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Lack of Internet Access and Poor Policy Combine to Strip Arkansans of Medicaid

September 21, 2018

People in Arkansas who depend on Medicaid for healthcare typically don’t have the option to sign-up for affordable health insurance through their jobs. Sometimes they aren’t able to find full-time positions that offer healthcare or they don’t earn enough to afford the premiums in addition to covering life expenses for their families. With so many people offline, either because they can’t afford to pay for connectivity or because they live in areas where there is no connectivity, Arkansas seems like a poor choice for mandatory online reporting of anything, especially activity that dictates eligibility for Medicare. 

State leaders didn’t see it that way, however, when they implemented the policy in June. Medicaid recipients who are able to work must now go online to report at least 80 hours per month of activity; if they fail to do so, they lose access to the state's expanded Medicaid program. The activity can include volunteer work, job training, or several other categories of activities. While the issue of attaching work requirements to Medicaid eligibility has already been deemed arbitrary and capricious by a U.S. District Court in Kentucky, the lack of Internet access appears to be contributing to Arkansas’s dubious efforts to trim its enrollment.

Lack of Coverage Complicates

In a state where at least 30 percent of the population has access to only one Internet service provider (ISP) and approximately 20 percent depend on their smart phones for Internet access, the only way to report the new work-related requirement is online. Under the guide of cost savings, the state has not established any other method for reporting for those who don’t have access to the Internet.

In addition to an environment that lags in competition, 17 percent of Arkansans live below the poverty line, doubtless contributing to their low adoption rate and difficulty reporting for those enrolled in Medicaid. “Work requirements would be harmful to our clients in any situation, but the online-only reporting requirements make it incredibly difficult,” said Kevin De Liban, an attorney with Legal Aid of Arkansas.

De Liban went on in an interview with CityLab to describe how those who use smartphones have hit-or-miss coverage in some of the rural areas. "If you have Verizon, and the sun is in the sky at a certain point, you might be able to get a bar or two of coverage.”

Phased In, Phased Off

The online reporting requirements began in June, but it’s unclear whether or not all those that must report understand or are aware of the fact that they now must fulfill this additional requirement. The state adopted the requirement for 300,000 Medicaid expansion enrollees. The program, dubbed Arkansas Works, revealed that the vast majority of those enrolled were already engaged in activity that meets the requirement or were exempt for other reasons, such as age or caring for dependents.

In May, the state sent notifications to 27,000+ people that they would have to report 80 hours of monthly activity in keeping with the new requirement. By the end of the first month, approximately 6,500 of those people had failed to report. When the second month of required reporting was over, there were still around 5,400 of those same people who didn’t report. After the third and last month of non-reporting, 4,353 people were deemed ineligible for Medicaid. They will remain ineligible for the rest of the year.

There’s no way to know if those who now have no healthcare ever received notification that they must report — low-income people are more apt to move from place to place than people with middle and higher incomes — or if they had no way to access the online portal, which is the only way they can report. There is likely a combination of factors, but as long as accessibility and adoption is in such as sorry state in Arkansas, it's unreasonable to weaponize it to trim healthcare enrollment.

Legal Aid of Arkansas has filed a suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that attacks the federal government’s approval of the state health care requirement. De Liban told City Lab:

“Online-only reporting systems are administrative hoops, and when administrative hoops are there it’s easier for people to trip up,” he says. “And if they trip up they lose coverage, and if they lose coverage the state saves some money.”

While access poses one major hurdle for reporting, Internet literacy poses another even for those who have access at home. This factor splits across rural and urban lines even within the state. “Generally in rural areas people go online less and have less familiarity,” said De Liban. “Then when you add in socioeconomics, the digital divide becomes even more pronounced.”

Digital Redlining’s Role

In many places, national ISPs have decided it isn’t profitable to invest in the Internet infrastructure people need for this type of reporting; those areas are almost always places where lower-income households are more prevalent. “Digital redlining” places power in the hands of large, national providers who decide where the infrastructure does or does not exist, giving big ISPs control over the ability to go online to take care of business, such as the Arkansas Works reporting requirement.

“It’s not the government, but providers that have chosen to make additional investments in areas where it’s most lucrative, and to not improve infrastructure or provide better plans in low-income neighborhoods,” [Deb Socia of Next Century Cities] said. That means urban, densely populated areas often have better broadband access than rural, predominantly low-income ones. And where access exists, users still have to pay for it. Those costs can be prohibitive, especially for those on government assistance.

Deb goes on...

“Technology so empowers us to be able to communicate with one another,  but it’s not an equitable method of communication. ... The outcome is only as good as the input, and in this case the input has serious flaws.”

Tags: Arkansasruralurbanlow incomelow-incomestate lawsstate policy

From Traffic to Ting: ISP Begins Serving Centennial Via City Fiber

September 20, 2018

The mayor doesn’t usually show up at your house when you switch to a new Internet service provider, but for Erin and Isaac Herman of Centennial, Colorado, that’s exactly what happened. In early September, they became the first official Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) subscribers in Centennial when Internet service provider (ISP) Ting connected their home with fiber optic lines. An event held at their house brought together community members and local officials to celebrate the “lighting” of the fiber line, a culmination of years of hard work by the city to develop a publicly owned dark fiber network.

To provide Internet access, Ting leases strands of Centennial’s open access fiber network, constructing its own lines to connect homes and businesses to that backbone. The Herman family and other subscribers now have superior connectivity as a result of the investments made by both their local government and the private company.

Plans for households range from 5 Megabits per second for $19 per month to symmetrical gigabit speeds for $89 per month. Centennial residents can pre-order on Ting’s website.

Fifth “Ting Town” on the Map

Ting operates fiber networks in five U.S. cities. In addition to Centennial, Ting delivers fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to subscribers in Charlottesville, Virginia; Holly Springs, North Carolina; Sandpoint, Idaho; and Westminster, Maryland.

When discussing why the company chose to bring its services to Centennial next, CEO Elliot Noss explained that the city “has a lot of the characteristics that we look for,” including size, demographics, and desire for better connectivity. “Centennial is really unique,” he continued, “in terms of its ease to work with, their approach to partnering with businesses, and ... their can-do attitude.”

Perhaps the most important factor in Ting’s decision was access to Centennial’s dark fiber backbone. Ting is the first and only ISP operating on the open access network, but the city welcomes others who want to offer Internet access to local businesses and residents.

Building a Publicly Owned Network

The path to better connectivity for Centennial started in 2013 when city residents overwhelmingly supported a referendum to opt out of restrictive SB 152 and reclaim local authority. Passed in 2005, the Colorado law prevents local governments from developing publicly owned networks to improve Internet access, unless the community votes to opt out of the restriction. To learn more about the communities opting out of SB 152, read our past coverage on the issue or check out the Colorado Sun’s recent overview.

Prior to the referendum, Centennial had built 40 miles of underground fiber and conduit for intelligent traffic signaling. The referendum’s passage enabled the city to use this infrastructure to improve connectivity throughout the community. City officials ultimately decided to develop a carrier grade dark fiber backbone that would expand the coverage and capacity of the existing network.

In 2016, Centennial released a Master Plan for the open access backbone, which they estimated to cost approximately $5.7 million. According to the plan, the new network would directly connect community anchors, such as schools and public buildings, and it would also run near business and residential areas so that ISPs could lease dark fiber to provide Internet access. Since the original network was built for a single use, upgrading to carrier grade meant having to meet the private sector’s “higher level of expectation in terms of documentation, accessibility, support, how it was built — all that complex stuff,” shared Tim Scott, Director of Fiber Infrastructure for Centennial, on our Community Broadband Bits podcast. The new backbone was designed to have excess capacity, so it could support the many uses envisioned by the city.

Making Open Access Work

Even though Centennial didn’t want to operate the network or offer Internet access directly, the city believed having control over the infrastructure was vital. City council “recognized fiber was the next infrastructure a city needs,” Mayor Stephanie Piko told the Centennial Citizen. “Ownership of that physical asset is so important,” Scott commented on the podcast.

Before Ting expanded to the city, Centennial residents and businesses could subscribe to Internet access from Comcast or CenturyLink. City officials hoped that building a dark fiber network would enable competition from other ISPs. “From an economic development perspective,” Scott said, “the focus was on how do we create a backbone that can create a more competitive environment.”

Their approach seems to be working. Ting is offering families like the Hermans better connectivity for less than they paid previously. Comcast has also increased its speeds at no cost as a result of the competition, according to Mayor Piko.

Centennial’s Connected Future

The east and west rings of the city’s fiber backbone should be completed by the end of the year, but Centennial residents are already benefiting from the infrastructure. The Herman family pointed to the various ways that it’s improving their lives. “We’re definitely a modern family,” Isaac Herman told the Centennial Citizen. Isaac owns a video game development company and works from home, so high-quality connectivity is essential. The fiber Internet access provided by Ting also makes it easier for his wife to participate in her masters program and for his children to stream music.

In addition to promoting competition, the city hopes that the network will attract new businesses, enable further smart traffic management, and improve connectivity for public safety agencies and first responders.

“I look at it as a real game changer for the city,” said Scott. “I really think that this ... will really transform the city of Centennial.”

Check out the promotional video Ting released back in 2016:

Image of Centennial courtesy of Colorado Dream Properties.

Tags: centennialcoloradotingFTTHopen accessleasevideogigabit

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 323

September 19, 2018


This is the transcript for episode 323 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher Mitchell speaks with Diana Nucera of the Detroit Community Technology Program about how they're empowering communities to create better connectivity and use technology to meet local needs. Listen to the episode here.



Diana Nucera: This work takes time and love. So if you're going to go for it, make sure you have those two things.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 323 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, Christopher speaks with Diana Nucera of the Detroit Community Technology Project. The project is based in the Detroit community — and its people — to bring better connectivity to residents, community organizations, and more recently, local businesses. In addition to establishing a community network, the DCTP provides technical support, trains local stewards to expand the program, and helps empower and unite the local community. Diana explains the history of the DCTP, how it works, and describes some of the challenges they've overcome. She also shares some of the unexpected benefits and describes how just getting people online is only one part of digital inclusion. Now, here's Christopher with Diana Nucera from the Detroit Community Technology Project.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, talking to Diana Nucera today, the Director of Detroit Community Technology Project. Welcome to the show, Diana.

Diana Nucera: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: It's really great to have you — having someone from, you know, another strong midwestern city, a city that's recovering. It's doing much better than it had been and is filled with amazing culture and people. But, let's talk a little bit about your organization, and then we're gonna talk about how it's related to some other organizations and movements to make it a little bit of a map, I think. But what's the Detroit Community Technology Project?

Diana Nucera: Sure. So the Detroit Community Technology Project started in 2014, coming off of basically the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program that was put out by — stimulus funds put out by the Obama Administration that the Digital Justice Coalition in Detroit had gotten. And so our work spun off of that and is focusing on looking at how to support people in creating technology solutions that are rooted community and meet a community need but not only enhance our relationship with each other, but also the planet. And so we've been working on different projects, from wireless communication systems to resilient organizing strategies, and then also looking into data and our rights around data and privacy security. So all of those sort of fit into this [idea of] what makes a healthy digital ecosystem, which is what the Detroit Community Technology Project is most interested in.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is a part of a long chain of work in terms of trying to give digital tools and really help people that have been left behind by the economy, by the existing power structure, that's been going on for a long time. Can you just give us a brief, maybe — you know, I don't know if it goes back 20 years, but how does it fit into the Allied Media Project and things like that?

Diana Nucera: Right. So to understand our work is sort of to understand the chain of events and that one thing leads to another, in that our work is very much formed as one thing leads to another. So the story starts with the start of the Allied Media Conference, and it's moved to Detroit in 2007, I believe. And [we] sort of started a media lab there, which the idea was thinking about what would a potluck of technology look like. And at the time [it] was really thinking about access, not particularly in like, who doesn't have access to the internet or like, who doesn't have equipment, but thinking about like, why are we so protective over our tech? And why does it create so much crime? And what if we created a space in which people were willingly sharing these devices with each other and teaching and learning together? Which at the time felt really radical for people. They were like, "What do you mean, I'm going to leave my tech here with you at the AMC while there's hundreds of people around?"

Christopher Mitchell: When many of us think of technology, I think we think of opportunities, and you linked it with crime. And I also just want to know — you said AMC, which is the Allied Media Conference, a wonderful event that to my shame I have not attended because it's almost always at an inconvenient time of year for my schedule. So this is something that I think is really worth just noting so these people have a sense of where you're coming from. These tools that have been developed, you know, they really haven't been a source of opportunity in the communities you're working in.

Diana Nucera: I think they have a potential to be. But for instance, if you are just given a sort of smart phone and using it to consume like social media or media, then you don't ever see the problem solving potential. And so what I noticed back in 2007 — and at the time I was working in youth media, working with youth in Chicago, and sort of as a volunteer for the Allied Media Conference. And thinking about this media lab, I just remember, like, every time we would open up a lab or someone would get a new piece of technology, there was always some kind of crime that would happen around it. So like, many labs got broken into and a lot of the things got stolen, or some youth would get jumped and their phones and get taken, or their computers would get stolen. And so it became really clear to me at the time that it's not that people don't want these things. It's just sort of, like, scary to have them, and mind you, this was when smartphones were a little newer. So I think as technology sort of progresses, these issues become a little less because they become normalized and we're all walking around with our phones. When I remember walking around at the time or just some rough spots in Chicago, [if] you had a phone, it was similar to having like a pair of Jordan's back in the day when people would like take your shoes, you know. Just to recognize that within these different economic situation, technology can play a role of solving a potential issue, but it also creates a sense of danger for people. So you have to — There's all this, like, security around it and trying to protect these assets. And I think I've been really interested in thinking about, well, if we remove that element, can you build community with technology rather than the individual sort of endeavors where people are protecting their own gear and only using technology for their own self gain. And that's kind of where this idea of a media lab came out of. Also, thinking about digital justice, which means that [there's] not just access to people, but like, what if we created a culture in which sharing technology and using technology to solve problems together — not just as techies coming in and supporting people — but like really using it as a tool for innovation on a community level and on a neighborhood level. Like, what does that look like, and what can that do to revitalize a city? And so our work has sort of stemmed from that.

Christopher Mitchell: And that's really good context. I did divert you a little bit from the question that I'd asked and didn't let you answer it. So I want to get back into where you're leaving off, but just so people have a sense of a little bit more of the history. So you mentioned the Allied Media Conference moves to Detroit in 2007. If you can walk me through briefly how that ends up and leads to the Equitable Internet Initiative, the EII, that we're going to be talking more about. Please walk me through that.

Diana Nucera: Sure. I will do the most abbreviated version I can for the sake of this medium, but it is quite a long story and you know, out of respect for the history of people involved, I'll do my best.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and I think, just briefly, this is well captured by a Roosevelt Institute study, I believe. Has that been published yet? I know I've reviewed it, but I don't know if it's been published yet.

Diana Nucera: I don't think it has been published.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. It will soon be documented quite well, and so people should be on the lookout for that after. I'm sure this interview will peak their interest.

Diana Nucera: So we started off with, like I said, the media lab and this idea of a potluck of technology and a space in which people can teach and learn together. That's sort of the birth of the pedagogy. So the science and art of how we approach teaching technology emerged from that moment. As the Allied Media Conference grew, in 2009, we had a switch over in the federal government, and that's when Obama was now in power and released these federal stimulus packages, and one was about broadband adoption. So it was a session in the Allied Media Conference in 2009, which I believe was called Building a Healthy Digital Ecolog, lead by Josh Breitbart that was looking at the ways in which communities could go after federal funding to then build their systems that they need. If there's something that's been prevalent within all of this, all the years of this work, it's that technology infrastructure is often overlooked within city planning or any sort of public development. It seems to be a private sector thing. So we were looking at, how do you look at this federal funding to bring it into more of a the public sector, like if people are sort of taking over and building themselves. So from there we created a series. We won this stimulus funding after developing the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition. And so that formed out of the AMC session. The digital justice coalition went on and said, "Hey, we can't apply for these funds if you don't know what people want or how they need technology." So then, burning from the media lab, we said, "Hey, let's create a DiscoTech," which is short for discovering technology. It's pretty fun. And my idea was to get all of the members of the coalition and their communities that they are connected with to create these sort of stations that allowed people to teach and learn together because you can't enter into a conversation about what you need or want to use tech for, if you don't know what it is or what it can do. And so that marks another point of truly understanding how digital justice work and stuff. We have a pedagogy of sharing and teaching and learning together with the community; then comes this like understanding that education is at the core of participation, especially within this particular realm, within the digital realm in Detroit. That was around 2011 when we started looking at [it], got BTOP funding, and then built these programs called Detroit Future. And there's Detroit Future Media, Detroit, Future Youth, and Detroit Future Schools, none of which are associated with Detroit Future City. That came after our success. The one I ran, which I'll speak about, is the Detroit Future Media. And the idea of broadband adoption was not getting people a connection to the Internet, but showing people how to move from being consumers of media to be producers. So what if we all created online businesses or digital media to share a campaign and then move that from the analog world as a community into the digital world as a community. So, one of the best metaphors I like around this is sort of moving from the concept of the Internet as the information super highway to more of a neighborhood that has the equivalent of bike paths, parks, and public spaces. And so we learned that, like, because of the sort of inequity within technology in general and the structural racism that exists within Detroit, that it was very scary for people to go online. It's an overwhelming place, and there's racism and sexism and all this stuff that exists. And so that's where we were, like, if we come together as a community, we can carve out the spaces that we need in order to really start to develop this online space.

Christopher Mitchell: If you don't mind, Diana, let me jump in for a second because I think a lot of my listeners are probably coming from a place where they're not experiencing that on a regular basis. And I can immediately imagine that, you know, on Twitter in particular that we've certainly seen a lot of ugliness. In fact, people who change their avatar from a white man to a woman or particularly a woman of color, they certainly see a tremendous level of abuse they had never seen before. But I'm curious if there's other things in terms of discrimination that again, I probably wouldn't even be aware of that that come to your mind, just to paint that picture for some listeners.

Diana Nucera: I think gender violence is definitely something that comes to mind, like Gamergate and the community. Anyone who actually wanted to create — a woman who wanted to create a new kind of gaming, and there's literally groups that are formed to prevent you from doing these things. So I think it happens within a lot of gender dynamics. But then you have to consider, like, the Internet is just a reflection of the analog world. And so whatever issues you have in the analog world, so your day to day whether it be economic disparity or sexual racism or domestic violence, all of that is just reiterated online with anonymous, sometimes, people behind it. So if you're someone who's dealing with any of that stuff in your analog world, it's sort of like a myth that you would then go online and it would be a new life or a new space, but it's like, all of that exists what's on there. So I don't want to boil it down to people's personal stories because I don't have their consent to share it on this podcast, but to give you a generalized sense, I think that's the best way I can describe it inside. It's like anything that we deal with as a society on the day to day is reflected on the Internet, and currently now I think it's easier to see because you have trolls, you have the election fraud that we've been dealing with, and how the Internet can be this sort of aggressive space. And I mean, just go on Facebook and see if anyone's ever ... Like, within two minutes I'm sure you'll come across an argument or some kind of put down or something. And so that is all very stressful and very confusing when you've just entered onto this space that you've been told has everything you'll ever need. You don't get told how to navigate the void of yelling that everyone is doing, or the yelling into the void that is also happening. So yes, you can learn how to build your own home probably and plumbing or whatever, and there's so much tools online, but there's all these social dynamics that are heightened because we're not face to face with each other. And I would almost say that the Internet reflects like 10 times more our issues with that are happening within the analog space because there isn't that face to face accountability. You could log off when you're done.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And so this is all really important because I think many of us are naively or just too simplistically think our goal is to get people online. And that's one of the things that your project's been working on, but you've recognized that giving people a high-quality Internet connection is not sufficient to get to the end state that we want, where people are empowered, people are having better outcomes, kids have more opportunities in life, and things like that. It's not just about the connection. It's about making sure they're able to take advantage of it.

Diana Nucera: Yeah. And create their own with it because so much of the Internet surfing is about consumption. So what economic opportunities or social opportunities are there if you're online, and what can you create online? That's something that, you know, we looked at a lot in our Detroit Future programs. Looking at broadband adoption, not receiving a connection or a skill in particular, but looking at all the possibilities of how the Internet integrates within our work, in our lives, and then working with others to really enhance what they're doing to then use the internet as an opportunity. So for instance, back in the day, it was 2011 to 2013, a lot of people built media for small businesses that were struggling in Detroit and looked at the opportunity of e-commerce as a thing, but they needed to tell their stories. So storytellers are extremely important, the media makers are really important in this ecology, in looking at all those different components of the different roles people can play within creating a healthy digital ecosystem. And yeah, like you said, a connection or the wireless engineering is just one role. But then we surely realize how important that role is because once we got to the time when it was time to upload all of the media that we created and taught people how to do, we recognized very quickly that the infrastructure within Detroit was pretty lackluster and that a lot of people did not have connections. And then it was in 2013, Bill Callahan came out with his piece on Detroit, revealing that 40 percent of Detroiters had no connection at all and 60 percent were without broadband. And at that point we said, okay, well, now none of this media matters if there's no infrastructure. And so then we switched our direction to looking at the infrastructure of the Internet, which we teamed up with the Open Technology Institute and learned a lot about mesh networking and eventually developed our own curriculum. And then the Detroit Community Technology Project was formed to specifically work on like the growth of community technology. So looking at it as fostering this movement from consumer to producer with people looking at infrastructure accountability — so looking at data, and like what do we need to be aware of, and vulnerabilities around our cities, and stuff like that — and then developing a workforce of a wireless engineers that are based in communities to build out their own infrastructure. And then, so we had a few years of really working through that curriculum and those sorts of programming. And the burst of the Equitable Internet Initiative happened in 2016, and that's when we finally actually began feeding our incubating Internet service providers, mashing it all together, where you have network engineers that are from the community building out infrastructure. You have youth building applications that can live on these networks because they have an Intranet as well as Internet connections. And so everything sort of mashes together from the beginning of 2007. And so today, thinking about, once you have an infrastructure, all the responsibilities behind it, but also all the potential of modeling the type of digital world do you want to see. So we're very, very excited about incubating these Internet service providing companies within nonprofits that are practicing net neutrality, that are practicing consumer rights, and then are practicing privacy, security, and consent with your customers. So I think that I'm most excited about this work in actually looking at the vision we had in 2007 and seeing it come to fruition in 2018. It'll be so much more than we would ever imagine because when do you get an opportunity to build the world you want to see, you know?

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that you're doing, that's very interesting, through the Equitable Internet Initiative is you have multiple ISPs. But maybe just give us a brief overview of what the ISPs do. Just give us an overview of how EII works.

Diana Nucera: Sure. So yeah, we're not mesh at all. I think a lot of people — I think there's been a big mesh movement, and that's wher people go to when they think of community work. And I think the scale that we were trying to work at didn't work for mesh engineering,

Christopher Mitchell: The scale — is that because you have too big of a vision and you don't have a sense of how the Mesh would scale to meet all of the need that you see your group solving?

Diana Nucera: Yeah. So from our experience, we started off with mesh and we built seven small networks using mesh technologies, and issues that we've been having with those is they're great for small scale community, like a couple blocks. But when you start to build out like hundreds of customers, at least for us we recognized that we just get bogged down because the difference between mesh system and other systems is that the routers are able to beacon back to every single router on the network. So the more you add, the more information gets distributed and that can bog down the actual information passing through the system. So we've learned that sometimes the mesh system are actually a lot slower and can't actually output the bandwidth that we're using. So we purchase wholesale, gigabit connections and I've yet to sort of find a mesh router that can push out more than a gig.

Christopher Mitchell: And so you said you were purchasing the gigabit at wholesale, and I think it's worth noting that. This is not — no one's donating you these connections, but you are in fact paying for your connectivity to the Internet.

Diana Nucera: Well, we wanted them to be donated. So we saw this as a community benefit agreement, and it would have been an amazing community benefit agreement, but with some sort of political things happening in the local election, we got sideswiped and had to turn it into a business transaction. But since then we received many donations, um, and are able to scale because of those donations. I don't think it's a lot to do with the exposure of the work, but our first purchase was like a two year long negotiation, primarily because I don't think people thought that this normal for a consumer to say, or a customer to be like, I'm going to buy wholesale and create my own network. Although this is quite normal within the world of the Internet, but like, how much do you know about the world of the Internet? I mean it's taken me years to demystify the structure, who owns what, how information flows, and it's all very complicated and confusing and not accessible to the general public. So it's been sort of our goal within this work to demystify how the Internet works and where you can fit in to do this because in purchasing this connection it really freed us up to build these Internet service providers. I think if we would've had a donation, it would have looked a little different because we were kind of forced to create a business model. I mean we very well could have worked along their nonprofit lines for this time, but because of that business transaction, we had to think about scale, we had to think about sustainability and workforce development, and all that. So I like to call it a blessing in disguise even though it was quite a painful task.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure.

Diana Nucera: But you know, I say this a lot. I think being a woman in those negotiations, and particularly a woman of color, because I don't know if it would have taken that long for someone like yourself to be able to negotiate these things. So I think part of this work, at least I'm hoping, shows, like, the different types of technologists that can exist and the different roles they could play, and that women and women of color and folks with disabilities and elders all have a seat at the table, or should, because they're very important perspectives. But I don't think we've seen that in any sort of telecom world, and I mean I'd be surprised if — I would love if you could have people call in right now, and be like, "Call in if you know how the Internet works," and I'd be surprised if you had more than five callers.

Christopher Mitchell: Relevant to that point, I think it's one of the things that you and I have talked about before, is one of the challenges you have is that you are employing people from these communities who often do not have opportunities in this sector. And you're giving them skills or they're learning skills from you on the job, and now you're finding that you're in some ways being abused, I would say, by other ISPs who are just seeing these trained people and they're able to offer them higher wages. And so you know, it's one of those things where it is like a beneficial outcome on the whole, but you're the one that's really taking the brunt of it.

Diana Nucera: Yeah, and it's silly. I mean, those are the same people that said no when we first started that now want to be a part of it and sort of poach our people. You're right. It is really interesting to look at because this never was a workforce development or pipeline type of situation because I can't imagine taking our stewards and plopping them into some kind of downtown tech company. I feel like they would crumble and they would hate it. Not because they're not capable of doing the work; it's just because the culture is so different. So when I hear people talk about a digital inclusion or, you know, diversity, it's such a problematic framework in my mind because it's sort of like, "Okay, now we're going to include you into our thing." And it's like no, our approach was to say, well that thing was not built for us so we're going to build something that is and that when we build it we're going to make sure that it allows for other people who are facing that same sort of marginalized situation to have entry points in. So I'm less interested in feeding our digital stewards into a tech world and more interested in creating the tech world in which people can come and be a part of [it]. Because I — it's just such a tricky scenario. Like, there's so much code switching that I have to do as a human in this world, in this tech world, that I would never put on anybody else. It is taxing. It is anxiety driven, and it's depressing. And so I think along the way as you build this, it's sort of like learning. It's not necessarily building a counterculture. And I'm learning from moss. That's my biggest inspiration at this point. Moss is one of the most vital plants species of this planet that's created our earth's atmosphere, and it's hundreds of millions of years old, and it's so small, and it grows where no one can or will. I think that's where we're at right now. It's like I want to build a space where people who no one will employ can have a viable future in doing work that they love for their community, not for a CEO somewhere.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, well I fully support that. I mean, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance revels in those sorts of ... in that approach of recognizing that that your goal shouldn't be necessarily just to figure out how to succeed on the terms of other people, but how your community can thrive on its own terms. And over time, you know, rather than trying to bend yourself to fit in the world for other people, let them bend themselves to fit into your world as you build power.

Diana Nucera: Yeah. That's a fact.

Christopher Mitchell: So as we're running out of time, I just want to make sure people have a sense of the nature of the actual networking that you're involved in. So maybe just run us through — you know, you lease these wholesale gigabit connections. What are some of the ways that that gets out to connect people in their homes.

Diana Nucera: The first step was getting these connections. Then there was engineering and figuring out where are they going. So we worked with three different community groups, specifically nonprofits, that were doing digital literacy work already. So we work with Faith In Action in Southwest Detroit, WNUC radio station, which is a community radio station in North End Detroit, and then Boulevard Harambee in Islandview on the east side of Detroit. Each of those either have like a fab lab or some kind of radio show, they do beat making, or in Southwest they had youth entrepreneurship and co-op development. And so they were already doing some kind of digital work and were interested in this. And so then we engineered to get it to their location, which was very interesting. Some of the terrain was really easy straight shot where you're doing point to point from downtown where our backhaul was to the North End or something, and it's just a wireless connection. And then on the west side where the buildings are a lot lower than the trees — 'cause when you're dealing with wireless, it's like dealing with radio waves, so there are obstructions and waves get absorbed. There's a lot of engineering around that. So there was all this organizing around where's a rooftop that we can go to and then get it to the other two locations that we need. So along this way, along the process to get folks started is that you have to sort of organize rooftop real estate, I like to call it. And that's where our specialty is; we teach organizing. A lot of people could just do a business transaction that rents the rooftop, but we've been working with community groups, and churches in particular because they all have steeples, and looking at this as how do we exchange, like if you would like some Internet for exchange of use of your rooftop. And threre's all this sort of organizing that happens in the neighborhoods that we support the neighborhood organizations in doing. From there, we train the trainer with our curriculum. Our curriculum is a quite robust. It is 32 lesson plans I think that are each like three hours long, so it's a good three month program. And they do all the recruiting, and we just train the trainers and support the trainers in learning. And then once they're done, within the class they actually create a map and they do all the surveying to understand where Internet is needed, how people would use it, so that they can then build a network based off of need. Once the class is done, we've hired five stewards from each group to then take those plans that the class started and then build them out. Those stewards, they've been hired for two years now. They work part-time, and their job is to sort of take the infrastructure that we've built, which is a point to point to the community org, and then we've worked with them to build a distribution network that creates a zone. And then the stewards take that connection and they bring it into the home. And it's all done wirelessly. Some of the apartment buildings, there might be some cables and stuff like that, but ... We sort of have three different layers, and the stewards are responsible for finding the customers, they're responsible for hooking them up and then dealing with any of the payments if they do that, and also setting the payments. So our scale of payment is different within each neighborhood. Some of them are $0 to $20 a month. Some of them are $0 to $50 a month. It just really depends on the economics of the neighborhood. And now, we've built out all our networks to 50 homes, and our stewards are currently expanding and working towards a business plan. I think they each want to eventually serve about 250 people for each home by 2021, and if they do, they will make a profit and be self sustainable. So I really look forward to this phase of the work, which is just seeing once you've seeded it, where will it go?

Christopher Mitchell: As I understand it, one of the other customers isn't just people in their homes but businesses for some of these neighborhood ISPs.

Diana Nucera: Definitely. So the businesses play huge role in helping us with the distribution. For instance, in Southwest there's this business called Mangonadas that everyone hangs out at and goes to, and they supported in having community events and they gave the rooftop up. So the businesses play a big role, not just as a customer, but also as an organizing partner. And also churches — like, all of the three groups that we work with are all church-based. And I realized this a couple of years down the line. I was like, "What is this? Why do we keep working with churches so much?" And then I'm like, "Oh, because they have steeples and they have people," and they very much recognize it.

Christopher Mitchell: They're great human network in addition to the steeples. So anywhere in the world you go, you'll find marginalized communities often are organizing around some kind of faith, you know. It's just that throughout history it's just been very common.

Diana Nucera: Yeah, and even in the digital age.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well the last thing I wanted to make a note of is to thank you because I certainly hear from groups around the country that either have studied what you're doing, have gone there and learned from you, or have studied from people who learned what they were doing by going in and visiting with you. And so, you know, this is something that over the years has really been contributing to these bottom up solutions. And I think that's terrific what a commitment that you've had to sharing your lessons. So I don't know if you have anything to say about that, but I wanted to thank you for that — that approach.

Diana Nucera: It's a little overwhelming, but it's also very inspiring to see the movement just take off — almost see people believe that they can shape infrastructure. That's something that keeps us going. And you know, our model's just one. It may or may not work in your place, but the one thing that we've learned that kind of goes across the board is this idea of ensuring that community organizing is a large part of building infrastructure, and it's not just based in tech or tech heads, and that there needs to be a diversity of people at the table to build these system. So if there's one thing folks take away from our model is that, I hope, and knowing that we can't keep repeating the same systems within a homogenous setting. But it definitely requires radical rethinking of need, accessibility — not just in getting access to something but people's bodies being able to access doing this work. Yeah, it's that elders are very capable as well as youth and that the combination of all of them combined create, like, an ecosystem or the world that you're trying to build, and that that requires patience. This work takes time and love. So if you're going to go for it, make sure you have those two things.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a very good advice to wrap up with. And I would just say that, you know, your example of the two years to negotiate the wholesale agreement is a testament to that. Because people don't always appreciate — "Okay, well it took two years. That's a long time." But you know, I'll bet that 18 [or] 20 months into that, you were thinking, "Has this been a waste of time? Is this ever gonna end? Are we going to, like, nail this down or not?" You know, uncertainty is a killer. And when people are having that uncertainty, I think it's really helpful to be able to look out and say, "Look at what these folks at the Detroit Community Technology Project have done. They got through it. We can do it too." So I think it's really important what you've done.

Diana Nucera: Thank you. I appreciate you. Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: Thanks, Diana.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Diana Nucera. She took some time out of her schedule to share information about the Detroit Community Technology Project. Learn more about the program at We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 323 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

More Fiber Than Cows: Report Confirms South Dakota’s Rural Networks Above Average

September 19, 2018

South Dakota has more cows than people — and if you live in a rural community outside of the state, it’s possible that all those bovines may have better Internet access than you do.

South Dakota Dashboard recently released a report on rural Internet access in the state. It was commissioned by the South Dakota Telecommunications Association (SDTA), whose members include cooperative, municipal, and tribal providers. The report, Connecting South Dakota’s Future: A Report on the Deployment & Impact of Rural Broadband, found that rural connectivity in the state significantly exceeds national averages, proving that high-quality Internet access is possible even in the most rural areas.

Download the report for more details.

Summary of Findings

According to the report, more than three quarters of rural South Dakotans who subscribe to Internet access from SDTA members have access to speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, which are the federal minimums for broadband. Across the country, approximately 61 percent of rural residents have access to those speeds.

Furthermore, 65 percent of people who subscribe to Internet access from SDTA members receive service through Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP). In contrast, only around 40 percent of rural telecommunications company subscribers nationwide are connected via fast and reliable fiber optic lines.

This is all despite the fact that, with fewer than five residents per square mile, deploying fiber costs on average $3,571 per resident in the rural regions served by SDTA members versus about $26 per resident in the more densely populated Sioux Falls.

Fast Internet Speeds Nothing New for South Dakota

In June of this year, we reported on PCMag’s annual ranking of the fastest Internet service providers (ISPs) in the country, which chose South Dakota as the state with the second fastest ISPs. Its neighbor North Dakota also landed itself in the top five fastest states.

Rural cooperatives take much of the credit for the high ranking. As was the case with bringing electricity to rural areas in the early part of the 20th century, so is the situation with high-quality connectivity in the early part of the 21st century. One of the cooperatives we've highlighted to bring fiber to members is Venture Communications Cooperative, which is delivering gigabit speeds to residents, schools, and businesses. Learn more about the role of cooperatives in deploying rural fiber optic networks by reading our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Inernet Era.

Way to go, South Dakota! 

Connecting South Dakota's Future: A Report on the Deployment & Impact of Rural BroadbandTags: south dakotacooperativerural electric coopruralreport

Building Digital Equity in Detroit - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 323

September 18, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 323 - Diana Nucera, Director of the Detroit Community Technology Program

This week on the podcast, we get insight into a community network that puts extra emphasis on the word “community.” Diana Nucera, Director of the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) talks with Christopher about how the people in her city and their diversity are the driving forces behind the connectivity they have created.

Diana and Christopher review the origins of the DCTP and some of the challenges Diana and her group have had to contend with to get the project this far. She also describes how the program is doing more than providing Internet access at a reasonable cost and how perspectives about technology extend into many other areas of life. Those perspectives influence how people use or don’t use the Internet, which in turn, impact digital inclusion. Getting people online is only one ingredient in the recipe for digital equity.

In addition to information about the specific ways stewards in the program help expand it, Diana describes how they and other participants in the program have benefitted in unexpected ways. She shares the progress of the DCTP and, most importantly, some of the valuable lessons that she’s learned that can help other communities who may decide to establish similar programs to help improve digital inclusion on a local level.

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

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or download the 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.

Check out this interview with Diana from November 2017:

Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitsdetroitmichigandigital dividelow incomedetroit community technology project

Introducing the Community Networks Quickstart Program, Our New Service with NEO Partners

September 18, 2018

Determining if a publicly owned network is right for your community is a multi-step, complex process. Many factors will influence whether or not the residents, business owners, and local leaders in your community will want to make an investment in Internet access infrastructure. ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative is now working with NEO Partners, LLC,* to help local communities in the early phases as they consider investing in publicly owned infrastructure. For a limited time, a few select communities will receive special pricing to help spread the word about the Community Networks Quickstart Program. Apply by September 28th to be considered as one of the pilot communities.

Let us know at:

Please include the proposed study region, an estimate for the number of premises to be considered, and any relevant factors. We will select up to four communities with the goal of having a mix of rural and urban, large and small, and geographic distribution.

Knowledge of the Possibilities is Power

When it comes to planning for deployment or expanding existing infrastructure, one of the most challenging unknowns is cost. With our new Community Networks Quickstart Program, we will provide cost estimates for three possible models for communities who sign up for the service:

1. Full Fiber-to-the-Premise

2. Full Wireless

3. Hybrid

In addition to an estimate on cost, we will consider the size, population, and other characteristics of your community and provide advice and resources that will be the most effective for your community’s situation. You’ll also receive a recommended design that you can refer to as you work with consultants, engineers, and as you apply for grant or loan funding. Our mission is to give you some preliminary information and guidance to make your work with an in-depth consultant more effective. We are not replacing the need for in-depth design work.

Each community is unique, so after you provide some basic information about your community, we'll seek out more specific data to help with our analysis. We’ll hold a conference call with you to review the results and provide documentation on our analysis and additional resources that we believe will provide additional insight.

Our design advice stems from years of working with other communities and we have years of research that examines how local communities have overcome challenges or capitalized on their existing advantages. Our goal is to swiftly provide your community with preliminary information to help you move forward as you begin planning to improve local connectivity.

Be One of Our Pilot Communities

The set rate for the Community Networks Quickstart Program is $0.40 per premise within the study area; there is no cap on the number of premises. We do have a $250 minimum. In order to introduce Community Networks Quickstart, and to fine tune the program, we’re selecting several pilot communities to receive the service at a reduced rate of $0.15 per premise.

To apply for this significantly reduced rate, contact us by September 28th. We encourage communities of all sizes to contact us to learn more and to apply to become one of our pilot communities:

*NEO Partners, LLC, is not related to the Neo Connect Fiber consulting firm. 

Tags: cnquickstartFTTHneo partnerschristopher mitchellplanningfeasibilityconsideration

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 17

September 17, 2018



Ocala, Florida’s fiber delivering for decades by Lisa Gonzalez for ILSR, National League of Cities 



Georgia falling behind in the move to bring broadband-like service to rural areas by Charlie Harper, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 



Beshear: high-quality broadband Internet essential economic infrastructure for Kentucky small businesses, skilled workforce by Andy Beshear, BereaOnline 

Broadband Internet expansion proposed by Jennifer Peryam Georgetown News-Graphic



Springfield council hears arguments for community broadband by Barry Kriger,  



Ajit Pai helped Charter kill consumer-protection rules in Minnesota by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica


New York

Nonprofit offers to serve as broadband conduit by Pete Demola, The Sun 


North Carolina

Grant to expand broadband access in county by Carl Blankenship, Avery Journal


West Virginia

Broadband access project will help Southwest Virginia, Bluefield West Virginia

W.Va. residents, businesses continue to languish in broadband desert by Charlie Dennie, The State Journal



O’Rielly suggests reverse auction for $600 Million USDA e-connectivity pilot by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor


Non-profits push back against Big Cable's bumpkin broadband blueprint for America by Kieren McCarthy, The Register

Will electric co-ops close the digital divide? by Dave Nyczepir, RouteFifty

FCC inaccurately collects data on broadband access in tribal lands by Kate Patrick, Inside Sources 

Surprise! Wireless ISPs throttle video streaming by Nathaniel Mott, Tom’s Hardware 

About a quarter of rural Americans say access to high-speed Internet is a major problem by Monica Anderson, Pew Research Center

FCC releases form 477 data on broadband deployment, Federal Communications Commission

A rising threat to the Internet: water by Carol Barford, FastCompany

Consumer, tech and civil rights groups form Broadband Connects America coalition, Telecompaper (requires subscription)

Planning a hospital strategy for broadband, telehealth expansion by Eric Wicklund, mHealth Intelligence

FCC speed tests for ISPs by Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs

How new FCC rollbacks could cut off rural Americans from the Internet by Mack DeGeurin, New York Magazine

INSIGHT: Congress needs to put the net neutrality debate to rest to help close the digital divide by Hon. Rick Boucher, Sidley & Austin LLP, Bloomberg Law

US govt confirms FCC's broadband speeds and feeds stats are garbage by Kieren McCarthy, The Register

Tags: media roundup

Holland Shifts From Construction to Operation

September 17, 2018

Holland, Michigan, has now officially transitioned from construction into operation of their downtown fiber optic network.

After a spring decision to expand the range of the initial pilot project, community leaders began contemplating the possibility of offering Internet access directly to the public. Local residents and businesses had long remained unsatisfied with the options they had from incumbents AT&T and Comcast. Entrepreneurs and business owners took to pressuring elected officials into making more use of the community’s existing fiber to improve connectivity.

Holland Board of Public Works (BPW), which had deployed the fiber in the 1990s, used its fiber infrastructure for electric utility purposes and had already been offering wholesale services to a limited number of local businesses. They’ve taken a slow and steady approach toward their pilot and expansion efforts in order to investigate all the options as they move forward.

As in the case of pilots in Westfield, Massachusetts, or Owensboro, Kentucky, the success of the pilot in Holland will help determine whether or not the BPW will extend the network to more residents and businesses. According to the Holland Sentinel, BPW had connected 96 downtown subscribers to the network as of September 13th. The new connections will generate approximately $135,720 in annual revenue and BPW is still taking subscribers at their website.

Subscribers can sign up for symmetrical gigabit access for $85 per month or enhanced gigabit connections for $220 per month. The latter offers additional features that businesses are most likely to need, such as static IP addresses, service level agreements, and priority restoration.

Helping Out Neighbors, Too

Holland’s northeast neighbor, Hudsonville, received a grant earlier this year for downtown development and will be working with BPW to bring fiber to their community also. BPW fiber already runs through the center of Hudsonville, and the streets will be excavated for the project, making this is an opportune time for a similar upgrade.

There’s more about Holland’s network, the services they offer, and the project in episode 269 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher spoke with Broadband Services Manager Pete Hofswell.

Tags: holland mimichiganFTTHpilot projectpilotdowntowngigabit

These Minnesotans Are Fed Up With Frontier

September 14, 2018

People in Wyoming, Minnesota, gathered together on September 12th to bend the ear of officials from the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Ann Treacy from the Blandin Foundation attended the meeting and recorded most of the conversation from the 100 or so frustrated and fed-up folks. The meeting was one of five organized by the PUC after a record number of complaints by incumbent telephone and Internet access provider Frontier.

A Shared Reality

It’s safe to say that “frustration” was the star of the night, as everyone who spoke mentioned how it had consumed their experience with Internet access from Frontier. People who spoke at the meeting included those who worked from home, business owners, parents with families whose kids needed Internet access for homework, and retired folks who just wanted to enjoy a quiet evening streaming a movie.

Most of the people who spoke at the meeting said that they needed to run mobile hotspots or had given up on Frontier’s DSL service and now rely solely on hot spots to avoid the frustration of dealing with terrible service. Several people at the meeting don’t have the option of mobile hotspots because there’s no cell coverage where they live.

In addition to horribly unreliable connectivity, where the only consistency is dropped service, people expressed anger about overpaying for Internet access that was down far too often — even for weeks at a time. When they were able to get online, many people who spoke at the meeting reports horrifically slow speeds and feel they are being “ripped off” because they never reach the “up to” speed that they pay for each month. Once woman has documented her line’s performance and the fastest download speed she has reached is .96 Megabits per second (Mbps); the slowest is .05 Mbps. This same person has had limited success in cajoling Frontier to temporarily lower her bill since 2012.

People at the meeting reported confusing and frustrating experiences between customer service representatives and technicians who visited their homes for service calls. Technicians told subscribers to ignore customer service reps and vice versa. Technicians never showed up for scheduled service and people were especially annoyed that they had to pay $80 - $90 for service calls. Subscribers endured long wait-times on hold only to be hung up on and were refused when they wanted to talk to managers. Customer service reps even shamed subscribers when they called to report outages by suggesting they waited too long to call.

One gentleman said that, if he’d known dealing with Frontier and its terrible service was so difficult, he would never have moved to Wyoming from the Minneapolis suburbs.

Rural Minnesotans Know the Cure

Speaker after speaker pointed out that they recognize the root of the problem is lack of competition. In addition to their description of specific issues, almost every attendee expressed a desire to give their business to some other company but they had no other option for Internet access provider — none. Folks in Wyoming feel they’ve been mistreated because Frontier doesn’t have to worry about losing their business.

The people in Wyoming are right and Frontier isn’t the only company with the same attitude. Big cable and telecom companies have divided up America’s geography in to slices of monopoly pie, creating an environment in which subscribers can be neglected or even abused. With no other option for Internet access and our dependence on connectivity, subscribers face a tough choice between paying for horrible Internet access or having no connection at all.

Read more about Frontier and similar de facto monopolies in our 2018 report, Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom.

More Meetings; More Comments

If you’re affected by Frontier’s sub-par Internet access or telephone service in Minnesota, the PUC wants to hear from you. You can submit written comments until October 3rd. The remaining meetings are scheduled for:

Slayton, Minnesota

September 25, 2018 6:00p.m.

Slayton Public Library

2451 Broadway

Slayton, MN 56172


Lakeville, Minnesota

September 26, 2018 2:00p.m and 6:00p.m.

Lakeville Heritage Center

20110 Holyoke Avenue

Lakeville, MN 55044


Thanks, Ann, for sharing the videos of the conversation:

The "new Frontier logo" is by Hatchette, via Drawception.

Tags: frontierminnesotapublic utilities commissionpublic meetingcustomer serviceratesvideoblandin foundation

Fact Sheet Explains Why "Satellite Is Not Broadband"

September 13, 2018

As a nation our goal is ubiquitous broadband coverage so every person, regardless of where they live, can obtain the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access necessary for modern times. For people in rural areas, where large national wireline providers don’t typically invest in the infrastructure for high-quality connectivity, satellite Internet access is often their only choice. In our Satellite Is Not Broadband fact sheet we address some of the reasons why depending on satellite Internet access to serve rural America is a mistake.

Download the Satellite Is Not Broadband fact sheet here.

Satellites are Cool, But...

It’s a marvel that science has found a way to deliver data in such a manner, but satellite Internet access is not the panacea for rural connectivity. The technology still faces many shortcomings. Rural residents that must depend on satellite for Internet access pay more and get less.

There’s a misguided faction of decision makers who try to describe satellite Internet access as “broadband,” which is patently incorrect. For those who have never used this type of Internet access, especially for an extended period of time, the realities don’t present themselves. This fact sheet lays out many of the reasons why, if we allow satellite Internet access to be the final technology of choice in rural areas, we cheat people who live there. In addition to the negative daily impacts, the incorrect perception of satellite Internet access effectiveness can end or reduce funding for rural wireline projects that will bring better connectivity.

Like our other fact sheets, Satellite Is Not Broadband is succinct, accessible, and a strong addition to your efforts to inform policy makers, legislators, and others with limited satellite Internet access experience.

Download the Satellite Is Not Broadband fact sheet.

Tags: fact sheetresourcesatelliterurallatency

Still Time to Register for Great Lakes Connect in Fairlawn

September 12, 2018

You still have about two weeks to plan your trip to Fairlawn, Ohio, to attend Great Lakes Connect and now the agenda has fully developed to help you plan the specifics of your visit. “Creating Intelligent Network Infrastructure to Compete in the Global Economy” runs from September 24th - 26th at the Hilton and DoubleTree Hotels. You can still register online to attend.

Arrive on Monday for a tour of the city’s municipal network facility. Spend the afternoon hours touring FairlawnGig then rub elbows with experts and policy advocates at the Welcome Reception in the evening.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, you can attend a series of conversations and panel discussions focused on smart city issues, funding, and infrastructure. Organizers have speakers lined up from all sectors to discuss national, state, and local matters. 

A few of the topics:

  • Stories of local projects from Holland and Sebewaing in Michigan and Ohio’s Fairlawn and Dublin
  • Open access networks financing and success stories
  • Conversations about fiber, including outside plant architectures, the benefits, and its interaction with fixed wireless
  • Digital equity, customer satisfaction, and community anchor institutions

Check out the rest of the packed agenda here.

Gee, it’s Gigi!

Gigi Sohn, our favorite FCC Maven will join Christopher for the Tuesday Keynote, titled “The FCC: Can’t Live With It, Don’t Want to Live Without It.” Need we say more?

Register now for Great Lakes Connect.

Tags: eventfairlawn ohohiogigi sohnchristopher mitchell

Apply by September 28th to Accelerate Your Muni Project

September 12, 2018

In episode 320 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, aired on August 28th, we shared news about an opportunity regarding funding local Internet network infrastructure. Jase Wilson and Lindsey Brannon of Neighborly announced that the online investment platform had recently launched the Neighborly Community Broadband Accelerator. Applications to participate in the program close on September 28th, so we want to encourage local communities, Internet Service Providers, or community advocates interested in new ways to develop better local connectivity to check out the program.

More Than Money

For a quick recap, Neighborly is a technology company that provides an online investment platform to give individuals and entities the ability to invest in projects funded with municipal bonds. The projects are publicly owned and centered on improving the quality of life on the local level. Project areas include transportation infrastructure, schools and libraries, housing, and utilities. The accelerator program specifically aims to help local communities develop their own open access municipal networks to improve connectivity and encourage competition for broadband on the local level.

As Jase and Lindsey described in our interview, the numerous moving pieces associated with developing a fiber optic municipal network create a layered and complex project; a key element is financing. While it’s often left as a later consideration — one that makes or breaks the project — chances of success improve when community leaders address funding early and throughout projects development. 

One of the goals of the Accelerator Program is to help local communities interweave funding throughout the process. The program also provides additional resources throughout the process to help ease broadband network development. Applicants accepted to the program pay no fee and receive:

  • Tools to map, multiply & accelerate community engagement, including demand aggregation technology and marketing collateral to build a grassroots movement
  • Education sessions with leading experts who will share best practices for generating local support, working with civic leaders, overcoming legislative barriers, and designing, building and maintaining a network
  • Access to industry partners, including ISPs, network engineers, network builders, local utilities and advocacy groups at a local and national level
  • Neighborly financing at a competitive, below industry rate cost, and access to the global Neighborly Capital Network

Opening the Muni Bond Market for Broadband

Jase, Lindsey, and the rest of Neighborly concentrate investment in broadband projects on open access models as a way to increase competition and reverse the concentration of power that has plagued the Internet access industry. 

For us, to see the frustration about how the telcos and cable companies that were sort of accidentally bestowed the opportunity to run sort of local oligopolies in the Internet when the Internet evolved in the United States — to see them sort of… get into the arena and have to compete with each other and then having upstarts in the community that want access to the ability to serve the community… continues to keep them on their toes. That's the spirit of American capitalism, right?

While Neighborly believes municipal bond broadband investment should be directed toward open access projects, they don’t oppose other models. They recognize that every community is unique and needs to assess their own situation to determine what suits them. An advantage to this approach is that investors have the ability to invest in a broadband project in their own community. Members of the community who have invested have twice as much motivation to help the project excel.

Listen to the rest of the podcast episode for more on the Accelerator Program, the funding approach, and the company.

The First Cohort

In a recent interview with Route Fifty, Neighborly’s product manager Garrett Brinker said that the first set applicants accepted to the Accelerator program would be announced in November.

For its first cohort, the accelerator is looking for communities already seeing movement on broadband from local government or local advocacy groups. Brinker anticipates some of the communities selected will be able to begin building within a matter of months.

“That’s where we see the power of a community owned model,” he said. “We believe that access to the Internet should be equal by design.”

Learn more about the Community Broadband Accelerator Program here.

Tags: neighborlyfinancingbondmunilocalopen access

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 322

September 11, 2018


This is the transcript for episdoe 322 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Chris speaks with Richard Shockey, of Shockey Consulting and the SIP Forum, about how new technology is addressing the problems of spam phone calls, robocalls, and caller ID spoofing. Listen to the podcast here.



Richard Shockey: So you're making a cryptographic assertion that my telephone number is from who I am and that the network itself can double-check that and then provide you with some indicator of some form that in fact, there is a high probability that this call is from the person they're doing an ascertation for.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 322 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. By now, most of us are woefully familiar with spam phone calls, robocalls, and calls that spoof caller IDs. At the very least, they're annoying, disruptive, and make us feel like we've been tricked into answering a call we wouldn't otherwise give the time of day. In this week's podcast, Christopher speaks with a man who's working with others to try to curb these deceptive practices. Richard Shockey of Shockey Consulting has been in the telecommunications and technology business for decades, advising telecom and technology companies and investors, as well as national agencies. He fills many roles, but in recent years he's been on the SIP Forum, an IP communications industry association that engages in numerous activities that promote and advance SIP-based technology. Richard discusses how market conditions, lack of investment, and the transition to new technology has created the right situation in which robocalls and caller ID spoofing is much easier. He also describes a plan of attack to use technology to reverse the trend. He gets into the problems in implementing the approach, such as how to present the technology to end users and how to deal with errors, especially in reporting. Richard also goes on to describe how tackling the rules of adopting the new technology are a significant hurdle that needs to be resolved as we venture through the transition to voice over IP services. Now, here's Christopher with Richard Shockey of Shockey Consulting.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today I'm speaking with Richard Shockey, chairman of the SIP forum and a private telecommunications consultant. Welcome to the show, Richard.

Richard Shockey: Thank you very much, Chris. Pleasure to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: You and I have been interacting for years over email and on these various, um, discussion forums. And I've always thought you had a, you know, very sharp eye and a great wit, which I appreciate, but tell us a little bit of who you are and what you do.

Richard Shockey: Well, I've been involved in the telecommunications industry for most of my professional life. For the last 20 years or so, I've been doing any number of things, regarding telephony: the traditional time-division multiplexing, the classic POTS, and more specifically, voice over IP, which is really what SIP is all about. SIP stands for the Session Initiation Protocol, and it is the protocol of choice for really almost all of the modern real-time voice communications in the United States and frankly, globally as well. I've been involved with that for now over 20 years — first with the Internet Engineering Task Force, engineering the basic idea, and then now as chairman of the SIP Forum, basically advancing the state of the art further and of course dealing with the complications that have arisen because of the use of voice over IP, which is in part of the problem of robocalls and spoofing. You know, as I've said to you and people understand, the issue with robocalls and spoofing from time to time is no good deed goes unpunished.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Richard Shockey: And part of the problem is we wanted highly competitive markets in telecommunications, and you know, nowadays we don't think about picking up the phone and calling long distance, internationally, or locally, or anything else like that because we're all basically on one form of flat rate plan or not. And that was possible because of the dramatic reduction in transport costs that Internet protocols gave all of us. But that also opened up a window between the classic telephony protocols and the new IP protocols, and I don't think any of us were ultimately prepared for what was going to happen. And so that boundary between classic telephony, you know, the black phone that some of us still have, and the IP-based technology has created an attack vector that we're slowly but deliberately trying to close.

Christopher Mitchell: And that's something we're going to be talking about in greater depth, is some of these issues of the robocalls, spoofing, and how to get around to fixing it. One of the things that I wanted to just make sure we nail down though is what SIP is. And if I have it right, SIP is sort of that bit of magic that enabled — for me, the first application I was aware of it was Google Voice — the idea of calling a number and you could just keep changing where that number rang and make it a lot easier for one number to reach you wherever you are.

Richard Shockey: Exactly. And the beauty of SIP versus its competitors 20 years ago was [that] it's very simple. You know, years and years ago people would ask me, "Well, why SIP?" and I'd go, "Well, it's ASCII, stupid," — namely that if you actually look at the protocol from an engineering perspective, it's really a text file, like http, where you could literally read in the ASCII file what the session is supposed to be about, namely what audio codecs or video codecs that you want and all of these other kinds of things. So the signaling went from a highly complicated encrypted file across dedicated circuits to essentially just ASCII text going back and forth between endpoints that would establish a session. The classic SIP protocol looks like a trapezoid: one endpoint sends a signal to the other endpoint, they negotiate between themselves, and then the session is fundamentally established. And again, with modern IP protocol, you could do voice, you could do video, you could obviously do text as well, but voice is what's obviously the most prevalent application use for it. So right now, and this is actually the most interesting statistic, about I would say 65 to 70 percent of every single voice call in the United States is utilizing SIP at some particular point in time. So this would be almost all of the mobile operators are using it. A hundred percent of every cable operator uses SIP. And the advanced IP-based landline operators, which would include AT&T with it's U-Verse, Verizon Fios, and CenturyLink-like products, including the advanced rural carriers. I mean, Chattanooga, your membership — they're all basically using SIP at this particular point. It's about 65 to 70 percent of all voice calls utilize SIP in some way, shape or form. There is of course quite a bit of time-division multiplex still out there, but given the fact that carriers are slowly but deliberately replacing that equipment, we're pretty much getting there. So voice over IP is more dominant than I think people realize.

Christopher Mitchell: And then, Richard, one other point of clarification is, what is Shockey's Law? [It's] something that I see referenced from time to time.

Richard Shockey: Shockey's Law is actually pretty simple, which is, in most questions that we have in industry or business or even philosophy, money is the answer — what is the question?

Christopher Mitchell: I think about that frequently. Often people will sort of say, "Well, why exactly is this company doing that?" And inside my head, my first answer will often, you know, sort of come back to that.

Richard Shockey: Well, sure, and especially in communications technology, I mean, why do certain things happen the way they do? And typically it's like, "Oh, well they're going to make more money this way."

Christopher Mitchell: Or at least they perceive that they will.

Richard Shockey: They perceive that they will, and you know, that's an ancillary or a corollary to [the] original Shockey's Law, to a certain extent. So that's something that I, as a consultant and an industry observer, keep in the back of my mind literally all the time, which is, there's a reason things happen the way that they do and it's typically involving money.

Christopher Mitchell: So as we move into this, talking about the robocalls, the spoofing, the challenges that we're facing today, you know, it's worth remembering: I'm very critical of those who would claim we have a lot of competition in the broadband space. And I was criticizing the '96 Telecom Act recently, and Blair Levin looked at me and said, "Well, actually the '96 Telecom Act was really about creating competition for voice and that has been quite successful." Uh, I would have to agree with him on that. And one of the things that we've seen though is that despite the fact that we have a lot of benefits and voice is effectively a free app, more or less, for most of us, you know, there's a lot of problems that are happening that are causing us to use voice less often, such as the spam calls, the robocalls, just those sorts of annoyances that make us less likely to pick up the phone. I think it's something that's really damaged the value of the network.

Richard Shockey: Exactly. And the '96 act, as you correctly pointed out, actually created disincentives for the carriers to invest in the service itself. They wouldn't because the profit margins essentially were eliminated to a certain extent. But then the government itself has certain other issues involving the voice communications service, that it believes they're our primary, and people forget that the voice service is government's primary link to public safety: 9-1-1. And basically the whole public safety establishment to a certain extent is reliant on the voice communications service to actually operate. Even though we're slowly seeing the deployment of 9-1-1 text, you know, if you have a heart attack or you know, you need police or fire or one way or the other, you're going to call 9-1-1, and that depends upon voice.

Christopher Mitchell: For most of us, especially, our ability to convey information is much greater over a voice link than on a tiny keyboard that keeps mangling what we're trying to say.

Richard Shockey: Exactly. And you know, as I've often pointed out to people, especially nowadays, is never put anything into text that you would not want a federal prosecutor to read, which certainly, around here in Washington, DC, which is where I live, is now becoming more popular because again, people, don't look at text files and stuff like that. So there were a clash of market conditions and a lack of investment in the basic idea of real time voice communication, and this transition from classic circuits, which is time-division multiplex, to all IP technologies created essentially a perfect storm. And the perfect storm has created the robocall, caller ID spoofing problem, because now the attack factors are so easy to deal with. And it's like spam was, you know, a decade ago, but the problem was you could deal with spam in the email world because you could ultimately apply what are known as basic filters to the text itself to reduce the problem of a bad email. However, you cannot do that with voice. And we've had to come up with a entirely new way of thinking about this stuff. And so myself — and a lot of engineers, by the way — what happened was we were summoned to a little room here in downtown DC by Henning Schultzrinne, who's the former Chief Technology Officer of the FCC. He's also the father of SIP and a fully tenured professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Columbia University. And he basically said, "Look guys, we got to fix this." Uh, and it's like, okay...

Christopher Mitchell: What was the timeframe on that?

Richard Shockey: Four years ago.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So you were summoned to this after these problems had been evident for some time.

Richard Shockey: Yeah, and at that particular point, the commission during the last administration basically said, "Okay, enough is enough." And this began the process by which the engineering community would basically look at the totality of the problem and then attempt to develop a national solution or an international solution to the problem. So we basically looked at, okay, what are we trying to do here? And obviously, we realized that there's no silver bullet, that you're not going to eliminate robocalls or caller ID spoofing from the system — it's just too complicated. But you could suppress the problem to a degree that would recreate confidence in the entire system. There's always going to be bad actors. We all knew that. And you would need some databases that would, say for instance, alert the calling parties about whether or not this has been a reassigned number. You'd need to really look at the North American Numbering Plan, which numbers have been actually assigned versus ones that have not been allocated. You could do a lot of things as well, but one of the things that we began to center on was this idea of call authentication. The concept is that the caller ID, the number, is authenticated by the network itself. And it really came from the IP world, which is there's been problems in Internet land about spoofing IP numbers in the BGP, the border gateway protocol.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, how you'd go from one network to another network. Generally, you sort of rely on people to honestly advertise what networks they're in controll of.

Richard Shockey: Exactly, and so the genesis of what is now known as STIR/SHAKEN really came from these concepts that had been developed in the Internet to secure the border gateway protocol so that when you announced that you were authoritative for a range of IP addresses, that could be authenticated by the numbering authority, which in the United States is ARIN and it's RIPE in Europe and and all the various other authorities...

Christopher Mitchell: [chuckles] Sorry, all kinds of inappropriate jokes come to mind.

Richard Shockey: Yeah, I know. But what it is, is in the hierarchy of IP numbering, it's very similar to that of telephone numbering. You have this authority, which is ultimately IANA, and then goes down through ARIN and RIPE and APNIC and the rest of the five international registries, and then flows through to service providers and ultimately enterprises and individuals so that you could actually route it back and over the Internet. So there is a definitive trail of authority for IP addresses, and what we wanted to do was duplicate that in the telephone numbering world. At least in the United States and in Canada, we had that — we had a true authority in asserting the ownership of a telephone number, and in the United States that apex of authority is in fact the FCC, and it's the CRTC in Canada, et Cetera.

Christopher Mitchell: So I mean, ultimately, the issue is, is that somebody or some computer somewhere is initiating a call and cleaning it is who it is not right. And what you're trying to do is to make sure that when they do that, if they're calling me then my phone, before the call even gets to me perhaps, would say, "Wait a minute. This isn't what it seems."

Richard Shockey: Right, exactly. From a tactical perspective, what you're doing is called resource PKI, resource public key infrastructure. So you're making a cryptographic assertion that my telephone number is from who I am and that the network itself, in this case AT&T or verizon or whomever, can doublecheck that and then ultimately provide you with some visual indicator, or indicator of some form, that in fact there is a high probability that this call is from the person they're doing an ascertation for. So part of the problem that we've had and why this has taken so long is that first of all, you have to put this public key infrastructure in place. And PKI is everywhere in the economy. I mean, it's in your smart meters. You're probably sitting on five PKI certificates literally in your wallet because it's the way the new modern credit cards operate. So the technology was relatively understood, but one of the problems that we're struggling with, even now, is what do we display to the consumer or to the business or whomever about what we think this process is accomplishing. Is it — do we put a big green checkmark, you know, in front of the call when you look at your smart phone? Do we have, like, a yellow caution triangle if we think that you should exercise caution and then maybe a big red stop sign? Or do we look at something like traffic lights? It's these kinds of things. You are rethinking the voice communications service almost fundamentally at that particular point. And the other aspect is, can we actually enhance the call identification service, you know, which is tactically referred to as CNAM, which would be the verbose ASCII name that occasionally shows up on your phone or you know, in some way, shape, or form. I mean, could we add a picture or logo a theme song or something else like that. There actually is a business case for doing it. For instance, American Express or Visa, Mastercard, the banks, one or the other — they really want you to pick up the phone when they suspect that there may be fraud on your account. So they would actually like to display a logo that says this really is from Bank of America and it is authenticated from being from Bank of America. Also UPS, the Postal Service, and FedEx would like to be able to send you authenticated messages that say yes, the package is literally at your doorstep now, and you know, maybe you ought deal with it because of the ongoing problem with porch pirates. The other thing is that hospitals and medical establishment are also very, very interested in figuring out ways to get you to actually answer the phone because the call acceptance rates now are plummeting, and that really bothers a lot of people in the contact center marketplace because they can't get through to consumers because nobody trusts the voice service anymore.

Christopher Mitchell: So I want to move up the stack for a second and talk a little bit more about the people who are making decisions. But before I get there, I want to just do one final piece on that, which is, I think some people might be thinking, well, right now already, if I have an android phone, maybe — I know that my Google Pixel did this, my Nexus did it — you know, it might say spam call and that's based on what others have reported, right? I mean, it's not using this technology that you're talking about. And it's often wrong, it seems to me, because I'll get calls from legitimate spam that are labeled spam, but there'll also be calls from the public television station trying to get me to renew my membership.

Richard Shockey: It's true, and we're sorting through all of the problems, literally as we speak. We have a whole group of new companies that are basically doing data analytics on the phone service, and they're making value judgments about whether or not a call is true or not. And you're beginning to see the problem: false positives. And we certainly saw that in spam in the email world. It is going to take time to sort some of this stuff out, but one of the things that the regulators, the commission, has made it perfectly clear to people is there's got to be a way to report error in the system. I've certainly had this running my own domain, which is you get on a spam list and how do I get off? Because you really don't know that the system is not transparent about error reporting. So one of the things that the FCC and others are emphasizing to those of us in the tactical community is if we start putting these call blocking technologies in place, then there's gotta be some way of reporting error because inevitably there will be an error.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I've had the impression of is that — as I said, I wanted to talk a little bit more about sort of humans and less about the technology as we wrap up — but is that the impression, you've said, we know how to solve this technologically. You're having a challenge in getting people to make it a priority or to implement it or what's happening there? Am I understanding that correctly?

Richard Shockey: Yes, you are. And first of all, you know, carriers are carriers, and this is a technological change. And I have warned the government and the FCC to have realistic expectations. The thing is this is still the voice communications service of the United States, and it takes time to deploy a technology across the board. And I basically — even though we now know pretty much what needs to be done, it's going to take two years to deploy. And that's because the carriers have to provide the supplier community with requirements, and then Nokia or Lucid or or whomever then actually have to build product. Erickson, all of them. That takes them at least a year one way or the other. And once the products are actually built, then they have to go through, you know, a variety of network testing in some way, shape, or form before they can actually be deployed. Then we've got the other complication of trying to get basically Google and Apple to try and support the various pieces of the technology inside the mobile handsets. And then of course there's the enterprise call centers and PBX systems. This stuff takes time. I cannot wave a magic wand and make this thing happen. We've been at this for four years, and we're only now beginning to put the infrastructure in place to make this thing work. And that's probably going to take most of 2019 and 2020 — you know, 2020 — to get everything done. The Canadians are just about where we are. They have actually mandated the deployment of STIR/SHAKEN and all of this technology. The British, who have a real problem, it's going to take much, much longer for them to deal with. So we're there; we know what to do. And even now, however, you can download applications for your smartphone from both AT&T and Verizon and T-Mobile and Sprint, and you'll get some pretty dramatic results pretty darn quickly, but it gets better as we sort of move down the road.

Christopher Mitchell: Do you have any that you recommend?

Richard Shockey: Talk to your, you know, service provider. If you're looking AT&T, they have a downloadable app. I know the folks; there's HIYA that's involved in providing that. Typically the service providers for mobile devices have a recommended app that they're using, and it's best to check with them. I certainly use the one that AT&T recommends — and it's free. They do have some enhanced versions and stuff like that as well. It's pretty good. What we want to do is deal with the traditional landline phones and especially figure out a way to deal with how to alert very vulnerable communities to calls, and by that I mean, you know, elderly, aging people who have been victimized in the past. The problem is dealing with that not just on the smartphone — so that's one thing — but you know the traditional black telephone as well. That's going to be a little bit more complicated. The cable operators, by the way, they've already demonstrated how to display STIR/SHAKEN on the TV set as the inbound call comes in.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, okay.

Richard Shockey: Yeah, so they're there. I mean, Comcast has developed a pretty slick app for them, and Charter is going to deploy it [and] so is Rogers and Shaw in Canada as well. So there is an enormous amount of creative thinking among the engineering community about how to deal with this. I mean, everybody's pissed and we want a solution, and so we will start to see this stuff deploy on all kinds of devices, you know, in the next 24 months. And I will say one time: the FCC, Chairman Pai, and all the staff down there have been incredibly supportive. I've met with the chairman probably four or five times on this subject alone, and the chairman has made it perfectly clear that this is his number one consumer priority and they'll get it done. And of course Chairman Wheeler in the previous administration, you know, he had the robocall task force, which was very, very supportive. We've been on the case now for quite some time.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'm glad to hear that. I'm glad to hear both that there's hope, that we'll see these solutions rolling out in the very near future, but also that this is something that is being taken seriously by both the Democratic and the Republican recent chairs/current chairs of the FCC.

Richard Shockey: In the last administration and this [one], they could not have been more supportive. By the way, there's another — I'm aware of another task force has been put together by the state attorney generals that are asking highly pointed questions about what's being done and what the deployment timelines are. Everybody gets this. I mean, if it wasn't an election cycle, I think there would probably be more hearings on Capitol Hill about it [with the] Senate and House Commerce Committees, also the Senate Committee on Aging, for instance, because again the enormous worry about vulnerable populations and stuff like that. It's slowly but deliberately coming, and again, the thing for community networks as well is part of this is as you move to the broadband platform, you could actually pull all of this stuff in place. It's going to be increasingly difficult for classic time-division multiplexing vendors, you know, with traditional copper infrastructure to deploy any solution at all. I get asked that question constantly: "Well, what about the legacy networks? What about the copper networks?" I'm going, well, I can't do anything.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Richard Shockey: You just can't. It's not possible. That's going to put, I think, smaller communities without advanced infrastructure at a substantial disadvantage.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I would assume — I mean, it's really often the companies like Frontier, Windstream, you know — they have a lot of customers for whom they have not upgraded to the Internet protocol, IP, technologies. And so in terms of a single entity that's probably gonna be the ones that are harder hit.

Richard Shockey: Exactly. You mentioned the two classics. I mean, when you look at Windstream, Frontier, Consolidated, even Hawaii Telecom for instance, they are substantially — you know, Cincinnati Bell for instance — they are substantially disadvantaged because they've been forced by financial considerations from basically replacing the copper with fiber. And logically, there's very little they can do. It's like, well, what about Aunt Phoebe or grandma? And it's just like, I'm sorry. I cannot deal with it.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and it's a reminder there's this thing happening called the IP transition at the FCC, which many of us are deeply concerned about because we see it as an opportunity for I would say AT&T — among others, but I think of them as the number one villain in this narrow case — where they seem to be using this as an opportunity to figure out how to reduce their accountability. But this is a very real problem in that we have to get the rules right to make sure that there are incentives to move to the IP infrastructure for the benefits that you've been describing.

Richard Shockey: It's true and that is an endless docket. We all know if I get carrier compensation, it's forever. And unfortunately, there are perverse financial incentives here for the service providers. It is not entirely clear that the way the system has been designed that there is a clear return on invested capital for converting to fiber, in some cases. It took, by the way, over 10 years for Verizon to make Fios a profitable product because the cost of homes passed was huge and the initial equipment that they used was extremely expensive, one way or the other. But you know, certainly where I live in northern Virginia, they've moved down the path pretty quickly. They are rapidly dismantling their copper networks here in Virginia using the 214 orders, and they're boosting their penetration rates above 50 percent quite a bit. But you are right about AT&T. It's just, how do they do it? Is it going to take a new form of investment tax credit to [incentivize] some of these folks? And you know, even in CenturyLink territory, you've now got a sort of strange split in the way they're thinking. On the one hand, you've got the Classic centuryLink territories, which are still copper timedivision multiplexing, but the focus of CenturyLink's intention is really the advanced network that was part of the Level 3 acquisition. So that's changing as well.

Christopher Mitchell: I hope that one of the things that this discussion has led to, is people having a better sense that one, voice is still an essential application and that two, it's going to be working better in the near future for those of us that are on more advanced networks — which is most of us, as you've said — and then three, is that we need to get the rules right to make sure everyone is able to get onto those. But Richard, I really appreciate you taking the time to come on and to share your experiences and how we're doing this and how it's going to happen with us.

Richard Shockey: You're very welcome, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Richard Shockey from Shockey Consulting and the SIP Forum. They were talking about plans to curb robocalls and caller ID spoof calls. You can learn more about the SIP forum and their work at We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter; his handle is @communitynets. Follow stories on Twitter; the handle is @muninetworks. You can subscribe to this podcast and the podcast from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. Access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle," licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 322 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Stop the Spoof, Resist the Robocall - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 322

September 11, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 322 - Richard Shockey of the SIP Forum

Caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and general spam phone calls are one of the hassles of 21st century life. This week on Community Broadband Bits, Christopher and Richard Shockey of Shockey Consulting talk about how the problem has progressed and what leaders in telecommunications are doing about it.

As we transition from our old telephone system to one that involves session initiation protocol, commonly known as SIP, we create a new frontier for those who are finding ways to misuse the technology. Richard, with decades of experience in Data Communications, Voice over IP Technology, Numbering and Signaling, sits as Chairman of the SIP Forum. The SIP Forum brings together people in the industry to advise, advance, and consult on matters related to IP communications and services that are based on SIP. One of their challenges involves finding ways to improve the problems associated with caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and spam calls that are associated with SIP.

In this conversation, Richard gives us a history lesson. He shares his technical expertise to help explain how market conditions, lack of investment, and the transition to the new technology have created a perfect environment for increased caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and the like. Richard describes the work of the SIP Forum and some of the challenges they’ve faced, which aren’t all technical. They have concrete plans to improve the situation, but rollout isn’t easy or quick. Policy, transparency, and rules are all issues that experts must address as they determine how we move forward.

Learn more about the work of the SIP Forum at their website and sign up for one of their mailing lists to learn more about specific tech issues.

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

This show is 39 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: audiobroadband bitspodcastrobo callscaller id spoofingip transitiontelephonevoice

A Full Day, A Full Schedule at Connected New England in Hartford

September 11, 2018

The agenda for Connected New England has shaped up to be full of valuable information, which makes November 8th is a great time to visit Connecticut. If you live in the Nutmeg State, or one of the nearby states, the drive to Hartford will end with an impressive list of speakers and thoughtful panels. You can register here for "Connected New England: Local Solutions for Broadband Development," to be held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

This one-day event will bring together broadband champions from federal, state, and local government, as well as community leaders and policy experts. We will feature a mayors’ panel, successful models in broadband deployment, E-Rate and funding opportunities, 5G and small cells, as well as an update about the recent municipal gain ruling in Connecticut. 

People, People, People

In addition to Hartford’s Mayor Luke Bronin, State Representative Josh Elliot will welcome attendees. Mayor Bronin will then join the Mayor’s Panel with his peers from New Haven, Stamford, and East Hartford.

You’ll recognize several of the voices participating at the event as some of the panelists include Community Broadband Bits podcast guests Fletcher Kittredge from GWI, Aaron Bean from Westfield Gas & Electric, and Tom Coverick of Keybanc Capial Markets.

Gigi Sohn, one of our favorite policy thought leaders, former FCC advisor, and a Distinguished Fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, will deliver the Afternoon Keynote.

Topic, Topics, Topics

Other panels include:

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

View the full agenda here.

The event is hosted by Next Century Cities in partnership with the State of Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel. For more details, including potential sponsorships, you can contact Cat Blake via email: cblake(at)

Image of the Connecticut Capitol Building by John Phelan [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: eventnext century citiesconnecticutchristopher mitchellgigi sohn

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 10

September 10, 2018


Think your Internet service is slower than advertised? You're not alone by Agnel Philip, Arizona Republic



Calix ConneXions 2018 expands program to highlight the power of broadband for utility and municipal operators, Calix Inc.

California is leading the state-by-state fight for net neutrality by Karl Bode, The Verge

California sends FCC-defying net neutrality law to governor's desk by Sebastian Martinez Valdivia, NewsChannel5

I live 50 miles from Silicon Valley and I can’t get broadband access by Heather McDougal, Public Knowledge

We are among millions of Americans shut off from the Internet because of poor infrastructure and low incentives for broadband providers to build out to less populated areas. That’s why more than 17 consumer and rural advocate organizations launched the Broadband Connects America (BCA) coalition today.



Initiative will speed up Internet in rural Idaho by Brian Walker, The Coeur d'Alene Press



Boothbay hosting special selectmen’s meeting on broadband options by Bill Pearson, Boothbay Register

ADTRAN enables Maine’s first nonprofit broadband utility to build open-access fiber optic network, Business Wire



Baltimore public housing residents given tablets, Internet connection under initiative to connect more online by Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun



With no municipal Internet seen on horizon, users turn to patchwork of smaller initiatives by Jessica Lau, Cambridge Day  



County broadband investment pays off by Brielle Bredsten, Aitkin Age



FCC: 95,000 rural Missouri homes and businesses will soon get broadband Internet by Gregory J. Holman, Springfield News-Leader


New Hampshire

Authority on the economic impact of broadband to speak at Keene summit, NH Business Review


New York

Albany, N.Y., council calls for second look into city-owned Internet by Amanda Fries, Times Union


North Carolina

Governor calls for improved cybersecurity, broadband access in North Carolina by Theo Douglas, GovTech



Tenn. power co-op and ISP use new state law to add broadband (podcast) by Craig Settles, Daily Yonder

By tapping into an existing network, Middle Tennessee Electric immediately gains access to United’s fiber without having to build their own system. The power company can use the fiber to create a smart grid to manage their electrical distribution system. United can simultaneously start bringing their power customers on line as broadband users. Also, there may be federal and state grants that can underwrite the cost for the smart grid.



Fiber forward: Despite administrative delays, county makes progress on broadband project by Amber Galaviz, Orange County Review



Anacortes, Wash., to break ground on $12M in fiber projects by Julia Grace-Sanders, GovTech


West Virginia

Community meetings set for broadband expansion in Tazewell County by Charles Owens, Bluefield Daily Telegraph



Millions could lose cheap phone service under FCC’s overhaul of Lifeline by Ryan Barwick, ArsTechnica

YouTube, Netflix videos found to be slowed by wireless carriers by Olga Kharif, Bloomberg

A new accelerator for community-owned broadband networks by Dave Nyczepir, RouteFifty

How the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium won $186 Million in CAF II funding for gigabit broadband by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

Modernizing CPNI rules by Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs

FCC can define markets with only one ISP as “competitive,” court rules by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

NCTA, others push for senate version of rural broadband funding by John Eggerton, Multichannel News

Libraries are filling the homework gap as students head back to school, BroadbandUSA

Consumer groups launch Broadband Connects America coalition to end digital divide by Shiva Stella, Public Knowledge


Tags: media roundup

This Michigan Township is Making Gig Connectivity Affordable

September 10, 2018

If you’re looking to move to a community with a relaxing, rural lifestyle and quality Internet access, then Lyndon Township in Michigan may have just jumped to the top of your list. Now that the community has chosen an ISP to serve the community via its publicly owned infrastructure and established the cost of service, they're eager to start deployment.

Lyndon Township Board recently approved rates for their forthcoming fiber network, setting the price of symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet speeds at a reasonable $69.95 per month. This is a nice reward for the township’s residents, who last year approved a tax increase to fund the construction of the network. The affordable residential gig brings Lyndon Township into the same price range as communities such as Lafayette, Louisiana; Westfield, Massachusetts; and Longmont, Colorado.

Local Support Founds, and Funds, the Network

Though only a 20-minute drive from the University of Michigan, a world class research institution, Lyndon Township residents are mostly stuck with expensive, slow, and unreliable satellite Internet service. Around 80 percent of the community doesn’t currently have access to broadband, which the FCC defines as a minimum of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed.

When attempts to get existing Internet service providers to expand into the community failed, the township decided to build its own Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. To fund the approximately $7 million network, residents approved a millage increase in 2017, with 66 percent of voters in support. The millage amounts to a property tax increase of $2.91 per $1,000 of taxable property.

Fast Speeds, Low Rates

Earlier this year, Lyndon Township chose Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC) as the Internet service provider that would offer Internet access to residents through the network. MEC is an electric cooperative that provides energy and Internet services to members in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.

In August, the township board also approved rates for the different speed tiers that MEC would offer once the network is complete:

  • 25 Mbps - $34.95 per month
  • 100 Mbps - $44.95 per month
  • 1 Gps - $69.95 per month

With gigabit speeds available for less than $70 per month, residents of Lyndon Township will soon have access to faster and more reliable Internet service for a lower price than a satellite subscription. Phone service is available for households and businesses for $39.95 per month and $49.95 per month respectively, and there is a $10 discount if it’s combined with Internet service.

Connecting to the network will be free for residents who sign up for services before April 30, 2019, to connect to the network. After April, new subscribers will be charged a fee based on their home’s distance from the fiber network.

The township could start construction of the network as early as next month.

Listen to episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to learn more Lyndon Township’s fiber project and the referendum they passed in 2017.

We also spoke with Midwest Energy Cooperative back in 2016, check out episode 225 for that conversation.

Image of Lyndon Township sign courtesy of the Chelsea District Library.

Tags: lyndon township mimichiganruralrural electric coopratespricesgigabit

Video on the Beauty of Open Access in Rural America

September 7, 2018

Foresite Group has created a video that explains how open access networks can offer better connectivity, including the element of competition, for rural communities. In the video, they profile a strawberry farmer who now relies on expensive and unreliable satellite Internet access, but who needs broadband in order to improve his farming operation.

The short video explains the positives for the network owner, the potential subscribers, and ISPs that are interested in providing services to rural folks.

Check it out: 

Tags: open accessruralvideocompetition

Three More Colorado Towns Take Local Authority to the Ballot

September 6, 2018

Three more Colorado communities’ fall ballots will ask voters to choose whether or not they want to reclaim local telecommunications authority. Erie, Fountain, and Salida will all ask voters this fall to opt out of the state’s SB 152, a law that more than 120 communities have already chosen to shed.

Early Decision in Salida

In Salida, a referendum petition on an unrelated issue triggered an early referendum and, rather than hold a second vote at additional expense, city leaders decided to put all pending matters on the September 25th ballot. Voters have a total of six issues to decide, including the decision on SB 152.

The special election will be decided via mail, with ballots going out as early as September 4th.

As the county seat, Salida has the highest population in Chaffee County with around 5,500 people. The Arkansas River runs through town, which is 2.2 square miles. The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area is located in Salida, attracting fisherfolk, kayakers, and whitewater rafters. The nearby Monarch Ski Area and the Hot Springs Aquatic Center also see tourists. 

Salida hasn’t publicized any specific plans to deploy a publicly owned fiber network, but like many other Colorado communities that voted to opt out of SB 152, they want to keep their options open. Before they’re able to enter into a partnership with a private sector provider, Salida needs to free themselves from the confines of SB 152.

Fountain Feasible

Fountain, with almost 26,000 residents, has already hired a consultant to study the options to bring better connectivity to local businesses, residents, and institutions. City leaders have decided that they want to establish a broadband plan and opting out of SB 152 will open up possibilities.

The city, which began as a railroad shipping center for local ranches and farms, is about 10 miles south of Colorado Springs. The community has continued to grow over time and, in order to keep up with other places in Colorado and provide the economic development necessary to continue the trend, city leaders are considering Fountain’s broadband future. Their referendum will be on November 6th and they’ve prepared a section on the city website with information on SB 152 and the upcoming election.

Erie Catching Up

Other communities in the eastern part of Boulder County have already held referendums and opted out of SB 152 and, in order to reclaim local authority, Erie will have the issue on the November ballot

Erie has also hired a consultant, but their feasibility study has been completed and the firm they hired suggested focusing on better connectivity for community anchor institutions (CAIs) and municipal facilities. Schools, libraries, and government buildings could benefit, but the consultant did not believe there was a strong enough interest in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for citywide investment in Erie. Surveys indicate, however, that businesses in Erie would like to have better options than are now available.

Community leaders are still pondering their options, but before they are able to take any action that involves public infrastructure, voters will need to opt out of SB 152. Like Fountain and Salida, Erie has also continued to steadily grow in population; approximately 23,000 people live in Erie today.

Tags: coloradosalida cofountain coerie coruralreferendum

Final Phase of Gigabit FTTH Deployment Begins in Erwin

September 5, 2018

What started as a pilot project back in 2014 has consistently expanded to more addresses. Now the “Little Gig City” has put a date on when they expect to complete the final phase of their community-wide fiber network — early 2020. “Right now we feel like we’re kind of in the home stretch,” says Erwin Utilities fiber optic engineer John Williams. 

When The Time Was Right

The small town of Erwin, Tennessee first explored the possibility of bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to its residents in 1999. At the time, however, the community chose not to pursue a publicly owned network because only 20 percent of homes in the area had a computer and the initial estimated cost of over $20 million was too high for local palates. The market changed over the next few years and in 2012, the town finally felt it was time to invest. They constructed a fiber backbone that connected 45 SCADA locations and six county schools. By 2014, the city announced plans to develop a pilot project for business and residential connectivity in the downtown area.

The pilot project reached approximately 1,000 premises; the utility’s goal was to achieve a 25 percent take rate to ensure the service would be self-sustaining. According to Williams, the utility swiftly surpassed their goal and are now at 36 percent subscribership in the original deployment area. Erwin Utilities has expanded, passing a total of approximately 5,000 premises out of 9,000 total potential premises, which are also electric service customers.

Because Tennessee municipal utilities are subject to state law that limits their Internet service area to their electric service footprint, Erwin can only provide connectivity to a limited number of premises. The law creates a situation that protects incumbent monopolies, but forces rural folks who obtain electric service from a different provider to rely on ISPs that generally offer poor Internet access options via DSL or expensive satellite service.

The Ultimate in Self-Reliance

Williams, who designed the network, told the Erwin Record that one of the ways the utility reduced the cost of deployment was by relying on in-house talent.

“Since we’ve been doing it for a while we’re getting pretty proficient at it,” he said. “We have our own installation guys; people that come into people’s homes and do the install and connect all your devices up are Erwin Utilities employees. One thing that’s unique about us is we use very little contractors. We’ve pretty much done it with our own crews.”

Residential rates include symmetrical gigabit service for $69.95 per month or a symmetrical 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) tier for $49.95 per month. Customers can add voice service for an additional $24.95 per month. Business rates are also listed on their website.

"Heavily Invested"

Erwin, with a population of just over 6,000, is located on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina in the Cherokee National Forest. Erwin Utilities is the provider of traditional utilities including water, wastewater, and electricity for the town. John Williams, the fiber optic engineer for Erwin Utilities, said that adding fiber to the company’s list of utilities was the essential next step in investing in the community. When explaining why the company decided to pursue fiber, he stated, “We think that municipal broadband is a great thing. We’re heavily invested in our community. We want our community to succeed. We want to see growth.” 

Erwin Utilities Marketing Coordinator Lynnsey Seagroves:

“Our vision is to enhance modern life and help drive local economic development,” she said. “We want to enhance our customers’ lives and we feel that providing broadband absolutely does that. We want our local businesses to have access to this high-speed internet. And we also use it as a marketing tool for businesses who are interested in relocating, or doing a startup in the area.”

You can hear Christopher interview Williams and General Manager Lee Brown about the plan and their incremental approach in episode 235 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Image of Erwin by Brian Stansberry [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: erwin tntennesseeruralmunielectricincrementalgigabitFTTH