Chattanooga could take advantage of that. Then basically charged them, "This is your network, you need to figure out how to leverage it." It took a little bit of kicking to get the community to engage, but we already were an active community so it didn't take a lot of kicking. But it does take a community that's going to work together, and understand the benefits of working together, to get the most out of a system like this.

Christopher Mitchell: You yourself were someone, you said, who had left Chattanooga, after college I presume, or around that time, and then later came back.

Colman Keane: Right. We were suffering the brain drain like a lot of small cities do. Kids went away from college, and never came back. I was one of those. I moved back to Chattanooga, I was lucky enough to find a job. I consciously made the decision to take less wages and move back to Chattanooga, because I thought it was a great community to raise a family in. Me and my wife consciously made that decision, and it turned out to be a really good one, because I got to work at EPB, and roll out a really great network. Today, it's a little different. Today we have people moving into the community. We have a lot of young people showing up that don't have ties, they don't have relatives, they don't necessarily have a job. They come to Chattanooga and basically say, "I'm going to figure it out when I get there." It's an exciting place.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the challenges that I think you face is trying to figure out what your impact is. We know that you've had a tremendous impact on the community, and one can point to the jobs that have come in from a few large employers. But it's really hard to try and figure out what impact you've had on those small entrepreneurial firms, existing firms that may have been more successful. How do we know that the network has had such a positive economic impact on the community?

Colman Keane: That is something that's very difficult to statistically measure, let's say. There's a lot of things we can look at. We have the Chamber and they know how many large companies have come into town, and we can extrapolate jobs from that. You can walk around in Chattanooga and you can see the revitalized communities, and you can see the storefronts that are opening up. That's not necessarily captured buy the Chamber. A lot of those are small business, one or two people working at them type thing. We have tons of those going in. When you look around, and you look at housing. You look at the growth in Chattanooga, you look at the people moving back into the downtown area and stuff like that. You can feel the excitement. It's something almost, you have to come and see to believe. But it's very difficult, and we're trying to figure out how to do a better job of measuring that. But how do you capture somebody who is working out of their house? Much like you might do for a lot of things that you do. How would you show up in a statistical model, right? That's a problem we face, is we have a lot of people doing those type of work. That gig economy type stuff is hard to measure. I'm using gig as in the job, not necessarily the bandwidth in that scenario.

Christopher Mitchell: It fits for both industries.

Colman Keane: It fits for both. Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you have clearly measured is the benefits to the electrical side. If we just back up for a second, it's worth noting, you've not retired all of the debt of the network. You've retired the debt that was attributed to the communications side.

Colman Keane: That is correct. And we are paying down the debt that's being borne by the electric side. We're not in any hurry to pay that down, because we're getting very attractive rates on that. But it will be paid off during the normal course of business.

Christopher Mitchell: I would think so if you're doing transfers of $30 to $40 million.

Colman Keane: We're transferring about three times what's needed to pay off that debt today. The electric is seeing huge benefits from the smart grid that has been rolled out, and so are our customers. When you look at our outage -- There are measures that utilities use, and we have seen those reduced significantly, 50 and 60% reduction in those reliability measures. That doesn't equate to the fact that we're not rolling trucks for those outages anymore. A number of miles, we're at hundreds of thousands of miles every year being saved in truck rolls, just on meter reading. Another couple hundred thousand miles being saved where we're actually having to go scout and find outages before we can fix them.

Christopher Mitchell: It's worth pausing there for a second, because most electric utilities, when they have an outage, they find out about it through customers calling them and saying, "I don't have any power." Then they send trucks out to zigzag around to physically locate, with their eyes, the break.

Colman Keane: That's right. Then once they find the break, then they do a manual work around if they can. So they roll trucks to manually switch the power, if they have that capability. A lot of that takes time and effort, so you could be looking at two to six hours for a relatively small outage. Our smart grid, we have put in the intelligence switches, so a lot of that switching happens automatically. We have information coming back from our smart meters and other sensors, so we know pretty much know exactly where that outage is and can roll trucks right to where the job needs to be fixed. So we're saving tons of money just from what we call "scouting" for the outage.

Christopher Mitchell: You covered this this morning, and the slides are more visual to show the exact number, but you had an outage that impacted on the order of 14,000 people?

Colman Keane: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: If you remember roughly the time periods of --

Colman Keane: It was roughly 13,000 customers, it was on a

5:30 on Friday afternoon, so a lot of our employees had gone home just like everybody else. A tree fell and took out a transmission line, to take all those customers out at one time. Basically, in less that 30 seconds about 10,000 of those came back on automatically because of our automatic switching and intelligence that we have built in to the network. About another 30 seconds after that we had a couple more come on through automatic switching. At that point people in the office were aware of the outage and were looking at it, and were able to very quickly, manually switch, in two different scenarios. In a three minute period, then in another two minute period, they got the next couple hundred on in each one of those. Within six, six and half minutes, all 13,000 were back on, and we had a truck rolling to where the tree had fallen, without anybody going out scouting, having to go out and do manual switching. That outage would have been six to ten, twelve hours. That would have been a significant time for us to get all those customers back on prior to our smart grid being in place.

Christopher Mitchell: That's the thing that I knew. The thing that I didn't know, was you also would have had to recall all kinds of employees to answer phones.

Colman Keane: That's right. They were already going home. To handle the volume of calls, or even to get people to go do the scouting, we would have been literally, "Okay. We know you just walked in the door at home. You mind getting in your car and coming back?" So that we could handle the call volume, as well as the work load to do the manual fixing on the outage.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't know if you have any comment, but I saw on the Twitter feed today from EPB, that you're seeing an abnormally high number of trees falling over, unfortunately, due to presumably temperature changes and things like that.

Colman Keane: What we've had is an abnormally wet first part of the year. We had a drought last year, so the combination of having a drought and then -- It's really affecting the oak trees. We've had very large trees come down over the last two months. We've had some significant outages with similar repairs times that we have just talked about. Where we've had 25,000 customers out, and most of those come back on relatively quickly, and we might end up with 2 or 3,000 where we've had to literally roll to actually take trees, and remove those trees. Those would have been multi-day outages prior.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's also sad to see giant trees going.

Colman Keane: Yes. Especially these are large, old oaks. You're probably talking hundred year plus trees that are going down at this stage.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I know you do, is you track the industry very closely. I'm actually surprised when I look at -- I was having a conversation. In Iowa alone we might see four new municipal, citywide fiber to the home networks in the next year. I was expecting to see less than five a year across the entire country. I was expecting to see a lot of municipalities doing incremental investments and things like that. Because I fear the market is so fragmented now, it would be harder to enter the market than it was when you did. I'm curious what your thoughts are in terms of that. Is there still space for those citywide builds?

Colman Keane: I think there absolutely is space. If you back two years ago, every mayor wanted to be a gig city. You've had a lot of people chasing it for about 18 months, so it doesn't surprise me that you're starting to see some of those efforts actually start to bear fruit. I think the bigger issue really is financing for most people, and getting over the fear of being able to actually deploy and run a network like this. A lot of people are actually almost to that level of a decision point, versus whether they think they want it or don't want it. I think they know they want it, they just don't know how to get it.

Christopher Mitchell: Do you have a sense of how many people have left EPB to go work with other cities that are doing this sort of thing.

Colman Keane: That's a good question. We actually have not had a lot of people leave to go do that. We've had some people leave to go work with some vendors, but actually the relative -- At that level, it's been relatively low. We have had more employee turnover than we were used to historically, but it's been mostly at the customer service level. A lot of that is that the employees that we were hiring are skewing younger, and they tend not to stay as long.

Christopher Mitchell: I was just curious. There's a fair number from Google Fiber that are coming out and looking for jobs and things like that, so I was just curious if you were seeing any of that.

Colman Keane: Chattanooga's such a great place to live, nobody wants to leave.

Christopher Mitchell: That is one of the things that I got the impression, is that working at EPB is really great. I can imagine that people wouldn't want to go work for a municipal utility, where they may still believe in the job, but the culture may not be there.

Colman Keane: It's a tough transition.

Christopher Mitchell: That's where, again, I feel like we've always tried to advise cities, "If you want to do what Chattanooga did, it's not just about technology. So much of it is about culture within the community."

Colman Keane: It absolutely is. Kind of like I was talking today, you mind your Ps and the rest of it takes care -- Planning, prep, people, performance, and partnerships. People and partnerships are the most important out of those five. Making sure that you have the right culture, you have the right staff, that they're willing to learn and engage with customers. It's a make or break.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's exciting, and I just can't tell you how interesting it is watching Chattanooga. I feel like there's a sense that cities aren't exciting or this or that. When you look back, a lot of really interesting innovations have come from cities you wouldn't have expected from. Frankly, Chattanooga's even big compared to some of the really interesting innovations that have come out of communities, where people do great things.

Colman Keane: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited to have been chronicling Chattanooga as you've been doing it.

Colman Keane: Right. Yeah, you've been there pretty much since day one.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, actually my first time in Chattanooga was right around the time that the network started being built.

Colman Keane: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: It's exciting. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show again.

Colman Keane: Sure, no problem.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Colman Keane, who shared updates from Chattanooga's EPB. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.com/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org's stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and we want to thank you for listening to episode 256 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

 

Tags: transcriptchattanoogatennesseeEPBsmart-gridgigabitFTTHeconomic development