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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 306

May 21, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 306 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting joins the show to discuss his work, 5G hype, and the Connect America Fund. Listen to this episode here.

Doug Dawson: What we find is fiber communities grow when other communities around them are shrinking.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 306 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. While at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas. Christopher spoke with community leaders, advocates for universal broadband, and consultants. In this episode of the podcast, he sits down with Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting, one of the guys who's been in the business for decades. Christopher and Doug touched on a lot of issues, including his work with municipalities and publicly owned Internet infrastructure. He talks about choosing a consultant, marketing and costs, as well as how to deal with misinformation. Doug and Christopher also spend time talking about the 5G hype, rollout and specs, and whether or not it really is the solution for rural America. They talk about the Connect America Fund, and Doug shares his thoughts and predictions about the repeal of federal network neutrality protections and what it means for municipal networks and small ISPs. Check out, for more about Doug's firm, and be sure to visit Pots And Pans by That's Doug's blog. Read some of his excellent articles on telecommunications and related policy. Now, here's Christopher with Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting.

Christopher Mitchell:: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell:itchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance with another show coming out of Austin, Texas, at the Broadband Communities Summit here in lovely Austin, Texas, right at the edge of [Texas] Hill Country. I'm speaking today with Doug Dawson, the founder and president of CCG Consulting. Welcome to the show.

Doug Dawson: Oh, thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell:: So Doug, you just mentioned that 20 year anniversary. You've been doing this for some time.

Doug Dawson: We have been doing this for some time, and that's, uh, my firm CCG consulting. I've been doing it for quite a bit longer than that. So first telecomm job in 1975.

Christopher Mitchell:: There's this demeaning saying that those who can't teach -- but you've run many of these companies.

Doug Dawson: Yes. The hands on experience in ISP, Telcos, cable companies, electric companies, all those things, you bet, so --

Christopher Mitchell:: Right. So you probably go way back to, um, you know, when people thought, "Hey, broadband over power lines is going to change everything, we're going to have real competition."

Doug Dawson: Yeah. It didn't quite go as they expected did it.

Christopher Mitchell:: No, no. We were just, uh, we did an interview recently with Michael Render who -- we were going back and talking about the old days when there was like 3000 passings of fiber networks. Um, and, you know, I'm just curious, when did you start offering advice and what was the background of that? People just-- were cities coming to you or how did you get into that market?

Doug Dawson: When I first started CCG Consulting. We started with the 1996 Telecom Act. And so there, our concept was "Let's help people become CLECs --at that time, competitive telephone companies. But even before that, I had been working with another consultant. And we launched -- I launched several dozen dial up companies, so we -- even back then, it's like, "How do you get into the business? How do you find your customers?" I mean just the same old, "How do you launch a successful broadband business?" [It's] hard to call dial-up broadband, but at the time it was revolutionary. So, um, and so I've been doing it ever since then. When I first founded CCG, my first clients were telcos -- because they wanted to start competitive ventures. Very soon thereafter, all these folks, who were not telcos, started coming to me. And over the years, uh, I'd say half of my new business now is municipalities. [We] still have a lot of telco work. Uh, but we almost entirely work in competitive markets. We don't really do much legacy work even for all those clients where we help them with their competitive arms.

Christopher Mitchell:: So you have a lot of clients, both public and private, but they're almost all competitive. Like they're the new entrance.

Doug Dawson: Yes, This is all people that are over building networks.

Christopher Mitchell:: Right.

Doug Dawson: So--

Christopher Mitchell:: So you also do the Pots And Pans blog. Um, I forget exactly what the url is.

Doug Dawson: Pots And Pans By CCG.

Christopher Mitchell:: It's a wonderful daily story. I've -- as someone who had long done daily stories -- now Lisa Gonzalez does all the writing for our daily stories. I know it's a grind. You seem to find interesting insights to get a story up every single day that I usually find quite compelling.

Doug Dawson: You know, this industry, it's not hard. In fact, I throw away three topics a week. It's like the topics just come to you because I talked to folks every day and they say, you know, what do you think about this? And boom, there's a blog.

Christopher Mitchell:: Right?

Doug Dawson: So it's, it's amazing what's going on. When I first started five years ago, it was a lot harder. I had to struggle like, what the heck am I going to write about tomorrow? And now it's just the opposite. It's like, what am I not going to write about?

Christopher Mitchell:: So let's, let's dig into one of the questions I wanted to ask you when, when I finally cornered you and got you into our studio here, um, was, was -- any lessons that you've drawn from all of the years of working with municipalities that might be relevant for someone who is in a community where they're going to be starting in network or there's a very good chance they're going to be starting in network.

Doug Dawson: There's a lot of lessons. One is, which people don't realize, it costs a lot more money to get started. Communities will put together a $50,000 to do a feasibility study and just not realize it's going to cost a whole lot more than that before you get into the business. And so, so you can't underestimate the cost of getting going. The cost of launching a new businesses is -- you know, there's a lot to get done. Um, we always do what we, you know, Gantt Charts, which are project plans for, for a new fiber network and literally they will have 3,000 tasks on them that have to be finished. Everything from marketing to the network construction items and so on. So it's a complex business. Um, and so the second piece of advice is go find the experts who can help you do it in and get folks who've done it before. There's a lot of consulting firms out there who are good at one piece of it, but you need to find somebody who does everything you're looking for because there's not very many of us.

Christopher Mitchell:: On that point, I think, would you agree that there's some consultants that uh -- I think if we wanted to we could talk about how we think that they are ones we wouldn't recommend cities come to -- but in general, I think every consultant has strong points and weak points, and it's not so much like we're going to find the best consultant. It's, we're going to find the consultant that matches our desires and needs and that sort of thing. Is that right?

Doug Dawson: That's exactly right. So, you know, there are one or two bad consultants, but hopefully people don't hire them, but most of the consultants are pretty good in this industry. And so, you know, the question is where do you want to take this thing? So if you, if you know you're going to build a wireless network, let's talk to someone who's done a lot of that. If you want to build fiber, make sure you get that. The number one issue nowadays that I give people advice on is, you know, the engineering parts, etc. There's dozen engineering firms in the country who can tell you how much the fiber networks going to cost. That -- once you have that number, you're sort of done [with] that, the hard part's raising the money. So, you know, if you don't already know how you're going to raise the money, then you better pick a consultant who can help you figure that out because that's -- that's 80 percent of the actual grind of getting one of these things done. It's money. And that's the one thing that stops projects from getting finished nowadays so that, you know, that's everything else is -- everything else is knowable. That one's just really hard. You know, but if you're in a city who just knows that you're going to pay with this by a bond, then you know, that's not such an issue there. But most people don't have that luxury nowadays. You have to get very creative. Uh, usually it's multiple sources of revenue to get these things done. So, you know, so -- so look forward, you know, what are you gonna do after you get the study. You know, you don't really want to change horses in the middle of the stream. So pick a consultant who, who's looking out at the end game and we each have a different view of how to get there and, you know, make sure when you interview us to ask those questions, I mean, you know, what do you, what do we do next and make sure that they know what they're, where you're going.

Christopher Mitchell:: I suspect that a lot of the cities, and probably the other private companies as well, that come to you, who are established, are coming to you and saying, hey, you know, we've hit this speed bump or we're concerned about this issue. Is that, is that something you're often dealing with? Like sort of troubleshooting and evaluating?

Doug Dawson: Yeah, I mean our company, actually our major practice is. We try to lau -- we'd launch these new markets, but we also help people take old markets and make them better. Now. If you built it 10 years ago, but you're still not making as much money as showed, why aren't you? And let's go in and fix those problems. Uh, and so, you know, we all -- [for] a new guy, we try to make sure that we've addressed all those up front because you know, there's 20 keys to success, you know, any one of those is not done right and you're not going to do as well as you ought to. The network has to be built right. You've got to have a solid marketing plan. You know, again, the money. You've got to have -- you've got to have the right people, not overstaffed, you can't have expenses too high. You know, nowadays lean and mean is the way to go. And so, you know, you have to have all of those pieces in place. And you know -- and sometimes that doesn't fit very nicely into a municipal structure. So that becomes a real issue of how do we get it in here? How do you govern it? You know, one of my best stories on things not to do is Bristol, Virginia. [It] was one of the first cities to build a broadband network. Six months after they built it, the city council came in and cut all the rates by 15 percent because there was an election year, and of course that all of a sudden took this company on a great trajectory to put them straight underwater because they didn't have that much profit. And so, you know, six months later they were raising them back up again when they saw the consequence of that. So you have to shield these businesses from politics, which is not an easy challenge. Also, you know, that's one of the other big lessons is, you know, do not let these become political issues because if you do, then they will absolutely always run into problems. The successful cities have somehow kept them apart and that's not easy to do, but --uh, but they've been able to do that. So --

Christopher Mitchell:: Right. I think it is worth noting some of the structures we've seen are where the city council's not the direct oversight board. There's a board that is a maybe appointed with staggered terms so that a single shift in public attitude can't result in a major change to a utility that has to have a longterm plans.

Speaker 3: Well and you want that. That's exactly the structure we recommend and that board has to be engaged people, who have a varied background. You want a banker on there, you want maybe local tech people on there, and you want some local businessmen on there who understand how to run a business. I mean that's -- you know, so you don't need fiber folks because you know your board doesn't have to know your business. They have to know how businesses work, and so what you don't want is a board also made up of other local politicians, and that's the only people to run it, because now you haven't shielded it from politics though.

Christopher Mitchell:: One of the things you mentioned is the thing that I -- I tend to think is possibly the single biggest problem cities have run into when they built these networks and that's marketing. I think you, you noted the overstaffing and that's a very serious concern, but the marketing seems to be something where cities that try to do it in-house, they don't bring enough a external like non-city fo--- people who have a different focus to it. Um, they seem to struggle.

Doug Dawson: There's probably been 10 fiber projects, who have struggled, a few even failed almost universally they were because of lack of sales. There's literally been city projects who launched open their doors, didn't even make any public announcements and assumed that people would just come and sign up. They don't. And so you get about 20 to 30 percent of the market of people who just hate the incumbent cable company or something. Then after that it's hard work. It's just like selling anything else. And so, you know, cities don't have that mindset, so you better bring somebody in who does. I mean, you don't, you don't want your general manager to be a guy with 30 years of city experience. You want them to be a guy who's been in a commercial company. So, uh, so that can be fixed. I mean, some of those ones who struggled, then we came along and said, here's how you fix this, and sure enough, they went out and did the sales. Uh, the probably the best example of that is MINET, a municipality in Oregon. They did exactly what I just said. They did no marketing. Three years later they looked up, I think they had a 35 percent market penetration. You know, they hired me. We came in and looked at it, figured out how to make it better. Today they are, they might be the highest one. They have -- it's now approaching 85 percent market penetration, which means they basically have every broadband customer that is in the market.

Christopher Mitchell:: You mentioned this morning on your panel that, that they're going around into nearby population centers to encourage more people to come in. And they've run -- they've run out of people to sell that--

Doug Dawson: So they're now -- they're now recruiting customers to come to town. That's their strategy to grow, is to actually bring in more people to homes there, and it's working. They have the, what we find is far fiber communities grow when other communities around them are shrinking. So there's new houses being built. So--

Christopher Mitchell:: So before we change to a different topic, I just want to throw something at you, and that's um, you know, Christopher Yoo has come out with a study that's being repeated from University of Pennsylvania. We've done rebuttals on our site. Um, you know, Steven Titch has probably taken aim at you many times over the years. There's many people who have been paid to say, "Municipalities just can't do this. They all fail. It's a disaster." How do -- how do you respond in a minute to that sort of thing?

Doug Dawson: First off, municipalities have a different way of measuring success. So success to them is a business that completely is cash self-supporting. So as long as you're generating enough cash to pay operating expenses, cover the debt, and pay for the capital you need every year to keep growing the business, then they think that that's a success.

Speaker 3: No city's upset if they make more than that. They like -- you know, there's nothing wrong with putting money back in the city coffers. But, you know, most of the fiber-- most of the projects have gotten to that point. Now, when you look at a business that's just breaking even with cash, which they are going check, we are completely successful. Accounting books -- it'll look terrible because fiber projects are capital intensive and they'll have a mountain of depreciation expense. You know, the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, has been fighting a public battle for the last five years because their book show a loss, yet they're generating very positive cash and they're growing, and they're now starting to build out of their money into the surrounding communities. They're completely successful. Uh, but, but uh -- folks point to them and go, "They're not successful." But just because they have an accounting number loss which is completely driven by depreciation, you know, they never intended to measure their company that way. They have no reason to do so. And there's plenty of commercial companies who have booked losses but are successful that, you know, that don't cover depreciation. That's not how -- that's not how you measure this kind of business. Infrastructure companies are not the same as retail companies or something like that. So, so the answer is there are some municipal failures, but most of the ones that, those guys point out in their articles are actually successful. I know that. I see their books. I'm in the books of 100 different companies. I know what they're really making. So when they tell the story that they're profitable, I know if it's true or not, and most of them are successful. So--

Christopher Mitchell:: Uh, I want to get to a different topic. You've covered this really in depth. In fact, I think you've had some of the clearest writing on this. 5G is going to make all of this pointless because we're all going to be connected in a utopia of incredibly high-capacity services that are magic. [Sarcasm]

Doug Dawson: I actually have a new thought on that, that I haven't made it to my blog yet. I'm-- I'm starting to wonder if there's actually any -- going to be any builders of 5G out there. All three of the major telcos have made it very clear in the last six months that they're backing out of the residential broadband business. Uh, the cable companies all have gigabit networks or will have gigabit networks, so they're not going to be spending money on 5G. And if the telcos don't do it, then who the heck is? Who are these companies who are going to step in and spend billions of dollars to do this? You know, Verizon still might, but I'm pretty sureAT&T is really not after this and CenturyLink -- the new management from Level 3 has made it clear. They are definitely not going to be doing this. So there may be nobody building those networks. But, but even if they do, if somebody does, those networks still need a lot of fiber. They're really capital intensive. They're large investments. They're still going to have to hit the infrastructure kind of returns. We're not even convinced that it's actually cheaper than building Fiber-to-the-Home. You know, you're replacing a fiber drop with electronics that may not be cheaper. Uh, you know, it could, but right now that stuff doesn't even exist. So we're -- we're talking about this fantasy future business that's gonna solve all the broadband problems in America, and there -- you can't even -- no one's making any equipment to do that. I've got a long history of watching wireless ventures fail because the technology never worked, right? So, you know, I don't trust anything till I see it working in the field and we're probably five years away from actually working equipment. So, uh, it has great promise. Quite honestly, if it works, the municipalities will be using 5G, why would you not? If that's a better alternative than Fiber-to-the-home. So you know, if that's a better technology than people will build it, but I don't see someone making these huge investments and definitely no one's going to make these investments in a rural community. It costs just as much to put the fiber in for 5Gs as it costs to put the fiber in for Fiber-to-the-Home. So if that's not feasible today in a rural community, that's not going to be feasible for 5G either. Rural communities are never going to see 5G then -- I go to places today who haven't seen 4G yet.

Christopher Mitchell:: One of the things that I like about your writing about 5G -- and people if they go to your blog, you have a tag 5G they could just focus on that if they want to -- but you talk about how things are likely to roll out, and it sounds like you're still working over how you think that. One of the things that I thought was particularly well done was discussing that the 5G standard, which is not yet completed, you're talking -- those 5G, that gear is not going to be out for many years. Um, but it is expecting -- we're expecting to see like a requirement of 20 gigabit to each wireless node, and you were pointing out that that's not really how a lot of these 5G companies are going to do it. And I know AT&T and Verizon a number of the times in which in five years I might have a phone and it might say 5G in the status bar. Um, I might be on a node that isn't doing that, that doesn't have that capacity, but they'll just still call it 5G and I'll have wireless backhaul and my experience won't be that different from 4G.

Speaker 3: But first off, let's talk about 5G cellular. You know, it took us 10 years, last year we actually saw the very first 4G actual phones. And so we think we're at the end of the 4G product. We actually just finally got to the 4G product. What we had was 3.1 , 3.2, 3.3, and now we finally made it to 4. It's going to be the same migration to get the 5. Verizon says they're going to roll out 5G next year. They're not, they're going to roll out 4.1G because there's 13 different aspects of 5G in the cellular world that you have to meet. And that's the sort of the standard. And so they will start picking away at little pieces of those new improvements. Uh, but even when they're all finished, 5G cellular, if you go right back to the specs, it says, deliver 100 megabit download, 20 megabit up. And that's what they're shooting for. They're not shooting for gigabit cellular. That's not part of the, of the specification they're shooting for. The main reason behind 5G cellular is to do Internet of things. A cell sites gonna be able to talk to 100,000 devices today. It's way smaller than that -- which is why when you're in a convention center like this, you can't get a cell phone connection. There's not enough connections on the south side, and their -- and their picture. Verizon and AT&T believe that they want to conquer the IOT world, but they're starting from a massive deficit because today every device is connected to Wi-Fi. You know, they may not ever get there. The, you know, I don't know why people would pay a subscription to use their IOT devices if their home Wi-Fi connection does it for free. So I think they have a very big uphill battle. The 5G that they're really talking about, and people conflate the two issues, is 5G point-to-point radios. Those can do gigabit speeds. That's the stuff though that you're gonna need a fiber right up to those things to work. If you do wireless backhaul and then we're gonna -- and we're going to end up with residential overbuild neighborhoods that have 100 meg service just like you already get today. Nothing wrong with that. And if you build that in a town that doesn't have broadband, that'll be awesome, but it's not automatically going to be gigabit not unless you put the fiber everywhere. and that means fiber to every one of those things. I know every third pole is gonna want fiber to it and that's pretty expensive.

Christopher Mitchell:: The other topic I really wanted to talk about, and this is something where again, I feel like you've covered extremely well, is the Connect America Fund. You outlined in a way that I hadn't seen anyone else do and frankly I still haven't seen in any mainstream, you know, telecomm, traditional press reporting how AT&T is spending -- It's like what? Two and a half billion dollars it's getting? And what people primarily in the south and in Appalachia are getting from AT&T's subsidies to expand rural broadband. So let's just, let's just start there. What is AT&T delivering with the two and a half billion dollars that we're giving it?

Doug Dawson: Let's go back to the beginning because what happened with, with the CAF II fund was up to the 11th hour that was going to be a reverse auction where everybody could come in and bid for that money and all of a sudden the order came out. And it floored all of us because they just gave all of the money to the big telcos and no one else got a penny of it.

Christopher Mitchell:: And this was under Obama's FCC.

Doug Dawson: Yes, this was. Yes it was. And so obviously the lobbyists, you know, from the big companies won their battle. So they just said, "Here is your billions of dollars. Go do what you need to do." And their goal was to do 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps speeds, which even then was already obsolete. I mean, you can't run a home on a 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps connection today. So it's, that's a ridiculous goal. The CAF II fund says make your best effort to go out and do that, and we know what's going to happen. They're going to run out and they're going to build homes and they're going to increase speeds and when they run out of money, they're going to stop. So even all the people who are covered by that footprint that they're supposed to cover will not be covered. So some folks will get no improvements. AT&T is using this as the way to tear down rural copper. So their solution is about 90 percent of the places is they're just going to start selling folks cellular connections, which they already can do today. So they are going to use this money to sort of beef up the transport to rural cellular towers.B ut cellular connections, anything wireless data wise has this curve where it says the further you are away from the tower, that speeds drop up really fast. And when you go to rural America it's not -- you know, this, these speeds that they're talking about delivering only work for our first mile or two. And it's not very hard to be three or four or five or six miles from the nearest cellular tower and they're not going to build thousands of new cellular towers. And so all these folks that are supposedly going to be getting these fast speeds will get three megabits and they'll get it. And they'll get on a very expensive $80 a month, cellular plan with a data cap on it. Uh, and just, you know, like they do today. It's not going to make their lives all that much better. Now, if you're really close to the cell tower and that technology might get 15 megabits, that's sort of the best speeds we can do today. That's not going to be very many people. And that's not broadband. Even by the FCC definition, it's not broadband, but in real life, it's not broadband. You can't, you know, I have a 60 megabit connection home with three people on it and we crowd each other out. It's pretty amazing how we have changed how much broadband we need. And the reason for that is we do simultaneous things today. It's not that we have applications that need broadband, it's we're trying to do six of them at the same time, and boy, they interfere with each other like crazy and it doesn't work so

Christopher Mitchell:: Well, the vision of the Connect America fund was something that I really supported. The idea being that, rather than envisioning an endless supply of yearly subsidies for operating expenses, the vision was that we would do one time larger capital expenditures. And we would not need to keep subsidizing them. But it looks to me like the way it's been implemented is actually just that now rather than doing yearly subsidies were going to do subsidies every decade because there no way. We're not going to give more money to upgrade those people that are getting three megabits. They're going to need something better.

Doug Dawson: Yeah, and what's going to happen is the phone companies have all made it clear when that money runs out, they're not doing anymore. They are not doing any more work on rural copper. We just gave billions of dollars to beef up rural copper, which was already old bad and not adequate. We've got to a point where people now in rural areas don't want better broadband, they're demanding better broadband, so the politicians and those areas will not be able to withstand that political pressure. So we're going to have to do it all over again. That money could have seeded gigantic fiber builds. If they would've just put it open to auction, all sorts of folks would have come in and built fiber instead of beefing up the copper. It would have not solved the whole footprint, but we have, might've served, solved 25 percent of it with fiber so that we -- So we ended up making no permanent solutions. Um, you know, I'm, you know -- I just said AT&T and he's going to use cellular. You know, Frontier and CenturyLink are just beefing up their DSL on, and on really old inadequate lines. That's even worse than what AT&T is doing. So --

Christopher Mitchell:: Do you have any, any quick takes on discussions about sort of CenturyLink, and Frontier, Windstream, not having a viable path forward and us having a sudden moment in the near future where they're just not serving where they just give up and walk away from rural areas.

Doug Dawson: Oh, I just actually wrote a blog. I don't remember when they're published exactly, but it says CenturyLink has basically announced they're backing out of the residential business. They are no longer going to support residential broadband, which means they're going to let rural copper go. Uh, they are going to probably not build any more fiber to the home because the company just got basically taken over by Level 3 management and they're going to enter, they're going to focus on enterprise. So that company is going to be out of the business, which means we're going to see the same thing we saw. You want a good example of that? Uh, Verizon tried to sell West Virginia property offer almost 15 years and during that whole time they made zero investment in the state because they were always this close to getting the buyer right. So that's 15 years where they completely neglected the copper. By the time frontier bought it, it was completely a power crap. You know, they're struggling to make it better, but you can't really fix something that's been neglected for that long without keeping it up. They're going to stop doing any repairs in rural areas. They're -- all these companies are going to cut back their employees. In your state, Cook County, one of the reasons they decided to build a fiber network is CenturyLink, had one technician for the entire county and entire county. So if you called with a phone problem or a data problem, it could be three weeks before he ever even got out to see you. And normally, and then he would go "Gee, there's really nothing I can do for you because that takes capital money and we don't have any money to do that." That's what we're going to see in rural areas is no response for problems. Uh, so yeah. So even if you get that nice 15 Mbps DSL today, the first time you have problem, you may be done forever and they may never fix it.

Christopher Mitchell:: So let's finish up with a discussion briefly about net neutrality. I'm curious how your different customers and clients responded. I know that there was a division among municipalities, none of whom, as far as I can tell, really have any intention of violating net neutrality. but there was a mixed response as to whether or not they supported the FCC taking action on it.

Doug Dawson: I don't have a client who violates net neutrality and little guys really can't. You don't have the market power. But you say that, but they could because what we've always seen -- so you know the way net neutrality is going to get violated is, you know, AT&T and the big guys are going to mine, data mine their customers and they're getting all the same stuff that everyone's freaking out about Facebook for. They're already doing it quietly behind the scenes. You know, AT&T has a way better look at what you do than, than Facebook does. AT&T sees all of your emails and they see all of your web searches. They know everything about you. Right? And so what I suspect is going to happen is there's going to be a group of marketing guys pop up who will pay these little guys x number dollars per customer for their data. And at that point some of them may decide to get into the business. They may say, well, heck, I would love to get $8 per customer per year. All I have to do is give them my, my url search data. I'm not so sure that some of these guys won't violate net neutrality. You know, money is a strong incentive. Right now none of them do because they don't have the market power to do it. They don't. And they don't have the technical know. They don't know how to do this stuff. And they can't mind their data's customer. They -- but, uh, but I'm not so sure that they won't in the long run. I think municipalities are the safest bet, you know, they will not violate their customers trust. But I think a lot of the commercial guys very well might. So I think it's worth noting for people that are very technical.

Christopher Mitchell:: Um, net neutrality is, is separate in some ways from the privacy issues, but in the way that it's worth talking about in the way that every American really thinks about it, they're all wrapped up in the -- [interrupted] that's exactly what you're getting the broadband service that you need and want.

Doug Dawson: Right. Right. I mean at the other aspect is, limiting web searches and you know, fast lane slowing down stuff, the little guys will probably never do that and that's just bad customer service because that's their one competitive advantage -- because they're all competing against the bigger guys almost always. So. So I think that's the one area they won't go to. So. But, you know, we'll see. I think it surprised me there too. So.

Christopher Mitchell:: Sure. I'm curious what you've seen the last few years. In the, in the 2015 order when net neutrality's established. That was also the time when, when the FCC, Tom wheeler led the FCC in overruling North Carolina and Tennessee's barriers against municipal networks, some of the barriers. That lead to a spike, a lot of news stories, a lot of cities considering networks, many more feasibility studies than we'd seen in the past, we've not yet seen a, you know, a doubling. We've seen an increase of cities getting into this business. Recently with the net neutrality repeal. We're seeing again, tremendous interest from cities and activists that are getting organized. Is this space going to start really growing much more rapidly?

Doug Dawson: It's actually grown a lot more rapidly than you think. Because where all the growth is as a public private partnerships. Cities are going, "Look, I will kick in some money to help you build." And then an ISP is doing the actual construction, running the networks and you don't think of those as municipal projects so much and a lot of them are very quiet and they don't make big press. But that's where we're seeing all the growth. And so, so I think, you know, most cities don't really want to be an ISP. If they're not already with our own power company or something where they're used to a technical interface with customers, they're still scared to death of that. As well they should be. I think there's actually more interest than I've ever seen, but probably three quarters of those are headed towards public private partnerships. And so, you know, they don't really care what the model is to get broadband to their community and you know, they don't -- Cities don't feel like they have to be the one to drive it. They just want people to get the speeds they want, and they want the ISP to be someone responsible -- and they would like -- and they would like that to be someone local, which is not always possible. But they would love the profit's not to run into some big city, but at this point cities go, "I need broadband than anything that gets me that is acceptable." They there are a lot less picky than they were five years.

Christopher Mitchell:: Are you seeing the public private partnerships getting executed? Because that's. I agree with you, there's been a tremendous interest in that, um, but you know, Axia exited the US market recently. SiFi is now working with at least two cities, um, possibly more in the near future. But there was five years where they were talking with many cities and there was all this talk of public private partnerships but they weren't executed.

Doug Dawson: The answer is yes, those guys were going after fairly big towns. And so that's never, that has not gone very far because, you know, when you walk into a town where it's a $50 million investment or $100 million investment, there's not many players in that market. So what we're seeing, though, is public private partnerships that are out, you know, in a lake front in Minnesota and a little mountain town in Colorado. And they're there and they're working together to bring broadband to 100 people or 500 people or a thousand people. And there's a lot of those going.

Christopher Mitchell:: Okay.

Doug Dawson: So very slowly. And they're mostly working with either, um, you know, independent telephone companies who are doing a tremendous amount of this expansion out of their own pocket. Uh, there's some very good wireless companies who are doing it with the right technology, are doing a good job. And there's, there's a few independent guys who are just on, and I have a client in Kansas who's out of his own pocket, has built 5 or 600 miles of fiber to the home in the most rural places. You can't imagine that would make a good business plan. But he's making a really good go at it. Uh, so, you know, very slowly they're picking it off. Unfortunately, when you look at the map of who doesn't have it and you plot all these out, it's still doesn't color very much of it from, you know, not having fiber to fiber. But, but that's where the growth is. Unfortunately. I don't know that there's going to be an easy answer to the towns that need a $50 or $100 million investment because that's hard money to raise for anybody in. those companies have tried it. They, they really didn't succeed. That sound. I don't hear a lot of new ones coming along. We'll see.

Christopher Mitchell:: Well, thanks for your insights today. It's been a really good conversation, getting some candid answers to some of these things where we all see just press releases regurgitated in the press, unfortunately.

Doug Dawson: Yeah. Well that's 5G for you. that's a if that's technology by press release.

Christopher Mitchell:: Right. Thank you so much.

Doug Dawson: All right, you're welcome.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us With your ideas for the show, follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow stories on Twitter. The handle is at MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 306 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 21

May 21, 2018


Sen. Doug Jones pushes rural broadband expansion by Mitch Sneed, Alex City Outlook



Cortez to reveal results from internet feasibility study by Stephanie Alderton, The Cortez Journal

Pikes Peak region's rural communities looking for broadband on-ramp by Rachel Riley, Colorado Springs Gazette



The Big Disconnect: Google Fiber’s Unfulfilled Promise In Atlanta by Jim Burress, WABE

Commission District 1: Patrick Davenport and Sharyn Dickerson by Blake Aued, Flagpole

Sharyn Dickerson: Create a Municipal Broadband Network. If determined to be feasible, given a recent presentation to Athens-Clarke County, work to establish a Municipal Broadband Network. The goal would be to provide residents living in more rural portions of our community (e.g.: District 1) with secure and reliable internet access.   Consider possible capital funding needed to build wireless network system through a future Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project.



Sandisfield candidates talk roads, broadband, economic development by Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle



TCL&P wants fiber network operator by Jordan Travis, Traverse City Record-Eagle

One Democrat’s Bold Plan to Win Back Rural Trump Voters: Cheap Internet by Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast

In Michigan, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed has embraced that philosophy. But he's also gone a small step further, with a quirky, more modern policy twist designed to bridge the divide between Democratic urban areas and rural Republican ones.

He wants to give people cheap Internet.

El Sayed, whose unique bio as a Muslim doctor and public health expert serves as the kind of Democratic ideal in 2018, proposed what he is calling the Internet for All or MI-Fi plan last week, which would essentially create net neutral public broadband in the state.



Broadband service spreading in rural Murray, Pipestone counties by Karl Evers-Hillstrom, The Daily Globe

Last year, Murray County and Pipestone County partnered with four other southwest Minnesota counties and the Blandin Foundation to conduct feasibility studies — also done by Finley and CCG — in hopes of getting a similar outcome.

Pipestone County’s study was completed in February 2017, and later that year, Ruthton-based Woodstock Telephone received a $363,851 grant from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband to provide fixed wireless broadband to rural Pipestone County.

The state’s 2017 report found that most of the geographic area of rural Pipestone County is underserved (internet speeds less than 100Mbps download/20Mbps upload) and large sections of the western and northwestern part of the county are unserved, or without any form of broadband internet (less than 25/3).

County board looks to enter broadband program by Ben Farniok, Southern Minnesota News



People should have equal access to internet services by Andrew Braun, St. Louis Post-Dispatch


New Jersey

Menendez, small business owners argue for restoration of net neutrality by Briana Vannozzi, New Jersey TV Online

In December, the Republican lead FCC voted to end the statute creating equal treatment for all internet service providers, citing a free market as the goal. But advocates argue ISPs [internet service providers] could block or slow down content, creating tiered networks, in favor of larger corporations able to pay higher fees for faster service. Democrats in the U.S. Senate are poised to pass a resolution under what’s known as the Congressional Review Act, to overturn it.

“Forty-nine Democrats, all 49 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, have signed to the petition to have this vote and are committed to voting for it. One Republican, Susan Collins, has committed to voting for it,” Menendez said.

“If a hosting service increases the price because the ISP is charging them more, everything will trickle down to us so I may not be able to sell a service that I see for $100 to a brokerage because now my hosting service may be $5,000 a month,” said Alcides Aguasvivas, co-owner of Pix-l Graphx.


North Carolina

Wilsonian recognized as advocate for local broadband by Brie Handgraaf, The Wilson Times



High-Speed Internet Coming To Hillsboro, Officials Say by Hillsboro Patch



What Do Statewide Candidates Say About Rural Tennessee? by The Memphis Daily News

Rural broadband is a game changer. High-speed broadband is not a luxury: it is a utility, as important as lights and water. Broadband would improve educational and business opportunities in our rural areas, allowing small businesses and entrepreneurs to deliver their products around the world. Former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter had an equation: roads plus education equals jobs. I put a 21st century spin on my fellow West Tennessee Democrat’s equation by adding broadband. While we have put some resources towards this on the state level, we must do more.

MUS FiberNet meets mounting demand by Morristown Citizen Tribune News Staff



Surry not only county hunting solutions by Diana McFarland, Smithfield Times

Nelson County considers transferring network to CVEC by Emily Sides, Nelson County Times

Universal broadband plan is presented by Virginia Business



Port of Skagit, utility district form broadband company by Skagit Valley Herald, Seattle Post-Intelligencer


West Virginia

We can lead the way with broadband advancement by The Journal-News Editorial Board



Reedsburg Utility re-brands to tout unthrottled gigabit internet service by Erica Dynes, Reedsburg Times-Press



If we want better broadband, more research needs to come first by Ingrid Schroeder, The Hill

This is Ajit Pai, Nemesis of Net Neutrality by Andrew Rice, Wired

Senate votes to overturn Ajit Pai’s net neutrality repeal by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

The US Senate today voted to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules, with all members of the Democratic caucus and three Republicans voting in favor of net neutrality.

The Senate approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would simply undo the FCC's December 2017 vote to deregulate the broadband industry. If the CRA is approved by the House and signed by President Trump, Internet service providers would have to continue following rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.

ACLU: LocalGov Guide to Providing Net Neutrality by Efficient Gov Staff

Tags: media roundup

Fate of Network Neutrality Now in the Hands of the House

May 21, 2018

Network neutrality protections are scheduled to disappear on June 11th. In an effort to reverse the FCC’s decision that will put millions at risk by eliminating market protections, 52 Senators voted in favor of a Resolution of Disapproval on May 16th. The vote was enough to pass the Resolution and send it on to the next step under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Heading to the House

In addition to the full roster of Democrats, Republican legislators, Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John Kennedy of Louisiana, voted in favor of the bill. Last February, citizen groups in Louisiana joined together to show support for network neutrality, staging rallies in four cities and visiting Senator Kennedy with thousands of signatures on a petition urging him to support the Resolution.

Now that the measure has passed in the Senate, it faces a tougher time in the House, however, where passage requires more votes to obtain the necessary majority. Advocates are busy organizing citizens, businesses, and entities to express their support for the policy and demand that Representatives take the same route as the Senate.

“We will continue to fight for net neutrality in every way possible as we try to protect against erosion into a discriminatory internet, with ultimately a far worse experience for any users and businesses who don’t pay more for special treatment,” said Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla.

The Congressional Review Act

Unlike in the Senate, there is no fast-track option from the House Committee to the House Floor. If the House Committee fails to report, however, a majority can force a vote. Like in the Senate, a simple majority in favor of the Joint Resolution is required for passage — 218 votes in the House.

Let your Representatives know that you support network neutrality and that you also support the Resolution of Disapproval to overturn the FCC’s repeal of network neutrality. Call or email them directly and let them know how you feel. Share our maps and fact sheets with them that show just how dire the situation will become when millions of Americans are forced to relay on ISPs that are known network neutrality violators. Be sure to share your own experience, especially if you live in a rural area where you already have little or no choice of Internet service provider and let them know that their position on network neutrality and high-quality connectivity is an important voting issue for you.

Learn more about the CRA from this short Public Knowledge video:

Tags: network neutralitylegislationhouse of representativesfccfederalmarketelected officials

Watch the Reality of Rotten Rural Connectivity: "Dividing Lines" Docu-Series

May 18, 2018

If you have fast, affordable, reliable Internet access, there’s a good chance you don’t live in rural America. With the exception of areas served by local municipal networks, cooperatives, and a few small independent ISPs, businesses and residents in rural areas suffer along with aging, slow, and often expensive connections. In a docu-series by Maria L. Smith, titled “Dividing Lines,” viewers get the opportunity to hear firsthand what it’s like for people who live in places where there is no high-quality connectivity. 

The docu-series uses the situation in Tennessee to focus on how big corporate ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Charter, heavily influenced the state legislature to revoke local telecom authority. The state is still subsidizing the big incumbents, but their not keeping their promises for better connectivity in rural Tennessee.

Smith describes her project and its purpose:

The online world is no longer a distinct world. It is an extension of our social, economic, and political lives. Internet access, however, is still a luxury good. Millions of Americans have been priced out of, or entirely excluded from, the reach of modern internet networks. Maria Smith, an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Law School, created Dividing Lines to highlight these stark divides, uncover the complex web of political and economic forces behind them, and challenge audiences to imagine a future in which quality internet access is as ubiquitous as electricity.

This four-part series is being deployed by organizations and community leaders across the country, from San Francisco to Nashville to Washington, DC, in an effort to educate stakeholders and catalyze policymaking that elevates the interests of the people over the interests of a handful of corporations. 

Watch the trailer:

If you are interested in hosting a screening of the capstone video, email

Visit the website for a second trailer and to learn more.

Tags: videoruraldocumentaryberkman klein center

Bernie Sanders Video on Network Neutrality Features Our Christopher Mitchell

May 17, 2018

Vermont was one of the first states to take decisive action to try to curb the harmful consequences from the repeal of network neutrality. It’s only fitting that Senator Bernie Sanders recently released a video on network neutrality featuring one of the country’s experts on connectivity — our own Christopher Mitchell.

The video details how the FCC’s decision to eliminate federal network neutrality protections will harm rural America. Christopher describes the lack of competition as it exists today and how services and prices will change to the detriment of subscribers if we move forward without network neutrality in place. 

“We can’t expect competition in rural areas, [they] are, in many cases, only going to have one high-quality network provider,” says Mitchell. “Losing net neutrality means that the cable and telephone companies are going to be able to set up toll booths and charge more money on the networks they’ve already created.”

Check out the video and share it widely:

Trying to Fix The Mistake

When FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other Republican Commissioners voted to repeal network neutrality last December, advocates mobilized. The decision put more than 170 million Americans at risk of losing market protections. By using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Democrats in Congress hope to reverse the Commission’s decision. The repeal formally goes into effect on June 11th.

On May 16th the Senate voted to reverse the FCC decision, 52 - 47; the next step in the process requires the House to take up the measure. Groups such as Fight for the Future are prepared and have started campaigns to convince the House to vote on the same issue. You can sign their Red Alert for Net Neutrality here.

Tags: videochristopher mitchellnetwork neutralitysenator bernie sandersVermontfccfederalsenate

Senate Considers Network Neutrality Today; Maps Show Millions At Risk

May 16, 2018

It’s May 16th and today is the day the Senate will vote on whether or not to reverse last December’s repeal of network neutrality rules by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other Republican FCC Commissioners. As a reminder, we thought this was a good day to pull out the maps we created that illustrate how that decision to repeal the federal policy put at least 177 million Americans at risk. Without network neutrality protections in place, these folks are limited to obtaining broadband Internet access only from providers that have violated network neutrality or have admitted that they plan to violate network neutrality tenets in the future.

Visualizing the Risks

Back in December 2017 when the current FCC made it’s misguided decision, we decided to take a look at the data and create visualizations to paint a picture of what they had done. We used Form 477 data, which tends to overstate coverage, so the problem in the field is likely more severe than the maps indicate. The results aren’t pretty.


At least 129 million people have only a single provider from which they can subscribe to broadband Internet access. The FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Out of those 129 million Americans, about 52 million must turn to a company that has violated network neutrality protections in the past and continues to do so.

In some places, the situation is a little better. There are 146 million Americans with the ability to choose between two providers, but 48 million of those Americans must choose between two companies that have a record of violating network neutrality.

For a larger image, download this version [18 MB png]. 

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, U.S.A. Edition, fact sheet here.


Sample Regions

We also zeroed in on two areas of the country that include both populous and rural areas. We found that it doesn’t matter if you live in a city or in a small town, without network neutrality rules in place, a person’s options of broadband Internet access are negatively impacted.Approximately 74 million Americans live from Virginia to Maine. Nearly 15 million  of those people will soon be limited to a single broadband provider that has already violated network neutrality. 15.5 million can only choose between two providers that both violated net neutrality. Another 3 million have no broadband Internet access available. 

Download the full East Coast map [12 MB png] 

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, East Coast Edition, fact sheet here


Download the full California map [9 MB png] 

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, California Edition, fact sheet here

Of the 39 million people who live in California, about 10 million have only a single choice for broadband Internet access and in those cases, that company has violated network neutrality. Another 9.5 million Californians have two options for broadband Internet access but both have violated network neutrality. Two million people in California have no broadband access. 

When the FCC repealed network neutrality, the 129 million Americans with no choice in providers joined the 48 million with a choice solely between past violators and another 29 million Americans lacking broadband altogether to total 206 million Americans who have lost federal protection and now are at the mercy of of massive cable and telephone monopolies. 

Read more details about the risks the FCC have created for a huge swath of Americans in our original story on the data we analyzed.

Takin’ It to the Floor

Democrats in the Senate have expressed support to repeal the FCC decision in order to restore network neutrality. They’re using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) as a tool to attempt to reverse the decision. Under the CRA, Congress can reverse the FCC decision within 60 legislative days of it being published in the Federal Register as long as there is a majority vote. At last count, 50 Democrats and one Republican had vowed to support reversing the FCC decision to repeal network neutrality. Republican Sen. John McCain is absent, which may create the needed majority to pass the resolution. The situation in the House is more precarious due to the Republican majority. Without a repeal of the harmful FCC decision, network neutrality protections will formally disappear as of June 11th.

Public Knowledge has created a quick video describing the process:

Tags: network neutralitysenatefccajit paicongressfederalmarketmappingmapdata

Doug Dawson, Broadband Industry Guru - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 306

May 15, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 306 - Doug Dawson, Founder and President of CCG Consulting

Doug Dawson and his firm, CCG Consulting, recently marked their 20th year working in the telecommunications industry. Prior to establishing the firm, Doug already had significant experience in the field, having worked in the industry since 1978. Doug belongs to a small cadre of professionals who have the technical expertise and policy knowledge to set them apart. While Christopher was at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, he was lucky enough to spend some time with Doug and the two talked about a broad range of topics for episode 306 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. 

Remember you can listen to our weekly podcast by signing up here on iTunes or listen using this feed. Commercial-free conversations like this are filled with useful information for anyone interested in better connectivity in their community. This 34-minute conversation with Doug is only one of many interviews we've had with high-quality guests that offer insights into better connectivity.

In addition to sharing how Doug’s work has developed as the industry has changed, he describes some of the lessons he’s learned from working with different types of clients. Doug and CCG has consulted for private and public sector clients -- those whose needs vary along with their definitions of success. Doug also shares his predictions about 5G and all the surrounding hype. Chris and Doug talk about Connect America Funding and ways to bring broadband to rural America. He’s been pondering the consequences of the FCC’s decision to remove federal network neutrality protections and what it means for municipal networks and smaller ISPs. Doug has some logical predictions on how local entities will move forward without network neutrality in place.

Check out the CCG Consulting website and be sure to peruse Doug’s blog, POTs and PANs. You can sign up for delivery of his articles directly to your inbox. You can also follow Doug on Twitter.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

Tags: ccgconsultant5Gnetwork neutralitymunimarketingaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Reedsburg Rebrands Gigabit Internet Access; Say Hello to "LightSpeed"

May 15, 2018

One several occasions, local leaders in communities with municipal networks have told us that one of the lessons they’ve learned is that marketing is important. While municipal networks can be considered utilities by community leaders who manage and operate them, they still need to be mindful of business in order to enhance subscriber numbers, compete with other ISPs, and establish a brand. This month, the Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) in Wisconsin launched a new brand for its triple-play network.

Not Newbies

We’ve written about RUC’s network in the past, including their efforts to expand to rural areas and the decision in 2014 to offer gigabit connectivity. We even interviewed RUC General Manager Brett Schuppner in 2015, who shared the history of the network back to 2003, which means it’s one of the oldest Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks in the U.S.

According to the RUC press release, the new brand and logo — LightSpeed — “has roots back to the initial launch of RUC’s telecom services.”

Now, subscribers can obtain gigabit connectivity for $44.95 per month when they purchase bundled services. In addition to gigabit Internet access, residents can subscribe to a 100 Megabits per second tier. The service is symmetrical, so upload speeds are as fast as download. Symmetrical connections allow subscribers the ability to send large data files as well as receive them, which creates a better environment for entrepreneurs, teleworkers, and students who need robust connections for homework.

From the press release:

"At Reedsburg Utility we are customer focused and strive to provide the best service for the price” said RUC’s General Manager Brett Schuppner. “We feel the internet provider should not be the limiting factor on how quickly a customer can access internet content. With LightSpeed Internet, we’ve removed the bandwidth restrictions so customers can fully utilize all their connected devices and have the best online experience.”

Check out their new logo:

To hear conversations about marketing efforts and municipal networks, listen to Christopher’s podcast interview with Kyle Hollifield of Magellan Advisors from May 2017. Christopher also recently interviewed Travis Carter from local ISP US Internet and they discussed marketing approaches his company has taken and lessons learned.

Marketing launch photo:

LightSpeed Press ReleaseTags: reedsburgwisconsinmarketinggigabitmuni

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 14

May 14, 2018


City Committee to Look at Future of Internet in Pasadena, Just Days After Weekend's Charter Spectrum Citywide Outage by Pasadena Now

Pasadena’s Chief Information Officer Philip Leclair, who heads the Department of Information Technology, will make a presentation about the growing demand for reliable broadband services in the City, how the current situation compares with what other California cities are doing, and what direction his department is recommending so the community could meet its broadband needs in the future.

The City operates its own robust fiber optic network servicing its own data connectivity needs as well as some businesses and educational institutions, but over 99 percent of households in the City depend on three commercial service providers: Spectrum, AT&T and Frontier Communications.

In a memorandum for the Committee, Leclair indicated it may not be feasible for the City to invest in expanding its own fiber optic network beyond its current reach, and instead would rather recommend that the commercial providers be allowed to upgrade their services especially in Pasadena’s residential neighborhoods.

Farrell’s citywide internet plan could benefit transit, public health agencies by Joshua Sabatini, SF Examiner



Longmont battling NextLight misconceptions with few remaining multi-family property managers by Sam Lounsberry, Longmont Times-Call

For Boulder's 2018 ballot, fracking, broadband, soda-tax update up for discussion by Alex Burness, Boulder Daily Camera

Boulder has for about two years been seriously evaluating how the city might attract, or maybe even create, a cheaper, faster, third-party competitor to the duopoly of CenturyLink and Verizon.

After spending a lot of money and time on this evaluation, city staff has recommended that the City Council narrow its paths to achieving Boulder broadband goals.

Building out the fiber network needed for this project could cost as much as $140 million, according to estimates. City staff is most bullish, at this point, on options that would see Boulder either establish itself as the "backbone" of a fiber network, contracting with a private company to build out and operate the network; or see the city pay for and build the network, then become an internet service provider "through a new business operation within the city government."

City of Aspen looks to open up its broadband network by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News

City of Aspen expanding its broadband reach, will benefit county by Carolyn Sackariason, Aspen Daily News



Five-County Study Finds Broadband Access Lagging by Dan McGowan, Inside Indiana Business

Study Finds a Lack of Internet Access Is Having a Big Impact In Southern Indiana by Mike Grant, Washington Times-Herald (Government Technology)

A lack of broadband availability is causing problems for the southern part Indiana. Those are the findings of a study by Purdue University in a five-county area of southern Indiana. The study was done for the Southern Indiana Development Commission at the request of the Martin County Business Alliance. It assessed the availability and need of broadband in Martin, Daviess, Lawrence, Knox and Greene counties

"It is a lot bigger problem than we thought," said Greg Jones, executive director for SIDC. "We have 9,000 households that lack access to broadband and there are a lot of kids in them. They can't get online and efficiently do their homework. It really puts them at a disadvantage."



Penobscot seeks broadband providers by The Ellsworth American

Our View: Local groups take initiative on broadband in rural, small-town Maine by Portland Press Herald Editorial Board

As much as anywhere, that is true in Maine, where slow connections are holding back areas of the state that are already struggling, keeping businesses from expanding and communities from growing.

But unlike so many of our big problems, this one has an answer. Rural or under-served communities, in the absence of much of any comprehensive effort from Augusta or Washington, are stepping up to save themselves.

That good work, happening in spots throughout the state, got a boost last week when the Post Road Foundation, a national nonprofit aimed at bridging the digital divide, announced that three Maine projects will be among the five nationwide to take part in a pilot project. The city of Sanford, the Old Town-Orono Fiber Corp. and a collaboration of groups Down East will each work with the foundation to evaluate the costs and benefits of placing high-speed smart fiber on utility poles. A group from rural Michigan and one from the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Georgia and North Carolina were also selected.



Internet access is a necessity, not a luxury, must be prioritized like electricity and heat by Quinton Zondervan, Cambridge Day

Alford voters OK next steps toward broadband network by Kristin Palpini, Berkshire Eagle

Approval of several articles on the warrant were necessary to establish the broadband network. They included creating a broadband maintenance stabilization fund and a five-member commission, AlfordLink Commission, to administer it. Voters also elected to dissolve the Municipal Light Plant, created in 2015, to work on broadband. 



Ambitious Plan Would Bring Statewide Public Broadband to Michigan by David Grossman, Popular Mechanics



New state office seeks to bring high-speed internet to rural Missouri by Kae M. Petrin, St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri will soon open a state office devoted to helping rural communities get access to high-speed internet.

The Department of Agriculture and Department of Economic Development launched a joint broadband expansion initiative last week as part of a 16-point plan to address the needs of the state’s agricultural and rural communities.


North Carolina

High-speed internet is not a frill. How we can get NC wired. by Ned Barnett, Charlotte News & Observer

Editorial: Thumbs up on Fibrant move by Salisbury Post



What area Congressional candidates said about the opioid crisis, broadband 'discrimination' and more by Kelsey Thomasson, Centre Daily News

The candidates also addressed the lack of broadband access in many rural parts of the district.

Friedenberg said companies like Comcast and Verizon are working to “systematically undermine municipal broadband efforts.” There needs to be more choice and competition to drive down cost and be able to dictate what level of privacy customers want, he said.

“This is discrimination to our rural areas,” Herschel said.



Hudson might seek levy to build 1 gig internet infrastructure for neighborhoods by Paula Schleis, Akron Beacon Journal

City officials are considering asking residents to help pay for high-speed internet infra­structure that would reach every household in the city and offer 1 gigabyte service at a cost that’s less than other current options.

Last week, Hudson City Council gave the first of three required readings on legislation that would put a 2.7-mill, 10-year levy on the Nov. 6 ballot to pay for the $21 million project. The final reading and a possible vote could come at the end of May.



With Municipal Broadband, Cities Are Taking Back the Internet—and Making It Faster and Cheaper. Can Portland Do the Same? by Erik Henriksen, Portland Mercury 

Last year in Fort Collins, Colorado, a group backed by private ISPs, including Comcast, spent almost $1 million to fight a municipal broadband proposal. “The big spenders were nonetheless defeated by a citizens’ group that spent only $15,000 to support the bond measure,” reported Fortune, “which passed with 57 percent of the vote... approving up to $150 million in financing for a city-run broadband utility.”

There’s a reason ISPs fought so hard: According to an estimate by the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, “competition in Fort Collins would cost Comcast between $5.4 million and $22.8 million per year.”

ISPs also push for laws that prohibit and restrict municipal networks, often finding allies in conservative lawmakers. Twenty states “already have laws restricting municipal broadband in some way,” wrote Ars Technica last fall, “effectively shielding private broadband providers from competition even as many residents lack robust broadband options.”

These laws are generally sold under the guise of providing a “level playing field” and “fair competition” for ISPs.



Scott Co. Telephone gets $1.9 million grant to provide broadband services to Surgoinsville by Bill Jones, The Rogersville Review



Officials, Residents Grapple With Lack of Broadband in Rural Lewis County by Alex Brown, The Chronicle



Column: Broadband critical to small business success by John Gard, Green Bay Press Gazette

The adage that small business is the “backbone” of the American economy rings especially true throughout Wisconsin.

More than 25 percent of our population is classified as “rural,” and we don’t have a single city with more than 600,000 people in it. These main street, mom-and-pop businesses employ more than 50 percent of the Wisconsin workforce and keep our economy moving forward.

As we celebrate National Small Business Week, I hope that we not only support our local businesses but take time to recognize and seriously address an issue that many of our entrepreneurs struggle with daily — a lack of broadband connectivity in rural areas.



The Big Lie ISPs Are Spreading in State Legislatures is That They Don’t Make Enough Money by Ernesto Falcon, Common Dreams

In their effort to prevent states from protecting a free and open Internet, a small handful of massive and extraordinarily profitably Internet service providers (ISPs) are telling state legislatures that network neutrality would hinder their ability to raise revenues to pay for upgrades and thus force them to charge consumers higher bills for Internet access. This is because state-based network neutrality will prohibit data discrimination schemes known as “paid prioritization” where the ISP charges websites and applications new tolls and relegate those that do not pay to the slow lane.

In essence, they are saying they have to charge new fees to websites and applications in order to pay for upgrades and maintenance to their networks. In other words, people are using so much of their broadband product that they can’t keep up on our monthly subscriptions.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

A Public Option for the Internet by Alex Shephard, The New Republic

Large ISPs Urge FCC To Kill Remaining Line Sharing Rules by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell Speaks at Broadband Communities Summit 12 by wdme net, SGS City

Schumer: Broadband is a Utility That May Require Price Caps by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Tags: media roundup

Traverse City, Michigan, Releases Request for Information: Responses Due June 29th

May 14, 2018

Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) recently took the next step in their efforts to build out a citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. City leaders issued a Request for Information (RFI) for Partnership for Deployment; responses are due June 29th.

Read the full RFI.

All the Possibilities

TCLP has had their own fiber network in place for about a decade. The city uses it to offer free Wi-Fi in the downtown area and leases excess capacity to anchor institutions, such as local hospitals and the school district. Like many other municipalities with similar infrastructure, TLCP invested in the network as a way to enhance electric services and provide communications between substations.

About a year ago, the community utility board decided unanimously to move forward with plans to adjust their capital improvement plan in order to fund fiber optic connectivity throughout the city. Their decision came after considerable deliberation on whether or not to expand their existing infrastructure and if the city should fill the role of Internet service provider (ISP).

They’ve had past conversations with local ISPs and a cooperative that is in the process of installing fiber within its service area. TCLP has also discussed various models, such as open access, retail services, and public-private partnerships. The community is taking time to do their homework and consider which approach is best for their unique situation.

Picking A Partner

A feasibility study completed last year recommended either operating a citywide network as a city utility or leasing it to a single partner. Last May, TCLP board members decided to seek out a partner rather than pursue the municipal utility option. The current RFI seeks a network operator to design, build, operate, and maintain what TCLP describes as the first phase of the project.

TCLP wants a relationship that:

1. Balances financial risk

2. Adopts an open access approach

3. Embraces a community wide deployment

TCLP stresses in the RFI that responders should plan on a long-term relationship with the community. They want to be sure that any firm that offers a proposal understands that as the network will be built out, all sectors of the community need to be able to access fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. If a potential responder doesn’t think it’s possible to bring such services to lower-income or difficult to serve areas, TCLP will work with a partner. Because the first phase only covers one area, potential partners need to keep in mind the community’s vision. If a responder has creative ways to bring the vision to reality, TCLP will want to hear those ideas.

"This is a pretty significant project for us, and we're putting a lot of time into it to ensure the absolute success of it during the entire project, but in phase one too, to determine the logistics of how we're going to continue running it down the road," [TCLP Director Scott Menhart] said.

While TCLP has a specific model in mind, they’re open to other suggestions from potential partners. They strongly favor a turnkey operation in which the city owns the infrastructure and a partner handles design, construction, operation, and maintenance, however, TCLP will consider other models.

Traverse City

TCLP serves approximately 12,500 customers in its electrical service area. Charter cable and CenturyLink DSL are available throughout Traverse City, but both offer Internet access insufficient for the needs of businesses or individuals in the 21st century. 

The “Cherry Capital of the World” is located in northwest Michigan along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Their economy relies heavily on tourism and community leaders want to diversify with high-quality connectivity.

Important Dates:

May 21, 2018 – Deadline for submitting letter of intent to respond to RFI 

June 1, 2018 – Deadline for submitting questions 

June 15, 2018 – Responses to questions due (from TCLP) 

June 29, 2018 – RFI responses due TCLP

Traverse City Light & Power RFI for Partnership for Deployment for FTTPTags: traverse city mimichiganFTTHrfipartnershipeconomic development

Mountain Connect in Vail, June 11th - 14th

May 11, 2018

As you make summer plans, remember that Mountain Connect should be on your schedule. The event will be in Vail, Colorado, and this year the theme is “Moving Beyond Risk to Compete in the New Economy.” Mountain Connect will be held at the Hotel Talisa June 11th - 14th.

You can still register online.


The West's Premier Broadband Development Conference

The agenda for this year’s event is coming together and organizers plan to continue to focus on six main topics:

  • Intelligent Infrastructure
  • Economic Development
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Policy Impacting Broadband
  • Broadband 101 Education for Elected Officials

Remember to revisit the agenda as it develops.

Christopher will moderate one of the Keynote Panels, “Exploring Benefits of Progressive Action - The Communities,” which is scheduled for June 14th at 10 a.m. Here’s the description of the topic:

This follow-on panel will explore communities which have benefitted from the progressive action of their respective states, their lessons learned and what you need to do to move your community and state forward.

In addition to Christopher, expect to see some other familiar faces, including David Young from Lincoln, Nebraska, Danna Mackenzie from the Minnesota Broadband Office, and Deb Socia from Next Century Cities. 


To get outside enjoying the beautiful Vail scenery and to contribute to helping young scholars, participate in the Dale Hatfield Golf Tournament Open while you’re at Mountain Connect. The even happens on Monday, June 11th and proceeds support the Dale Hatfield Scholars Program at Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado. Get details about the Open and sign up here.

Register here for Mountain Connect.

Tags: eventconferencechristopher mitchellcoloradovail co

Communications Manager Wanted at ILSR! Apply by May 17th!

May 10, 2018

Dynamic Communications Manager — Portland, Maine; Minneapolis, Minn.; or Washington, D.C. Offices

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is looking for a dynamic, enthusiastic Communications Manager to join our excellent non-profit team. This position is responsible for enacting the communications strategy for all of ILSR’s media platforms and different program initiatives.

Hours per week: Full Time

Compensation: Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience

Application Due: May 17th, 2018


  • A nimble and dynamic individual able to switch between multiple tasks and program areas within a single work day, and to work independently with minimal supervision.
  • A skilled time manager asked to maintain multiple projects and detailed communications work, which may have varying priority, length, and supervisors.
  • Ready to sharpen existing skills and learn new ones, including: editing podcast audio, maintaining a WordPress-backed website, copy-editing blogs, commentaries, and articles destined for ILSR and other publications, writing press releases and social media materials, and cultivating relationships with reporters.
  • Passionate about ILSR’s mission of countering corporate monopolies and building community power.
  • A detail-oriented supervisor of a very small communications team able to delegate efficiently and catch mistakes before they go live.
  • Unafraid of admitting mistakes, because they happen and we learn from them!


  • Maintaining, updating, and enacting strategy for all of ILSR’s social media platforms and for its different program initiatives.
  • Writing press releases, media advisories, and reporter outreach for a variety of ILSR original research, resources, and local technical assistance. This task includes developing and maintaining relationships with multiple reporters across subject areas.
  • Producing and providing technical support for the Building Local Power podcast, including booking guests and writing blog posts to accompany episodes, and perhaps even occasional hosting duties!
  • Helping to maintain the ILSR website, including: copy editing, selecting images and infographics, and ensuring site-wide consistency alongside senior staff.
  • Being the main point of contact for media, legislators, and advocates interested in learning more about ILSR’s work.
  • Gaining an understanding of ILSR’s several policy research areas in order to represent the work effectively.

PREFERRED EXPERIENCE (in order of importance):

  • Previous experience in communications, journalism, and/or marketing
  • Demonstrated critical thinking skills at previous employer
  • A bachelor’s degree or higher (Communications undergrad not required)
  • Working knowledge of public policy processes

This position is full-time, based in our Portland, Maine; Minneapolis, Minnesota; or Washington, D.C. office. Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience. Position includes 100% employer-paid health plan, generous vacation and holiday leave, and retirement contribution matching. We are a dynamic and friendly team dedicated to making the world a better place. ILSR takes professional growth seriously, including the possibility of exciting training opportunities and continuing education in key skill areas.

Applications are welcome from a broad range of applicants. ILSR is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, or disability. ILSR is committed to providing employees with a work environment free of discrimination and harassment. All employment decisions are made without regard to age, race, color, religion or belief, gender identification, family or parental status.


To apply, send an email to Nick Stumo-Langer,, with the following:

  • Dynamic Communications Manager in the subject line
  • A cover letter detailing why your skills and experience will be a great fit for ILSR (400 words or fewer).
  • A writing sample totaling no more than a 1,000 words. Materials can include: original writing published at a previous employer or contractor, press release(s), compilation of original social media, original research. Feel free to send an excerpt of a longer piece. Your writing should feature your ability to summarize complex information for a lay audience.
  • A set of three professional references
  • A resume
  • Salary requirement

Submit your application by May 17, 2018.

You will receive an automatic email reply confirming receipt of your application. We will schedule interviews with qualified applicants on a rolling basis. You will receive notice of our decision to schedule an interview via email no later than May 24.

Tags: jobsinstitute for local self-reliance

Portsmouth Fiber Network to Cut Costs, Benefit Region in Virginia

May 10, 2018

Portsmouth, Virginia, recently announced that they intend to invest in fiber optic infrastructure to reduce telecommunications costs, encourage economic development, and keep the city competitive in the region. The project is also part of a regional effort to foster economic development in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area.

In the April press release, the city announced that the project will include a 55-mile fiber optic ring around the city that will connect municipal facilities and anchor institutions. The plan will use a five-year multiphase approach for the estimated $9 million capital project and construction is likely to begin this summer.

According to city CIO Daniel Jones, costs for the first year will come in at around $2.7 million. Portsmouth is currently reviewing bids for the project.

Significant Savings

Portsmouth CIO Dan Jones noted, “Right now, Portsmouth is internet carrier dependent. The broadband network will improve municipal operations at a substantial cost savings.” 

Last year, the city adopted a Fiber Master Plan, which analyzed potential cost savings, should Portsmouth choose to invest in its own Internet network infrastructure. Consultants estimated that the city and public schools spend more than $1 million on connectivity costs per year for municipal facilities, schools, and public libraries. The community’s schools’ telecom expenditures are almost $638,000 per year; libraries spend around $29,000 per year. Portsmouth schools receive an 80 percent reimbursement from the federal E-rate program, which allows the school system to receive a subsidy of more than $510,000 annually. Portsmouth plans to use E-rate dollars to help fund network construction in areas where it serves school facilities.

When Portsmouth invests in its own infrastructure, rather than leasing lines from the incumbent providers, consultants estimate they will reduce costs by approximately $421,000 over the five-year period by eliminating leased lines for connectivity. The city may also save another $104,000 per year by switching to VoIP services.

Consultants who drafted the Fiber Master Plan estimated that the network, built over a five-year period, will pay for itself in ten years.

We reported on Virginia Beach back in 2016, when they were making a similar investment to Portsmouth's current project. Virginia Beach's Internet access needs were increasing and so were their rates. When they decided it was time to invest in publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure, they saved approximately $500,000 per year.

As in the case of Portsmouth, savings are important, but so is predictability. With rates rising steadily, it’s difficult for municipalities and school districts to budget for the future. When an entity controls their access to infrastructure because they own it, the positive effects of financial certainty improve their ability to budget correctly in all areas.

Regional Effort

The Portsmouth initiative is the city’s contribution to a wider regional effort that includes nearby communities considered part of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. Other cities include Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, and others, These five main municipalities are heading the effort to develop an integrated network to connect employment areas throughout the region. Hampton Roads Planning District Commission has been working to seek funding and support for the Hampton Roads Regional Broadband Initiative.

The initiative will take advantage of the MAREA trans-Atlantic cable that connects Virginia Beach with Bilbao Spain and a second cable planned to connect Virginia Beach with Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Economic development professionals and community leaders in the region want to capitalize on the investment for economic development by attracting high-tech firms to each of the cities in Hampton Roads.

Check out this video on the regional plan:

Staying Competitive in A Competitive Region

In addition to Virginia Beach, Suffolk also owns a fiber Institutional Network (I-Net). While neither networks offer services to the general public, the asset could some day be used to lease excess capacity to ISPs who may want to offer services to businesses or residents. In Suffolk, municipal facilities offer public Wi-Fi. 

Even though cities in Hampton Roads don’t have plans to offer fiber connectivity to local businesses directly, they accept that the presence of fiber is critical for future economic development. As part of their Fiber Master Plan, Portsmouth will consider making the infrastructure available for wholesale lease agreements with commercial providers.

“Knowingly or unknowingly, every business relies upon connectivity, just as they rely on public utilities. If you have a tech firm or other high bandwidth users – such as modeling and simulation, a pharmacy or research company, your company needs that high bandwidth.” Jones added that it can be very expensive for these kinds of companies to purchase high bandwidth through a carrier – costing thousands of dollars per month. “If that business can connect to a fiber network and reach a wholesale provider, that same connection is a fraction of the cost. The options are limitless.”

Portsmouth, Virginia, Fiber Master Plan, April 2017Tags: portsmouth vavirginiaI-NetincrementalCost Savingssavingspublic savingseconomic developmentregionalvideo

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 305

May 10, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 305 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Michael Render from RVA Market Research and Consulting discusses his work and the state of Fiber-to-the-Home. Listen to this episode here.

Michael Render: When you ask people specifically a list of factors, very good, very reliable broadband actually comes in, number one, and number two are the necessities like Washer and Dryer in the unit.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 305 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. As we've covered advances in publicly owned municipal networks, we've learned that anecdotes about faster connections, better rates, and more reliable service are plentiful. On the other hand, collecting other types of data isn't always so easy. That's where this week's guest comes in. Michael Render from RVA Market Research and Consulting makes it his business to study the details of before and after data of public and private networks. RVA allows us to see the trends, improvements and opinions through data analysis. Christopher caught up with Michael at the Broadband Community Summit in Austin, Texas, where the two talk about the work of RVA and some of the interesting discoveries they've encountered through their research. Learn more about their work at Now, here's Christopher with Michael Render.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, normally in Minneapolis today in Austin, Texas at the Broadband Communities Summit sitting across from Michael Render. Welcome to the show.

Michael Render: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: Michael is the founder of RVA, which is a, a research organization that if you're familiar with Broadband Communities Magazine, you've seen his research. If you've seen a lot of work from the Fiber Broadband Association previously, the Fiber-to-the-Home Council, you've seen his research. Just tell us a little bit about what you specialize in in terms of research.

Michael Render: Well, we've been in the business since 1990 doing various kinds of market research, but in 2002 we got involved with the then Fiber-to-the-Home Council doing work on broadband and specifically fiber-optics starting at the point when we could find maybe 5,000 homes in the US with, with broadband, with fiber, if you remember.

Christopher Mitchell: I just have to like have this for a second, 2002. I'm going

to guess: Chelann -- , so a couple, a couple of communities in a Washington state, Cookstown, Pennsylvania. Where else? Was Bristol Virginia started at that point?

Michael Render: Bristol Virginia, I think was on the list, there was a little community north of DC. I can't remember some of the names, but yes, we had probably 30 communities and of course we counted housing additions at that point that had said some fiber so. And it was funny. We, when one of the people I saw at this conference, kids me that I used to call him up and he'd say, yes, we added a customer this month. I'd say, well that's great. I'll add to the list

Christopher Mitchell: A point, like a fraction of a percentage point increase, but you could see it.

Michael Render: Yeah, at that point it made a difference and we actually moved the needle. So--

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And so I interrupted you when you were just discussing, but you got into this in 2002.

Michael Render: So we started doing work for the Fiber-to-the-Home Council and now the Fiber Broadband Association. And worked for them ever since doing market research, keeping track of the deployments, the official numbers of how many homes are passed and connected with fiber in North America. Probably 12 years ago we started doing some consumer research as well for them in terms of a US-large study of about 2,500 people using all kinds of broadband, comparing their experience, their satisfaction, the differences that makes to their, their lifestyle and so forth. So that's, that's been the predominant part of our work. Then we've also done work for some communities and for some vendors and so forth.

Christopher Mitchell: Is this just a niche for you? Are you particularly interested in broadband?

Michael Render: We do a lot of different kinds of very diverse work and I enjoy work that's very technical on one side and we do some consumer work as well that's not. But I've always looked for niches where I feel like we're might make a difference because it's a -- it's a technology, for example, that I believe in and I -- and I immediately saw fiber as such an opportunity that I would enjoy being involved with and really have enjoyed it for 16 or 17 years now.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. I'm just curious. I'm sure you have a lot of memories over the years of how the numbers have changed. It strikes me that if you think back to the data, the big changes, Verizon Fios,

Michael Render: Right, the biggest, the biggest, the first change was back in 2004 when Verizon started to build and that quickly changed the numbers. Prior to that time we had made a prediction that fiber would grow into the, I don't remember what the number was, one point 5,000,000 or something within so many years and no one believed that prediction. But fortunately Verizon help help our forecasting come, come to pass. And they, they certainly passed a number of homes between 2004 and 2008. And that really started to, to push the industry forward.

Christopher Mitchell: The work that you've done that I've referenced the most times, and it's a little bit out of date now, was from I believe in 2009. You did a study that included municipal networks that had several years of operation and their take rates. And the take rate at that time was, I believe 54 percent on average for the municipal Fiber-to-the-Home networks that had been in operation for long enough to get a sense of their out of the startup phase. You recall that? Or am I the only one that, because I read it many times.

Michael Render: I do, yes. Of course we're agnostic to the kind of provider and feel that all kinds, all types of providers have had an impact, but a municipal providers had a particularly large impact prior to the Verizon build, for example, because they were the first large builds of the time, you know, large at that time was 10 or 15 or 20,000 homes past,

Christopher Mitchell: It wasn't just like a housing and private housing development of a few hundred homes or a thousand homes.

Michael Render: So it actually helped prove the technology, and I said I think led the -- the industry forward and helped prove things for Verizon and other private providers to go forward. Prior to that, it was some small independent telcos and some municipals and very, very small providers. Municipals played a role. Municipals have continued to play a role throughout the process. It fairly small percentages that as a total percent, but they obviously played a role and have been quite successful as a rule, you know, there, there are obviously exceptions, but there are exceptions in all categories so,

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well I like to note to people that, that a lot of those networks were built in areas where there was no cable operator or where the cable operator had -- had folded and walked away. So they were incumbents in a fact, or they were the only provider and so they were hitting take rates of 70, 80, 90 percent. Whereas those that were in competitive areas, we're succeeding with 30 percent. So that's how we ended up with 54 percent. I think if you redid it, those numbers now you and I would agree that, um, it would be under that because many of the municipal networks now face much more competition.

Michael Render: Municipal networks now on average, it depends on the situation. Municipal, as you mentioned, municipal networks that are, that are larger, particularly in very competitive areas, uh, might be hitting the 35 percent after, say five years, those in semi-rural areas, maybe in the high forties sometimes or for mid forties I'd say. And then, you know, there's, there's some categories that have been tougher, the -- in the states that have had mandated wholesale operation because of various factors take longer to reach their take rates and they typically struggle to hit about 30 percent after five years and then grow, continue to grow from there.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And I think that -- that one of the responses that we're seeing that as cities we're looking at more incremental models for open access now to try and deal with those challenges and I'm very enthusiastic about those responses, but I'd like to move to just ignoring the owner and talk about Fiber-to-the-Home satisfaction rates. Some of the research that you've done that, that fascinates me is in particular the response of people who are living in apartments to the technology. Because I think most of us assume people think broadband's broadband and they don't much care what they got, they just, you know, they'd like to pay less and they'd like little bit more. But your research suggests that there's a lot of people who are paying close attention to what's available to them.

Michael Render: They really do, you know, if you just look at why people switch, they tend to switch more for reasons like cost or speed, which they have at least a reference point from, from the provider of what they might expect. But we find that when people actually have a technology particularly they are particularly interested in or liability first, then speed and it's not just download speed it's upload as well. So there is a, a much greater satisfaction with fiber deployment than DSL or cable modem and people do then spread that by word of mouth.

Christopher Mitchell: So if I was to be antagonistic to you, it's totally contrary to my expectations that people would be aware of the upload speeds. There's, I think a lot of us that are very technical think people just don't understand it and don't get it. But you're not seeing that in your numbers.

Michael Render: The thing that people understand the most is reliability. They understand when their, when their systems down, they need to do some work. Their kids needed to do some work or whatever and their systems. And so actually when we do surveys, reliability is the number one thing. And fiber actually does have higher liability. We know that because of less electronics and so forth. But we also see it on our survey numbers. We asked people how many times they have to reboot their modem. So many times I have to call customer service and it's about half the number of times that they do with Dsl or cable modem for example. So that's number one. Number two is speed and people are starting to get the idea of upload speed because people are dealing with uploading large amounts of pictures, family pictures and videos and so forth. So it's starting to sink into people that that is important. Latency has been the last one that people get, but younger people in particular are starting to understand that particularly because of gaming and other things.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And I think we're gonna see that it'd be a much bigger, much bigger deal in some ways. I'm often a thing that people might see me as a 5G skeptic. I'm quite excited about 5G. I'm trying to be realistic about it, but as latency really improves on mobile networks, which is going to take many years, I hope that will be reflected in the cable networks. And certainly, you know, the fiber networks already have really good latency. I just want to note this and I'm curious. I'm curious if you have any great stories when you're collecting this data. I don't know if you have like the ability for people to submit stories, but you're note about reliability struck a chord with me. We're doing an interview with a woman in Ammon, Idaho who, her family is one of the folks on the network and they had been on the cable network and they were very dissatisfied and in part because every Saturday morning their kids would come running into their room while they were still sleeping and say the Internet's out, you know, you need to reset the modem or whatever.

Christopher Mitchell: And so that have to get out of bed and go do that, and the week after they switched on the, as a Beta customer for the Ammon fiber network are sort of laying in bed on Saturday morning and nobody had bothered them. For them, that was like, there was sort of like a sense of what's going on? and it was because the network stays up for more than a few hours that I think many people that have stories, whoever is the IT expert in the household tends to get calls, frantic calls from, from home saying, you know, I'm in the middle of this project and all of a sudden my, my Internet's out, what do I do now? So people definitely notice those kinds of things. So when you're looking at people that are choosing an apartment or place to live, and let's, let's focus on apartments first because I think you survey those separately and I would think people are looking for an apartment. They're looking at costs. Looking at maybe transit routes, for younger folks today. What are you seeing in terms of priorities from people?

Michael Render: When you ask people specifically a list of factors, very good, very reliable broadband actually comes as number one and usually number two are the necessities like washer and dryer in the unit. So people do definitely realize that they need it for, for their living. Now sometimes, and I tell people this -- that are marketing communities -- it's more invisible than, than granite countertops for example. So sometimes when people walk into to a new apartment, they're not thinking about that right off the bat, so it's incumbent upon the owner or manager of a, of a property to put that more in the face of the prospective buyer with, with, with the demonstrations or literature or whatever. But when people do think about it that, that, that is extremely important to them and we've seen that go up and up and some things like cable television for example, have gone down over the last few years that we've surveyed.

Christopher Mitchell: What do you see for people who are buying homes than single family homes?

Michael Render: The same kind of list. We have some different amenities we ask about with homes versus condos and apartments, but fiber is generally one or two in that list as well, and so it's very important. We do see one difference between apartment renters and home buyers. People that are renting an apartment have a shorter time length they're looking at so when we ask questions about would they actually pay more for an apartment with high quality fiber for example, or how I called the Internet, people give a figure on average, which works out to be about eight percent on a rental basis-- pay about eight percent more percent more to get that --to get that higher quality bandwidth. On a home or a condominium owned unit MDU unit people pay about three percent more and we hypothesized the difference is that people think there's some cap because eventually they might get that service so they're going to go up a certain amount, but they still are willing to pay more.

Michael Render: We've seen that in our surveys year after year. The fiber broadband association also did a study based on assessments. They hired a firm to look at the actual assessments of properties and they saw that as almost the, exactly the same difference in, in property values.

Christopher Mitchell: So moving to an area that I know you've just studied 5G Next Century Cities, asked you to do a study of, of a number of cities. What was the sample size?

Michael Render: We ended up with 176 responses

Christopher Mitchell: And they tended to be higher tax cities due to the nature of who responded. But I'm just curious if you have top of your head any findings that you've found particularly interesting and let me note that people should definitely look at the Next Century Cities website to, to get a full link to a presentation that you did. And in more details about that study.

Michael Render: Well, we found that the cities we studied, we're quite interested in 5G which we actually defined it in the survey as small cells because you start out with 4g densification, just denser use of current technology and gradually migrate to actual 5G technology.

Michael Render: But they're also interested in that and smart city technologies. And these are technology focused communities that you mentioned, so there, there, there tend to be fiber oriented and 5G oriented and at the same time they have some concerns that they voiced the opinion that they want to maintain some level of control of the process, concerned about some, some potential laws being passed and particularly they want to control things like the aesthetic of poles and so forth. They acknowledge at the same time concerns of providers about the length. Some of them mentioned that they have complaints from providers about length of time for permitting and some of them acknowledge that that's an area that they could work on, but there's definitely a a concern about this early stage of the process trying to do it in their opinion. Right at this stage.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me ask you a totally open question. Having done this for more than 15 years now, do you remember being surprised that at how some of these things shifted over time? Was there a year when you're thinking, wow, that's really different? Things are changing suddenly?

Michael Render: Well, you know, I, I don't know that I can think of anything that's changed dramatically from one year to the next, but things do shift over time and we've also continually found new ways to try to measure what's important to people. And, you know, just this year when we were looking at MDUs for example, we were looking at.

Christopher Mitchell: Those are multiple dwelling units or apartment buildings for people not in the, uh, in the hip industry?

Michael Render: Sorry, sorry. In that field, we were looking at how many times people, how much people work from home for example, and got to thinking, well, I wonder if that correlates with the commute time, if there's any relationship.

Michael Render: And sure enough we found that the longer someone's communte time is, the more likely they are to work from home. So there's actually a pretty good mitigation of at least 30 percent of that commute time and in fact, and people that say they can work from home, in other words, they don't have to be at a physical location to do their work. It's actually closer to 50 percent mitigation of that community time. So that has several inferences. One, it makes life more pleasant for the, for the occupants. Number two, it'd probably broadens the potential market range for an MDU, for a property owner to be able to market to. And number three, it has obvious implications in terms of traffic congestion and pollution output and so forth.

Christopher Mitchell: So are there. Are there any other areas of your research that we haven't covered? I mean, I think we've hit the areas that I come across the most often, but is there anything else that you think people who are following this sort of stuff might be interested in?

Michael Render: Well, I think just going back to the point that people are starting to realize that the broadband experiences more than just a single number, it's just, it's more than just the download speed number.

Christopher Mitchell: All right. I think of it as a cameras. At a certain point, people thought megapixel, megapixel, megapixel. Now they understand that there are multiple factors to consider.

Michael Render: Not all people understand that yet, but I think people are are starting to get smarter about that. The current word is gigabit Internet. Gigabit refers to the download speed in most cases.

Christopher Mitchell: I strongly resist that myself, but I agree we've. I've lost that battle.

Michael Render: But you look at is gigabit Internet the same and we found that gigabit Internet code, gigabit Internet delivered from fiber providers is much different than gigabit Internet delivered by HFC hybrid private folk co-ax cable provider for example.

Christopher Mitchell: And would you attribute that entirely to the fact that the cable provider has a slower upload speed much slower or there are other technical differences that also come into play?

Michael Render: The biggest difference is we can measure through that question about reboots number reboots and calls to the service center is reliability and that's probably what makes people most emotional. But secondly, it's the upload speed is a factor as well.

Christopher Mitchell: That's interesting. Have you ever studied anything in terms of people's preferences for the provider? As you know, I'm a strong advocate for municipal networks and and I would argue that a person like me would notice a difference between Chattanooga or Verizon FIOS. But I'm going to guess most people don't even notice that or probably even aren't even aware of who their provider is. But have you looked at anything along those lines?

Michael Render: You know, I think the brand or the type of provider does make some difference in it depends on somebody's preference and also depends on past experience. For example, I was talking to a gentleman from frontier recently at the show who agreed that this was not unusual, that they acknowledged they had a big problem in the changeover in, in purchasing a Verizon FIOS turning it into Frontier FIOS and we've noticed and they have noticed the satisfaction is not as good even though it's a fiber product now that whenever someone has a, a legacy that they've built in terms of people's expectations, it takes a while to get over that. So different versions of fiber for example, can have different connotations. People particularly like Google fiber for example, the -- you know, they haven't had have an expectation and haven't had the negative experiences perhaps from the past. So they, they are particularly fond of that.

Christopher Mitchell: It is a more fun name to say that. Most other ones I've always, I think I'd probably love the CruzIO Fiber -- CruzIO Fiber from Santa Cruz just because I love their name. But with, with frontier, I mean, I, I'm curious if, if what you're saying is to some extent they are now delivering at a reliability comparable to what Verizon had achieved, but because they had several months or a year or however long it was, really had increased outages that sort of stuck with them.

Michael Render: It did. Although the representative said that that's quickly changing and they're moving forward and I would tend to agree that we've seen the numbers coming up and probably by next year there will be back in, in sync with the rest of the fiber providers. But. But I guess that brings to the point, you have to have a good product. You have to market it well and you also have to have good customer service to go along with that. You know, I always tell fiber providers, you've got a built in advantage because you've got better reliability. You've got half as many people calling the call center so you don't have to hire as many people. Your expenses aren't as high. Do a great job on the human element as well, and people appreciate that. And, and to your point about local providers, sometimes local providers have an advantage of being able to serve customers with a call to somebody they know and people who that that actually when we've done regression analysis of take rates, that is an advantage that local providers be it municipal or a small telco or whatever, has sometimes over a larger provider where people feeling they're calling another state or another country for, for service.

Christopher Mitchell: At the, the fall event for broadband communities where the economic development events happened. It was in Atlanta last year and Mayor Fuller from Opelika, Alabama came and, and he's got a great Alabama drawl and he said that, you know, when something goes wrong on their network, which she would argue it doesn't happen very often. You call someone and that person who answers the phone speaking Alabama. And so you're not going to get someone who's going to speak. I don't Mississippian, so yeah, it's definitely something that a number of small providers have noticed. Right. Well, thank you so much Michael, for coming up and sharing this with us. Uh, I think this is going to be great for our audience to get a sense of what the numbers are and I appreciate you the legacy that you have from having done this for so long. Great. Well thank you Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Michael Render from RVA market research and consulting. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power, the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 305 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

National Rural Assembly Presents "Building Civic Courage" May 21 - 23

May 9, 2018

You don’t have to live in low-population areas to participate in the 2018 National Rural Assembly’s Building Civic Courage event May 21st - 23rd in Durham, North Carolina. The theme of this year’s theme is “Building Civic Courage” and several experts in broadband, including our Christopher Mitchell, will be speaking at the event. You can still register online.

About the National Rural Assembly

The Assembly seeks to strengthen America by improving the current and future situations in rural areas. People and organizations that belong to the Assembly hail from all sectors, including grassroots groups, state and regional organizations, and national associations. There are more than 500 individuals and organizations that belong to the National Rural Assembly. They describe their purpose as:

The purpose the Assembly is to build a common, community-focused rural agenda based on participation of local, state, regional, and national rural leaders; empower rural leaders and their allies to educate policy makers about this agenda; and raise the national visibility of rural issues.

2018 Event

The Assembly describes the event:

The focus of this meeting will be how we build a more inclusive nation, viewed through a lens of civic courage. We'll explore a number of questions, such as: What does civic courage look like? Why is civic courage important for achieving policy change? How are rural people strengthening our democracy? How do we amplify wise, diverse, and informed rural voices in ways that promote better policies?

The Assembly always works on the issue of better connectivity in less-populated areas. This year’s event will continue to focus on better Internet access and how it affects rural Americans. One of the many break-out sessions at the event will be on Tuesday, May 22nd, and starts at 2:30 p.m. The Rural Broadband Policy Group, which is part of the Assembly, will sponsor the session titled “Rural Broadband in Our Sights.”

In addition to Christopher, Allie Bohm from Public Knowledge and Cheryl DeBerry of Garrett County Economic Development in Maryland will present:

Please join us at Rural Assembly for a breakout session on rural broadband access.  We will be talking about various ways of deploying high speed internet to rural areas; the policy, economic, and technological barriers to deployment; ways of overcoming those barriers; and how you can get involved in bringing reliable broadband internet to your community.  The breakout will include speakers from Public Knowledge, the Institute for Local Self Reliance; and Garrett County (MD) Economic Development.

If you listen to our podcast, you might remember Cheryl from episode 275. She spent some time describing how the rural community is using fiber and white spaces to bring Internet access to homes and businesses that couldn't get service from the national ISPs.

While you’re at the event, check out some of the other presentations that will cover issues such as voting rights, the influence of women in rural communities, citizenship, the role of centers of worship in rural communities, and many other topics. You can review the detailed agenda and learn more about the breakout sessions on the event website. You can also learn about the speakers.

There’s still time to register online; the event will be held at the Durham Arts Council.

Tags: national rural assemblyeventchristopher mitchellconferencenorth carolina

North Carolina Editorial: State Restriction on Local Telecom Authority Has to Go

May 9, 2018

Approximately 20 U.S. states have some form of legal restriction that creates barriers when local communities want to develop publicly owned Internet infrastructure. In North Carolina, where the state experiences a severe rural/urban digital divide, people are fed up with poor service from influential telephone and cable companies. Folks like Ned Barnett, Opinion Editor from the News & Observer, are calling on elected officials to remove the state’s restriction so local governments can do all they can for better connectivity.

Things Must Change

Barnett’s recent editorial begins out of frustration as he describes how unreliable Internet access forced him to take pen to paper. His own connection prevented him from tending to emails, doing online research, and his phone service also suffered due to momentary loss of connectivity at his office. He goes on to consider how the annoying but temporary inconvenience to him is a way of life for many in rural areas of his state.

While North Carolina has many of the same challenges as other states in getting rural folks online — lack of interest from national ISPs, challenging geography that complicates deployment — Barnett correctly zeroes in on the state’s restrictive HB 129. The law prevents communities with existing broadband infrastructure from expanding to neighboring communities and puts requirements in place that are so onerous, they make it all but impossible for communities considering similar investments to move forward.

Barnett rightly points out that the true purpose of the law was to protect national ISPs from competition, securing their position as monopolies and duopolies. He describes the problems with the state's approach and what North Carolinians have faced in the aftermath:

For one, Internet access isn't a consumer product. It's as basic as access to a phone, electricity or indoor plumbing. Secondly, there isn't any real competition involved. Rural areas often are limited to one provider offering slow access.

The Problem is Real

People familiar with the situation in North Carolina typically know the story of Wilson and Pinetops. When the FCC preempted HB 129 in 2015, Wilson expanded its municipal fiber optic network, Greenlight, to the small community of Pinetops where the community was struggling along on DSL, dial-up, and satellite connections. Businesses, residents, and local government facilities in Pinetops immediately felt the positive impact. When the state won a lawsuit to have the decision reversed on the grounds that the FCC has overstepped its authority, people in the small community faced losing the high-quality connectivity they needed to stay competitive.

For a time, Wilson offered Greenlight to Pinetops for free so as not to run afoul of the law. The state legislature passed a bill in 2017 that allowed Greenlight to serve Pinetops until a private sector provider brings fiber optic connectivity to the town. Late last year, the incumbent cable provider announced plans to build fiber in Pinetops, but due to ambiguities in the bill adopted by the legislature, people in Pinetops worry that most of the community will be back to their old inadequate Internet access. 

It’s possible that the incumbent is taking advantage of these ambiguities to drive Greenlight out of the community rather than because it has the desire to serve the small town of 1,300 residents. In the past, they stated that the community wasn’t populated enough to justify investing in the infrastructure, but with the state legislature’s bill behind them, incumbent Suddenlink  could be taking advantage of the situation to flex their muscles.

More for North Carolina

Blair Levin is another advocate for better connectivity who has called on the state to remove its restrictive law. At a WRAL TechWire event in 2016, he told an audience in Wilson, "When the new General Assembly returns to Raleigh, tell the assembly to tear down the law that prevents faster, cheaper broadband."

As Barnett writes in his editorial, the pressure is on in North Carolina to get the entire state connected. The Governor wants to include $20 million in the budget for broadband connectivity with a special focus on rural areas. The North Carolina League of Municipalities released a report in March that encourages changes in state law to allow local communities to partner with private sector entities.

From the editorial:

These efforts are encouraging, but bolder steps are needed. The first one should be repeal of the law that has effectively halted the development of new municipal broadband systems. That bill was a pet project of then-House Speaker and now U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis on behalf of his friends in the cable industry. Now it's widening the state's economic rural-urban divide.

Barnett quotes Tom Wheeler, who was FCC Chairman in 2015 when the Commission preempted North Carolina’s harmful HB 129:

Then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saw it differently. He said, “The efforts of communities wanting better broadband should not be thwarted by the political power of those who, by protecting their monopoly, have failed to deliver acceptable service at an acceptable price."

Amen to that.


Tags: editorialnorth carolinanorth carolina league of municipalitiesruralhb129state lawswilsonpinetops

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 304

May 8, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 304 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Saul Tannenbaum of Cambridge, Massachusetts, joins the show to discuss the citizens organization Upgrade Cambridge.

Saul Tannenbaum: People view this as one of the things that Cambridge should be doing. In fact, people think it's ridiculous that we're not leading the efforts for municipal broadband.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 300, four of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. There's something afoot in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it's called Upgrade Cambridge. The community is the home of Harvard University, MIT, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a long list of other entities focused on higher ed technology and the arts, but while people in the community appreciate all that Cambridge has to offer, they also recognize that what Cambridge needs is better connectivity. Our guest this week is Saul Tannenbaum. He's one of the people instrumental in the creation and development of Upgrade Cambridge. It's the citizens group that aims to find a way to get Cambridge what it needs better Internet access. He and Christopher met up at the broadband community summit in Austin, Texas, where both have been sharing their knowledge and experiences to help others improve local connectivity. Saul talks about the steps the city has taken before investigation into a municipal fiber optic network stalled. He and Christopher also touch on local politics, the challenges on how to address the needs of a diverse population and what it's like to be an organizer trying to reach people and overcome misinformation. Be sure to check out. for more. We've also written about Saul and the city on Now, here's Christopher with Saul Tannenbaum from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, coming to you live. I always questioned that as I say it because I'm recording it and everyone who records things is live, but the most important part here is that I'm with Saul Tannenbaum, the cofounder of Upgrade Cambridge. Welcome to the show.

Saul Tannenbaum: Thank you Chris. It's a pleasure to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: So we are at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas, which is where I think we met for the first time several years ago. You've been coming for many years. Upgrade Cambridge, Massachusetts. First question, did you get the name from Upgrade Seattle?

Saul Tannenbaum: Absolutely. We spent time trying to find a better name and couldn't. So we chose that in, we'll rename ourselves, if we've come up with something better.

Christopher Mitchell: Cambridge, Massachusetts, maybe people in cal tech would argue with this, but possibly the most educated, square miles of the United States.

Saul Tannenbaum: Something like that. I mean it, you know, we have Kendall Square, which count itself as the most innovative, you know, square mile on the planet. It's home to Harvard and MIT. You know, more and more, it seems like every global pharmaceutical brand wants its global headquarters, its global research lab, or both within walking distance of MIT so we've had an incredible commercial economic boom. Also you're in the Internet space. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and companies you've never heard of walking distance to MIT, and we have a hugely successful incubator in the Cambridge Innovation Center, which houses, you know, an incredible amount of venture capital and an incredible number of startups. It's a sort of thriving economic environment focused on the knowledge industries.

Christopher Mitchell: And yet you have kind of the same broadband access that any US city has, which is to say Comcast cable, Verizon broadband over a copper dsl mostly. You didn't get FIOS I don't think. So you have all this incredible capacity of humans and yet the same network you can find in almost any city in the United States.

Saul Tannenbaum: That's correct. I mean, it's largely a Comcast monopoly. There are still, you know, Verizon DSL users for people, mostly people who either simply don't want to be Comcast customers or people we've found this out just recently, um, who believed the marketing that Verizon DSL is really broadband and thought they're terrible performance they're getting is what you should expect from broadband because we have almost fountains of money in certain places. Some companies buy their way around their problems. For example, Google reimburses some of it staff for Comcast Business Service at home so that they can get, you know, these are folks who are on-call Google site reliability engineers and so Google just pays that money. So some parts of Cambridge that can afford it just buy their way out of the problem.

Christopher Mitchell: So Upgrade Cambridge is a citizen organization. You help to create it. You're a cofounder of it. What has the strategy been on this? I presume that like in Seattle, you see an opportunity for the city to take action, but the city is not inherently motivated to do so.

Saul Tannenbaum: Right? And we're actually just a couple of months old. I mean if you had contacted me last fall, you would have heard me complain about the fact that I would have to become a grass roots organizer, which is, you know, I'm enough to know my strengths and weaknesses and that was not something I was really inclined to do, but then have a funny thing started happening in December and January folks started reaching out to me saying, what can I do to help? So a sort of core initial group, Adrian Musgrave, who is a city council candidate, Roy Russell, who is, was the technology half of Zipcar and Matt Goldstein, who's a computer science book publisher, all sort of reached out and I met with them. Then we met together and it was clear that we had to, you know, come together to make something happen.

Christopher Mitchell: And when I was out there I believe Anne Schwieger at that time before she was working for the city of Boston was, was involved. I don't know that, I don't know how she's still is, but but I know she was also one of the people that was trying to get the city to move forward.

Saul Tannenbaum: Four years ago, it's been that long. The city manager put together a broadband task force, which was my idea and my timing was impeccable. It was around the time of losing net neutrality to the Verizon court decision and the Comcast NBC merger and the city manager at the time said, we have to do something about this and this is, you know, this is a Cambridge thing to pull members of the community in. And so I was on the task force, Anne Schwieger, was on the task force along with a number of others and it was, you know, there are people on the task force who, if they weren't volunteering their time could easily have been the consultants.

Saul Tannenbaum: We met for years and issued a report urging the city to take the next steps, you know, for municipal broadband. And there were sort of three legs to that - outreach to marginalized communities, to understand the digital divide and craft a solution to fix it. - Do a detailed financial analysis of a municipal broadband built. Understand what the actual costs, you know, would be in, make revenue projections and - third do the community wide community outreach, which was necessary to both get a good consensus decision on whether we should go ahead with it and also serves as marketing for the, you know, financial analysis or you can actually get a reasonable chance at a good take rate. I mean, those recommendations had been sitting with a city manager for about 18 months now without any visible movement.

Christopher Mitchell: And was there a change over in the city manager?

Saul Tannenbaum: Yes. Cambridge had a few years ago, the longest serving city manager in the deputy year term and then decided it was time to enjoy life and the city went through a hiring process and it turns out to be very difficult to recruit outside candidates for city manager because if you're at that level, you have a good benefits package and it's not portable. So there are real structural problems of hiring a senior experienced city manager type from somewhere else. So we ended up with an internal candidate who had been our director of finance. That's where we are today with the recommendation still sitting on his desk.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, the reason I ask is it's interesting that you have one city manager that puts the task force together, presumably somewhat enthusiastic about the idea. Now it sounds like you have a city manager who is not enthusiastic and so if you had that old city manager, maybe you don't need to form Upgrade Cambridge. Maybe the process works through itself.

Saul Tannenbaum: Right? And these, these were public meetings where a lot of this took place. So I don't, I can say that city staff working hard to implement our recommendations. In fact, they scheduled multiple extra meetings of the task force, so we would be ready for the summer city council meeting for an appropriation for the second, the second phase, and then pulled that back mostly because it was impossible to get ready. But city staff we're working on going forward. And then interest and activity just stopped

Christopher Mitchell: In some ways. This is one of the reasons I wanted to point out the brain power that you have a mass there because we've seen a similar dynamic in some ways in Palo Alto where they have tremendous capacity to move forward and one of the consultants that they'd hired years ago, I think and convinced the number of people and there's still other people that have significant questions that are reasonable but nonetheless seem a little out of character with the community because if there is a place on this planet in which there are people that understand the difference between a Comcast, you know, gigabit down and 35 Mbps up at an extremely high price and a high quality symmetrical gig. It's in these sorts of places. Right? And if there's a demand in Chattanooga and many other places for gigabit service, there's gotta be a demand in Cambridge, in Palo Alto, in these places. So, you know, I would think it'd be easier to sell in a place like Cambridge then in, you know, Westfield, Massachusetts.

Saul Tannenbaum: What's really interesting to me and in that sense is that after that first sort of core organizing group, we very quickly, you know, sort of grew in a number of dimensions on one hand, you know, call it the social justice community of Cambridge because there appears to be a real digital divide in Cambridge reflected in the, you know, in the census data saying that basically every affluent family has broadband in the home, but only 50 percent of low income families do. The school system's experience contradicts that. And one of the, you know, there's a key question of what's actually on the ground reality and nobody really knows. But that was one group that joined in quickly. The other group is sort of a, a bunch of folks who work for the Internet infrastructure companies who understand exactly this -- one of our our most dedicated, you know, volunteers at this point is, Christopher Schmitt, you know, who works for one of these large companies. Um, and it's become a great fan of your podcast. You know, he's somebody who didn't even know what municipal broadband was last fall into listen to council candidate asked him about it and it's like, oh, that sounds like something I would support and he's voraciously become an expert and you know, there are other people like that who just understand how this should work, you know, in the, you know, sort of greater sense.

Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned you don't have a background of doing grassroots. organizing and Cambridge is a large, complicated place in which people live complicated lives, very active lives. I'm, I'm guessing, how do you break through to get their attention to tell them about this possibility in that sort of thing?

Saul Tannenbaum: Ask me that question again once we're sure we've figured it out, I mean the, the joke in Cambridge is if you want to get people's attention, put something in the New York Times because that, you know, that's how you're getting your money. You've got communities that are focused in more inward than outward, Harvard, MIT, etc. We are aiming to have a presence, call it sympathetic meetings where we can, you know, collect names, etc., putting them on our mailing list. Our Senator Ed Markey just held a net neutrality in Cambridge at MIT with a Susan Crawford and Tom Wheeler. We had folks collecting names there.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. That's an opportunity that not everyone has.

Saul Tannenbaum: Right, exactly, exactly. And we're planning our own events. The author of the recent ACLU report on, you know, community networks, which I know you were-- Yeah. Jay -- is coming to town. I'm in the middle of May 16th and we're going to have an event cosponsored with the ACLU of Massachusetts about net neutrality, privacy and community networks. So we're going to ride on the ACLU of Massachusetts' publicity for that, etc. And we have another event which was almost confirmed a Harvard student who's done a documentary on the digital divides.

Christopher Mitchell: Maria. There's a website that you can view her films at

Saul Tannenbaum: A number of us saw the trailer for that when she gave a talk at Harvard six weeks ago and we're going to bring her to a lot of --

Christopher Mitchell: Let me just jump in to remind you that you could also do a screening of Do Not Pass Go, which we've been promoting the film about municipal networks out of North Carolina.

Saul Tannenbaum: We have been talking about movie night, so that, that's one of those things. I mean, that's, you know, as much of a strategy as we have amongst Cambridge residents. It's hard to find opposition. There is some. One of my fellow task force members is -- he doesn't describe himself that way. He wants to be the person of reason raising questions, but his body of work over the years is very libertarian and he's just deposed. And there are other people like that. There are other people who question, think in advance, anything like this as a boondoggle. But those are few and far between in Cambridge, most mostly everybody's in support. Three years ago I asked city council candidates whether they were supportive of spending the city's money and everyone who was elected was in support. I mean, so there's that sort of general level of support that's not, it's not hard to check that on a candidate questionnaire.

Saul Tannenbaum: And as this gets closer to reality of the questions get harder, we have a nine member council, I would bet that seven of them are, I would call at least soft supporters and there are a few others who are serious supporters. One newly-elected see counselor Quinton's Zondervan has, has taken this issue under his wing. His first approach to it is through the digital equity issues because that was his personal path, being from an immigrant family, you know, getting him to MIT. So he wants everyone else to have the opportunities he did. And he's working with the city staff right now to fashion something. If we don't end up with municipal broadband, but we've actually fixed the digital equity issues in this city, that's an accomplishment.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I read into a little bit into your comment earlier is that there seems to be a debate as to exactly how bad the divide is and that you may not trust the data you have on it.

Saul Tannenbaum: The only way to know is to talk to people.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? Well, actually, that's what I wanted to suggest. I was stunned when learning about the E2D which is short for Eliminate the Digital Divide group, which is out of Charlotte and started just north of Charlotte and the Davidson area where they did eliminate the digital divide in one of the ways that they did it was they talked to the teachers is a smaller community, but all the teachers know how many kids in their class have broadband at home and who doesn't. It's very apparent to them. So, that's just one thing I wanted to throw out there for folks to be aware of.

Saul Tannenbaum: Cambridge used to be on the cutting edge of these issues. A dozen or so years ago, it partnered with MIT to put what was then experimental technology, Mesh Wi-Fi in a city housing project it very quickly learned that this was not a technology problem. It was more complicated. It pulled it's human services, people in sort of three legs of digital equity, the technology literacy and equipment that you need to actually talk to people understand their problems. You couldn't just drop Wi-Fi access points into people's homes without any notice and actually achieve something. But all that seems to have been lost in the city a couple of years ago. Just pull that equipment out and replaced it with a, you know, a single access point outdoors and one in a common room and then held a big party to celebrate. Which I thought was, well, I won't say what I thought, a little less than is needed.

Saul Tannenbaum: Right? So, I mean, we used to be there. Now the census did is say one thing. The school department has been giving out chromebooks, Cambridge school department. So they actually gave a lot of thought to digital equity issues. They have hot spots that they would give to kids who needed it. They said they have surveys that show that there isn't much of a problem, but they're self reported. So we don't, who are you going to trust the census data or the school department? And they both could be wrong and I'm, one of the things I'm going to be watching for as the digital equity stuff moves forward is whether people are actually going to get to the ground truth. Because we also heard stories about students who are ashamed to admit they don't have broadband at home if they're faking it for their teachers. I don't know. I mean this is a core economic equity issue for Cambridge and we've developed this knowledge based economy and we have as a city goal making sure all residents have access to it. And you obviously had access to the Internet, you know, do that these days. You need it. There's a big push this year for STEAM education, STEM with the arts added science, technology, engineering, math and art,

Christopher Mitchell: Right? As the, A that sometimes inserted and appropriately so.

Saul Tannenbaum: And you know, kid doesn't have access to the Internet at home, they're just simply not going to do as well. This is something to get to the bottom of. I mean, we, we at Upgrade Cambridge, a couple of us met with the school IT people who are as puzzled by this as we are. I mean they have their actual experience, you know, we have the census data and they just don't match. So we should run it to ground. Cambridge takes credit for the invention of the Internet, you know, you can argue that one, but this is something we should really fix. And it's really something we were on the path to fixing, you know, a dozen years ago. And then it just stopped.

Christopher Mitchell: So if you have your crystal ball is this-- is it something you're -- a fight you're engaging in and you're going to do the best you can. And or is it something that you, you're about to when you have a sense,

Saul Tannenbaum: oh, I don't think we're about to do anything. This is going to be a process. You mean the city manager appears to be implacably opposed? The city council is in favor and um, we haven't had a long time, so it's not clear how that would go.

Christopher Mitchell: It seems like a classic political problem that, uh, is well known among people who study this sort of thing that you have a lot of people that could gain a little bit from a better network because this is an area in which people largely, um, certainly there's a gap, but there's most people can afford to pay the comcast prices to get the better services even though it's not as good as a, as a municipal network would be in pricing, customer service or other technical characteristics of the network.

Saul Tannenbaum: That's where the sort of national movements around net neutrality and Internet privacy are doing us a great favor because suddenly the stakes seem higher. I mean, it's not, not just seem higher. They certainly aren't. Well, it goes beyond the simple, you know, you can get higher symmetric speeds at lower cost, permissible and broadband, but you know, it'll be neutral and it won't monetize your internet usage history of our big deal. So I think that's the sort of thing that, as you say, raises the literal stakes are that, I mean that changes things. If you go back to the 1980s, Cambridge actually tried to have a publicly owned cable system. It came to a referendum. The advocates for a public system, believe they won the cable system, the cable system at the time forced a recount. And then it was lost by, you know, a couple of dozen of votes.

Saul Tannenbaum: People remember that and are still angry about it. But it's also this sort of issue is sort of in Cambridge is blood. I mean, nobody really says this any more because of a whole bunch of reasons, but we're called the People's Republic of Cambridge for a reason. Um, you know, using the city to support social justice. And then, I mean in terms of social justice, both the digital equity issue, but the net neutrality issue in the privacy issue is something that, you know, Cambridge routinely does. There are more gains than just that small incremental, better network. People view this as one of the things that Cambridge should be doing. In fact, people think it's ridiculous that we're not leading the efforts for municipal broadband. I mean that, that's the sort of thing you hear all the time. You know, why haven't we done this already? How this plays out. I mean, we don't know yet. I mean it's, we're sort of, you know, this is kind of iterative. We're pushing, we're going to see what the city council does have. This new manager reacts and we'll, you know, we'll go from there. I mean the first cast will be this effort for digital equity, whether it's actually serious, whether the city is prepared to put in the time and effort to discover what the problem is and fix it, or whether it just wants to, you know, check off a box.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you so much for coming on Saul. It's been a pleasure getting to know you over the years down here and on twitter. I'm the pleasure is likewise and I'm thrilled that people like you are stepping up and leading their communities forward when the city council is not just doing it naturally on its own.

Saul Tannenbaum: And the problem is it's largely people like me and who look like me and one of our efforts is to try and reach out to, you know, not the, you know, white technical people, and have their help as well.

Christopher Mitchell: The lesson that you note about you know, you don't just drop the devices on low income people and, and make a difference. This is, has structural challenges. There's race issues, there's a lot of issues that are tied up in it. And having people involved in this decision making process is essential. It's not just enough to figure out how we best think we should solve other people's problems.

Saul Tannenbaum: Yes indeed. And Cambridge has a lot of expertise in doing that. I mean it's got no social service programs that are the envy of most other cities in America and we should be using that expertise, you know, to fix this problem as well.

Christopher Mitchell: So is there anything you want to let folks in Cambridge? No.

Saul Tannenbaum: If you have Cambridge listeners who haven't found it yet, upgrade Sign up. Come join us and help us work this issue.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you for being the first though, several interviews that will come out of the broadband community summit down here in Austin. You're welcome to. Pleasure to do it.

Lisa Gonzalez: We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power, the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 304 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Digging Into the Details With RVA Market Research & Consulting - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 305

May 8, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 305 - Michael Render, Founder of RVA Market Research & Consulting

RVA Market Research & Consulting is a firm known for its ability to provide detailed review, analysis, and forecast for Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment. They also offer information on the needs and desires of current and potential subscribers regarding other telecommunications issues. This week, RVA Founder Michael Render visits with Christopher about the firm’s work and discoveries.

The organization makes contact with Internet access providers, experts, vendors, and people or businesses to get the latest opinions and thoughts on services and satisfaction. They’re experts at interpreting that data to help organizations such as ISPs, investors, nonprofits, local government, and others create successful strategies for future initiatives. While RVA and Michael Render are well-known in the telecom industry, the company works in other areas, tailoring their extensive reports and recommendations to the needs and specific questions of their clients.

In this interview, Michael and Christopher discuss some of the changing trends he’s seen over the years in how subscribers use connectivity, what subscribers are looking for in a provider, and what subscribers consider the most important factors relating to Internet access. They touch on the differences between subscribers living in single-family dwellings and apartments or condos and Michael provides some insight into how the demand for FTTH has changed over the years, including how munis have influenced growth.

Check out RVA’s recent report for Next Century Cities, Status of U.S. Small Cell Wireless / 5G & Smart City Applications From The Community Perspective.

They’ve also provided the research for a 2016 graphic from the Fiber Broadband Association (formerly the FTTH Council) on multifamily home values and FTTH.

Check out more at the RVA, LLC website.

This show is 25 minutes long  and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: researchdataFTTHmdupodcastbroadband bitsaudio

FTTH Proposed in Hudson, Ohio

May 8, 2018

Community leaders in Hudson, Ohio, are likely to ask voters this fall to approve bonding to expand their municipal fiber optic network, Velocity Broadband. At their last City Council meeting, the members heard the first of three readings for a resolution to propose bringing the question to voters.

Read the resolution here.

Time for Residential Service?

The network currently offers high-quality connectivity to local businesses, but according to city spokesperson Jody Roberts, it’s time to take the infrastructure into residential neighborhoods, which was always part of Hudson’s vision. At the May 1st council meeting, Roberts also said that Velocity is now operating in the black, which means now is a good time to take  gigabit connectivity to residents.

Hudson is like many other small cities, in that large national providers don’t see a justification for investing in fiber in non-urban residential areas. With a population of around 24,000, the community needs to remain competitive. Hudson began with fiber optic infrastructure to municipal facilities, which they built out incrementally over a period of about ten years. By 2015, they had started offering gigabit service to businesses, which have embraced the faster, more reliable service. By the fall of 2016, they were ready to issue an RFP for a feasibility study to examine a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Broadband access is now viewed as a necessary service, rather than a luxury. Like in increasing number of communities, Hudson’s proposal will ask the voters to fund the infrastructure with a slight increase in property taxes. Similar to projects in Lyndon Township and Sharon Township, both in Michigan, Hudson proposes to use a property tax levy to fund construction of the expansion. If the proposal goes to the voters and they approve it, property owners will be levied 2.7 mills, which will amount to approximately $8 per $100,000 of property tax valuation to pay off bonds to be issued for the cost of construction. City leaders estimate the plan to expand the network citywide will cost about $21 million.

Roberts used the example of a $300,000 home:

“So take a $300,000 home, you’re talking $24 a month [for the levy] and $30 for the service charge,” Roberts said. “That’s $54, and that’s usually less than what people are paying now.”

Plus, it would be 1 gigabit, something that most communities don’t even have access to, she said.

If the City Council decides to take the issue to the voters this fall and it passes, construction would begin in 2019. Velocity Broadband would likely be available to residents by 2021.

For more on Velocity Broadband, and the city’s approach to the service, check out Community Broadband Bits podcast, episode 181 from 2015. Christopher interviewed City Manager Jane Howington, who described how the network was already surpassing expectations.

Resolution for FTTH Bond Proposal, Hudson, OhioTags: hudson ohohioFTTHexpansionproperty taxballotelection

May 7th - 11th National Digital Inclusion Week 2018

May 7, 2018

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we often write about improving broadband availability. Access is only the first step. Even in places where broadband is available, it may be unaffordable. To that end, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) sponsors events in early May each year on the importance of digital inclusion and equity.

Public libraries, nonprofits, and many others take part. For instance, the Los Angeles Public Library is hosting a panel on digital inclusion, and there will also be a donation drive for old technology. Meanwhile, the Pacific Northwest College of Art will have a Digital Inclusion Summit focused on economic opportunity. Find an event near your, or register your own, at Connect online on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with #digitalinclusion#DIW2018, and #DigitalEquityIs_____

Watch FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel speak about digital equity. Communities across the U.S. face many challenges, from the homework gap to digital redlining:


Tags: national digital inclusion alliancedigital dividemignon clyburnjessica rosenworcelvideo