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Pie (Pai?) for Broadband Monopolies Video From Public Knowledge

April 22, 2017

Public Knowledge recently released a video on changes in the new administration’s FCC policies. One by one, progress made during the last eight years is being sliced up and doled out to the detriment of ISP subscribers.

Public Knowledge describes the video like this:

This video draws attention to the growing list of giveaways by Congress and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai to large cable and telecommunications companies that act as local broadband monopolies.

The video, which functions as a broad statement of themes, uses a series of pie slices to detail what consumers fear about the new administration’s telecommunications policy positions, in general language. The pieces of pie reflect multiple potential giveaways being heaped onto big cable and phone companies’ plates.

From selling private data without consent and eliminating some companies’ ability to offer affordable broadband, to forcing consumers to rent set-top boxes and embarking upon efforts to kill net neutrality, FCC Chairman Pai and many in Congress are promoting policies that give consumers the short end of the stick.

Check it out:

Tags: videofccprivacynetwork neutralitypublic knowledgetrumplifelinelow incomeratese-rate

UTOPIA Expanding To Non-Member Towns

April 21, 2017

The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency’s (UTOPIA) regional fiber network serves communities in the north central region of the state. Without the publicly owned network, it’s doubtful the eleven communities served would have access to high-quality Internet access. It’s almost certain they wouldn’t be able to choose between so many providers who operate on UTOPIA's open access infrastructure. Now, the city of Bountiful, Utah, wants the network to extend its reach to their community.

Reaching Out To Other Communities

Recently, the city council voted to give UTOPIA a franchise agreement so the network but the city will not contribute financially to the deployment. According to the Standard Examiner, officials from the networks anticipate the first customers will be business subscribers who would help pay for the expansion.

Bountiful isn’t alone - other communities have granted franchise agreements to UTOPIA.

“This is just kind of a natural progression out of the Salt Lake Valley,” said [Roger] Timmerman, executive director of UTOPIA… The deal “brings more options to Bountiful,”

Bountiful City Councilman Richard Higginson described UTOPIA as a “proven player” in an email to the Standard Examiner. Other communities with franchise agreements include Salt Lake City, Draper, South Jordan and Pleasant Grove. Higginson wrote:

“If UTOPIA and its member cities find that providing services to customers in neighboring cities benefits their operation, then it could be a win-win for both UTOPIA and non-UTOPIA cities alike."

The franchise agreements will allow UTOPIA to deploy in cities' rights-of-way in order to connect customers to the network.

Broadband Benefits In UTOPIA Towns

Last fall we spoke with Mayor Karen Cronin from Perry City, which already connects to the UTOPIA network. She described how competition from the open access network has improved local services, the economy, and the general quality of life. Roger Timmerman participated in the interview as well. Listen to the podcast here.

There are eleven member communities that contributed to the cost of building the network, including Centerville. Mayor Paul Cutler said, “What we find is once people get (service via UTOPIA), they don’t give it up.” More than 80 percent of Centerville’s residents and businesses have access to UTOPIA.

Tags: utopiautahopen accesswholesale-onlyexpansionright-of-wayfranchise

Digital SouthWest Videos Now Available

April 20, 2017

You might not have made it to Mesa for the Digital Southwest Regional Broadband Summit, but you can now watch some of the speakers and panel conversations. Next Century Cities has posted video from panel conversations and the keynote address from Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

In her address, Commissioner Clyburn said:

“Access to high-speed broadband is a necessity in today’s 21st century economy, providing a gateway to jobs, education, and healthcare. I am honored to join state and local leaders who are on the front lines of closing the digital and opportunities divide. Working together, we can achieve our shared goal of affordable broadband for all Americans.”

The Commissioner’s full remarks were about 18 minutes long:

 

Sharing Knowledge on Infrastructure 

Christopher moderated Panel Two, focused on infrastructure needs, which included CISSP President and CTO of CityLink Telecommunications John Brown, Partner at Conexon Jonathan Chambers, Director of Technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association Matt Rantanen, Manager of Tribal Critical Infrastructure at Amerind Riskand Kimball Sekaquaptewa, and Vice President of Digital Innovation at Magellan Advisors Jory Wolf. If you listen to the Community Broadband Bits podcast, you’ll probably recognize most of these voices.

The video lasts one hour thirteen minutes:

 

The other videos are available on the Next Century Cities YouTube channel page, or watch them here.

 

Welcome and Introduction: Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities and Eric Farkas, Fujitsu Network Communications, 7:32

 

 

Q&A with Mignon Clyburn, 18:00:

 

 

Panel One: What’s Working– Stories of Success

  • John Bowcut, IS/SFCN Director, Spanish Fork, UT
  • Bob Fifer, Mayor Pro Tem, Arvada, CO
  • Beth Huning, Chief Engineer, City of Mesa, AZ
  • David Littell, RIVCOconnect Manager, Riverside County, CA
  • Kimball Sekaquaptewa, Manager of Tribal Critical Infrastructure, Amerind Risk
  • Don Williams, Senior Program Specialist for Broadband at US Department of Commerce

1:04:48

 

 

Lunch and Keynote Conversation: Mesa, AZ Mayor John Giles and Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ)

27:15

 

 

Breakout Session Two: Small Cells and Pole Attachments

  • Todd O’Boyle, Deputy Director, Next Century Cities
  • Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future Program, New America, Open Technology Institute
  • Casey Lide, Partner, Law Firm of Baller, Stokes, and Lide
  • Courtney Schmidt, Executive Vice President, SureSite Consulting Group, LLC
  • David Young, ‎Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager, Lincoln, NE

58:43

 

 

Panel Three: Broadband Financing

  • Keith Adams, Assistant Administrator, RUS
  • Jordana Barton, Senior Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
  • Tom Coverick, Managing Director, KeyBanc Capital Markets
  • Tim Herwig, District Community Affairs Officer, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
  • Aimee Meacham, Director, Broadband Services Program, NTIA

1:13:57

Tags: videoeventconferencenext century citiesfccmignon clyburnchristopher mitchelltribal landsinfrastructuredigital dividejory wolfdeb sociaspanish forkmesariversidefundingfederal fundingrusarizonatodd o' boylelincoln ne

Rural Electric Co-ops as Reluctant Warriors for Broadband - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 249

April 19, 2017

As we continue to cover the growing movement of rural electric cooperatives to bring high quality Internet networks to their members, we wanted to bring Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts back on the show. Alyssa was last on the show for episode 109 and has since moved from the Utilities Telecom Council to Pedernales Electric Co-op in Texas.

Though Pedernales is not considering a major broadband investment, Alyssa's insights from her years working with many electric utilities are valuable in understanding what electric co-ops have to consider before making a network investment. 

We start off by discussing the recent legislation in Tennessee that finally allows electric co-ops to offer Internet access before me move on to the real considerations a general manager has to examine before getting into telecom. We also talk quite a bit about the interplay between rural electric co-ops and telecommunications companies. 

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

This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitsruralelectriccooperativetelcosubsidiesfinancingloanfiber-to-the-farmpedernales electric co-optennesseepolicystate laws

Feasibility Study For Johnson City, TN

April 19, 2017

Johnson City Power Board (JCPB) in Tennessee began considering expanded uses for its fiber-optic infrastructure way back in 2009. After several stops and starts, the community is on track again, having just commissioned a Fiber and Wireless to the Premise (FTTP) Feasibility Study.

A Long Road

In 2009, when the municipal utility was installing fiber to substations they reviewed the idea of offering broadband to businesses and residents. Ultimately, they chose to focus on smart-grid development and save possible telecommunications offerings for some time in the future. 

This isn’t the first time the community of 63,000 has commissioned a feasibility study. In 2011, community leaders took the results from a study and decided a public-private partnership was the best route. The community is located between Bristol, Virginia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee - both communities with municipal fiber networks that have seen upticks in economic development. Competing for new businesses and retaining the ones they already could not have been easy while sandwiched between the two communities with high-quality connectivity.

In 2012, Johnson City announced that it would be working with the BVU Authority in Bristol as a partner. Now that the BVU system will likely be sold to a private provider, Johnson City is back to square one, but with considerable experience in its pocket. 

Asking For Input

As part if the study, JCPB has launched surveys on their website for residents and businesses; they’re also making the surveys available through the mail. JCPB is asking the community to complete the surveys before the end of June.

From the JCPB survey page:

Over 1,000 communities nationwide have undergone similar evaluation processes and benefited from the information obtained from these types of surveys.  Survey results have enabled key decision-makers within these municipalities to make more informed business decisions, which better benefit the entire community.  Today, advanced telecommunications services are as critical as electricity was 100 years ago.  Time and again, studies have proven that communities who actively embrace technology and plan ahead reap benefits for years to come.

Your participation in this survey is valued and appreciated.

Tags: johnson citytennesseefeasibilitybristol virginia utilitiessurveyeconomic developmentutility

Ports Of Lewiston And Clarkston Finally Correct Conduit Conundrum

April 18, 2017

By June, the networks in the Ports of Clarkson and Lewiston will at last be connected after months of negotiation, collaboration, and unraveling and old conduit mystery. 

Network Stalled By Conduit Question

Last summer, we reported how the two communities had each invested in publicly owned fiber Internet infrastructure with the plan to connect the networks at the Soothsay Bridge across the Snake River. An issue arose when rights to ownership arose regarding ownership and use of conduit on the bridge. CenturyLink controlled 20 conduits on the bridge that it obtained years ago as part of Pacific Northwest Bell. The provider was only using five of the conduit. The Ports had doubts about who actually owned the conduit and so the Port of Clarkson filed a Freedom of Information Act with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine the true owners. In the meantime, CenturyLink offered the Port of Clarkston use of one of the conduits for $0.

Soon, the parties involved discovered that there was no lease between CenturyLink and any of possible four jurisdictions involved - Nez Perce and Asotin counties or the cities of Lewiston and Clarkston, current co-owners of the bridge.

After unraveling the conduit ownership issue, reports the Lewiston Tribune, all five entities worked out an agreement to govern the conduit:

Those entities spent months negotiating, and in recent weeks elected officials from both counties and both cities signed off on an agreement. It makes the city of Lewiston’s Public Works Department the primary point of contact for CenturyLink and allows any one of the bridge owners to veto a lease or sale of the conduit. CenturyLink is not required to pay to be on the bridge.

Moving On

Now that the point of connection between the two networks is settled, the two Ports have completed an agreement to authorize the Port of Lewiston as the entity to head up installation of conduit on the Southway Bridge.

Both networks offer dark fiber connectivity to local community anchor institutions (CAIs), ISPs, and a few businesses. In addition to dark fiber networks in Lewiston and Clarkston, the Port of Whitman County has owned and operated a similar endeavor for over ten years. The three networks connect to form a loop for redundant connectivity throughout the region spanning the border between the ports in northwest Idaho and southeast Washington.

Tags: port of lewistonport of clarkstonidahowashingtonbridgeconduitcenturylinkpartnershipanchor institutionsdark fiber

Net Inclusion 2017 Coming May 16-17

April 18, 2017

Net Inclusion 2017 from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and hosted by the St. Paul Public Library is less than a month away. The event will be on May 16 - 17 in Minnesota and early bird registration prices are available to April 20th.

From the event website:

Participants will discuss current and potential local, state and federal policies and policy innovations that could increase digital equity, current and potential sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs, and share digital inclusion best practices and new strategies from across the USA.

Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice and the Henry Cohen Professor of Urban Policy and Management at the New School will present the Keynote address. Read more about her work here.

The event will start on Tuesday, May 16th, with tours of local inclusion programs and lunch at the historic James J. Hill Center. Participants will then move to the St. Paul Central Library and City Hall for the Break-out Sessions. The Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award will be presented on Wednesday along with some other special discussions on local government investment and the digital divide.

Christopher will be speaking on Tuesday at the 2:45 p.m. “Statehouse strategies: State-level digital inclusion advocacy and programs” panel. Other familiar speakers include:

  • Chris Lewis, Public Knowlege
  • Joanne Hovis, CTC
  • Laura Breeden, NDIA
  • Nicol Turner-Lee, Brookings Institution
  • Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation
  • Matt Wood, FreePress

…and many others.

In addition to speakers from national organizations, the agenda includes quite a few participants from St. Paul and Minnesota groups working toward digital literacy and finding ways to bridge the digital divide.

Break-out sessions discuss a range of issues, including legislation and policy, network neutrality, new technologies to assiste with digital inclusion, wireless advancements, the nuts and bolts of digital inclustion programs, and much more. View a list of all the break-out sessions.

Register online here.

Tags: national digital inclusion alliancest. paulminnesotaeventchristopher mitchelldigital divide

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 17

April 17, 2017

California

Bridging the digital divide is imperative for economic prosperity by Barbara O'Connor, The Sacramento Bee

 

Idaho

Why does broadband even matter? by Josh McDonald, Shoshone News Press

 

Minnesota

World-class medical community needs world-class broadband by Mike Schlasner, Rochester Post-Bulletin

Let's double down on what works: Border to Border Broadband Fund creates connectivity by Matt Schmit, MinnPost

To date, the argument for better broadband in Minnesota has focused on (1) the imperative for ubiquitous access for all homes and businesses, (2) the benefits of widespread use in applications ranging from e-commerce and distance learning to telehealth and precision agriculture, and (3) economic growth, opportunity, and competitiveness in every corner of the state.

Broadband remains the greatest of equalizers for economic opportunity, competitiveness, and quality of life in Greater Minnesota.

 

New York

State must help safeguard personal privacy by The Daily Gazette Editorial Board

 

Ohio

State laws allowed AT&T to exclude Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods from high-speed Internet service by Eric Sandy, Cleveland Scene

 

Pennsylvania

Podcast explores LanCity Connect, Lancaster's fiber-optic broadband network by Tim Stuhldreher, Lancaster Online [Subscription Required]

 

Tennessee

Tennessee could give taxpayers America's fastest Internet for free, but it will give Comcast and AT&T $45 million instead by Jason Koebler, Motherboard Vice

Rural broadband bill to go to Gov. Haslam's desk by WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News Staff

Tennessee gives AT&T, Comcast millions in new taxpayer subsidies, yet banned a city-owned ISP from expanding broadband without taxpayer aid by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Residents in rural Chattanooga almost had 10 Gbps Internet until the State stepped in by Cal Jeffrey, TechSpot

 

Vermont

Burlington Telecom did not fail by Abbie Tykocki, New Hampshire Union Leader

 

Virginia

Negotiations underway for broadband service in rural Virginia by Charles Booth, Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Congress sides with broadband providers on customers' browsing history by Dan Casey, The Roanoke Times

 

West Virginia

WV broadband bill nears finish line by Eric Eyre, West Virginia Gazette Mail

The Senate voted 31-1 Friday to pass a bill (HB 3093) that allows up to 20 families or businesses to form nonprofit co-ops that provide broadband service in areas shunned by internet providers. The legislation also authorizes up to three cities or counties to band together and build broadband networks.

The bill’s supporters predict increased competition will lead to faster internet speeds and lower prices for consumers.

Broadband expansion bill heads to Governor's desk by Liz McCormick, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Young people group "excited" about broadband bill by Alex Thomas, West Virginia Metro News

Broadband expansion is key to economic development by The Exponent Telegram Editorial Board

 

General

FCC chair wants to replace net neutrality with "voluntary" commitments by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Broadband report: Prohibitive state rules run counter to popular opinion by Jason Shueh, StateScoop

Poll findings reflect a disconnect between public opinion and the lobbying efforts of large internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable. Many have tried to limit competition by creating regulatory requirements that hinder smaller companies from entering the marketplace, according to the broadband advocacy group Next Century Cities.

Such obstacles notwithstanding, the faith in city leadership may be well-placed considering analyst expectations that the federal government will do little to ensure broadband competition under President Trump's leadership.

How to keep the government from breaking the Internet by Elizabeth Woyke, MIT Technology Review

70% support letting cities build their own broadband networks, so why are we still passing state laws banning it? by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Only in the USA: ISPs get tax dollars to build weak broadband by Caroline Craig, InfoWorld

Cities take proactive approaches to anti-muni broadband legislators by Craig Settles, Government Technology

Image of the Highlander bull courtesy of FrankWinkler via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

A String of Municipal Network Ideas: Traverse City Mulls Options

April 17, 2017

The Cherry Capital of the World, Traverse City, Michigan, continues to weigh its options to improve high-speed Internet service. The city of 12,000 homes and businesses has the results of a feasibility study and is carefully eliminating options as they look for the one that best suits their needs.

Most Likely Possibilities

Local newspapers, the Traverse Ticker and the Record Eagle, have followed the planning process. In late 2015, the city utility Traverse City Light and Power (TCL&P) began developing ideas on how to bring better connectivity to residents and businesses. The possibilities ran the gamut from an open access network to a public private partnership (PPP), and different groups within the community advocated for each option.

In February 2017, the community received the results of a feasibility study, which detailed two main options: operating the network as a city utility or leasing the network to a single private provider. Both options assume about two years for construction and an initial customer base of around 2,900 homes and businesses. The proposed prices are $25 per month for phone service, about $50 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet access, and about $80 per month for a gigabit (1,000 Mbps) Internet access.

What About Open Access?

Local tech enthusiast group TCNewTech, however, pressed the city to also consider an open access approach, where multiple private providers share use of the infrastructure. TCNewTech member Russell Schindler explained to the Traverse Ticker that he supports public ownership of the network, but his focus is on increasing competition: 

“I’d prefer to see Light & Power maintain the infrastructure and not be an ISP themselves. We’re going to advocate for as many providers as possible.”

TCL&P directed their group of consultants to further consider this possibility and report back on their findings. At a meeting on April 11th, the consultants recommended against an open access network. They described a scenario where the first provider to begin operating on the network would likely take the majority of the customers, preventing later providers from finding business. 

TCL&P will now go back to its main options or do nothing: operate the network as a city utility or work with a single private provider. Traverse City may also collaborate with the local electric cooperative to improve local connectivity.

A City Run Network

If Traverse City chooses to own and operate a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, the project will cost just over $16 million, funded through a 20-year bond. Community leaders are considering a revenue bond, but have yet to make the final decision. The network will pay for itself, i.e. “break even”, by the 11th year of operation. Tim Arends, TCL&P Executive Director, told the Record-Eagle that they are also searching for state grant funding to alleviate some deployment costs. 

Under this plan, Traverse City would offer phone and Internet service, but not video. The community received advice to skip video offerings from Chattanooga, Tennessee

At a population of 170,000, Chattanooga is more than 10 times the size of Traverse City, but home to one of the most well-known municipal networks in the country. It was also the first network to offer citywide gigabit connectivity in 2010. We describe how the network touches everything from traffic lights to people’s houses in our report Broadband at the Speed of Light.

Smaller communities, however, also run their own networks. On the other side of Michigan, the village of Sebewaing built a citywide FTTH network in 2014 to serve the small population of 1,800. Communities more comparable in population to Traverse City include Auburn, Indiana, and Tullahoma, Tennessee. Both have been featured on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, episode 77 and episode 54.

At least one city commissioner is in favor of the city providing the Internet service directly. Tim Werner, city commissioner and a TCL&P board member, told the Record-Eagle

"If we as the city take that on as the service provider, from what I've seen so far, that's the best opportunity to provide the lowest-cost services to customers."

Finding A Private Partner

The city commission wants to further explore the second option - having a private provider run the network.

If the city expands the network and finds a private provider to operate it, the city’s cost for the project will drop to about $10 million. The city would also “break even” in the second year of the network’s operation. The hiccup in this approach is finding a private provider to lease the network and take on the operational risk of running it.

A nearby private provider, called LightSpeed, has had some discussions with TCL&P over the possibility of installing a separate fiber network, completely owned and operated by LightSpeed. The company and TCL&P have talked about developing conduit and pole attachment agreements, but Traverse City is focused on owning the infrastructure.

The PPP approach has been tried in a few other cities. For instance, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is working with local provider MAW Communications. MAW communications will own the fiber, but the city will help everyone gets connected. Listen to Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 248 for more on their approach.

The city of Indianola, Indiana, also works with a local private provider, Mahaska Communications, to build the connection from the city-owned fiber backbone to homes. The partnership started after Indianola had built a fiber ring that connected businesses and community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries. Unlike Lancaster, the city owns the fiber and the private provider only operates on the network.

PPPs come in many different sizes and may not be right for every community. If a community chooses to explore such an approach, it's important they protect their interests. Typically, finding a trusted partner willing to enter into an agreement in which both parties share the risks and revenues is a good place to start. Check out the report Successful Strategies Behind Broadband Public-Private Partnerships by Christopher Mitchell and Patrick Lucey for more on finding the best fit for the community. 

For Traverse City, the option described in the feasibility study is for the city to own and maintain the fiber network itself while the private provider simply provides the Internet, phone, and possible video services.

What About The Local Electric Cooperative?

Another possible partner is the local electric cooperative that operates in the rural area surrounding Traverse City. Cherryland Electric, part of the Wolverine Power Cooperative, is also installing fiber throughout its service area. TCL&P and Cherryland Electric have already collaborated on other projects in the past.

Cherryland Electric wants to connect its electrical substations via fiber over the next few years and then determine how to expand that connectivity to residents. The cooperative explained on their blog:

“Our plan is to start slowly with a multi-pronged fiber strategy. The first step is to begin exploring a partnership with Traverse City Light and Power in the Traverse City area. Can we reduce our risk, learn valuable lessons and then expand into the more rural areas? We will begin this process very soon.”

What’s A City To Do?

With so many options, Traverse City has to continue to narrow down the field. We spoke with Scott Menhart, TCL&P Technical Director, to confirm details and learn about the community’s response. 

Menhart noted that TCL&P has owned and operated the current fiber for more than ten years. During that time, they have leased excess fiber to a number of schools and hospitals, and recently they worked with the Downtown Authority to create a free Wi-Fi zone for residents and visitors. Extending the fiber connectivity to the residents only makes sense.

Fun Fact: Traverse City won the #2017StrongestTown competition for being not only a great place to live, but also having a community active in local issues.

Photo of Sunrise on the Lake - Traverse City by Bryan Casteel [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tags: traverse city mimichiganconsiderationfeasibilityFTTHpartnershiputilityopen accesscooperative

RS Fiber On NPR's "The Call-In"

April 15, 2017

RS Fiber Cooperative, serving communities in central Minnesota, has received attention and awards for a collaborative approach to improve local connectivity. The project is bringing better Internet access to farms, businesses, and residents in rural Minnesota that had little chance of ever getting better service from the national providers.

In a recent edition of National Public Radio’s The Call-In: Rural Life, Winthrop economic development director Mark Erickson, who was one of the champions of the project, talks with series host Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about what better connectivity means for rural areas.

Remember to check out our extensive coverage of the RS Fiber Cooperative, including our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

Erickson’s interview begins at around 4:20. Transcripts for the show are available here.

Tags: rs fiber coopaudioradioruralinterviewminnesota

TN Broadband Bill Hits Local And National Media

April 14, 2017

When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.

Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:

"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."

Motherboard

Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:

To be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.

The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):

"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.

TechDirt Gets Personal

Karl Bode from TechDirt, in his usual pull-no-punches style, described the Tennessee legislature as “pay-to-play.” Bode reminds readers that Tennessee’s own Department of Economic and Community Development determined in 2016 that the state of connectivity in rural areas is just plain dire. Why?

If you want to understand what's wrong with the American broadband industry, you need look no further than Tennessee. The state is consistently ranked as one of the least connected, least competitive broadband markets in the country, thanks in large part to Comcast and AT&T's stranglehold over politicians like Marsha Blackburn. Lawmakers like Blackburn have let Comcast and AT&T lobbyists quite literally write protectionist state laws for the better part of a decade with an unwavering, singular focus: protecting incumbent revenues from competition and market evolution.

TechSpot

TechSpot looked beyond Tennessee at the big picture:

While this may seem to be a localized problem for Chattanooga, it can be applied across the country. Think about how many Internet providers that you have in your area. Do you think your lack of options is by accident?

Internet providers have long held customers between a rock and a hard place. Most of the time they overcharge for unreliable service with bloated bundles and poor customer service. They can get away with this not only because they have limited competition, but because lawmakers have their backs with restrictive regulatory demands.

InfoWorld

InfoWorld included coverage of the recent Pew Research survey that revealed overwhelming support for local telecommunications authority. They show the irony behind the fact that so many support Internet access from municipal networks, but Tennessee elected officials would rather stop munis at the gate and fork over millions of taxpayer funds for inferior service.

 

 

Local Coverage, WBBJ

Jackson, Tennessee, is home to the Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), which offers gigabit connectivity via its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal network. The local news WBBJ ran a story about the bill and featured ILSR’s criticism of the approach. Our preemption fact sheet makes a small cameo.  

 

Tags: christopher mitchellinstitute for local self-reliancetennesseelegislationkarl bodemediasubsidieslobbyingmunichattanoogaEPBat&t

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 248

April 14, 2017

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 248. Brian Kelly of MAW Communications and Patrick Hopkins of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, join the show to discuss how the city and MAW are collaborating in a public-private partnership. Listen to this episode here.

Brian Kelly: Each of the communities that invests in Community Broadband Solutions is going to be slightly different. It's going to be about negotiating those very specific local conditions that will make the project successful.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 248 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In March, we shared the news about Lancaster, Pennsylvania's, public private partnership with MAW Communications on MuniNetworks.org. This week, Christopher interviews Patrick Hopkins, Business Administrator for the city, and Brian Kelly, Operations Director at MAW Communications. In the interview, you'll hear about the long and detailed planning for the Fiber to the Home project. You'll also hear about how both the city and this local provider found some ways to overcome specific challenges relating to the project. They each explain what drew them to this approach and some of the added benefits of Fiber to the Home in Lancaster. Check out the project website at LanCity Connect and learn about MAW Communications at MAWcom.com. Now here's Patrick Hopkins and Brian Kelly talking with Christopher about the LanCity city Connect project.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with Patrick Hopkins, the Business Administrator for the City of Lancaster. Welcome to the show.

Patrick Hopkins: Thank you for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Brian Kelly, the Operations Director at MAW Communications, a small private company that serves the region. Welcome to the show.

Brian Kelly: Thanks so much for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: So, Patrick, I thought I'd ask you first to just give us a short version of what's happening in Lancaster with this arrangement.

Patrick Hopkins: Sure. Well, we're excited to finally, I'll say -- and I'm sure we'll get into some of the history on this -- but working with MAW Communications on a community fiber broadband system call LanCity Connect. We're actually beginning the roll out of residential connections, Fiber to the Home connections beginning, I believe, at the beginning of May. Those are being scheduled right now. We've been undergoing a beta testing program since about early November, I believe it is, with about 60 customers. We've gotten MAW, LanCity connect has gotten great feedback from those customers, and we're excited to get this thing rolling.

Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. And Brian, do you have anything to add in terms of a short overview of what we're going to be talking about here?

Brian Kelly: No, I think Patrick summed it up. It's a really exciting time with the launch of LanCity Connect and the possibilities and the buzz that's happening locally around this has been really encouraging. These folks are really interested in being part of a local broadband solution.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to paint a little picture for our listeners that haven't been out there as I told you, Patrick, I played my first soccer tournament in Lancaster growing up in the Lehigh Valley. So, for people that haven't been there, what's Lancaster like?

Patrick Hopkins: The city of Lancaster -- we've got a population of about 60,000, very compact. We're officially about 7.4 square miles, so 60,000 people in that small area, but actually most, probably 95% of the residents are within about a four square mile area. Nice, compact, very urban city just in terms of, again, about 90% of our homes are row homes or just barely disconnected homes. We'll probably talk about it later but it's a real advantage when we're talking about rolling out fiber backbone across the city, but we're about 75 miles west of Philadelphia. Lancaster County itself has a population of about 530,000. So, the city is about 10% of the total population of the county. We're surrounded by, I guess, a metro area of about, probably, 150, 175 thousand. But the city itself is 60,000 people

Christopher Mitchell: And aside from MAW, you have, I presume, cable and DSL service?

Patrick Hopkins: Yes, we do.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, I always like to establish that because sometimes people assume communities that are engaging in either their own investment or partnerships, have nothing. But you already have something. You're looking for something better, I would guess.

Patrick Hopkins: Yes, that is Correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's turn to Brian and learn a little bit about -- What's MAW's background?

Brian Kelly: So, MAW Communications is in it's 19th year of business. We're a registered Pennsylvania public utility here in the state of Pennsylvania, and for most of the beginning of our existence, we focused on larger institutional clients, governmental healthcare, education, larger enterprises with multiple locations that needed to be connected. So, this emerging partnership with the city is an expansion of that core broadband service, and looking into the expansion to residential services.

Christopher Mitchell: So is serving a lot of homes and even smaller businesses something that's kind of new to you then?

Brian Kelly: Yes, for MAW communications that's part of what the whole partnership with the city of Lancaster has been is actually scaling up that component of the partnership.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, let's talk a little bit about how that partnership began. Patrick, can you give us a little bit of background?

Patrick Hopkins: We've been talking with MAW communications for probably about ten years. I think probably our first conversation with Frank Wiczkowski as the president of MAW Communications dates back to sometime in 2006 or early 2007. So, we've had sort of on and off again conversations about various fiber possibilities, anything from providing public Wi-Fi in public spaces in public parks, and then sort of over a period of years as the city got some things in order both financially and operationally, more recently those conversations turned to doing a fiber broadband throughout the city, and really what we're doing is leveraging some investment that we knew to make anyway in an automatic meter reading system. We also provide water services to the city of Lancaster and the surrounding suburban area. So, we had some other investment that we were looking to do in terms of interconnection of traffic signals and this automatic meter reading system. That conversation continued to grow into what's now the creation of LanCity Connect, sort of a bit of an offshoot of some of this other fiber infrastructure that we talked about.

Christopher Mitchell: And Brian, I would love to hear if there's any other details about the working together with the city, how it came to be, that you would like to contribute.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, the partnership has been going well, and as Patrick mentioned it's really been evolving over time. One of the things that is really nice about this is that there's multiple needs that are being met through this, and that is one of the things MAW really likes to pride itself on is stop looking at "Oh, so we're looking at the automated meter infrastructure, we're looking at the traffic signals, we're looking at potentially Wi-Fi hotspots." All of this integration and then looking at, "Oh, well once we're already investing there, there's really only marginal additional cost in connecting residents, how can we get the most bang for our buck, if you will, in this infrastructure investment." So, we've been really pleased with being able to work with the city in helping to develop this.

Christopher Mitchell: Brian, I'm curious if you just can say a few words about what it's like to be working with the city, perhaps pros and cons. I'm sure that no one's going to pretend anything is all easy. But the reason I ask is, a lot of telecommunications carriers, the larger ones especially, some of the smaller ones, are reluctant or prefer not to work with cities, and I'm just curious if you can tell us why you thought it might be a good idea to and how that's working out.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, there's definitely pros and cons to that type of relationship, and I think one of MAW's reasons for entering into an arrangement like this is more of our ethic, which is we're not interested in being what we consider a jack, just another carrier. We are interested in what is the innovation in this industry and what is the added value to the communities in which we operate. So we're based in Pennsylvania, we're going to be specifically in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and our focus is on trying to make sure that we have as much added value as possible. And, so, working with the city to solve it's multiple dilemmas is an engineer's dream. We like to consider ourselves problem solvers. The problem that we're solving is often figuring out how to get data moving from one point to another, but a much bigger way, especially in the information age. We're excited about this process of how that is really moving society forward. In terms of working with cities, I think one of the really great ways that I've seen that the city of Lancaster -- They're actually together as a unit moving something forward. So, I've worked in a couple of other cities outside of my relationship with MAW, and oftentimes with the municipalities, you can see a lot of discord internally and kind of competing policy objectives. So, one thing that's been nice about partnership with the city of Lancaster is they've been very clear about some of their basic ethics and policy principles in how we're rolling out LanCity and what they wanted to achieve, and that's been really refreshing on our end. I think some of the difficulties is, because it's a larger bureaucracy and those tend to be slower to change, then sometimes we want to move faster than the bureaucracy is ready to move, or as we dig a little bit deeper that means that the exact output is going to change over time. So, that's one of the kind of pluses and minuses is this evolving project.

Christopher Mitchell: That strikes a cord with what I've seen both from providers in cities, and Patrick I'm curious if you can perhaps comment on two aspects of that. The first is having a comprehensive vision in the sense of where you want to go, and the second would be, once you've had it, communicating it and sticking to it. Can you tell us anything about how the city's accomplished this?

Patrick Hopkins: Neither of them have come about easily, that's for sure. I think part of the thing that we benefit from is that Mayor Gray is our current Mayor has been in office since 2006 and really, we did start these conversations with MAW not too long after he took office. I came in at the same time, our public works director had actually been with the city of Lancaster earlier, the Mayor's Chief of Staff came in when Mayor Gray come into office, and over that time as I described the relationship we built with MAW over time, we also saw some of the things that Brian saw in terms of some of the new opportunities that we had, new challenges that we had, to try to tie together -- we've got multiple city of Lancaster locations in the city, we've got traffic signals all over the place, we have about 110 miles of city streets. We have a lot of signalized intersections. We have a county government who's main operation is about three blocks away from us, and we actually have a Shared Services agreement with them for file serving and our ERP system is actually located there. So we have some interconnection with the county government that's also part of this. So, over that 10 to 12 year period, it's been an evolving project, and sort of breaking down some of the silos that existed when the mayor came into office in 2006, that's frankly part of why this has taken so long. And then, the community outreach part has been much more recent, the external part of this project has been much more recent. But we've been able to keep our city council apprised all the way through the project, try to provide as much transparency in the project itself to city council and to the extent possible, also, to the public. We've built up the momentum for what has ultimately become LanCity Connect, but even the term LanCity Connect, I think, is what, Brian, about nine months old, something like that? So, nine --

Brian Kelly: Yep, that's right about nine --

Patrick Hopkins: -- months out of a ten year project.

Christopher Mitchell: Since we're just touching on some of the benefits that are coming from this, I'm wondering if you can share some of the cost savings that you've already seen and are expecting from this, and also, I just wonder how much of this would come from not just the presence of fiber that you have access to, but also from the engineering benefits that you're getting from working with MAW?

Patrick Hopkins: Obviously we have our own Internet services right now that we would have a savings that I think we're talking in total among a couple of different buildings about $35 or $40 thousand dollars a year. That's an easy one to put a number to. The more complicated stuff to put a number to is things like the interconnection of our traffic signal system. We have some interconnect with our traffic signal system now, but not nearly the benefit that we'll have out of the fiber interconnection. So, there's not necessarily a direct cost savings that I can say, "We're going to reduce cost by X," but we know that we'll be able to operate more efficiently provide better service to folks who were driving through the city, and there's a lot of them. On the AMR system, the Automatic Meter Reading system, -- Right now read our water meters for residential properties once every three months. With this AMR system, and the speed and reliability that we'll have out of the fiber interconnection, we'll be able to read meters literally by 10 or 15 times a day if we need to which means we can provide better service to customers because we can detect leaks at their property that they might not know about. So, some of this is a dollar savings, but also a lot of it is really just an improvement of services that we're going to be able to provide. So, to the extent that that, not necessarily, saves the city government a lot of money, but it can save residents an awful lot of money and heartache. The other piece of this is that we have, unlike a lot of municipalities, we have a camera system that's operated by a non profit organization that operates in the city. They have about 165 security cameras throughout the city. Part of this project has been helping to upgrade the fiber infrastructure that they have so that ultimately we can flip those cameras over to operating off of the fiber back that's been installed by MAW, and that's before we even get into the LanCity's Connect services. So, we expect with the Internet service savings, some of the staff savings that we'll have from the AMR system and others that we're going to see annual savings of probably $150 to $200 thousand dollars a year, and again, that doesn't count some of these other operational savings and efficiencies that we're going to gain.

Christopher Mitchell: Brian, do you have anything to add to that?

Brian Kelly: I think the other part of your question, though, was around the engineering component, and I think from MAW's perspective, I think that's been the most fascinating part of this is we're systems integrators in a way, and so all of these different things that Patrick just talked about could all be analyzed separately and there could be some solutions for reducing costs or improving operations, but then once we started integrating them all into one comprehensive system and looking at distributing information through a passive optical network, then it opened up new possibilities around that. So, I think that was one of the exciting things about working on this project with the city was getting to lump all of these together, and could we actually create a scaled solution.

Christopher Mitchell: So I think with some of the little bit of time we have left, I would like to just get a sense of the Fiber to the Home plan. How is it working? Let's just start with Patrick and just give us a thumbnail sketch of the moving parts, please.

Patrick Hopkins: In about, I believe, the beginning of November or so began the LanCity Connect beta program which was a connection of about 55 or 60 residential properties throughout the city. Part of it was just a proof of concept to make sure that the network speeds, the traffic, and everything was operating the way that MAW designed it -- And they ran into some hiccups along the way and some corrections that needed to be made with each of the residents who have been connected through the beta program, they've done surveys throughout. So, I think somewhere in the neighborhood of probably ten to a dozen surveys along the way for folks to test their wired speeds, their wireless speeds, and a number of other things throughout, including the customer service level of the folks who came out to make the Fiber to the Home connection to the exterior of the property, folks who came inside the property to get the fiber inside, connect the modem, and get the router and everything set up. So, through that process everybody has learned some things, and part of that was not just figuring out the networking piece and making sure that the speeds that everybody expected to be there were there, But also how best to do the installations. We've got, as I described earlier, a very compact city. We've got a lot of row homes. It makes the bang for the buck in terms of a mile of fiber goes a long way in the city of Lancaster to connect to a lot of properties, but it's also not the easiest thing in the world to work around row home properties and figuring out which is the best way to get into the property with the fiber. So, there are a lot of lessons learned throughout the last four months, I guess, and now we're at the point where MAW is scheduling LanCity Connect, is scheduling the first phase of the residential connections in two areas of the city. We've got to phase this project along. The timing of the phases is really based on the capability that will be there with LanCity Connect installation crews to roll this out throughout the city. We would love to have lit up everybody at the same time, but as you're running fiber connections to several thousand properties, that just wasn't the case. So, we have some folks who have been chomping at the bit for, I'd say, a couple of years, really since we first announced this project. They're all ready to go, and they're in phase one. Other folks are going to have to wait a little while, but I think as this starts to roll out and we get some word of mouth on the street for people who have been connected with LanCity Connect that the momentum of this will keep on growing.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I have no doubt, because when I look at the pricing sheet, you're looking at $35 a month for 50 megabits, $50 a month for 150 megabits -- It's pretty remarkable pricing. Brian, I guess as we're talking about money, one of the things I'm curious about is, the cost of building a network like this, you're getting a loan from the city that you'll be paying back over a period of time with revenue from the network, but I presume you also have to bring in some of your own money as part of that.

Brian Kelly: Oh, most definitely. We already have several hundred thousand dollars invested in the scaling up here, and you bring up an interesting point which is that the economics of residential Fiber to the Home installations is -- it's not super promising, there's not a whole lot of people diving in because of the profit margins that can be made in that particular industry. One of the ways that this was made cost effective was because of the investment that the city was already making in a substantial amount of the fiber and then we were able to work off of that core backbone. So, that was a critical element in the success of this rollout. I think one of the other things, as Patrick mentioned, we're launching at a pretty aggressive rate, and so we're hoping to sign up about 3000 customers over the next 18 months, which is -- we consider ambitious but definitely achievable. So, we had a lot of folks who wanted to sign up, like Patrick said. We asked folks, "Well, what day would you like?". They said, "Well, the first day of installation at 8 a.m. I really want to be the first in the city to be connected." There was over 50 requests for that same day. We're like, "Well, that's not possible, but we are going, going to be lighting them up.

Patrick Hopkins: That's a problem of physics that even MAW can't overcome.

Brian Kelly: Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: So, I just wanted to know -- We have an article on the website that we entitled Public Private Partnership Pursued in Pennsylvania. So if anyone wants to put a bunch of P's into Google or go to the --

Brian Kelly: I liked the alliteration. That was nice.

Christopher Mitchell: But we have more of the details the financing spelled out there. But I wanted to end with a question just in terms of how both of you are seeing it. From the perspective of my organization, we're always concerned in public private partnerships where we might see a situation in which the public gets invested, and then the partner ends up changing hands, being purchased by a larger company or somehow not maintaining that original great service that was promised, and I'm just curious if maybe, Brian, you can start and give me a sense of why another community that might be looking at this model should trust MAW and then we'll turn to Patrick, I think, to just get a perspective of how you're thinking about this risk.

Brian Kelly: Sure, so for other communities outside of Pennsylvania, they can make a decision to trust MAW or not, but we won't really be partnering with them, so we'll be staying in Pennsylvania. So, anyone who's in Pennsylvania and wants to contact MAW, that's a different story. Part of it is our company ethics. Right? So, the city was very clear on some of its initial policy priorities, making sure that as we continue to grow, we were going to be doing local contracting with firms in Lancaster, and then also as we've scaled up creating full-time, living wage jobs for residents in the city of Lancaster. So that's all part of their ethics and something that we consider as a local company something that's important to us as well. So, any economy is based on the interaction of all those local actors, and so, that was a really important piece, and then Patrick and the city of Lancaster in doing their due diligence was making sure that whoa, asking those exact questions that you asked. How do we know that we can trust MAW? Even though these guys seem like nice guys, lets make sure in these agreements that nothing can happen. And so there's a lot of language in the loan agreements and then also in the public private partnership that gives the city that leverage of making sure that MAW can actually turn around and walk away from the city and say, "Oh, that was a nice buy," we're looking at it as kind of this long term partnership that's being developed. But I think that, especially for anyone listening to this podcast, especially folks on the municipal side of things, those are really important questions to ask is, where is this company going? Are they just starting up? Is this a one or two year company? In which case you really want to do some serious vetting about capacity and their ability to stick around. In our case, we've been around for 18 years, we were able to consistently show and deliver to the city our various milestones, which is where they developed that kind of confidence over time, and as Patrick said, this is a process in the making. So, it wasn't that one day they said, "Oh, let's do this. Oh, MAW, that's a nice shiny organization, let's partner." Over the course of the last few years we were consistently developing that relationship and seeing how this would develop.

Patrick Hopkins: No, I think Brian covered that really well. We operate under the adage of trust but verify. So, as Brian said, we've had, over that period of years, built up a relationship, understood the capabilities that MAW had on the technical side and the engineering side of all this. Frankly, it sort of comes down to getting language in agreements that, for instance, the first agreement that we had with MAW, simply has a clause that says that if any of the infrastructure that we build in this partnership, if MAW were to be sold, the services that we built with that infrastructure -- This agreement carries forward to the buyer of MAW. So, we had to build in protections there because anything can happen at any point and time. So, we had to make sure that our attorneys reviewed -- We have attorneys, not just our city solicitor, but folks who were involved on the telecommunications law review all of the agreements to make sure that we had protections in there for the city because for the city itself and our tax payers, we're making a significant investment in this infrastructure. So, we want to make sure that we're not going to be sitting here five years down the road or eight years down the road and having made all that infrastructure investment and then be stuck with a system that is operated by somebody that we don't have a good relationship with. And then we get to the loan documentation side -- We're providing the operating capital loan to MAW to sort of ramp up the LanCity Connect operation made sense to us because the collateral that we have on that loan is the fiber infrastructure itself. So, we sort of have things locked down so that at any point in this whole operation -- Let's say for whatever reason something happens that the operation is not successful, there's a loan that we've made to MAW but the city of Lancaster has the fiber infrastructure as collateral. So, we've got a good trusting relationship that we've built over a period of years, but we think we also have the good legal documentation to back that relationship up.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, is there anything that either one of you would like to add as we just conclude the show?

Patrick Hopkins: Come back and check us out six months or twelve months down the road and see how we're doing. We hope that we've got a thousand or more residential connections made and that more of our residents see the benefit of this infrastructure investment.

Christopher Mitchell: And Brian?

Brian Kelly: One suggestion, especially for other communities that might me thinking about this, is that each of the communities that are invests in Community Broadband Solutions is going to be slightly different. So, I would just encourage folks to stay open to possibilities and not think that you can just grab a model from elsewhere and put it wholesale in your own community. It’s going to be about negotiating those very specific local conditions that will make the project successful.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, I would wholly endorse those comments. Well, thank you very much, both of you, for taking all the time today to speak with us.

Brian Kelly: Sure, thank you very much, I appreciate the opportunity.

Patrick Hopkins: Yeah, sure. Thanks for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: And I look forward to talking to you in maybe a years time, maybe on MAW Fiber itself. So, thank you very much.

Patrick Hopkins: Thank you.

Brian Kelly: Thanks you, sir. Bye-bye.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Patrick Hopkins, Business Administrator for the city of Lancaster, and Brian Kelly, Operations Director at MAW Communications.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested, about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all the comments and we really appreciate you all of the comments, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.

Lisa Gonzalez: We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Send us your ideas for the show. Shoot us note at podcast@MuniNetworks.org Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow muninetwork.org stories on twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks Subscribe to this podcast and all the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. We want to thank Break the Bands for the song Escape Life licensed through Creative Commons, and we want to thank you for listening to episode 248 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptpennsylvanialancasterFTTHpartnership

Grand Island, NY, Looking At Publicly Owned Fiber

April 13, 2017

When a community is plagued with poor connectivity, it impacts residents, businesses, schools, and government. Several entities within a community sometimes band together to explore solutions. In Grand Island, New York, the Town Board and the School District are pooling resources in search of possibilities.

Chronically Slow

The town entered into a contract for Internet access with Time Warner Cable, which was purchased by Charter Communications; the company now serves the town under the name “Spectrum.” According to Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray, he’s measured speeds in Town Hall, which dip as slow as 5 to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps). The cable provider claims that its speeds are 50 Mbps. "I can't find anyone who has had 50 Mbps, the fastest I've seen is 25," said McMurray. "Every week I receive screenshots from people complaining."

Grand Island (population approximately 21,000) is in the Niagara River and considered part of Erie County. The county is at the western border of the state with Canada; Buffalo is the nearest American urban center.

A Middle Mile Partnership?

The town and the school district have commissioned a feasibility study to examine the idea of investing in a publicly owned fiber-optic line through the middle of the island. The city hopes the investment will encourage more providers to move into the area and build out last mile infrastructure to serve the community.

School district representatives mentioned that they are satisfied with the service the schools now receive from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, but are in interested in the benefits of owning the infrastructure:

"By building their own infrastructure (the school district) will have at least as good as service as they do now, but they will own the lines," said McMurray of the potential for a partnership. "And by leveraging the power of the schools the municipal infrastructure will benefit as well. By involving the school this puts this into the realm of possibility."

Schools are able to use federal E-rate funding to build fiber-optic infrastructure. Partnerships like this - between school districts and local government - have facilitated municipal network projects in other communities. Schools in Chanute and Ottawa in Kansas used E-rate funding to deploy school fiber networks, which were eventually integrated into community networks. By eliminating the cost of leasing lines for connectivity, local schools can direct more funds toward educational programs.

The public schools in Missoula, Montana, expect to save approximately $150,000 per year with a similar investment that will allow them to eliminate leased lines.

Troubled Relationship

Grand Island and the national provider appear to have a rocky history. The Buffalo News reported:

In addition, the town's Cable Communications Advisory Board recently conducted an audit of Time Warner under the old contract and discovered that the company had shorted the town. That audit resulted in a $67,000 payment to the town in January. A second audit a few weeks ago is expected to bring in further dollars, added McMurray.

Slower than promised connectivity in Town Hall and financial mishaps add up to no love lost between the provider and Grand Island. Charter and its newly acquired Time Warner Cable are facing allegations all over the state of New York of similar behavior. In February, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed a lawsuit alleging that Charter and Spectrum (as Time Warner Cable) knowingly defrauded and mislead customers by selling them Internet access speeds that the companies knew is could not provide. In addition to monetary damages based on the returns from the fraudulent behavior, the state wants the companies to pay penalties. 

Tags: grand island nynew yorkschool districtmiddle milechartertime warner cablefeasibilityconsideratione-rate

Velocity Expanding To More Businesses In Hudson, Ohio

April 13, 2017

It’s been a while since we shared news on Hudson, Ohio, where the publicly owned fiber network, Velocity, is serving business customers with high-quality connectivity. The network is steadily gaining local business customers as it continues to expand.

Early Problems Overcome

The Hudson Hub Times recently reported that officials from the utility reported to the City Council in late March. There were some issues early on during deployment with obtaining materials in a timely manner and in setting up service with customers due to obtaining enough IP addresses. Officials have worked out problems and plans are back on track.

According to Will Ersing, chief broadband officer, 35 miles have been deployed underground; the utility is taking an incremental approach and still has an additional 30 miles to deploy. The largest commercial customers are already connected and the network is prepared to quickly connect new large scale customers, should they decide to switch to Velocity.

"We're getting all our businesses connected or available," Ersing said. "The city has 104 businesses on line with another six installs on schedule, and we're talking to 50 businesses interested in the service but not committed."

Going For Multi Tenant Commercial Buildings

The utility also will be marketing to building owners whose properties house multiple businesses:

"They can promote their building that it has an advantage with this technology," [Hudson’s chief economic development officer Jim] Stifler said. "We're paying more attention to the (Internet provider) competition. It's time to make Velocity the obvious choice."

While Velocity is offering customers symmetrical gigabit (1,000 Megabist per second) connectivity, other providers offering service to businesses in the area top out at 60 Mbps download and upload.

"Because we are service providers, we can control the network and provide a level of service and tailor it to our businesses," Elsing said.

More businesses in town, who didn't want Velocity initially, are changing their minds because of what the city can provide, [City Manager Jane] Howington said.

The city of 23,000 started with an I-Net that took shape over a decade. In 2014, they decided it was time to use the fiber to spur economic development to offer better connectivity to businesses. Last summer, Hudson issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study but community leaders ultimately decided proceeding with the study would be premature. The City Council wanted to wait until Hudson had more experience with the project before taking the next step to residential connectivity.

Christopher spoke with Howington back in 2015, when the network was still in its early stages, for Community Broadband Bits episode 181.

 

Tags: hudson ohohioincrementalmunieconomic development

Comcast Apparently Forgot About Gig In Chattanooga. From The Oops! File

April 12, 2017

If you’re going to talk about gigabit Internet access, Chattanooga is going to be part of the conversation. Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB) is the go-to example for citywide, symmetrical, high-quality, gigabit connectivity, and it has been since 2010.

But some one forgot to tell Comcast.

On March 20th, the ISP posted a new Xfinity video to “introduce” Chattanooga to gigabit speeds. Many, many snarky comments followed, from critique about the poor Internet access to complaints about slipshod customer service. The Times Free Press picked out some of the more memorable responses:

* Jason Schmurr: "Nope, Comcast is definitely not introducing gig-speed Internet to Chattanooga. In fact, the only thing they have introduced was a lawsuit attempting to ban gig-speed Internet from Chattanooga."

* Matthew Borden: "If I had the choice.... I'd still choose EPB. Unfortunately I am stuck with Comcast because they are the only provider in my area with broadband Internet access."

* Alixanderia Echbright: "I'd rather birth a cactus than deal with Comcast ever again. Gig speeds have been here for years, buck up."

* Scott Vandergriff: "The difference is EPB has no traffic throttling, no data cap and no "introductory" pricing. $69/month for straight unimpeded, symmetric gigabit fiber and it's been that way for years."

* Vince Cantrell: "Not sure why anybody would pay for Comcast over EPB. EPB has direct fiber to every house in Chattanooga, and has had gigabit for 7+ years already."

* Brent Tapio: "LOL, 'Introducing'? You guys have heard the term 'Gig City' used before right?"

* Patrick Alan Jaworski: "You guys realize that was already a thing ....right?"

* Steve Allen: "I'm glad I'm not the Comcast person that has to respond to all these comments."

Comcast told the Times Free Press that the strong negative response to the marketing campaign came from a "misunderstanding" in what the national provider meant to convey. Guess they should have said what they meant and meant what they said.

You judge:

Tags: chattanoogacomcastgigabitsymmetryFTTHmuniEPBmarketing

Locating Fiber: Local Leaders Can Help State Decision Makers

April 12, 2017

Better conduit policy and One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) are two approaches seeing the state legislative limelight recently. With local examples to offer guidance, a few state lawmakers are attempting to implement similar rules.

State Governments Follow Local Leads

Local communities know their needs best and are best poised to make local decisions. Some have used new conduit policies like in Mount Vernon, Washington. The community's ordinances require developers to install additional conduit during construction and then deed the conduit to the city. The additional expense is minimal and the additional asset makes the property Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) capable, driving up its value. Developers don't consider the ordinance a burden.

Other communities have passed ordinances for OTMR. When Louisville, Kentucky, adopted OTMR to speed up deployment for new entrants, AT&T sued to stop the city, claiming that the FCC had jurisdiction over such decisions. In October 2016, however, the agency let the parties know that Louisville had opted out of federal pole attachment rules at an earlier date. Nashville, Tennessee, passed OTMR also and has also had to deal with incumbent lawsuits.

The overall goal is to make new networks less time-consuming and resource intensive to deploy. It also keeps communities free of constant construction noise and reduces traffic disruption, thereby improving the quality of life during the deployment. When an approach works on the local level, state lawmakers often want to reproduce it on a broader scale.

At a time when the state is strapped for funding, a West Virginia bill (3093) featuring smart conduit, micro trenching, and OTMR policy quickly sailed out of the state legislature and onto the governor’s desk.

Maine is also considering a bill (LD 409) to clarify pole attachment rules and fees; clarity for existing rules is always helpful to municipalities. In Connecticut, state law allows local communities access to a "municipal gain space" on utility poles, regardless of ownership, if the poles are in the public right-of-way (ROW). The law has been on the books for a long time and pole owners have disputed municipalities' contention that they can use the space to deploy a municipal Internet network. In order to get clarification, the state's Office of Consumer Counsel and the Connecticut State Broadband Initiative had to file a petition with Connecticut's Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA). The result is still pending, but PURA's decision will impact the state's CTGig project, which is a collaborative initiative involving Connecticut municipalities.

Fiber in the Air

After more than 100 years of putting wires on poles, you might think we would have already worked out all the knots in the system, but no. 

If there is no immediately available space on the utility pole for a new cable, then a tedious process called “Make-Ready” kicks in. Each company that already has a wire on the pole has to send out a crew to move its cable in order to make room for the new competitor. This can drag on for months at a time, as multiple trucks must repeatedly visit the same pole. Make-ready for poles can be a logistical nightmare for even experts. Ken Demlow from Newcom Technologies spoke to that in Community Broadband Bits Episode 247.

OTMR simplifies this process. Entities with wires on the pole agree in advance to pre-approved crews who are allowed to handle all of their cables. One experienced crew from the list of pre-approved crews goes out to the pole and moves all of the wires at the same time. They then notify each company with a wire on the pole what was moved or changed. Next Century Cities has a fact sheet on some of the benefits of OTMR.

Even though make-ready work is complex, stringing cable overhead on poles may be less expensive than the alternative.

Fiber in the Ground

Networks on poles can be an eyesore and are more susceptible to the elements. Some communities have focused on underground installation with conduit that houses the cable under city streets and ROWs.

Mount Vernon, Washington, and Lincoln, Nebraska, both developed policies for installing conduit that increased Internet access for their communities. Mount Vernon's open access network allows several ISPs to offer services to the community. The network has allowed the community to save public dollars and attract employers from Seattle.

Lincoln, Nebraska, has taken smart conduit use to the extreme. In a state where legal barriers prevent the city from offering telecommunications services to the general public, community leaders in Lincoln have created a friendly ecosystem for ISPs by deploying an extensive conduit network in the city. They began in 2012 and over time have continued to add both conduit and fiber. As a result, a private provider will use the assets to deploy a FTTH network, and a mobile provider is using the network for improved and expanded service in the city with small cell technology.

Adding conduit underground, however, requires digging up city streets in areas that are already developed. These types of projects can cause traffic disruptions and annoying construction noise for the neighborhood. Micro trenching minimizes these problems.

Micro trenching is a technique to add infrastructure underground while minimizing disruption to street traffic. A utility company can use a small boring machine to create shallow, narrow trenches for new cable. The blog, PotsAndPans, laid out the details and pitfalls of this particular approach in a recent post.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, used this approach for some of their downtown project. Lancaster, one of the oldest towns in the country, is very densely populated but not geographically large. It's also full of historically important locations so the city and its private sector partner are taking special care in certain areas. Learn more about the project from the interview with Lancaster Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins and MAW Communications Operations Director Brian Kelly during episode 248 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Whether Overhead or Underground

Communities should be given broad local authority, but state law inevitably plays a role on local telecommunications. As more state governments consider improving statewide Internet access, local governments need to speak out to guide state lawmakers about effective or harmful policies. Each community has different circumstances, but sharing lessons learned will help state governments make informed decisions.

Image of the Minnesota House Chamber by Mark Dayton (Flickr: State of the State) CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: pole attachmentspolesmt vernonlincoln neone touch make readywest virginiamaineconnecticutnashvillelouisvillewv hb 3093micro trenchingright-of-way

Press Release: Tennessee Sends Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017 to Gov. Haslam's Desk

April 12, 2017
Tennessee Legislature Passes Broadband Accessibility Act, Delivers Hollow "Victory" While Governor Haslam's Signature Legislation Sounds Great, AT&T Will Be Laughing all the Way to the Bank

 

Contact:

Christopher Mitchell

christopher@ilsr.org

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Late yesterday, the Tennessee Legislature officially sent Governor Bill Haslam's signature legislation, the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, to his desk. Unfortunately, this bill is more about making taxpayer dollars accessible to AT&T than ensuring rural regions get modern Internet access.

"What we have on one side is a taxpayer-funded subsidy program, and on the other we have a subscriber-based model," says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "The tragic thing is, AT&T is a taxpayer subsidized monopoly in rural Tennessee that only has to provide a service far slower than the definition of broadband. Locally-rooted networks like Chattanooga's EPB not only offer nation-leading services but have tremendous community support."

With this bill's passage, the Tennessee General Assembly will likely not pass any other broadband legislation during this session. The Broadband Accessibility Act won't improve Tennessee's rating as 29th in Internet connectivity, but it will do a great job of lining AT&T's pockets. As we've tracked throughout the session, there are a number of bills worth supporting that would actually increase connectivity and allow municipalities to take part in their own broadband future.

Mitchell is deeply frustrated with this situation: "Chattanooga is the only city on this planet that has universal access to 10 Gigabit symmetrical Internet access. It is a stunning achievement and Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's neighbors rather than letting the Gig City expand its fiber to neighbors at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1000x slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."

Maybe next year.

About Christopher Mitchell:

Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell leads the acclaimed MuniNetworks.org as part of ILSR's effort to ensure broadband networks are directly accountable to the communities that depend upon them. He is a leading national expert on community networks, advising high-ranking broadband decision-makers and speaking on radio and television programs across the United States.

FOR MORE INFORMATION and to schedule an interview with Christopher, call Nick Stumo-Langer at 612-844-1330 or email stumolanger@ilsr.org.

Tags: press centerpress releaselegislationtennesseedslchristopher mitchell

LanCity Connect Partnership Brings Gig to Southeast Pennsylvania - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 248

April 11, 2017

Located in southeast Pennsylvania, Lancaster will soon have some of the fastest Internet access in the entire state due to its partnership with a local telecommunications firm, MAW Communications. We reported on many details about this approach here, but Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 248 offers an in-depth look.

Lancaster Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins and MAW Communications Operations Director Brian Kelly joined me to talk about the history of their partnership and the next big step: a citywide gigabit fiber-optic network. 

We also talk about the risks to the public sector from trusting a private company with essential infrastructure and the potential challenges for a private sector company to work with a local government. Both sides are going into this arrangement with their eyes wide open and offer tips for what others should consider before they try to replicate the model. 

If you missed it, last year we released a major paper about considerations in public-private partnerships. We did not discuss LanCity Connect, but many of themes apply.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: podcastbroadband bitspennsylvaniamaw communicationspartnershiplancasterFTTHfinancingloangigabitserviceswaterutility

Pew Survey Reveals Overwhelming Support For Local Authority

April 11, 2017

A new Pew Research Center survey reveals that 70 percent of adults, regardless of political leanings, believe local governments should be able to invest in municipal Internet networks.

Local Authority Has No Party

The survey, conducted March 13 - 27 supports the finding that local authority for telecommunications decisions is a bipartisan notion. On closer examination of the survey results, we see that 67 percent of Republicans and Republican leaning respondents and 74 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaning respondents support local authority to invest in municipal networks.

In Colorado, two more local communities voted this month to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. The law prevents local communities from investing in Internet infrastructure to offer telecommunications services or work with a partner to improve local connectivity. Colorado Springs and Central City became cities 97 and 98 to join the growing list of communities opting out, which includes places that have taken action to deploy and others who merely want the option. 

Colorado Springs, known as one of the state’s more conservative communities, passed the measure with 61 percent of the vote, not far from the results of the Pew Research survey.

Of Growing Importance

The survey also asked U.S. adults about how important high-quality Internet access is at home. Forty-nine percent said home broadband is essential and 41 percent described it as important but not essential. That leaves just one out of ten survey respondents who describe home broadband as either not too important or not important at all.

Respondents also answered questions about assistance to low-income households to help them pay for Internet access. Unlike support for municipal networks, political affiliation, income level, and current access to the Internet appeared to play a part in respondent replies.

The survey included 4,151 respondents. You can learn more about the respondents, the questions, and the methodology here.

Tags: pew research centersurveymunirepublicansdemocrats

Montana Telephone Co-Op 3 Rivers Communications Upgrades To Fiber

April 11, 2017

Out in Big Sky Country, some rural communities look forward to high-speed Internet service from their local telephone co-op. 3 Rivers Communications in Montana has spent the last few years steadily building out their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to rural residents.

This spring, 3 Rivers Communications is set to start on two new areas: an $8 million project near Choteau (pop: 1,700) and a $1.5 million project near Fairfield (pop: 700). 

Focus on Rural Residents

The local newspaper Choteau Acantha reported on 3 River Communications’ latest plans. About 500 folks will be able to get high-quality phone, video, and Internet service at home when the co-op finishes both projects in late 2017 or early 2018. 

The current plans focus on rural residents on the outskirts of both towns. Folks in Fairfield already have access to fiber service, but people within the city of Choteau have DSL. Businesses in Choteau can request fiber connections, but the co-op is not currently planning to offer fiber connectivity to residents inside town limits.

These fiber projects are all part of a larger program to upgrade in the cooperative's service area of 17,000 square miles. The co-op is taking out the old copper telephone lines and replacing them with brand new fiber-optic cables. It’s a large undertaking and will serve approximately 20,000 members.

Federal Funding for Rural Areas

To upgrade to fiber in its large service area, 3 Rivers Communications obtained funding from several federal programs, including the Rural Utilities Services (RUS) and the Universal Service Fund. The co-op received a $70 million loan in 2011 and another $30 million loan in 2016 to improve the network. 

Currently, the lowest tier bundle of phone and 10 Mbps Internet service is $85 per month, but co-op members get back excess revenue in capital credits each year. 3 Rivers General Manager Dave Gibson described the balance of costs and prices to the Choteau Acantha:

“Our customers have the same wants, needs and financial pressures. Clearly, cost is a factor, whether they subscribe but we are a cooperative, we charge as little as we can. Nobody benefits if we go out of business, we have to strike a very good balance.” 

Tags: montanaruralcooperativeFTTHupgraderus