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Reaching Across the Aisle on Tech Policy

January 16, 2019

Despite the ongoing saga of what has become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, elected officials and policymakers still managed to gather at Google’s Washington, D.C., office yesterday for the Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy conference. The half-day conference, hosted by Next Century Cities, the American Action Forum, and Public Knowledge, aimed to identify areas of bipartisan consensus in the issues of rural broadband, data privacy, and spectrum policy and to discuss potential priorities for the new Congress.

Read about some key takeaways from the conference below. For the full experience, watch the video archive of the event.

Keynote Highlights

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s opening conversation with Deb Socia of Next Century Cities touched on many of the topics that would be discussed throughout the day, including rural and tribal broadband access, data privacy and consumer protections, and efficient allocation of spectrum. Commissioner Rosenworcel also pointed out the importance of working with states and localities to improve the accuracy of federal broadband availability data in order to better direct resources to underserved communities. (Learn more about how the FCC data overstates broadband access.)

In the second keynote discussion, moderated by Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum, Robert McDowell, former FCC Commissioner and Partner at Cooley LLP, and Blair Levin, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, spoke about the future of 5G and how to measure the success of broadband subsidy programs. When asked what his priorities would be if he were an FCC Commissioner, Levin replied:

“What I would do is free up the cities . . . I do think that city officials — they know more, they have the right incentives, and we’ve got to free them up. And the FCC is doing exactly the opposite"

Panelists Find Some Common Ground

Community Broadband Networks’ very own Christopher Mitchell moderated the first panel of the day, which grappled with the issue of broadband access in rural areas. For the most part, panelists agreed that the problem of rural broadband isn’t inadequate demand for connectivity. Instead, they pointed to the high costs of deploying broadband networks in rural areas. Jon Chambers from Conexon also nodded to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” as a factor dooming rural America to poor Internet access.

Panelists agreed as well on the need to reform how the FCC funds rural broadband, though ideas on how to do so varied. Some noted that the federal government tackled a similar issue when it ensured rural communities got access to telephone service. As Harold Feld of Public Knowledge put it, “We’ve solved this problem before.”

The following panel, moderated by David McCabe from Axios, addressed data privacy and security. Speakers noted that the policy conversation has expanded from a strict focus on individual privacy to also include broader questions around data use and the impact on society. With big data, there’s “enormous potential for systemic discrimination,” explained Ryan Clough of Public Knowledge. Laura Moy from Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology later added, “I think that some of the problems that we’re starting to notice . . . are really societal harms."

However, when asked about areas of potential bipartisan consensus, Neil Chilson from the Charles Koch Institute identified the traditional privacy concerns around safety and personal financial data as easier issues to compromise on. Francella Ochillo from the National Hispanic Media Coalition also saw some future for bipartisan agreement, saying, “It doesn’t really matter what community you come from. We all want our data to be protected.”

In the final panel, Austin Bonner from Harris, Wiltshire, & Grannis LLP moderated a discussion with “the nerdiest spectrum nerds” on spectrum allocation and 5G. Panelists explored ways to open up more spectrum for use by rural WISPs, among others, and to enable more innovation. On 5G, Michael Calabrese from the Open Technology Institute reminded the audience that “5G isn’t just, or perhaps primarily, a mobile technology” and that high-capacity, wired networks will be essential for deployment.

Overall Themes

Throughout the conference, speakers brought up the role of states and localities in addressing these issues, through efforts to bridge digital divide, regulate 5G installations, or guarantee data privacy, as examples.

Also, in an industry as quick moving as tech, many conference attendees agreed that it’s difficult to predict exactly what the future of 5G technology is or how concerns around data privacy will evolve. This element of the unknown has huge implications as policy makers consider how to regulate — or not regulate — emerging tech issues.

Watch the full event:

Tags: next century citiesvideopolicychristopher mitchellrural

Getting Your Community Off to A Quick Start With CN Quickstart - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 339

January 15, 2019

In September 2018, we announced that we would begin working with NEO Partners LLC to bring the Community Networks Quickstart Program to local communities interested in exploring the possibilities of publicly owned broadband networks. For this week’s podcast, Christopher talks with the people behind the program, Glenn Fishbine and Nancy DeGidio.

Glenn and Nancy have combined their talents to create the CN Quickstart Program as a way for local communities to focus on realistic possibilities early in the long process toward better connectivity through public investment. Christopher, Glenn, and Nancy discuss some of the insights communities gain with the program. In addition to discovering which incumbents already operate in the region and where, Glenn and Nancy have the data to provide information about what fiber resources are already in place. Both elements help communities considering networks look at the possibilities of competition.

With data from each unique community, the CN Quickstart Program can provide information about potential fiber, wireless, and hybrid community networks and where those routes could travel. The program can provide cost estimates to help local leaders determine which options would be affordable for their community. Not than a replacement for a feasibility study, but a complement, a community that begins their feasibility study with results from the program will be able to direct a consultant toward the vision that they’ve been able to more accurately fine tune.

Glenn and Nancy also talk about why they decided to develop this tool and what they hope to accomplish, along with hopes for communities that use the CN Quickstart Program.

Learn more at cnquickstart.com or email info@cnquickstart.com for more details.

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

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this episode is available 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 bitspodcastconsiderationfeasibilityruralplanningFTTHfixed wirelessneo partnerschristopher mitchell

Midwest Energy and Communications Finishing Up the Job in Milton, Michigan

January 15, 2019

Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC) offers Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in large pockets of southeast and southwest Michigan, north central Ohio, and a sliver of north central Indiana. Recently, the small rural town of Milton, Michigan, awarded the cooperative $75,000 to deploy fiber to approximately 80 homes in the community.

That Last Five Miles

According to the South Bend Tribune, the funds are being used to install the last 5-mile stretch of fiber that will complete a larger vision to connect the township’s entire 3,800 residents to high-quality Internet access. Mostly agricultural Milton Township is located in Cass County along the Indiana border. Construction is underway and may be completed as early as this spring.

Rates from MEC include:

$49.95 per month for 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) upload and download

$59.95 per month for 50/50 Mbps

$79.95 per month for 100/100 Mbps

$119.95 per month for 1 gigabit upload and dowload (1,000 Mbps)

When the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and Connect Michigan assessed connectivity in the region almost seven years ago, Cass County was considered “below average” for Internet access in Michigan. Since that time, the Planning Commission has provided resources and information for local communities interested in taking steps toward better local connectivity; working with electric cooperatives and providing grants and loans have helped over time.

Midwest Energy

In addition to providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access for members in their service area, MEC is also working with Lyndon Township by providing Internet access over the town’s publicly owned fiber network. MEC also offers propane, a popular form of household heat in rural Michigan.

The cooperative begin in 1937 as one of the many rural electric cooperatives formed by locals to bring lights to the families in areas unserved by private sector electric providers. The cooperative added propane service in 1998.

Check out this short video on the history of MEC:

Listen to Christopher interview MEC’s Bob Hance and Dave Allen for episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: midwest energyrural electric coopFTTHcooperativemichigan

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 339

January 15, 2019

 This is the transcript for episode 339 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher Mitchell speaks with Nancy DiGidio and Glenn Fishbine from NEO Partners LLC about the Community Networks Quickstart program, which is a collaborative project of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and NEO Partners. Listen to the episode here.

 

Glenn Fishbine: And when you engage with that consultant, at the end of the day, after we've presented you these results, you're not going to waste the consultant's time by asking for something that you can't afford. You'll be focused on a real practical, doable system that is affordable by the standards that you bring to this project.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 339 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When local communities decide that it's time to investigate ways to improve local connectivity, they're at the beginning of a long and complicated process. If they're considering a community network, more possibilities are available today than ever before. In order to get a realistic idea of potential models, costs, and the competitive local market, a feasibility study is typically an early step in the process. In 2018, we began to work with NEO Partners, LLC, on the Community Networks Quickstart program. In this interview, Christopher talks with Glenn Fishbine and Nancy DeGidio, the brains behind the program. The CN Quickstart service allows local communities to approach the beginning of their journey with a headstart. The service isn't a replacement for a feasibility study, but it is a compliment. Glenn and Nancy are able to use their sophisticated program to determine what services are already available from incumbents, reveal where potential fiber resources are in the area, and provide cost estimates and relevant information for different publicly owned models. Coupled with the results from feasibility studies, communities are now able to make knowledgeable decisions about how to move forward. In this conversation, Nancy, Glenn, and Christopher discuss the benefits of the CN Quickstart program and what communities can expect from the service, along with the ways local leaders can apply their newfound knowledge to start their journey strong. Check out CNQuickstart.com for more information. Now, here's Christopher with Glenn Fishbine and Nancy DeGidio discussing Community Networks Quickstart.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, I'm speaking with Glenn Fishbine in studio. Welcome to the show.

Glenn Fishbine: Thank you very much.

Christopher Mitchell: And on the line we have his partner, Nancy DeGidio. Welcome to the show.

Nancy DeGidio: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: And they are with Breaking Point Solutions representing NEO Partners, which is actually working with us at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on a little product we're calling the Community Networks Quickstart. We're going to tell you a little bit about that. I think the best way to jump into it would just be to ask Nancy first, what are we doing here? What is the Community Networks Quickstart? What problem are we trying to solve?

Nancy DeGidio: We are trying to bring broadband to rural America and the underserved.

Glenn Fishbine: The way in which we're trying to do this is by providing communities with a very inexpensive, iterative means of finding what is affordable for broadband for their community.

Christopher Mitchell: We're aiming to work early in the process, right? I mean this is — we call it the Quickstart, not the Quickfinish, right? So Glenn, do you want to talk a little bit more about how exactly we're doing this?

Glenn Fishbine: Well, this is based on software development that started back in 2011 and has gone through many years of iteration through major telco providers, such as Samsung, Sprint, various wireless Internet service providers, and so on. And the software has been iterated to the point where we can take a community of any size, any place in the continental United States, analyze the population, households, geography, terrain, ground clutter and come up with a means of iterating any mixture of fixed wireless or broadband technologies or fiber technologies, and end up with whatever type of model you think is appropriate for that community in the price range that will work for that community.

Nancy DeGidio: The cost of doing the Quickstart program is at a fraction of what companies or cities would already pay. Right now, many are paying $50,000 more for a study of this, and it takes six months to do these studies to figure out what kind of network they can even put in place to support broadband.

Glenn Fishbine: For example, in one of the studies we just recently computed, which took us approximately two weeks to provide the study for that community, we were able to look at 44 different network designs and guide the community towards the one that would work best for them. A normal study would be a design and would take probably three to six months to accomplish.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. So we're going to talk more about this over the course of the next 20, 25 minutes or so, but I wanted to step back in time briefly and talk about where you're coming from. And so maybe Nancy would be a good place then to start. What were you doing before we launched the Community Networks Quickstart?

Nancy DeGidio: We were fumbling around trying to figure out how to bring broadband to rural America and how to help the underserved. Working with companies to try to bring that to them. Struggling a lot with the designs and getting that infrastructure in place.

Glenn Fishbine: Yeah. We came out of a very large infrastructure build out project for Sprint, which was 18,000 cell towers throughout the northern part of the United States.

Christopher Mitchell: And I thank you for every one of them, as a person who uses a Sprint reseller that I love.

Glenn Fishbine: Ok. I'm sorry, I'm a Verizon guy myself. Anyway, as part of that, we saw a tremendous amount of inefficiencies in the Sprint and the Samsung development team process. We would see engineers, hundreds of engineers, doing RF studies that would take them perhaps three to four days to complete for a tower, and we realized that if they'd automate this and get out of the spreadsheet mode, they could do much better. And that was the one of the major incentives for the system that we started developing.

Nancy DeGidio: The interesting thing is that I think a lot of people do use those spreadsheets, and the spreadsheets are very inefficient no matter what way you look at it. These projects are very complicated and they have a lot of different angles to them, and to use a spreadsheet for such a complicated project is just insane.

Christopher Mitchell: I've certainly seen how you use spreadsheets to keep track of individual fibers in a much larger build. I can't even imagine the challenge of using spreadsheets to do all the different possible variations in how you might build a network, and that's one of the things that Glenn mentioned, was the many variations that can be done. But I wanted to jump in for a second and talk just briefly about what we at ILSR, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, bring to this because you've talked about the software solutions that NEO Partners brings in, in terms of the network design. The other piece of it that when you approached me I thought would be useful was a little bit of guidance in terms of what other rural communities have seen, or even urban cities, where we've learned lessons along the way — in terms of, if you pick a favorite design that you like, how are you going to make sure that you can communicate to the public the vision? How are you going to make sure that you're avoiding problems that others have had in terms of getting support? And then once you're actually building, having anticipated common problems — even things like are there nearby Internet service providers that might want to work with you as a partner that if you just looked at a list of ISPS, you might not know which ones are good potential partners in which ones are not likely to return your phone calls. So, you know, I think one of the things that we envisioned for the Community Networks Quickstart that goes with all the software is a little bit of handholding. And I wouldn't say a lot. You know, we're not consultants that are going to spend months and months with you. We're going to help you get out to a quick start. [laughs] I think a lot of people saw that coming.

Glenn Fishbine: Yeah. One of the first things we do, even before we're engaging in contract discussion with the perspective client, is we bring up a competitive analysis show who is presently there in the community. And the first question I always ask is, okay, you got Comcast on this part of the community. You've got AT&T in that part of the community. You have got Frontier over there. Do you intend to compete with these companies if you move forward, and if not, do you want these areas included? And if you do, do you know what it's like to compete with the big company? Because the very first thing you need to know as a community is what services you have, and if you're going to build a network of any kind, you need to know that you're not going to get everybody because nobody's switches from Comcast simply because they can or —

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I guess a different way of saying that would be 10 to 20 percent will reliably switch away from Comcast the second they have another option, but you're probably not going to build a network on that 20 percent or 15 percent. You're going to need a lot more folks.

Glenn Fishbine: Right. And then, you know, knowing who the competition is, knowing what their capabilities are is the first step in considering whether or not it's worth moving forward to do a real network. The next thing that we do is we try to find out, okay, if you build a network, do you have a backbone that you can connect into? Is there anybody who provides dark fiber services out there or that you can purchase? So we maintain a library of who is available throughout the United States, and if we can find an appropriate backbone provider, then we can go forward with the network design.

Nancy DeGidio: I think the cool thing too is identifying the providers in the area. It's not just the big players; it's the small players to. Because [in] some of these rural areas, the bigger players don't want to be there. So this allows some of the smaller providers to step forward and possibly expand their footprint as well in the community.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I think that's one of the things that I would expect to see. In our beta clients, we certainly saw that. And I think with folks that you worked with before we started working together on this particular product, I think you saw that also. People that are coming forward and want to find a solution for their communities don't necessarily want to create a brand new service company. They may be interested in building infrastructure that would allow an existing independent Internet service provider to come along and offer services.

Glenn Fishbine: Well, that's one of the things that your organization provides, which is not necessarily something we provide, is many options you have for integrating your network intentions with your local providers, with your local units of government to figure out how to get the alliances within your community to work together to make this something real.

Nancy DeGidio: And understanding that doesn't happen overnight. The study can happen rather quickly. That's why, again, get back into the Quickstart. We can do this Quickstart rather quickly, so you can get to those discussions to figure out who you need to align in your community to get things moving.

Christopher Mitchell: This is where I think it might be useful to note that we don't see ourselves as replacing the consultants that Glenn talked about a little bit at the beginning, that are going to be charging higher fees and working with the community over a longer period of time because although one of the things that they provide is the cost of building a network, the thing that I think consultants really are essential for is walking the community through a process and doing some handholding in terms of, okay, you know, you're going to need these meetings to engage the public. You're going to want to talk about these sorts of things. The consultant's going to help you know what questions are commonly going to be asked. They may be doing a survey of the community that will give you some information about how it's leaning regarding its feelings about existing providers and in the city getting involved, or the county or the township or you know, whatever — I'm just using city as a little bit of a shorthand there. And they're going to do a lot of other things in terms of maybe going out and talking to some of those ISPs that you may want to partner with. And so, you know, I don't think a community that works with us, will forego a more traditional consultant. I think they're going to go to that consultant better prepared, and they are going to be able to get more out of that consulting contract.

Glenn Fishbine: I definitely agree with that. One of the things that we do when we iterate, I'll typically try about 10 iterations for a particular community. And we're going to start with a very inexpensive model, and we're going to run that all the way up to everybody is connected by the best possible technology.

Christopher Mitchell: Now let's just talk about that for a second because what you're talking about is, is that you can show a scenario in which everyone's getting fiber in the target area and a scenario that's — what you're talking about in terms of the more expensive one — in an area in which everyone's getting a fixed wireless product.

Glenn Fishbine: That's correct. We can iterate any number of variations on that and the idea is to find a point whereby the network implementation is going to be cost effective and most cost effective for the homes or the community that's using the services. In most cases there comes a point where, boy, you just can't afford it. But the way we start it off is, here's something that's affordable all the way up to the one that you can't afford, and now you the community have a range of choices there. And when you engage with that consultant at the end of the day after we've presented you these results, you're not going to waste the consultant's time by asking for something that you can't afford. You'll be focused on a real, practical, doable system that is affordable by the standards that you bring to this project.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that as we're going to talk a little bit more about how we go about doing that, I did want to note for people who are really curious about the cost of it. Can you describe the cost structure, Nancy?

Nancy DeGidio: We're looking at a thousand dollars plus forty cents per household, which still is way under pricing that you will find out there from companies that are spending six months plus putting people on the ground to actually figure out how to do these studies.

Glenn Fishbine: Now when we talk per household, we are using 2016 census estimate household data. The 2018 data will be coming out shortly, as soon as the government reopens, and we'll switch to the 2018 data.

Christopher Mitchell: So as you can tell, Glenn is pretty — he's a little bit specific. A little bit of a technical kind of guy. Glenn, one of the things that I was curious about and nervous about when you first did your demo is a sense of, you know, it's really nice to look at this in software, but have we had any kind of a reality check in terms of how close our numbers are in terms of this automated system versus some of the consultants actually going out there and walking the roads to see what the costs are.

Glenn Fishbine: Well generally, a consultant doesn't want another consultant to look at their final studies, so we've only had a very few sent to our path, and what we're basically seeing, in the studies that we can directly compare, we're within two to four percent of what the consultant final price project model would be. Now statistically, we believe that we're going to be within about 10 to 15 percent, but we think that essentially our methodology is a pretty uniform methodology throughout the industry. So saying a two percent variation from what a consultant producers is not bad, but I would make the point that they're probably within 10 to 15 percent error as well.

Christopher Mitchell: I would strongly encourage anyone that was planning on definitely building a network to use this service to get started, but to do much more fine grain engineering to make sure that the bids that they're going to get for actual construction will be more precise. There is no doubt in my mind that it's always going to be worth it to get a more precise engineering layout at the end. We are aiming to provide a ballpark figure, and at the costs that we're charging, I think it really doesn't impair the ability of a community or an ISP to do both.

Nancy DeGidio: To that fact, like you said, that ballpark figure, but that base structure, it's like the layout of your home. You get that base structure, and then you bring the engineers to add all those fine tuned touches, which may adjust the cost to some degree. But generally you will know going forward what those big costs are going to be.

Glenn Fishbine: And one of the things that we generally do before we get to a final agreement with the customer is we give them a demo of what we're doing and how we're doing it. It's an interactive screen sharing demo. We take a community, maybe even their community, and we show them the detail, the granularity that we can get to from an automation point of view. The accuracy on a lot of our geographic information is within a few meters of actual. Our elevation data is within a meter of actual. Our ground clutter data is within about three meters of actual. And although you may not know what those terms mean, these are the things that determine whether it's feasible to put in, say, a fixed wireless solutions that's inexpensive or if your only alternative is fiber. This type of demo is available, generally takes about 30 minutes, and if you're curious, you want to kick the tires, give us a call. We'll give you a demo.

Christopher Mitchell: Nancy, can you tell us a little bit more about what a community walks away with. Like, we can give them a presentation and describe these things to them, you know, as we're talking, but what sort of information do they have then to present to the community and to use moving forward?

Nancy DeGidio: They will have a map. They will have actual numbers, a layout. They will be able to actually go in and drill right into the map by address to see what that particular address would be covered by, whether it would be satellite or what have you. It's way more information than they would ever receive from any other study that we've seen.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say a map, anyone can go to a website and enter in their address to see the network layout that the cities have gotten to have a sense of what's available to them in that scenario. So when you said a map, I want to be clear, it's an interactive online map,

Nancy DeGidio: Exactly. So if they choose, they can allow that map to be visible to the citizens, where they can go in and actually view what kind of service would be available to them.

Glenn Fishbine: The engineering details are probably more than most people would want to have. But for example, if there's a fixed wireless component, what we do is we calculate for each sector of the fixed wireless element, how many households are in that direction, which helps us do the load balancing calculations. If it's a pure fiber network, of course you won't want any fixed wireless, but if you do have some, this is engineering details specific to the actual tower installation. Most communities won't want to go there, but if they do, it's there.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and so I think one of the things that we found interesting and that you've added, Glenn, is — and I think you do it through your iterations, but there's a sense of if a community was to say, you know, we know that we can find $6 million to connect people in this territory, we can give, using this software, a sense of, okay, well the way to stretch that the furthest is to do a certain percentage in fiber and the rest in wireless and if you can get the towers in these locations — and you identify existing towers as well — but that's the sort of information that we can provide. And so it's a little bit different from the conception of saying how do we get everyone connected with broadband? We can actually take a given dollar figure and try to figure out how to maximize the fiber versus the wireless investment.

Glenn Fishbine: Yeah. The granularity also — you know, if Joe Blow down the street, he's got his Comcast cable and that whole block is fully covered with Comcast. If you want to exclude that block from the study, you just tell us we don't want to go there and we'll get your granularity down to about, oh, I think it's a 0.8 mile accuracy for knocking blocks out of the study.

Nancy DeGidio: There is a lot of data that is received from the study. A large portion of it, you know, citizens probably wouldn't be concerned with. But engineers, you know, the people running the broadband committee, those are the people that will delve into different parts of the data depending on their role in the project.

Glenn Fishbine: There's even a set of spreadsheets that's designed specifically for the bean counters within the community, which shows if you're working with an ISP, the type of return on investment the ISP would expect. It shows us how we come up with the different cost models and recommendations and what constitutes an affordable versus a not affordable network. And that's something that you can take to the city council or to your finance committee or whatever and use this as part of the justification in moving forward.

Nancy DeGidio: Well, and the nice thing about the studies is we don't make up the numbers. [laughs] The communities actually feed us information to put into the software. We're getting that information actually from the community before we do a study and then putting those numbers into the software. That to me is powerful. You know, you're making the decisions as a community as to where you want to go with the study?

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I wanted to jump in, is something Glenn said earlier. I cringe at it every time that he says it. He knows it. And that's the finality with which he sort of says, you know, we can't do fiber everywhere. And I know that Glenn actually agrees with what I'm about to say based on past conversations, but it's more a sense of, you know, in the immediate future it is not likely that you'll be able to justify spending the kind of money that would be necessary to get fiber out to everywhere. And so over the next five years, the question is how much would it cost to get fiber out to the places where it's possible to pay for itself reasonably, get wireless out to the rest of the folks, and then reevaluate in five years and figure out how to expand around the time that the fixed wireless might be coming due for a replacement. And so, one of the things that I'll say candidly, I'll give away a secret in the Community Networks Quickstart package that we'll give you information that provides some guidance, is this sense of you're not making the decision here that's final. This is the first step in a multipart process, and one of the things that's really useful about getting the wireless out there, is it starts a revenue stream that can be reinvested in future years to connect more people. If you're in an area that has limited economic opportunity today, doesn't have millions of dollars lying around, you can still do something and then be able to expand that over time. And perhaps there's government grants that come available, there's foundations that want to support it, or whatever. You have planning documents, you have all kinds of information that you would need then to expand the network over time.

Glenn Fishbine: Yeah. One of the things that a lot of people don't understand is that the wireless technology does not stand still. If we were say, recommending wireless technology five years ago, I would be ashamed of the technology that was on the market then. What is available now is decent. It gives you a good quality broadband well above the FCC minimum daily requirements, as I guess I call them, and it's not atypical to get a download speed upwards of 80 megabits per second off of some of the newer wireless technologies. Those will continue to improve. Now they're not going to go through trees, they won't go through buildings, they won't go through mountains, they won't go over mountains in most cases, but for those sparse areas where it's too expensive to put in fiber, they're adequate now. So using a mix, a hybrid of both fixed wireless and fiber is a viable solution to many rural communities.

Nancy DeGidio: Yeah, I would agree with that. You can't go through certain things now, but putting in the most cost effective solution in those areas is what we're going for. We're not gonna do any miracles. We're just looking for the best possible solution for your community.

Christopher Mitchell: Glenn, as you've been working on this, is there any kind of baseline numbers of what a community might expect to spend in building a network that you would be modeling for them?

Glenn Fishbine: I can give you a range of numbers based on studies we've done. Assuming this is a brand new build out, there's no preexisting infrastructure, the way we think about it is the cost per household: how much does it cost to bring one house into the broadband network? And generally there's two ways of thinking of it. If this were for example a tax levy, how much would it cost that family per month to be part of a broadband network infrastructure? And what we're seeing is numbers as low as $15 a month for some technologies, depending upon which ones you're using, and they can get well above $300 a month, which is another way of saying it's time for a tax revolt. But another way of thinking of this is in terms of just the total dollar cost per household. If you're looking for a grant or if you're looking for, I guess, a community financing project, municipal financing or self financing, on a cost per household basis the ranges we're seeing are somewhere at the low end around $800 per household, which will be largely a fixed wireless implementation, and they go as high as $9,000 - $10,000 a household for a full Fiber-to-the-Home solution. The key thing is realizing it's an order of magnitude range in cost. You need to see the alternatives and know which one you can zero in on.

Christopher Mitchell: So if people want more information, one of the best places to go is the website we have set up, which is CNQuickstart(as in Community Networks Quickstart).com. And there's more information there about how to reach out and contact us, but [we're] happy to do a demo, happy to, you know, give you a sense of if you want to describe your situation, if it seems like something we can be assisting in. And bam, please feel free to reach out. Is there anything left that you want to share, Nancy, before we hang up the microphones?

Nancy DeGidio: Yeah, I'd like to say that the studies that we've done, people are amazed at the data that they're receiving and the information they're receiving. I just can't reiterate that enough that the data is very extensive and it's real. It's real data. You know, we're not making stuff up so getting right back into the community, you know, real solutions that could be implemented in your community

Christopher Mitchell: And Glenn, any closing thoughts?

Glenn Fishbine: I guess as the primary geek here, I have wonderful Chris and Nancy to translate the things I say into normal English. Count on them to guide you through.

Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. Well thank you for coming in. I mean, this is something we've been working on for six months, so it's really exciting to talk about it publicly and I look forward to sharing it. And in case people are curious, we do see this as something that's a newer product that can add to the market. We do plan to continue offering the same [news] coverage that we do, looking at all municipal network issues. We're offering this product now, although it's something that I primarily work on. Lisa who continues to edit MuniNetworks.org will not let, you know, any of our kind of motivations in terms of trying to work with clients on this get in the way of our coverage, so... But if you have any questions, feel free to let us know. I'm incredibly excited about this because I think this is a very valuable tool for communities just when you're getting started to get information that's really essential quickly into your hands so that you can make really more targeted decisions moving forward and make this happen a little bit more rapidly. Because I'm always concerned that, you know, if it takes too long to get basic information, people might lose a little bit of interest or lose hope that they can actually take action. And so let's hope that this Community Networks Quickstart helps things move along a little bit more quickly and helps communities make smart decisions.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Nancy DeGidio and Glenn Fishbine talking with Christopher about Community Networks Quickstart, the new service that launched in 2018 to help local communities get a headstart as they investigate possibilities for publicly owned infrastructure. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, 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 thank you for listening to episode 339 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 14

January 14, 2019

Florida

Commission candidates talk broadband, Bonnet Springs by Mike Ferguson, The Ledger

 

Michigan

Portland ready to measure interest in citywide Internet service by Mitchell Boatman, Sentinel Standard

 

Minnesota

Is there a cable company worse than Comcast? Meet Frontier. By Hannah Jones, City Pages

 

Mississippi

Digital divide: Plan to expand Internet access proves popular in House and with Mississippians Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today

“The lack of affordable, reliable and adequate Internet service in Mississippi is a crisis and is one that we had better fix, if we want our children and grandchildren to stay here”

 

Missouri 

Rural business works with city to bring fiber Internet to Perry, Missouri by Frank Healy, WGEM

 

New York

Saratoga Springs, N.Y., advances fiber network project by Wendy Liberatore, Times Union 

New deal to govern how broadband providers market speeds by Pete Demola, The Sun

 

North Carolina

Rural surveys help identify need for broadband by Valerie Crowder

Albemarle will host broadband event Jan. 28 by Chris Miller, Stanly News & Press

 

General

America desperately needs fiber Internet, and the tech giants won’t save us by Eric Johnson, Recode

Telehealth changes will increase rural broadband demand by Craig Settles, Daily Yonder

State laws slow down high-speed Internet for rural America by April Simpson, PEW 

"Electric cooperatives are simply the single greatest hope for most of rural America to have really good Internet access."

 

Tags: media roundup

Don't Miss These Livestream Events from DC January 15th, 16th

January 14, 2019

As you plan your week, make sure you have access to YouTube early so you can livestream the "Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy" from 9 a.m. - 12:30 EST. The event, which will be streaming from Washington, D.C., is sponsored by Next Century Cities (NCC), the American Action Forum, and Public Knowledge

Check out the agenda for the event.

Distinguished Guests

In addition to keynote conversations from FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Blair Levin, our Christopher Mitchell will moderate a panel on rural broadband. The discussion on rural broadband will include input from:

 Other panels will cover the topics of data privacy and security, and spectrum. Representatives from institutions such as the Georgetown Law Center on Privacty and Technology, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and ALEC will also be attending; expect a spirited event. It’s a half-day filled with policy, described by Next Century Cities as: 

[B]ringing together members of Congress, community leaders, and policy experts. Keynote conversations and panel discussions will work to determine key policy goals and action steps for the new Congress, with a specific focus on rural broadband, digital privacy and security, and spectrum legislation.

You can watch the livestream here and follow the conversation on Twitter: #BipartisanTech

 

 

Toolkit on the Way

As long as you’re scheduling livestreams, make sure to also put January 16th on your list.

For months the folks at Next Century Cities have been working with member cities and policy experts to develop a resource that includes policies and best practices for local communities interested in better connectivity. On January 16th, NCC will hold an official launch event for “Becoming Broadband Ready,” to share their findings.

The toolkit will include policies to help identify needs and goals, grow support, simplify permitting and leasing practices, and additional resources. Check out the launch event on Wednesday, January 16th at 12 p.m. EST to see policy experts and community leaders discuss their findings and experiences with broadband readiness. 

Christopher will also be moderating a panel at the toolkit launch event. Watch here:

Tags: next century citieseventchristopher mitchelldebatedeb sociajessica rosenworcelruralpublic knowledge

Rep. Doug Collins Leads Charge for CAF Accountability

January 11, 2019

While 97 percent of Georgia’s urban population has access to broadband, the urban-rural digital divide in the state remains stark and only 70.9 percent of the rural population has that access. Considering estimates are based on self-reported data from incumbent providers and determined broadly by census block, the data overstates the reality on the ground. Representative Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th congressional district is now leading the charge to mitigate this disparity, not only in his home state but in rural regions throughout the country. In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee stated his intentions of introducing the CAF (Connect America Fund) Accountability Act at the start of the 116th Congress. Collin, a Republican representing Georgia's 9th District, introduced H.R. 427 on January 10th. If passed, the bill will create stricter requirements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband infrastructure funding under CAF.

Reaching for Accountability

CAF was designed to subsidize network deployments in unserved rural areas, which have often been overlooked due to the high expense of constructing infrastructure for few and scattered populations. While many providers that have received this funding have used it properly, as Collins stated, “others have taken taxpayer dollars but failed to fulfill their obligations to their consumers… instead using taxpayer dollars ineffectively or inappropriately – turning their backs on those families at the last mile.”

Currently, CAF recipients are required to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. While this threshold is well below the current FCC definition of “broadband” service of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, Collins noted that in his home district of Northeast Georgia, a region where a majority of ISPs are CAF recipients, consumers report speeds that are “consistently abysmal, sometimes not even reaching 3 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps.”

According to a fact sheet on the bill, H.R. 427 will require Internet access companies that accept CAF funding to routinely test the service the offer for speed and latency. They are required to send the results of those tests to the FCC on a quarterly basis. Testing must also occur in locations representative of residences and businesses areas in CAF service areas. CAF recipients must also include their method of testing and are subject to audit.

Read more of the details on the fact sheet for H.R. 427.

The Start of Something Better?

The CAF Accountability Act will attempt to ensure that CAF recipients report the speeds they actually provide subscribers and not just what they advertise. The adjustment in reported speeds can help the FCC more accurately disperse future CAF funds to only high-performing ISPs. As Collins stated, “the 21st century economy demands access to reliable broadband services.” If passed, the CAF Accountability Act will help bring Georgia and the rest of the country one step closer to ensuring that all residents have access to this essential resource.

Tags: georgialegislationfederal governmentcongressconnect america fundaccountabilityfederal funding

North Carolina Co-ops Merge to Connect Rural Communities Across the State(s)

January 10, 2019

Urban areas in North Carolina don’t have the same challenges obtaining high-quality Internet access as rural communities, but telephone and electric co-ops are taking more steps to change that imbalance. Cooperatives are filling gaps and finding opportunities where national ISPs don't see a high enough profit margin. Wilkes Communications/RiverStreet Networks and TriCounty Telephone recently merged to find those gaps and serve North Carolinians left behind.

Acquiring and Expanding 

In September 2018, TriCounty Telephone Membership Corporation merged with Wilkes Telephone Membership, the parent entity of Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks. The cooperative also acquired Peoples Mutual Telephone Company and Peoples Mutual Long Distance Company, which took Wilkes into southern Virginia. 

When they added several other smaller companies, the cooperative continued to implement their strategy to bring broadband to rural communities without limiting themselves to one region. In addition to counties in central North Carolina, the cooperative now serves people along the north border, in a few south central counties, and in three counties far in eastern North Carolina that brush the eastern shore.

President and CEO Eric Cramer told the Journal Patriot in September that, where national ISPs turn away, Wilkes sees opportunity:

“Larger companies have abandoned these areas, so we think there is an advantage to grow there. A number of rural counties are looking to partner with companies like ours to help bring broadband like we’ve done here in Wilkes. .... These buildouts are much harder and take longer to produce results than acquisitions.”

Merging with TriCounty made sense because TriCounty had reached its potential due to size and scale limitations. TriCounty’s Vice President for business development Greg Coltrain recently told WNCT Channel 9 that the cooperative was considering the quickest way to bringing high-quality Internet access to rural North Carolina and achieve long-term success when they chose to merge with Wilkes:

"Our goal and our initiative is to find those areas, come up with an adequate business case that makes sense,” said Coltrain. “And even if it takes us seven or eight years return some investment back into the company for it, that's what we're willing to do, so that we can make sure people aren't left behind."

Finding Funding

Now that TriCounty and Wilkes have merged, the resulting entity has more resources to develop networks and to seek sources of funding. Wilkes received approximately $21.6 million in federal stimulus funds in the form of grants and loans in 2010. This past summer, Wilkes received $32 million in Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) funding in order to connect some of the most rural and unserved areas. With the announcement that the USDA plans to provide $600 million in grants and loans for broadband deployment, the cooperative anticipates applying for more.

"We've put people on the moon,” said Coltrain. “But we're still trying to get rural broadband developed across our country. And the reason for the delay is the sheer cost of getting it out."

Co-ops Are "Getting It Out"

Co-ops across rural America are taking the initiative where national Internet access providers don’t see large profit centers. North Carolina is one of the states where urban dwellers typically have decent services and may even have choice, but folks living outside of the larger cities often consider themselves fortunate to have access to DSL, which is unacceptable. Cooperative board members who are part of those less urbanized communities don’t want their local economies to dwindle and disappear. They also hear cooperative members express a demand for connectivity in order to pursue better educational opportunities, entrepreneurship, and telehealth options. 

Co-ops already have infrastructure in place, along with personnel and equipment that can facilitate deployment and operation of broadband networks. And rather than run by distant companies with headquarters across the country, rural electric and telephone cooperatives answer to member owners. Board members typicallly interact with subscribers in the communities they serve; they have personal reasons to take steps to build up their communities.

Read more about how cooperatives are bringing fiber connectivity to areas left behind in our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era.

We also interviewed Eric Cramer back in 2016 for episode 188 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Have a listen to learn more:

Photo credit Wilkes Communications.

Tags: cooperativenorth carolinamergerruralwilkes communicationsriver street networksfederal fundinggrantloan

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 338

January 10, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 338 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Jeff Christensen from EntryPoint about software defined networking and how to change our current telecommunications models to promote innovation and subscriber control. The audio for the episode is available here.

 

 

Jeff Christensen: Around 2003, cloud computing changed. The data center changed, and cloud computing changed. And that's when we got automation, software control, virtualization maturing, and then a few years later we got software defined networking. The convergence of all those technologies changed the data center, the cloud, and the Internet — changed the way we experience the Internet.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 338 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, we bring you a conversation with Jeff Christensen from EntryPoint Networks. EntryPoint develops software defined networks, also known as dynamic open access networks — an approach with the potential to redefine the municipal open access model. Regular listeners will recognize Ammon. Idaho, as a software defined network, and Christopher and Jeff discuss Ammon during the interview. Jeff describes a model where municipalities fill the role of infrastructure provider while services are handled by the marketplace. Innovation, security speed, and individual choice, not only of provider but also of how a subscriber uses the infrastructure, can reverse the negative impacts of a model that we've all grown accustomed to. This focus on control for users rather than technology from ISPs allows innovation without constraint, which ultimately benefits everyone. Christopher and Jeff also discuss how cloud computing has affected software defined networks and reimagine the way we use the Internet. They get into cloud edge computing and discuss how future trends show users defining technology needs. Be sure to watch Jeff's TED Talks and check out more about how EntryPoint is helping to redefine open access at entpnt.com. We have links and embedded videos on the podcast page. Now, here's Christopher and Jeff Christensen from EntryPoint Networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. It's 2019 and we're starting off pretty strong. I'm Chris Mitchell up here in Minneapolis with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in case you didn't pick up on that in the last 340 or so episodes, talking today with Jeff Christensen, the president of EntryPoint Networks, who I'm going to guess — you're coming to me from Utah today.

Jeff Christensen: That's right. Salt Lake City.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I was hoping that you'd be home. I know you spend a lot of time on the road. Actually, several of my listeners may be familiar with your TED Talk videos that we've tried to promote over the years. Before we talk about EntryPoint, I'd just curious if you'd give us a little sense of your background.

Jeff Christensen: It's sort of an unintentional history of startups. I did my schooling — I did my undergraduate here at the University of Utah, and then I did a master's degree back at Purdue in Indiana.

Christopher Mitchell: Big Ten.

Jeff Christensen: Big Ten. Yeah, that's right. After graduate school, I went to work for a boutique consulting firm. Through that, [I] met Brad Banyai, who became now a 30 year business partner. Together we started three companies. After the consulting firm, we purchased a software company that converted paper data to digital data, primarily for the healthcare industry, and we grew that company from four employees to 500 employees and then sold it to a company in Nashville in 2010. And as we got to the point where we thought we would sell that company, we invested in EntryPoint. That was in 2008. We knew about software, we knew about managing development teams, but we didn't know anything about networking, and really we invested because we believed in Robert Peterson, who we had met sort of on a chance meeting. So Robert really is the founder of EntryPoint, and he's our technology strategist.

Christopher Mitchell: And Robert is someone who — anyone who's watched the video we did, the 20 minute-ish video on Ammon, Idaho's approach with software defined networking and their whole financial model — and we're gonna talk about how EntryPoint is very involved in that — but people may have seen Robert Peterson in that video.

Jeff Christensen: We met Robert [and] invested not from a position of understanding but from really a position of faith in his intelligence and grasp of the issues, and once we sold the other company that we had built, we turned our full attention to EntryPoint. And it's been a long research and development cycle, really fulltime efforts since 2012, but I think the platform that we've built is right for the times. I think there's a lot of convergence going on that gives us some real competitive advantages and opportunity to make a difference.

Christopher Mitchell: Jeff, you've done, like I said, several TED Talks, and I'm curious if you can just tell us a little bit about what's broken in terms of the telecommunications networks that we all depend on.

Jeff Christensen: Yeah. The first TED Talk I gave really was focused on what's broken. I think most people think about what's broken in terms of paying too much and getting too little back, and that's certainly part of the issue, but fundamentally, what we think is broken is the way the whole system is structured. And the way we say it — and I've got to credit Seth Godin because we kind of took something Seth Godin had written and modified it for our own benefit — we say that incumbent network operators want to serve just enough to make the maximum profit and cities are incentivized to build networks which profit just enough to provide the maximum service. So it's flipping really the whole model upside down. Right now, the incumbents have total control because they control the infrastructure and the services, and by breaking that up we can build networks that are really designed to serve subscribers. And so, that's fundamental for us, is breaking up that control and organizing systems in favor of consumers.

Christopher Mitchell: What I really like about that, what really appeals to me is that that problem statement makes it clear that our problem is not going to be solved just with better technology. And this is one of those things I think sometimes people get hung up on when they're trying to improve Internet access or network access more broadly in their community, is they start thinking "fiber, fiber, fiber." And your focus is on who controls it as opposed to what the technology is. I think we all agree that we're looking at a fiber optic technology ideally, but who knows where that'll go over the next several decades. And you're focused on kind of who controls the technologies and what incentives they have.

Jeff Christensen: Yeah. Yeah. We're very much focused on the control issues and the incentive issues, and ultimately we think this area is open to disruption because the systems aren't set up to serve customers. They're set up to serve the profit interests of the large incumbents. And that's not immoral; it's not unethical. It just doesn't work for consumers, and it will continue not to work until we fix that problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, it's kind of like saying, you know, on the Savannah, the lion eating its prey is not immoral, but it is inconvenient for the antelope and those kinds of animals.

Jeff Christensen: That's right.

Christopher Mitchell: So what are we doing about it? Let's get into this. I mean, I think we can't assume that everyone who is listening is familiar with Ammon, no matter how many times I talk about it. So how do you want to explain what Ammon's doing and how EntryPoint figures into that?

Jeff Christensen: To keep it simple, Ammon is really two things. The way we look at it, Ammon is a financing mechanism and it's a technology platform. And I think both of them are innovative, although we've seen hints of both in different places, but what's core to the financing mechanism is that risk is distributed to the subscribers. So rather than the city itself taking on the risk, Ammon has distributed that risk to the people who voluntarily participate in the network. There are quite a few moving parts on the technology, but fundamentally the technology separates the infrastructure and the services, and that separation allows us to solve what we think is broken with the current model. So we talk about it as open access, as cloud. In our world, we're moving all the service providers, including the ISP, to the cloud, and we're leveraging advanced networking tools to make access look like the Internet. So what's really broken technologically is access because access is a siloed system; it's a closed system controlled by the incumbents. And so we're opening that up, moving services to the cloud, moving control of the infrastructure to the city — or could be a utility, could be a cooperative — but we're moving control so the control can be shifted to the consumer or the subscriber.

Christopher Mitchell: So before we lose people who might start to be intimidated, let's unpack what it means to separate the infrastructure from the services. You know, I think maybe it's useful to think about this in terms of our own homes. You know, I have ethernet cords running throughout my home. How do I separate the services from the infrastructure conceptually in that environment?

Jeff Christensen: So if we think about infrastructure, let's stay with fiber optics since that's our most robust media. To keep it simple, let's ask who controls the fiber optics? Right now that's the large incumbents in 99.x percent of the country. And then let's say who controls the services? And again, it's the same answer for 99+ percent of the country: it's the large incumbents. So rather than explaining it technologically, just think about the group that owns the infrastructure is different than the group that controls the services, and technologically we've created a system that allows those to be independent of each other — to leverage each other but to interact independently of each other. And the services all get pushed to the cloud, which means all service providers, including ISPs, are software companies, and once we get to software, we know that we've got a lot more flexibility. It's a lot more dynamic, and the magic is that real competition can happen. And a bunch of other things can happen. Innovation can happen. Whereas in this siloed system we live in today, innovation really cannot happen in the access space because it only happens at the speed of the incumbent, so the incumbent has full control over all of that.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's think about this back — as you were describing it, I was thinking back to when dial up was exciting, not to when it was depressing, but back in the early and mid nineties when many of us were just thrilled to be using dial up to get on the Internet. At that point, almost anybody could create an ISP because the phone service allowed you to use their lines. And so an ISP didn't know how to connect people to homes. They didn't have to worry about dialing, how the phone system really worked. They just answered phone calls with a modem bank, and then they put people on the Internet. So all of the physical stuff was just abstracted away in the sense that if you wanted to be an ISP, you didn't have to know how to construct a physical network. In some ways, that's what you're replicating now, and in doing that, you're removing barriers to entry for all kinds of companies that then can specialize in software, in working with users and providing them services without worrying about how to build a physical network.

Jeff Christensen: Exactly, and that's a critical piece. So on the EntryPoint side of it, we see our job to be to make it easy for the stakeholders of the network to do their thing and then to interact with each other. So, our job is to make it easy for a new ISP to come onto the network. Our job is to provide an interface that's intuitive, that makes it easy for the subscriber to switch ISPs. In Ammon, we've sort of built a lot of stock around the idea that they can switch their ISP in 30 seconds. But also, our job is to make it easy for the network operator to see what's going on in the network. In the next month, we will roll out in Ammon some tools that allow all three stakeholders to real time identify where an issue is. So if there's an outage, all three stakeholders — the subscriber, the service provider, and the network operator — simultaneously will be able to get an alarm and say, "This is where the problem is."

Christopher Mitchell: And that's different from the majority of open access networks today, where I think if there's an outage, of the three stakeholders: the ISP, the network operator, which we'll assume is the city for this purpose, and the subscriber — in most of those open access networks today, if there's an outage, only the operator, the city, could really know where that is most likely today. Right?

Jeff Christensen: Yeah. I think that's true. Not only in open access, but I think it's true everywhere. I mean, we just had that big CenturyLink outage and it was a couple of days before we got an explanation on what happened. Our goal is to make that obvious real time. And to tell, we're actually going to prompt consumers. We're gonna send out text messages, before they know it, that there's an outage, and then if they should call someone, we're gonna tell them who to call by identifying where the problem is.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that I think is interesting is that both with your problem statement and with the tools that you're building, I think you will not be successful if the only thing that results in Ammon or in other cities that you're working with is lower prices for Internet access. And I want to get into that in a second. I just wanted to first note that I am just going to skip all the ways in which Ammon's financing model is brilliant and really avoids a lot of the challenges focused with building these networks because we've done several shows on it. We have a video about it. So I'll encourage people if they want to learn more about that particular angle, which would be a natural thing to talk about, to check out some of those past shows. We'll have links to that stuff in the podcast page that is associated with this. But tell me, you know, would you regard it as a failure if the only result in Ammon that sets it apart from other places is a lower price for the same kind of services?

Jeff Christensen: It's great question and something we struggle with because we sometimes are too focused on the future, where what consumers understand today is lower cost.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Jeff Christensen: Or bandwidth. We're actually going to a city council meeting tonight here in Utah where a good percentage of the residents have less than one meg and many of them are on a point-to-point wireless network because there is no alternative. So you know, there is a segment of the country that still is either not served or vastly underserved, and the problem they see in front of them is clearly an access at all — a zero access problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's a good reminder and a note that you're not just sort of focused on the areas that already have good service and figuring out how to make it better. Your solution certainly will apply to areas that have nothing as well as those that are more advanced, but I think it's worth noting that Ammon has by FCC standards pretty modern connectivity in the absence of this network that your technology is enabling. So I just want to get back to poking you on this issue of exactly what is success for EntryPoint.

Jeff Christensen: So given that what consumers understand today is faster speed and lower costs, and that's certainly part of the equation. But the question we ask ourselves is how can municipal broadband move from being somewhat marginal in terms of just sheer numbers — although it's growing — but how does it move from being somewhat marginal to being real disruption, to being something that every city is thinking about and eventually every city is doing something about. So I think that's the way we frame it, is what problems do we need to solve so that every city is focused on this and doing something about it. And I think there are real reasons to be optimistic on say a 10 to 15 year view, and that's because cities can solve the fundamental problem which is paying attention to what the subscribers want, but there is really tight alignment between the interests of the city and the interests of the consumer. I mean, they both want the same thing from the network. And many of those things are things that the cities aren't paying attention to today and subscribers aren't thinking about today, and so that has to do with what does the future look like and what will the network have to be capable of doing in order to check those boxes. And you know, there's a lot of hype around 5G right now, and 5G is being presented as sort of this knight riding in on a horse that's going to solve all the problems. But it's not going to solve the fundamental problem, which is 5G is still going to be designed for the benefit of the network operator and the service providers — the incumbents — and so it's still not going to solve the fundamental issue.

Christopher Mitchell: Which is one of control, which is one of the things that we're excited about in Ammon is this idea of what if somebody has a really good idea? Does the network allow them to do that? And that's where I think to some extent we're putting our hopes that the future is not just one of streaming video over the Internet from centralized sources that are kind of distributed but centralized, you know, in terms of who owns them, but as much more of local companies doing interesting things with local clouds, right?

Jeff Christensen: Yup. Yup. That's right. And so, one way to think about it technologically is that around 2003 cloud computing changed. The data center changed, and cloud computing changed. And that's when we got automation, software control, virtualization maturing, and then a few years later, we got software defined networking. All of the convergence of all those technologies changed the data center, changed the cloud, and changed the Internet — changed the way we experience the internet. And we see those same things now pushing out into, you know, let's call them wide area networks, those same technologies. And that's really technologically what we're doing is applying all of those technologies that changed the data center. We're now applying them to a wide area network and making the networks more flexible, more responsive — really making the access space look like the Internet itself because we're applying all these technologies to access.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, I like to be specific wherever possible. And so, you know, when I'm imagining as you're talking about that switch over in 2003 is prior to 2003, if you had a company that suddenly had thousands of new potential customers that wanted to use its online service, they'd probably have to put a whole bunch of new physical machines together. They'd have to put software that would be an operating system on those machines. They'd have to do all this work — you know, physical cards. And now, they've virtualized all of that, and so it's just kind of like a computer basically makes decisions as to how to allocate space on a vast server farm and there's a lot less human intervention involved. That's more or less the story, right?

Jeff Christensen: Yeah, that's exactly the story. I think what the industry (and I would say it's more the data center industry that's focusing on this but more and more telecommunications) is calling it is cloud edge computing. One of the founders of software defined networking is Scott Shenker out of Berkeley, and one of the things he said that we've paid a lot of attention to is that everything interesting will happen in software at the edge, and by the edge we mean the consumer edge.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and in some ways it means I decide, not AT&T decides, right? That's what the edge means.

Jeff Christensen: Yeah, that's exactly right. It's "what do we need to have happen out there on a light pole by a security camera in a school that's intelligent, that's automated, that's software mediated?" What has to happen there and what does the network have to look like to make that possible? And so technologically, that's what we're focused on.

Christopher Mitchell: And this all gets back to — and I don't think we've done a good enough job of hammering it home — something that's often called permissionless innovation. And I think one of the things that I just love about your view of how we should build networks is that, you know, if a school has an interesting IT idea, they should be able to implement that. And maybe they want to coordinate with the city who owns the network, if that's the case, but maybe they don't have to. But if they're in a situation in which, for instance, CenturyLink owns the pipes, they would have to probably go to CenturyLink and ask them because it's a different paradigm of how the network is operated. And we want to avoid that situation because the school's not going to be able to get CenturyLink's permission to do something innovative and different.

Jeff Christensen: The permissionless part of it is very important and it's subtle. The structure of the incumbent model prevents a whole bunch of things from happening because, you know, the example you gave. Because the incumbents want to monetize everything that happens and because they want to treat bandwidth as a scarce resource for monetization reasons, there is a whole bunch of stuff that doesn't happen. And so, you know, go back to the Ammon model. Part of the genius of Bruce Patterson was, once you pay for your infrastructure, you're really liberated to do what you want to do with the network. As long as you behave inside the rules of engagement, you do have a lot of freedom to use that infrastructure in really open ways. And then technologically, our job is to make it easy, to give interfaces and automation that makes it easy for interesting things to happen at the edge.

Christopher Mitchell: So what does a city think about today as they are sort of unaware of where the network's going to go, but they want to be enabling as many opportunities as possible for the next 10 - 20 years.

Jeff Christensen: The cities that are working with EntryPoint today are cities that have somebody like Bruce Patterson. They have somebody who's actually thinking about not just the fast internet, low cost problem, which is a problem in every city, but they're actually creating a strategy for 10 years, 20 years from now, and as technology impinges more and more on the operations of the city, they're actually thinking about it. And we understand that not every city is going to have a Bruce Patterson.

Christopher Mitchell: This is one of those inconveniences of history, but so Bruce Patterson is the IT director for the city of Ammon and a close partner, effectively and at least ideologically and spiritually, with Robert Peterson. For people who are unfamiliar with both of these names, we're kind of going back and forth, but the two of them, I hope, will end up in some history books as this model changes the world in the best of all possible universes. But for people who aren't familiar, go back and check out the videos we've done [and] the podcast interviews we've done with these folks.

Jeff Christensen: In terms of the cities and how they're framing the problems, [in] part of the work we do, we've found that the municipal broadband as a whole hasn't been focused enough on strategy, and strategy by definition means that we're thinking about why we're solving the problem. We're thinking long term and short term. And so part of the work we're doing is really trying to get the cities to invest in strategy and think through — you know, there are places we can go to look and find out where are the trend lines for technology, and what do those trend lines mean for cities? What are the implications? And really as a city, are you comfortable outsourcing your digital future to a large incumbent and letting them set your strategy, letting them set what's possible for you? Or do you have to get serious about thinking about the future and thinking about what the network that is so fundamental to life now, thinking about what that network has to do?

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the challenges that you pose, is that cities getting into this space, it's always going to be a challenge. If you're going to get into it with the mindset of a Wilson, a Chattanooga, a Lafayette, and many others who have built very successful triple play networks in which they are the only operator and they are hitting their metrics of success — you know, that's challenging on one axis. On a different axis is saying we're going to try to move ahead and not just be successful within the framework of kind of historic incumbent cable and telephone models, but in a new way of enabling all kinds of innovation and thinking outside the box in ways that could have repercussions that are unpredictable today. And that I think is less challenging from a sense of how do we compete with the cable company, and it's more challenging in a sense of "What technological decisions are we making? Who are we hiring with what job description?" Those are the sorts of harder problems you have in that scenario.

Jeff Christensen: That's right, and you know, as we think about the potential disruptive capability, not just of EntryPoint but of the convergence of technologies combined with cities taking these issues seriously, so I think the convergence — and I'm going to add in the Ammon model. The Ammon model is the financial model that Bruce Patterson developed because really what he's saying is that a city can build this network for zero municipal debt. In Ammon's case, the city did contribute, but they could have still been successful if they had distributed all of the debt to the people that opt in. And so, the message of the Ammon financial model is every city can do this without any municipal debt and you can still lower the costs for consumers. You can still increase the speeds. And in addition, you can build a network that's future proof, meaning the network is evolvable and it's flexible and it's resilient and it's scalable and it's repeatable city after city. So you know, the financial model is critical because it's such a big boulder for cities to crawl over, but we can achieve everything that's been achieved in Lafayette, in Chattanooga, meaning lower costs, more value, a successful network. And by adding in these technological attributes, we can also give cities something that really has an economic development impact and really enables the future because they control this essential infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: The financial model from Ammon frees you from the debt, and it frees you in the sense that you're not making decisions as to, "Oh, how do we make sure we make our next month's debt payment? Can we really enable this or do we need to figure out a price to put on it?" You're free from that because the debt has been taken care of by the subscribers and the enthusiastic supporters [of] the system.

Jeff Christensen: Yeah. And it's in your other podcast, but fundamentally we're going to the homeowner and we're saying, look, we want to cut a deal with you. We want you to treat your broadband connection like your sewer and water connection, as an improvement to the property. Because of that, you can either pay for that connection up front or we'll give you a financing mechanism. In return, you're going to be an owner of that infrastructure, which means you can pay it off. You know, we believe that we can go into any city and drop the average price 20 to 30 percent, and then once they pay off the infrastructure, we can drop it another 20 to 30 percent. And so the deal is, you take ownership of the infrastructure, Mr. Subscriber, Mrs. Subscriber. In return, we're going give you a whole bunch of value. We're going to give you lower costs. We're going to give you faster speeds. We're going to give you new technological capabilities. And so, it's a deal between the city and the subscriber, and the city really becomes an enabler of this. And by becoming an enabler, the city gets all this value back because they really become a connected city and they've got this robust network that they can now do a lot of interesting things with in public safety, telemedicine, emergency communications — you know, everything that cities care about.

Christopher Mitchell: As we wrap up here, I feel like people listening to this might be thinking, well, okay, EntryPoint provides sort of both some leadership on this and the software that enables the network to operate. But you're actually helping cities at a very early stage to understand this and to move in this direction. In some ways, you're consulting as well with cities that are interested in this approach.

Jeff Christensen: We are. We don't intend to become a consulting firm, and we don't describe ourselves [as one]. We describe ourselves as a software platform, as a service. But to shift from what we know today to what we have to be in the future, it does require consulting and so that is the first phase. The cities that we're working with that are actively implementing networks, the first part of that is creating a broadband plan which includes a strategy and then an execution plan and then a project plan. And so that's all sort of a consulting role even though we don't see ourselves as a consulting company.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, but we'll be seeing some more announcements over 2019 of more cities that are moving forward. I guess the last question is just, you know, how many cities are already adopting the Ammon model that you can speak publicly about?

Jeff Christensen: We've learned that it's not necessarily — while it would be good from a PR point of view to fuel the momentum, we've learned that as soon as word gets out that cities are moving this direction that the flood gates open up on opposition. And we had a city just recently that was a done deal [that] got strong incumbent pressure and strong legislative pressure, and they backed off their plan because of that. And so, we probably will be slow to announce. I think I'm comfortable saying that we're going to have 15 cities in 2019 moving forward with this model. We'll be slow to announce those cities just because we don't think we do them a favor. We create more burden and hurdle for them by putting it out there. So we'll let them announce their news, and once they announce their news then we'll publicize it as well, and I know you will.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely.

Jeff Christensen: But we'll probably be slow to release that information.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. Well thank you, Jeff, for coming on the show. You've been a friend ever since we met on a flight on the way to Ammon. Delta sat us next to each other. And I was at first a little skeptical [of] this person who just sort of knew a lot about me and where I was going, but it's been a pleasure getting to know you and seeing what EntryPoint's doing.

Jeff Christensen: Likewise, and EntryPoint certainly appreciate everything you're doing, Chris, and your organization does.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Jeff Christensen, president of EntryPoint networks. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 338 — the first of 2019 — of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Colorado Map: Local Authority Expanding Across the State

January 9, 2019

A total of 40 counties and 102 municipalities have now chosen local telecommunications authority by passing ballot measures to opt out of restrictive state law. Last November, 18 counties, cities, and towns voted to join the expanding list of communities opting out of SB 152, which revoked local telecommunications authority in 2005. We decided to update our map to get a new visualization of what the situation now looks like in Colorado. 

Take a gander:

Moving Across the State

The map, updated by Intern and Mapping Maven Hannah Bonestroo from an earlier version created by former Research Associate and Visualization Virtuoso Hannah Trostle, shows how the decision to opt out is sweeping from region to region. Earlier referendums centered in the Mountain and into the Western Slope and San Luis Valley communities. During this past election cycle, most of the counties bringing the issue before voters were in the Plains region.

In past years, mountain towns, often resort communities, were looking for better connectivity when big ISPs considered deployment too challenging and expensive in their geographies. Now, it appears that the rural and less populated Plains communities are seeing value in reclaiming local authority.

With fewer population centers in the Plains region, farms and ranges fill much of this section of the state. Large, corporate ISPs don’t consider this type of landscape profitable due to the lack of population density, however, farmers and rangers require high-speed Internet access for various reasons. Crop and livestock monitoring and realtime reporting are only a few of the ways 21st century agricultural professionals use broadband.

Colorado’s Free Communities

In Colorado, there are 271 active incorporated municipalities, 187 unincorporated Census Designated Places (CDPs) and other small population centers that are outside of CDPs or municipalities. To date, the 102 municipalities that have elected to opt out of SB 152 have all been incorporated municipalities, or approximately 38 percent.

The 40 counties where voters have chosen to opt out make up 62.5 percent of the 64 total counties in Colorado. One glance at our updated map confirms that almost 2/3rds of the state now shows the colors of reclaimed local telecommunications authority. 

Some of those communities chose to opt out this past fall in order to move ahead on planned projects or get started with feasibility studies, including Cañon City and Fremont County. Most who chose to put the issue on the ballot had the same sentiment as communities from past years — voters simply feel that options should remain open and that local folks should be the ones to make the decisions on how best to improve connectivity.

Tags: coloradosb 152referendumelectionlocalmap

Taking Control Through Software Defined Networks - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 338

January 8, 2019

Many of us are accustomed to Internet access from companies that own the infrastructure, offer only a few options, and are one of a small number of providers. For the most part, we've learned to accept that model, but will it ever change? This week’s guest, President of EntryPoint Networks Jeff Christensen, explains why that model is broken and how we can fix it through software defined networks (SDNs). We can turn that model around to put control in the hands of users.

EntryPoint works primarily with municipalities to develop open access networks that separate infrastructure from services. As you’ll hear from Jeff, this approach takes the open nature of the Internet even further to encourage innovation, competition, access to goods, services, information, and ideas. EntryPoint’s approach turns the traditional closed system most American’s are used to on its head.

Jeff explains how the growing use of the cloud and changes in other technology have brought us to the moment when we can change how we interact with the Internet. Moving forward, users rather than ISPs, will drive technology innovations. Christopher and Jeff discuss how cloud edge computing will drive that shift, how SDNs enable innovation, and how municipalities fill a role they are already familiar with as keepers of infrastructure. They also get into some of the considerations to keep in mind if a community is looking at SDN technology.

Ammon, Idaho, has already adopted a dynamic open access approach with a SDN; Jeff and Christopher discuss the way the community has blazed a trail for other municipalities and the benefits it is bringing. They talk about Ammon’s innovative financial approach, Local Improvement Districts (LIDs), and the way it has allowed the community to move forward with their cutting-edge approach.

For more, check out the EntryPoint intro video, Jeff’s TED Talks below, and peruse information at the EntryPoint website.

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

This show is 37 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

 

Modern Networks, Innovation, and Cities - TEDxRiverton, March 2018

The Internet Disruption Every City Needs - TedxSaltLakeCity, October 2017

 

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

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

Image credit geralt via pixabay.

Tags: open accesssoftware defined networksammoninnovationcompetitionaudiobroadband bitspodcast

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 7

January 7, 2019

Minnesota

Update: Frontier Communications responds to MN investigation by Mike Bunge, KIMT News

Senator's View: Job skills, infrastructure can be priorities by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Duluth News Tribune

No serious infrastructure plan is complete without addressing broadband expansion. There is strong bipartisan support for including broadband funding in any infrastructure package, and that's good news.

The lies Comcast allegedly told customers to hide full cost of service by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

 

Mississippi

Expanded Internet service to rural areas a must by Dennis Seid, Daily Journal 

 

North Carolina

Eastern Carolina co-op looks to bring high speed Internet to rural areas by Ken Watling, WNCT 9 News

 

North Dakota

North Dakota bill would set new terms for telemedicine by Blair Emerson, GovTech

 

Oregon

Broadband opportunities presented at town hall meeting by Richard Hanners, Blue Mountain Eagle

Governor establishes rural broadband office by Jayati Ramakrishnan East Oregonian

 

Washington

From campaign consultant to lobbyist and adviser: The firm that has Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s ear by Daniel Beekman and Lewis Kamb, Seattle Times 

 

General 

Towns and cities keep ditching Comcast to build their own broadband networks by Karl Bode, Techdirt

“These areas aren't getting into the broadband business because they think it's fun, they're doing it because the US broadband market is painfully, obviously broken.” 

The FCC's restoring Internet freedom order is ignorant of and conflicts with the Internet's architecture by Scott Jordan, Benton Foundation

USDA announced $600 Million for rural broadband by Rachel Engel, EfficientGov

FCC Chairman Pai celebrates Congress failing to bring back net neutrality by Devin Coldewey, Tech Crunch

Furthermore, it’s entirely unclear whether Pai’s new rules have had any positive influence at all. Broadband investment has in fact not been affected, despite a $2 billion tax break given to cable companies and a number of other sweetheart deals. The most likely explanation for any positive effects is investment planned or made years ago, perhaps as far back as the Obama administration and the previous rules.

The FCC is closing, so hold your cell phone service gripes by Klint Finley, WIRED

US Census Bureau finds stark rural-urban broadband divide by Jason Plautz, Smart Cities Dive

So many new lawmakers love net neutrality by Dana Floberg, Free Press

Will 5G end up leaving some people behind? NBC News

 

Tags: media roundup

Indiana Electric Co-op Acquires Local ISP to Enhance Broadband Service to Members

January 7, 2019

When Indiana’s Tipmont REMC asked members about broadband in 2017, more than half said that they couldn’t access fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The rural electric cooperative soon began establishing plans to develop a fiber broadband network. Now, in a move to bring high-quality connectivity to members sooner, Tipmont has acquired local ISP Wintek Corporation, and plans to serve all 23,000 members within the next eight years.

A Comfortable Relationship

Wintek, headquartered in Lafayette, began in 1973 and provides connectivity to Tipmont’s headquarters in Linden, Indiana. The ISP has used the electric co-op's poles for more than 10 years to mount sections of the Wintek fiber for residential and commercial connections. According to Tipmont’s announcement on the acquisition, Wintek has also served as a consultant for IT systems to the cooperative. Tipmont leaders have already established a level of trust with Wintek and vice versa.

According to Oliver Beers, co-owner and COO of Wintek, the acquisition will allow more Wintek customers to access fiber connectivity. “We’ve done as much as we can financially afford to do,” Beers told the Journal Review.

Began as A Solo Project

When the Tipmont board unanimously decided to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, they had not intended to work with another entity. They commenced construction this past summer in Montgomery and Tippecanoe Counties, where they’ve already deployed 30 miles of fiber. In November, they connected a dozen households in Linden as test customers to work with the system for two months.

“It’s really important when you have a service that people depend on, like electric service or broadband service, that we make very sure that what we’re providing is highly reliable given the gravity of what’s being provided,” says [Tipmont REMC President and CEO Ron] Holcomb. “So since we are new to the space, we decided to take a slower approach and make sure as we started to ramp up, the service would meet expectations or exceed expectations.”

While the co-op had no doubt that they could finish the task at hand — constructing a network and offering service to members — they soon realized that members from all over their eight county service area wanted high-quality Internet access as soon as possible. Tipmont REMC also knew that, in learning all they needed to know to offer this new service, they faced a time-intensive learning process. By acquiring Wintek, Tipmont REMC gains knowledge about network engineering, fiber deployment, Internet access delivery, and the regulations that they need to follow.

Wintek will be able to continue the expansion to bring broadband to the region:

“We’ve done a lot as a private company as best we can, which has been great throughout our entire history,” says Beers. “But in order to help tackle these larger problems on a much greater landscape, you need scale – which is something we’ve struggled with. But moving forward, having the combined venture, that’s going to be huge.” 

Better Services in the Region

Within the eight rural counties that Tipmont serves, both residents and businesses complain that lack of high-quality connectivity is negatively impacting their ability to function. Susan Benedict owns a small business located only a fifth of a mile outside of the town of Lafayette. She’s a veteran of trying to operate a business without high-speed Internet access. 

“Well you know, trying to run a business on phone lines that were put on in the '30s and '40s is kinda like driving a car to the airport with a flat,” says Benedict. “You might make the plane, but you’re probably going to be the last to board. And that is absolutely no way to run a business.”

Households will have the option to choose between three speeds for Internet access, all are symmetrical:

  • 250 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $65 per month
  • 500 Mbps for $85 per month
  • 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $95 per month

The acquisition became official on January 1st; Wintek’s 22 employees joined Tipmont.

Tags: tipmont remccooperativerural electric coopindianaruralsymmetry

NBC News Looks at 5G, Expanding Internet Access, and RS Fiber Co-op

January 4, 2019

Ever since the term “5G” came on the scene, the big ISPs have dedicated themselves to expanding hype about what the technology will accomplish, especially in rural areas. In a recent NBC News Signal segment, Dasha Burns took a look at rural and urban connectivity, the digital divide, and considered the demands and limitations of 5G.

She provides a simple explanation for why 5G can only have a limited impact in rural areas. She also touches on some of the issues that create parallels between the situation for people in urban areas who might not have access to 5G when it finally arrives. To address the urban component of digital equity, Burns went to Newark, New Jersey, and met with students who, due to economic limitations, rely on public access to the Internet.

Burns visits rural Minnesota to check out RS Fiber and talks with one of the many local people in the agriculture industry, a crop consultant, that needs high-quality connectivity from the broadband co-op. We get a peek inside the RS Fiber headquarters. For more on the rural Minnesota cooperative, download our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

Check out the 5:25 minute video:

Tags: nbc5Grs fiber coopmobilevideominnesotanew jerseydigital divideruralurbanlow-income

Funding Available for Broadband Infrastructure in Iowa, But Don't Delay

January 4, 2019

Iowa communities that suffer from poor connectivity and want better broadband infrastructure now have another possible funding source, but they need to take action before March 15, 2019. Iowa’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is now making $1.3 million in grants available to specific areas that want to improve local connectivity.

Learn more here.

In addition to Internet access providers, local governments, utilities, and “other entities that provide or intend to provide broadband service” are eligible to apply and receive funding. Projects that can receive funding must be new projects that have not started installation of broadband infrastructure. “Broadband” is consistent with the FCC’s definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Funding of up to 15 percent of the estimated cost of a broadband project is available.

Targeted Areas

The awards are specifically meant to be distributed to projects that will serve “targeted areas” within the state. Those areas — deemed as locations where no provider offers broadband as defined by the FCC — cover large portions of the state . The OCIO has provided a map visualizing where those many targeted areas are across Iowa. With the “Open Map in New Window” option, users can submit specific information, such as addresses and census blocks, to determine if a location is within a “targeted area.” The blue areas indicate "targeted areas."

Important Info

  • Applications are only accepted through the Iowa Grants System between February 18th and March 15, 2019.
  • Applications will not be accepted prior to February 18th, 2019.
  • All questions should be submitted to the OCIO before January 11th, 2019 at ociogrants(at)iowa.gov.
  • For detailed information on the application, check out the OCIO Broadband Grants page, where the office has provided examples, guides, and checklists to help with your application.

Good luck, Iowa communities!

Tags: iowastate policyfundinggrant

Let's Connect! We're Heading to North Carolina!

January 3, 2019

If you don’t live in an urban environment, there’s a strong possibility you long for better Internet access. We’re connecting local people in several North Carolina communities with broadband experts, elected officials, and representatives from regional ISPs for a conversation on better local broadband.

Sign up online for one for one of three local community meetings and share information about the gatherings on Facebook.

If you live in or near the communities of Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, or Jacksonville, get ready to attend one of a series of three “Let’s Connect” meetings, organized by us at the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and NC Hearts Gigabit. In order to start off the New Year right, we’re bringing together people who want to improve connectivity and are ready to learn more about how to get started.

As part of the conversation, local and national experts will present information on options, you’ll be able to participate in Q&A sessions, and meet up with other locals who share your goals. The events are free and scheduled in the evening at local civic gathering places.

In addition to Christopher, you'll see local officials, such as Council Member Martha Sue Hall from Albemarle, City Manager Adam Mitchell from Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lazzara.

Registration is free and not required, but is encouraged to help us plan. You can sign up at Eventbrite and spread the word about the event with your Facebook friends.

Mark your calendars:

Albemarle

Monday, January 28th @ 6:30 p.m.

City Hall, Council Chambers, 

144 North Second St., Albemarle, NC 28002

Map

 

Fuquay-Varina

Tuesday, January 29th @ 6:30 p.m.

Town Hall, Board Chambers

401 Old Honeycutt Rd., Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526

Map

 

Jacksonville

Wednesday, January 30th @ 6:30 p.m.

Jacksonville Youth Council Youth Center

804 New Bridge St., Jacksonville, NC 28540

Map

 

Image of people at town meeting in the public doman.

Tags: eventnorth carolinaconferencechristopher mitchellruralfuquay-varina ncalbermarle

Small Massachusetts Town Moves Closer to Muni Fiber

January 2, 2019

The small town of Windsor is joining the list of communities in western Massachusetts who are taking measures to improve local connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. The town of fewer than 1,000 people anticipates connecting all residents and businesses before the end of 2019.

Grants Are So Good

Windsor is benefitting from a grant of more than $886,000 from the FCC Connect America Fund, to be distributed over a 10-year period. Six other Berkshire County communities will also receive funding from the FCC; Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) applied for the funding on behalf of the region’s communities. In total, the seven towns will receive more than $2.45 million during the next decade to improve local broadband. The Westfield utility has been working with its neighbors in recent years in different capacities, including as an ISP, network operator, and as consultants.

Community leaders originally estimated Windsor’s planned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network would cost approximately $2.3 million. Select Board Member Doug McNally said that the community may use the award from the FCC to help pay down debt to deploy the network or may be used directly to help residents who have long driveways, requiring more individual investment to connect to the town’s network.

Windsor also received approximately $830,000 from the state in 2017 and previously approved borrowing to fund deployment. Windsor had planned to work with the WiredWest cooperative, until the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) put up several hurdles that interfered with the cooperative’s ability to realize their business model. WiredWest has revamped what it plans to offer member towns and, according to McNally, Windsor may contract with the co-op for Internet access and operate the network.

If Windsor chooses WiredWest, subscribers could choose between symmetrical packages of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $59 per month or 1 gigabit per second for $75 per month. Voice service would cost an additional $19 per month. All subscribers also pay an additional $99 activation fee.

The community could, alternatively, hire WG+E to provide Internet access but manage the network themselves. Regardless of which option they choose, the town will own the infrastructure. Windsor expects to make their decision before construction begins this spring.

Construction Highs and Lows

Choosing ISP will be an issue for a special town meeting, says McNally, possibly along with deinfing a policy to deal with those long driveways that increase the price of deployment to some properties.

While premises far from the main road are more expensive to connect to the network, McNally will propose that the town shoulder the full cost. In addition to making FTTH available to every home for equity’s sake, he notes that such a policy will increase take rate, revenue, and help boost the success of the network.

The town won’t have access to the FCC Connect America funding until 2021, but Windsor will use short-term loans to fill the gap and recent developments are helping to lower the initial construction estimate. The winning bid for construction came in lower than expected, and the town took advantage of the local energy provider’s decision to replace utility poles. When Eversource Energy contacted Windsor for approval to upgrade to taller poles, the municipality gave permission in exchange for the right to attach fiber without make ready fees. The parties agreed, which will save Windsor approximately $160,000.

"We fell into a bed of clover on that one," McNally said, "We're in very good shape."

Image credit ToddC4176 at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Tags: windsor mamassachusettsmassachusetts broadband instituteFTTHwestfield mafundingpolesmake-ready

Vinton, Iowa, Stepping Forward on Fiber Network Deployment

December 31, 2018

It was more than two years ago when voters in Vinton, Iowa, resoundingly gave their blessing to the city to form a telecommunications utility. After study and consideration, the municipality is now ready to move from design to deployment.

In mid-December, a Notice to Bidders went out from the Vinton Municipal Electric Utility (VMEU) and the engineering firm working with the community to develop a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. According to the notice, Vinton plans to build the network “in its entirety” over the next year.

According to the media release, the city plans an underground deployment and anticipates the network will include approximately 82 miles of fiber. The Media Release indicates that several RFPs will be forthcoming throughout 2019.

Read the Notice to Bidders Media Release here.

It’s Feasible

In the fall of 2015, after Vinton voters decided 792 to 104 to put VMEU in control of the broadband initiative, it took until early 2017 for the city to hire a firm to develop a feasibility study. Many people in the community of about 5,100 people were tired of poor Internet access via slow DSL. Cable Internet access is available in some areas of town, but both residents and businesses feel that without high-quality connectivity, Vinton will lose out to other Iowa towns  that already have created municipal networks.

Cedar Falls and Waverly are both within an hour's drive north of Vinton. Other communities in Iowa have invested in fiber networks to improve economic development, including Spencer, Lenox, and Harlan.

The feasibility study presented in the spring of 2018 recommended that the city take advantage of its knowledge base within VMEU and create the telecommunications utility that the voters approved in 2015. Consultants discouraged Vinton from investing in an open access network, noting that the problems citizens have indicated — better voice, video, and high-speed Internet access — might not be solved unless the municipality take the reins and offers those services directly. They recommended that, if Vinton decided to invest in a network and offer services, they provide triple-play to the community.

Consultants that completed the feasibility study estimated that the network would cost approximately $8.9 million to connect all 2,100 residential and commercial premises in Vinton’s 4.74 square miles. They anticipated that the city will fund the project with revenue bonds and working capital.

Review the full feasibility study.

Wheels of Progress Turning

By November, VMEU had appointed a committee to look into the particulars of the project and the feasibility study, and to develop recommendations. At their November meeting, they decided to aim for early 2019 as the time to provide more information to the people of Vinton.

Locals seem ready to get the project off the ground. An October editorial from Vinton Today expressed impatience and fear of the future if the city didn’t follow through with their plan to improve local connectivity:

The public support is strong because all the small communities around us offer high-speed fiber-optic broadband service, and it’s clear that the current providers aren’t going to invest resources in Vinton.

Unless we act, Vinton’s technolgy will continue to fall further and further behind.

Vinton needs to be competitive for young families and businesses, we should also be interested in educational parity and fairness to those whose incomes don’t support high internet bills.

Vinton NEEDS to step into the next century, and now.

If all goes according to plan, 2019 will be the year that this rural Iowa community gets the connectivity they desire to protect their future.

Image of the Benton County Courthouse in Vinton by Scott Romine [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Vinton, Iowa, Notice to Bidders Media Release RFP for FTTP VMEU FTTP Feasibility StudyTags: vintoniowaFTTHmunigigabitelectricfeasibilityrural

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 337

December 28, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 337 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. It's the end of the year, so that means it's time for our annual predictions podcast. In this episode, we review what we got right — and wrong — about 2018, and we make some new predictions for the upcoming year. Listen to the full episode here.

 

 

Lisa Gonzalez: It's 2019.

Christopher Mitchell: No, it isn't! Almost 2019.

Lisa Gonzalez: Have you started your presidential campaign yet? If you haven't, you're behind.

Christopher Mitchell: I was really fearful that we would already be knee deep in people that were, you know, arguing over the next president, but we've mostly avoided that. So that's something I'm incredibly thankful for in this moment.

Lisa Gonzalez: Something else to be thankful [for] is the prediction show from the Community Broadband Bits podcast, and here it is!

Christopher Mitchell: Wait a minute, wait a minute. I actually think it's the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Lisa Gonzalez: Right you are Chris, and this year we have two new voices.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. We're very excited to be welcoming into the studio the new voice of Jess. Jess Del Fiacco, welcome to the show.

Jess Del Fiacco: Happy to finally be on.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Katie Kienbaum. Welcome to the show.

Katie Kienbaum: Thanks.

Christopher Mitchell: We're missing Nick and Hannah, although we may have a special little presentation from them, just in recognition for their many years of service and how much we miss them. But we're gonna talk about what happened in the last year, what we thought was gonna happen, and then some of what we think will be happening next year.

Lisa Gonzalez: If you haven't heard one of our prediction shows before, it's a prediction show. However, it's also a review show because we always like to review the predictions we made for the prior year.

Christopher Mitchell: I predict some of our predictions will have been wrong.

Lisa Gonzalez: I predict you're correct.

Christopher Mitchell: The one that I wanted to start off with was that I made the bold prediction "No good will come of the FCC," and I was wrong. Which, I did not expect to be wrong, but I think that the CAF II reverse auction had a lot of good coming from it. It set some really important, really good precedents. So let's start with a moment of praise for something the FCC got right before we really start to trash them.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yay.

Christopher Mitchell: And in particular, if people are interested in that, the show that we did with Jon Chambers from Conexon that discusses the CAF II auction. I think we did it in September or October. I think that was one of our best shows of the year. The FCC, you know, that was sort of a joke that we did about "no good will come of it." I mean, obviously there's other things that are important that have been done. There's a number of things that I find frustrating, but we're not going to dwell on those things. Let's jump into the barriers discussion. Where Lisa was wrong, just —

Lisa Gonzalez: I was so wrong.

Christopher Mitchell: So wrong, despite having snuck through the previous year with a correct guess.

Lisa Gonzalez: That's right. And Chris predicted there would be fewer than five bills introduced at the state level that would be harmful to municipal broadband efforts, and he was correct.

Christopher Mitchell: And it's worth noting because there was a number of people that we respect who I think were right to sound the alarm that we could face many more bills given the many state legislatures that flipped to being much more conservative. And historically, it has been conservative legislators that have tried to preempt cities from building networks.

Lisa Gonzalez: I think it's also important to point out, Chris, that you are also correct, in that —

Christopher Mitchell: I agree. I don't even know what you're going to say, but you're so right.

Lisa Gonzalez: — in that you thought that there would be bills introduced to help local communities. And there was a bill introduced in California —

Christopher Mitchell: We won!

Lisa Gonzalez: Yes — that allows the community service districts to build municipal broadband networks. And in the past, they were allowed to do that, but if somebody else wanted to offer services over that infrastructure, they were obligated to sell that infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and our understanding is that there are at least a few that are looking into their options and could move forward. This is — it's very exciting. Many thanks to assembly member Ed Chau who pushed that bill, who was a champion for it, made it happen. There was no opposition from the usual forces that we were afraid might. I think we may see less of a push continuing into 2019. My first prediction, I guess, we'll see less of a push as the bigger carriers I think are more fighting over urban and suburban areas rather than worrying about rural areas.

Lisa Gonzalez: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: There was one other exciting development as well, which was Washington State eased some of the restrictions as well, which was on port authorities I believe. And I believe Kitsap has an emergency authority to offer retail services if necessary in some parts of its network.

Lisa Gonzalez: So then what about for this year, predictions for this year, as far as municipal broadband bills — for or against?

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think we're quite concerned. I mean we've already seen old fan favorite Representative Hoitenga in Michigan pushing a bill that would try to make some broadband subsidies available but not available to municipalities. So there's still some movement in Michigan from her to try to harm municipal networks. We're fearful that we'll see some activity in Virginia. So I don't think it will be zero. I'm quite confident to stay below five. I don't think that's a very challenging prediction. I'm going to say we're going to see three or less.

Lisa Gonzalez: I agree. I would say that's a safe number.

Christopher Mitchell: Aw!

Lisa Gonzalez: I know. Well I can't go higher. I mean, I do have to stick with some common sense here, you know.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me our two new voices starting with Katie. You know, we're talking about these preemption bills. You haven't really been involved in a preemption fight yet. What's your sense when you've been working at this for more than six months now, in terms of the threat of the big carriers trying to preempt cities. Is it something that you worry about?

Katie Kienbaum: I worry about it, but I guess I'm more expecting that the big carriers will try to maintain the status quo in a lot of areas too instead of pushing for new preemption regulation or preemption bills — that they'll just try to keep it difficult or inconvenient for municipalities to build their own networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Yeah. I think that's what we're seeing.

Jess Del Fiacco: And I would essentially agree with Katie. I think if nothing else, it's pretty bad press for the big incumbents to make a move like that and they're going to avoid it when they can.

Christopher Mitchell: I've always secretly felt, like, annoyed when we had to deal with those bills, but man, it was nice because it was our best press months were in those months that we were being attacked.

Jess Del Fiacco: Oh yeah. Because it's us taking on the empire, right?

Christopher Mitchell: Exactly. Yeah. Related to that, we had a prediction from Hannah last year that we would see more state legislation to help co-ops expand in rural areas. I don't think that really happened, although we are seeing a discussion in Mississippi that maybe they should do that and I would think that probably it will happen.

Lisa Gonzalez: I think that's correct. However, this year I'm pretty confident that right now in Mississippi, there is a bill out that will change the law that will allow co-ops to offer broadband service because the way the law is written right now, this is the only state in the union that doesn't allow electric co-ops to offer broadband service. And we wrote about that recently.

Christopher Mitchell: Which again, I've tweeted about this a fair amount — and there's nothing better than a podcast host talking about tweets — but this is a very easy challenge under section 253 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. If the co-ops actually wanted to do this, they've had a route. It's a very easy case to say federal law does not allow you to stop us, as private institutions, from serving Internet access if we'd like to. They've just chosen not to do that. So to some extent, Katie, I think, you and I have talked about this before, but there is, I think a tendency of people in power to say, "Oh, I would love to make that investment, but I just can't. I'm not allowed to, so you can't blame me if I don't do it.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I think, especially with a lot of the rural electric cooperatives, especially the smaller ones in small towns, you know, they have a lot of potential for creating this great change and bringing broadband to their members, but they also are a source of entrenched local power in a place where there's not a lot of outlets for that. So I think they can be, like most utilities, really risk adverse but also just kind of lazy. I don't know if that's too strong to say, but um —

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about this briefly because you have real experience with this. And this is not in any way to minimize the importance of electric co-ops, the way that they have done a tremendous job historically of providing this difficult infrastructure in areas that are difficult to serve, but there are some trends among some co-ops often in areas, I think more like in the Appalachians, for instance, we've seen it a fair amount, where you were working before you came here. But tell us a little bit about what you saw with that because I think there is a sense — and we're going to talk about our prediction [of] how many co ops would be offering services this year — you know, there's a sense that a lot of them are getting on board, but some of them continue to resist very strongly despite the fact their communities seem to be greatly harmed by not having the service.

Katie Kienbaum: So a of the co-ops kind of — I don't know if I'd say a lot, I don't know if I can really put a number on it.

Christopher Mitchell: More than one.

Katie Kienbaum: [laughs] More than one. Multiple, one may say, co-ops kind of just want to keep doing what they've always been doing, which is provide electric service often at a reasonable cost to their members, which is great, but a lot of them don't want to branch out, try broadband. Ideally, their members would be able to influence that by talking to their representatives at the co-op, voting for new board members at the co-op, but in certain areas — you know, you see it in the Appalachians, I think in the southeast in general, co-ops may not be as democratic as they're supposed to be and they may have barriers in place for voting and sometimes they have really crazy voting systems. Some co-ops make it really difficult for folks to vote and for their vote to be counted. So I think we're going to see probably some co-ops that give up after extended member pressure to bring better broadband. But I think that's gonna be a struggle, and I think just making the way as easy as possible for co-ops to deploy broadband and not have any concerns about its legality is a really good thing for legislators to consider.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And I should say as well that even though we strongly believe that those cases are easy, that these co-ops don't have a ton of extra resources to go hiring lawyers and get opinions and that sort of thing. We're going to stick on rural for a couple more minutes because we made a prediction that more than 100 of the electric co-ops would be offering fiber service by the end of the year. We've got little less than — a little more than two weeks left. Katie, are we gonna make it?

Katie Kienbaum: No.

Christopher Mitchell: So I was wrong, but more importantly, Hannah was really wrong, so I can feel better about myself. Hannah predicted more than 150.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah. So I think the real number is probably about about 68 electric cooperatives are currently providing service to at least one person. Um, I think there's probably about another 20 that have announced that they're going to begin providing service or have started construction of a fiber network but haven't started servicing their members yet.

Christopher Mitchell: What are you thinking for next year. You got 12 more months, what number are you going to stick on?

Katie Kienbaum: I might go for . . . 90? That sounds really sad.

Christopher Mitchell: No, I'm going to say 150. I think we're gonna see a continued resurgence, and I think we're going to see a bold construction period here and, you know, I think we'll have 150 who will be serving a member or be very close to that, I think I might say. There's a little bit of wiggle room, but you can't blame a co-op in Pennsylvania that is ready to put the shovel in the ground but can't in November. So that's where I would stick it. And either one of you want to jump in, Lisa or Jess?

Lisa Gonzalez: I think that your number of 150 is way too high. I think that those 20 projects that Katie mentioned are going to be done and will be serving people. And there may be a few more, but I think the process is too long and cumbersome for many more to have already started serving people.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's a good critique. I think there's many more than 20, we just don't know about them, who are working their way down that pipeline.

Lisa Gonzalez: It's very possible.

Christopher Mitchell: So yeah, I'm going to be bold, and I'm no stranger to being wrong in these predictions.

Lisa Gonzalez: Boy, ain't that true.

Christopher Mitchell: So the last piece is, and this is my favorite prediction from last year — Lisa, do you know which one I'm talking about?

Lisa Gonzalez: The network neutrality one?

Christopher Mitchell: No, no.

Lisa Gonzalez: The cities one?

Christopher Mitchell: No, my quote was that the federal government would tell rural America —

Lisa Gonzalez: Oh yeah, yeah — that rural Americans could suck it.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, and I would stand by that. I think the federal government has told rural America, in not as many words, you can suck it.

Lisa Gonzalez: And they've done that in so many things, not only broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and so I think this is one of those things. A lot of people, when Donald trump was becoming president, they had this hope that — many people who voted for him in rural areas did it because they had a sense that no one was looking out for them, they would take a big gamble, and Donald Trump and the people around him immediately forgot about them, about rural America, to the extent that they ever really cared about them. And I think this is really embodied in a program that was passed this year that we critiqued that was gonna give the USDA more money to get out to the most underserved areas. I think it was $700 million dollars or so was appropriated. None of that money is available yet, and from what I understand, they don't even know what the rules are going to be. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Trump administration basically said, "Yeah, we're not in a hurry to disperse this. You know, we're developing the rules but USDA still has mone, they haven't gotten out the door, so, you know, we don't really care that much about it." And I think that's the attitude of the federal government, frankly. There's a lot of good people in the federal government, you know, whether are Democrats or Republicans, whether they're Trump republicans or the sort of historic Republicans or whatever. They do care about rural America, but as a whole, the federal government is not doing much to increase the quality of life or the economic opportunities in rural America.

Katie Kienbaum: But aren't they trying to appropriate even more money for the USDA grant, in addition to the money they have that they haven't spent?

Christopher Mitchell: No, I think congress is trying to make some more money available, but it has to go through this whole process at USDA in order to be spent. But there is a bottleneck in the agencies, and federal government is not doing much. I mean, there's no real hearings on it. Frankly, the way in which the Republican Party has tried to hold the executive branch accountable is incredibly frustrating. I've said this before, and this is getting a little bit on a rant but I think it's worth saying, are the founders of our country envisioned presidents like Donald Trump. They did not envision a congress that would refuse to hold a president accountable for his actions or for the actions of the executive branch. The failure of our country right now is squarely in the legislative branch. And so that's where I think we should be frustrated. But at any rate, rural America continues to be ignored and let's hope that that gets better. Jess, do you wanna jump in?

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, I just wanted to add that I do think people are just sort of shocked and appalled at the way the federal government has treated them, especially people in rural areas. And that is really bringing the focus back to, you know, what people can do with local movements and I think broadband is going to be a big part of that.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And so this is one of the things that we're tackling and as we move into more of our predictions for next year, I think it's worth noting that I thought that we'd see more organizing at this point. I myself have failed, in terms of a hope that we had with the Broadband and Beers. I know that several of you have worked hard on getting that ready. We have not actually launched it or are tried to make this more of a movement. But we are seeing more organizing. I'm just not as much as I'd hoped we'd see at the local level.

Katie Kienbaum: Why do you think that is?

Christopher Mitchell: Well I think in part because people are distracted by a lot of other issues. These things do tend to be a little bit slow moving and people like me need to actually make it easier for people to jump in, get informed, get inspired and that sort of thing. And so that's our job and I think we're going to try and do better at it in 2019.

Jess Del Fiacco: Broadband and Beers coming soon.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Lisa, you were wrong about AT&T and Time Warner. You said that they would just walk away.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yep. I was wrong.

Christopher Mitchell: It's exciting though. The Department of Justice has stood up and said, "We're going to fight for this,' that Judge Leon got so much wrong in that awful decision in allowing them to merge. The Department of Justice is fighting on, and it's actually, I think in some ways, a continuing sign of the way in which the courts have been corrupted by the power of big corporations because the Department of Justice is basically like, this is gonna be awful for everyone if we allow these companies to merge. And the courts are kind of like, as I used to say, you've got to find a leprechaun riding on a unicorn before we'll accept your arguments because you haven't riden that camel through the eye of the needle yet to demonstrate the case you have to make.

Lisa Gonzalez: I guess the desire for a mega-conglomerate was just stronger than I expected it to be.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Well, I mean if I was AT&T I would certainly be pushing on because the courts are basically saying no, the Department of Justice hasn't proven that this will end the world, and even though it will probably inconvenience just about everyone and raise prices and really harm the overall market, the law doesn't say we can stop it for those reasons.

Lisa Gonzalez: So along those lines, you had predicted there would be more consolidation and you were —

Christopher Mitchell: You're going to pick on me now.

Lisa Gonzalez: No, you were right.

Christopher Mitchell: No, I was wrong. I predicted five.

Lisa Gonzalez: I guess maybe I don't remember part. I just remembered you had said there were more.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, yeah, we were deeply disappointed to see Opelika is privatizing. I understand why. The state legislature refused to allow them to expand to serve their neighbors.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah, they've pretty much been a target since they started.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. From what we can tell, they've certainly been successful in achieving what they want to, but they need to serve their neighbors. Their region needs better access, and the state will not let them serve outside of their boundaries. And as we know with these networks, if you can expand, the economics looks a lot better. And frankly, we need these networks to be able to expand because their neighbors need better service.

Lisa Gonzalez: So in terms of predictions for privatization, what do we expect to happen? Do you think that we'll get more this year?

Christopher Mitchell: I do think we'll have a few more; I don't think we'll have a lot more. You know, I think what we're seeing from HBC, the private company that was bought by Shurz and consolidation is a bit concerning. It's still a company that, from what we can tell, really wants to meet its mission. But we're sensing that there's interference from the larger entity that owns it now, and that's deeply concerning. I think, again, our job will be to make that clear to people that if you sell your network and lose local control that you're going to suffer. And that's something that we're seeing more of — is that understanding. When I see people, the arguments that they're making for municipal broadband now, that argument is changing. I'm really curious to get a reaction from Jess and Katie on this who are a bit newer to it. But you know, when I see the arguments people are making for municipal broadband, it's not just, "Oh, our speeds are too slow." I see net neutrality, which we'll talk about in a minute, I see concerns about customer service, prices, and just this general idea of local control seems to come up more and more.

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, I would definitely agree. And I think the customer service is actually a big aspect that I've just noticed in a lot of stories in the past couple of months that people are really, really mad at the service they're getting from Comcast. Not just prices and not just speeds, but that, you know, you're just getting that "they don't care about you" attitude and people don't want to live with that.

Christopher Mitchell: Rightnd, a I think we're going to see more of that, Jess, just stick with this for a second, because I think we're gonna have more people hitting their caps. You know, my family, we have a 4K tv. I've wanted one for so long. We finally got one this year, and now every Netflix stream is 25 Megabits rather than five Megabits a second, and that adds up. My family was already on the order of 500 to 600 gigabytes of data per month. I'm guessing we're going to be over 800, closing in on that Comcast cap. [We] may have to switch to a business service that doesn't have a cap. But I think we're gonna see more Americans coming up close to that cap and then they're just gonna be more frustrated at these carriers.

Katie Kienbaum: I agree. I think, you know, a lot of people, it's not just — especially in maybe medium-sized towns and smaller towns that do have service from a telephone company and a cable company, I see a lot of stories mentioning just wanting to have options and wanting to have, you know, good local service.

Lisa Gonzalez: I think you guys are completely correct when it comes to customer service as being one of the issues that rankle people the most. Oh, as an example, here at ILSR, we had a situation that went on for 96 days regarding customer service, and that was when we were trying to get a phone cord for one of our phones from CenturyLink.

Christopher Mitchell: Specifically a power cord.

Lisa Gonzalez: That's correct. A power cord. And if you'd like to read about it, you should read about it. It's on MuniNetworks. And we got caught up in a maze of customer service. We finally got some traction and some results when we took it to Twitter, and even then —

Christopher Mitchell: For like, the third time.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yes. And even then it was difficult to get any sort of help, and we had to go to the escalation team in order to get help then too. So it's not just, you know, Jane and John Doe in their home without any help. It's —

Christopher Mitchell: It's us. It's us with business class service. I mean, we're sitting here with fiber, we've got fiber in our office, and in part to pay for it we got the voice service which all penciled out to something that we could work out on. But the fiber service is great. We have no complaints. CenturyLink is doing a great job. 100 Megabits symmetrical. Having that extra upload is everything we hoped it would be. It makes a difference. It's wonderful, but it's a reminder that it's not just about the technology because we don't want just the technology. We're waiting for US Internet to bring their fiber here, which with any luck will be next year. At that point, we'll be able to have both the fiber but a good company that actually is responsive. You know, with a company that's local, whether it's municipally owned or privately owned, but if it's in the community, I could have gone there to get the cord, right? They know where that stuff is. It's not like I'm talking to somebody who's in South Carolina who's trying to get a warehouse in Colorado to ship out something and people in Washington state are getting in the way. I mean, you know, there were times when I felt like the CenturyLink employees were more frustrated than we were because of their inability to solve this issue.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yes, because they said that what we should do is buy it off eBay.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. They did at one point. I think maybe they suggested Amazon as well. Here's my prediction regarding net neutrality. I think Disney's going to introduce this streaming service next year. That's not a prediction. That's something that everyone's expecting. And I think they'll be announcing deals with like Comcast and Spectrum where if you sign up for that streaming service — maybe it will be billed through Comcast, maybe it'll be billed directly to Disney — but it won't count against your cap. I mean, already Comcast did this thing where they called me up and they were like, "Hey, you know, for an extra, like, $7 or something, we'll give you this streaming stuff and Cloud DVR." And I asked them, I was like, well can I use Chromecast? And the guy said yes — turned out to be a lie. And so I can watch certain programs now using an Internet connection, using my computer or phone or other devices, and those do not count against my cap. And so I think we're gonna see more of these sorts of games, and I think it's going to squeeze Netflix. Here's the key point: when that is announced, if it is, I think you see Netflix's share price drop and there you see the economic harm from not having these policies, from basically having AT&T and Comcast take over the market because there are no protections from the federal government. So that's a prediction that I think we'll see at the end of 2019.

Lisa Gonzalez: Okay. We'll check that when it happens.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey folks, there's a few days left before the end of the year, and that's a few more days in which you could send us a check. We really appreciate and need your help to keep us going. We're a nonprofit 501(c)(3), which means that it's tax deductible because we engage in education; we tend not to do direct lobbying. And so, you know, as a nonprofit organization, we really depend on people to support us so that we can keep our doors open. And even, you know, it's one of those things where you might be thinking, "Oh, is this amount of money really going to be helpful?" Yes, it is, because when our funders see us getting more small donations — our big funders like the Ford Foundation, for instance — when they see that we're supported by by people who are using our resources, that helps them to know that we're a smart investment. So please do make some contribution. You can go to ILSR.org/donate. That's ILSR.org/donate. And we really appreciate any support you can give us. You know, additionally, you can also really make sure all your friends are aware of our work, our resources, our podcasts, things like that. Spread us around on social media. Please do what you can to help us win in 2019. Thank you so much. And now, back to the predictions.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about digital equity. Jess, what do you see happening?

Jess Del Fiacco: So digital equity, I think it's going to continue to kind of grow as a movement as, you know, more and more people acknowledge that broadband is a universal need for everyone, just like electricity. We need it.

Christopher Mitchell: Jess, let me ask you, how does this set it apart from maybe in previous years? I mean, I feel like we could have made that prediction every way. What do you see specifically happening, or what's going to manifest from that?

Jess Del Fiacco: I think it's going to be broader support for municipal networks. Speaker 2: So you think people will increasingly build municipal networks for digital equity reasons? Because historically, people have built them for jobs, for economic development reasons.

Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, that's what I think. I think it's just expanding the argument for them.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I really hope that's what happens. I think that's a good prediction.

Katie Kienbaum: For example, Chris just did an interview with some folks out of Portland, Oregon who are organizing for a municipal network. One of the big drivers and kind of reasons they're doing it is to increase digital equity in the region and to make it easier for folks to access the Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Muni Broadband PDX is, I think, a really good follow on Twitter and on social media. They're very creative, they've done a video, and they're going to be a campaign to watch, for sure. Let's talk about bigger cities, and I'm curious because Katie and Jess, you both started I think after the San Francisco effort clearly had declined. This was something that I expected. I don't think we really talked about it much in the previous show, but I felt like there was insufficient grassroots organizing and activity. I felt that the mayor, Supervisor Farrell, had his heart in the right place but didn't have an effective campaign to really make it happen. Gut what do you see happening in major cities? Are you seeing any trends in terms of what you predict to happen in a major city in the next year?

Jess Del Fiacco: I would be surprised if we saw a whole lot of new movement there just because things move slowly in big cities. I think it's a lot harder to get stuff off the ground without, like you said, a really good campaign behind it.

Katie Kienbaum: Portland, Oregon, is the only one that's really on my mind for that, and they do have a lot of grassroots support there. I think we're going to see small things maybe and just small efforts to fight the 5G order, like in San Jose, and maybe some attempts to try and address digital redlining or those kinds of equity issues. But I'm not expecting a giant municipal network anytime soon.

Christopher Mitchell: I think we're going to be surprised. I think there's going to be a larger city than Chattanooga that announces. It may not be a citywide effort. I think we're gonna see some larger cities coming forward, and then I continue to hope that Seattle will do something. I think Seattle has really been harmed by this focus on trying to go citywide all at once, and I think Seattle could have long ago been a real model for a large city if they had chosen a more incremental strategy. In fact, by now they would have some service in low-income neighborhoods if they'd targeted them with a modest investment that Seattle's budget could handle. Instead we continue to see this fight over trying to do it all at once. And, you know, I'm skeptical of that, but I certainly admire the passion and the skill with which those folks have brought this issue to the forefront in Seattle.

Jess Del Fiacco: Is there anything in particular that you think would help kind of launch the big city effort?

Christopher Mitchell: Perhaps, you know, a mayor that wants to become a president or governor or something like that. I mean, that's one of the things that's a bigger deal, but I think a number of these cities are recognizing that if they don't take action, we're going to see businesses and people being pulled out of the bigger cities. Because, you know, there are some pockets of bigger cities that are getting investment from private companies, but it's these midsize cities and smaller towns even that are getting this better access, maybe better served by a co-op or something like that, and I think the market's going to notice that.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah, I keep seeing articles about the resurgence of the midsized American city and I think, you know, that's for a variety of reasons: housing costs, style of living, and just generally the resurgence in cities with, like, arts, culture, food. But I think municipal networks and connectivity could have a role to play in that kind of trend that we're seeing.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I mean, if you gave me $100,000,000 and said you can build anywhere in Minnesota, I would probably go to Rochester or Duluth because it would be lower cost to build there. Building in larger cities is difficult even for any entity, frankly, and so I think the bigger cities are going to have to take action. Otherwise, they may be left behind. And they'll still have cable. I mean, they're gonna have good download speeds. They're going to have, you know, the customer service. It's not going to be the end of the world, but I think they'll be frustrated and it's not where they want to be. Lisa, one of the cities I just want to note, you've been working on a case study of Newark that will come out in 2019, and so some of those cities are moving forward quietly.

Lisa Gonzalez: They are bringing better connectivity to lower income people.

Christopher Mitchell: And businesses.

Lisa Gonzalez: And businesses, yes. And you know, when you were talking about larger cities, I was going to on some levels agree, on some levels disagree. I believe that there will be larger cities who are more inclined to offer municipal network connectivity to businesses, but I don't see it for residents yet. There's going to be more of them who are offering their I-Nets, expanding them out to businesses and testing the waters and maybe developing some finances to then go to residents. But I don't think they're quite there yet for residents.

Christopher Mitchell: What do you think is going to happen on open access?

Lisa Gonzalez: We are going to see more communities that are investing in open access networks. You know, with places like Foresite, who are actively going out and working with communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. EntryPoint is doing a great job of this too. Jeff Christensen's all over the place. I see him.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah, and I think that there will be more communities that are interested in that model. I'm not sure that the communities that are doing it are the right places for it simply because the number of people who live there might not economically support an open access network. However, I'm not an expert on open access networks. Maybe I will be someday, but I do think that we will see more of them. I do think there's a pretty big future for open access infrastructure, and I expect to see more of that at different size communities, including large cities.

Christopher Mitchell: I think our budding open access expert Katie wanted to jump in.

Katie Kienbaum: Yeah. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these places where maybe open access isn't the right choice, where it turns into more of a quote-unquote "partnership," public-private partnership type of model, where they really only find one provider to operate in their open access network and it turns into something more like that.

Christopher Mitchell: Well hold on — Katie's trying to push the microphone away from her face. When you say it doesn't work out, I'm curious, what do you mean by that? What is your fear?

Katie Kienbaum: I guess my fear is that if a place doesn't have, you know, the subscribers that are ready to subscribe to that and take services off of it, it won't attract enough providers to really make it an actual, like, marketplace over the open access network, so then it will turn into either a de facto, you know, one provider network or the municipality will work out some type of agreement with a provider, either before they even get to that point or after they've tried it for awhile and it doesn't quite work out. I don't think that's going to be necessarily, like, a significant number, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it happening in some places.

Christopher Mitchell: We have seen some evidence of this. You know, Powell, Wyoming, was going to be open access, but ended up having one provider, a local co-op, that it felt strongly with. I think [it] may still be the only provider on it. But Rio Blanco in northwestern Colorado, they have multiple providers and they only have a potential I think like 3,500 subs or less. So, I would say, I think it's a good concern and people need to be aware of it, but I wouldn't take away from this any sense of doom or anything like that.

Lisa Gonzalez: In my dreams, I have this wonderful, wonderful concept that we'll see more of these open access networks and things will go back to the way it used to be when there were, like, all these smaller providers all over the place. Wouldn't that be great, if we had, like, new entrants to the market? I would love that.

Christopher Mitchell: I mean this is what Susan Crawford's calling for in her new book, which will be out in early January. It's a book called Fiber, and she's very much calling for cities to be building open infrastructure that is available to launch all of those ISPs. I think it's a great vision. I'm incredibly hopeful for it.

Lisa Gonzalez: And we do get queries from people once in a while, people who actually want to start local ISPs and they're asking us, "How do I do it?" So the interest is out there.

Christopher Mitchell: So, Lisa, you have a few more predictions.

Lisa Gonzalez: Well, just a couple more, and one of them is —

Christopher Mitchell: You're not getting a raise.

Lisa Gonzalez: Well, then I'm leaving.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, okay, okay. We can't have that. This is a good moment for our podcast listeners: We need you to chip in to make sure that we keep the hardest working member of staff employed here.

Lisa Gonzalez: I believe we'll see more broadband co-ops. RS Fiber has been in place for awhile.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Not electric co-ops, not telephone co-op, but a new co-op that just does broadband.

Lisa Gonzalez: That's right. There's another one that we've seen lately that's taking form in Wisconsin called 3C. It's near the community of Seneca, and it's just taking form right now. I predict we'll see more of those, and I would love to see that happen. I think we'll probably see at least two more this year.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, that'd be wonderful.

Lisa Gonzalez: Also, 5G. Somebody had mentioned it earlier, I think it might have been Katie, and Katie had also mentioned fighting 5G rules that the FCC had put in place. And I've noticed that there have been quite a few local communities that are creating these emergency local ordinances, either for esthetic reasons or because they're concerned about what 5G is doing to their health.

Christopher Mitchell: Next Century Cities has a great toolkit for communities that are trying to figure out how to navigate this new world, in which the FCC gave about $2 billion of potential revenue from cities to the big carriers, and the big carriers went to Wall Street and said, "Yeah, we're not changing our investment plans. This is pretty much what we expected and, you know, we're not going to speed anything up. We're going as fast as we can anyway." So a totally unnecessary limit of what cities can charge for being in the Right-of-Way, limiting city's ability to negotiate effectively and certainly limiting the ability to do zoning of where you might be putting 50 foot poles, which is pretty large for a pole to be in a front yard of someone's house. So yeah, these are pretty big issues.

Lisa Gonzalez: Yeah. And I see a lot more of those local ordinances. You know, there are places that have put a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of thought into historical districts. And so, they're passing these ordinances, and I think we're gonna see a lot of them, especially the first part of the year. I don't know if the FCC is going to try to do anything about that, but I think it'll be interesting to watch.

Christopher Mitchell: So I think my last prediction has to do with preemption more generally, which I just learned from a focus group, most Americans don't know what the word means, but it's where a higher level of government tells a local level of government or a lower level of government that it cannot do certain things. And I'm expecting to see more knowledge and awareness of preemption in the coming year because it's becoming more and more favorite tool of very big corporations to limit local authority. Because if you're trying to do something as a big corporation, it's easy to do at the federal level. It's somewhat easier to do it at the state level than at the local level. As we saw from the referenda in 2018 here, if you spend a ton of money on a state referendum, you can win almost no matter what the issue is. If it's a fair fight, then it's a little bit more mixed as to how the outcome will be. But at the local level, what did we see in Fort Collins? We saw an ungodly imbalance of money — almost more than $900,000 versus $25,000, and $25,000 won. I mean really the people pushing the issue, they won. And so big money can win at the federal level, it can win at the state level, but it does not have nearly as power at the local level. And so we're going to see big corporations pushing to preempt that local power more and more, and I think we're going to see it on a range of issues. And I'm hoping we'll see more of these people who are getting preempted on these issues working together to raise awareness about it. And, you know, in 2013 there was a sense like no one's ever going to know what net neutrality is. My friend's parents ask me about net neutrality now. So we educated people on net neutrality, we're going to educate them on preemption, and it's going to be harder to push these things through in a few years. Jess and Katie, thank you very much for joining us on your first episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Jess Del Fiacco: Happy to lend our expertise.

Katie Kienbaum: Glad to be here.

Nick Stumo-Langer: Hey, Community Broadband Bits family. I'm missing your dulcet tones in person but I'm getting them through my ear buds here, and I just wanted to say hey and make a couple of predictions for this next year. I looked back at my own predictions, and some of them really panned out and some of them really did not. I think the one that I'm most impressed with myself is, is the kind of attitude about the big corporate mergers that the trump administration kind of let through. And I think there has been a sea change in the media and in the way people are talking about these as really harmful for democracy and our economy. So I'm going to take credit for that one and just kind of ignore all the ones I got super wrong, but I'm sure you'll litigate during the show. My prediction for this next year — and I'm interested to hear on the episode what you guys say about this — I predict that our good friend, Ajit Pai, our wonderful Verizon lobbyist and FCC chair, is going to have some kind of media attention put on him as one of these other kind of commissioners or people in the Trump administration that has kind of inappropriate ties to the lobbying and the industries that they been a part of,and that that's going to be a big media story this year, which hopefully will clarify some of the different things that he's been doing in the FCC. And on the state level, I'm super interested actually to see in the legislative session, I hope that there's going to be maybe three or four or five different legislatures kind of taking up this issue of how to get broadband access to their kind of most rural and sparse areas. So that was my prediction for those things.

Lisa Gonzalez: If you have listened to other podcasts from the Community Broadband Bits podcast, and we know you have, then you probably remember Hannah Trostle's voice. Hannah Trostle used to work at ILSR as a research associate, and she's authored several reports for us. Well, she's back. She's been in Arizona doing graduate studies and she's just come back to visit us, and while she's here we grabbed her to give us her predictions for 2019 and beyond. Hey Hannah!

Hannah Trostle: Hey Lisa. Thanks, it's so good to be back.

Lisa Gonzalez: So, we have all given our predictions. We wanted to get yours for 2019 and beyond.

Hannah Trostle: Yes. I haven't listened to any of their predictions, so I don't know what they said.

Lisa Gonzalez: They're fascinating

Hannah Trostle: But my prediction for 2019 is that technically, in 2019, about half the US population will have access to Fiber-to-the-Home.

Lisa Gonzalez: That's pretty ambitious. Are you sure you're going to go with that, Hannah?

Hannah Trostle: Yes, I'm very sure. And my next prediction is even going to be even more ambitious.

Lisa Gonzalez: And what is it? Drum roll please.

Hannah Trostle: My prediction is that, in the next five years, technically everyone in the U.S. will have access to broadband, not via satellite.

Lisa Gonzalez: Everyone?! Are you sure you want to stick with that, Ms. Pollyanna?

Hannah Trostle: Yes, I'm a very, very optimistic person about the next five years.

Lisa Gonzalez: Wow. Graduate school must have really done something to your brain.

Hannah Trostle: Maybe. I did just finish finals. It maybe melted it a little bit.

Lisa Gonzalez: So tell us how it's going anyway.

Hannah Trostle: Graduate studies are going very, very well. I am getting a masters in urban and environmental planning. I just finished up a tribal community planning course, and I am currently working on a small little paper that I'm going to give to my Cherokee nation council member to discuss, like, broadband and libraries within the Cherokee nation. Because the areas with population — so around the outskirts of Tulsa and Tahlequah — have good broadband access and then the other areas do not, but they have a lot of access to libraries. And so, finding ways to use libraries to boost people's access to Internet service is really important.

Lisa Gonzalez: Wow, that sounds really great. We are looking forward to when you come back again next year to give us more predictions, and maybe this summer you'll be around and, you know, we can have you on the show again to talk about your paper or other things that are going on.

Hannah Trostle: Yes, I should be back in Minnesota during the summer.

Lisa Gonzalez: Great. Thanks Hannah.

Hannah Trostle: Thank you. See you around.

Lisa Gonzalez: Thanks to Nick Stumo-Langer, former communications manager, for sending in his contribution and to Hannah Trostle, former research associate, for stopping by the office to record her predictions. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. We'll be taking a break next week in observance of the New Year holiday, so our next podcast will be published on January 8th, 2019. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 337 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast and for tuning in throughout all of 2018.

Tags: transcript

Phase Two for Rock Falls

December 28, 2018

After finishing its first phase of broadband build out covering businesses and industrial parks, Rock Falls, Illinois, will begin focusing on residential customers in early 2019. While residents living close to business areas will have early access to the gigabit fiber network, the city of 9,000 will use the fiberhood approach to reach its remaining residential areas.

Growing a Gigabit City

The plan to invest in citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) began taking shape when Rock Falls residents became increasingly frustrated with the incumbent cable provider Comcast. Mayor Bill Wescott called for support for the project during his 2017 State of the City address, saying “The time is now to advance Internet in Rock Falls.” Later in April, the City Council approved the use of a $5.3 million general obligation bond issuance to fund the first phase of the build out, and an overall cap of $13 million for the duration of the project. The estimated cost of the project ended up being significantly reduced because the Rock Falls Electric Department (RFED) had already installed extra fiber-optic cable to connect substations as early as 2004.

By using GO bonds to finance their infrastructure deployment, Rock Falls departs from the typical funding approach. Most municipalities issue revenue bonds or employ interdepartmental loans and money they've saved from avoided costs when ending expensive leased lines to telecommunications companies. In recent years, other methods of funding fiber optic build outs have become increasingly popular as broadband infrastructure has obtained utility status in local communities.

Nine local businesses are already using FiberNet, which offers gigabit connectivity, a huge upgrade from the 10 - 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) download previously available from Comcast. Wescott hopes that the new speed will help bring growth for jobs, education, innovation, public safety, and government in the city. Once the city moves into the second phase of the project, residents will also be able to take advantage of the service. 

Fiber in the Neighborhood 

In the fiberhood approach, the residential service areas of Rock Falls will be divided into 14 fiberhoods that each contain about 200 homes, with each area’s build out cost estimated at $250,000. In order to reduce financial risk, residential fiberhoods will require 45 percent of prospective customers to sign up prior to construction. Customers will pay a $100 installation after the target percentage is met, but the city is currently waiving the $100 deposit required with sign-up.

As the city moves on to the second phase of the project, both businesses and residents alike will be able to enjoy reliable high-speed Internet access. Wescott hopes that the new service will help provide jobs, new businesses, and economic development opportunities. Even more important, the investment allows community members to keep dollars local rather than sending them to a distant national provider.

Image of Rock Falls park trail courtesy of visitrockfalls.com.

Tags: rock fallsillinoisFTTHgigabitexpansionincrementalfiberhoodbond