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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 284

January 3, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 284 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Angela Siefer from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance explains the connections among digital divides and economic inequalities. Listen to this episode here.

 

 

Angela Siefer: When folks use the term digital divide we will opt and remind them there's more than one digital divide as technology progresses. We will find ourselves in more and more situations where there's somebody who has access or somebody who has skills and somebody who doesn't.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 284 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. To most of us the term digital divide relates to issues of economic inequalities. But the issue is actually more complex in this episode Christopher talks with Angela Siefer from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance about the problem of digital inclusion and some of the steps communities are taking to address it. Angela and Christopher also discussed some of the causes of digital inequality how network neutrality affects digital inclusion and the relatively new phenomenon of digital redlining. Be sure to take a few minutes to check out their website where they have some great resources at Digital Inclusion.org. Now let's get to it. Here's Christopher with Angela Siefer from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And I'm talking today with Angela Siefer the executive director for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. Welcome to the show. Thanks for having me Chris. Thank you for coming. You know I've been aware of your work for a long time and it's frankly it's a travesty that I haven't had you on. We've been on a bit of a rural kick lately so I'm hoping people will appreciate getting back to more of an urban policy issue not that digital inclusion is exclusively an urban policy issue but I think a lot of your groups are focused on urban areas. Let's just start off very briefly your digital inclusion alliance what is digital inclusion.

Angela Siefer: The way we define digital inclusion is that is that the activities that get us to Digital Equity and that totally doesn't make any sense unless you know what Digital Equity is, right?

Christopher Mitchell: Well let me let me ask you then.

Angela Siefer: What is Digital Equity so Digital Equity is the condition in which individuals and communities have the information technology capacity that they need for full participation and you could think of broad participation as civic, cultural, employment, education, health. So there's a lot of things that require us to have access and use of technology and so we define Digital Equity as that goal. That's what we want is everybody participating there and then digital inclusion is how do we get there and the way you get there is you have to have access at home. It needs to be affordable and has to be the right speed.

Angela Siefer: You need the right device that is appropriate for your needs. You need to have tech support and you need digital literacy skills. So those are the programs and the activities that get us to the Digital Equity.

Christopher Mitchell: Now you said that we have access at home. I'm strongly in agreement with you. But tell me why that's the right the right thing as opposed to just focusing on libraries and saying well a person could go to a library or a community center for that high quality access they might need the public access is an important resource in communities.

Angela Siefer: But we can't rely upon the public access to do our day to day tasks what is required of us now to participate in society is so much and so pervasive there is no way it can be done during the hours you can get yourself to a public access centre. Anyone who has teenagers would tell you they don't do their homework when you think they should do their homework they do their homework about

10:00 at night when you think they should be going to bed. So how can we send them to the library at

10:00 at night. That's impossible. And for the rest of us too. When a my doing my online banking is not during normal our supper I've got my kids to bed well and I would say that as a parent of a two year old.

Christopher Mitchell: Happy Birthday Jackson just passed. It's hard to imagine how inconvenient it would be to to be trying to figure out how to apply for a job you know especially if I didn't have the incredible computer skills that I do have. I mean incredibly talented. I don't know if you know that but if I was a person who struggled to use a computer with a two year old on my lap trying to I just imagine that that would be a hassle in the library and I think it gets down to do we think that the Internet and use of the Internet is so important today is it a public utility.

Angela Siefer: Is it something you have to have. Is it like electricity. And if so is it something where we're going to say well if you're poor Sarah you've got to get yourself to the library and to bad for your kids. Are we going to say no this lifts all of us up just like electricity right with that all of us up when we all had it. It's the same thing with the Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: It lifts us all up right when we talk about digital inclusion programs. One of the senses that I get is that they're spread unevenly and so you know in coming years I would expect that we will see. There are communities in which everyone has that access everywhere. An entire city may have achieved Digital Equity and yet nearby or a comparable city in another state would not have you know it seems like this kind of an unevenness in part because of these digital inclusion programs seemed to be highly local in nature right now. So maybe you could tell me anything that links digital inclusion programs together that they all have in common.

Angela Siefer: We don't have any United States we don't have the a federal program or even a national program that defines how it is that we are going to make sure everyone has access. And so that means that all of the solutions have been local there locally created and they work with in particular communities. The strategies are based upon existing resources maybe not upon how somebody would actually want to solve the problem but upon the resources they have in front of them. And so they and they go at it from different ways.

Angela Siefer: So if you look at any community sometimes you'll find a computer recycling operation that gets low cost computers into the hands of disadvantaged populations and sometimes you know sometimes you'll find a project that is helping educate individuals as to the low cost Internet offers that are available in that area. Sometimes you don't. And so all of these different solutions they go at it a different way.

Christopher Mitchell: And if there isn't someone who says hey let's figure this out then that program just doesn't exist in that community is just typically an effort that's activist driven where some people that are doing this out of the goodness of their heart in after hours. Is it a local nonprofit is a municipal taxpayer subsidized kind of operation. You know how do these programs work.

Angela Siefer: It has been all of those things because it's local. Sometimes it is a municipality and we have on our website digital inclusion or you'll see that there's a trailblazer section where we tell you which cities municipally led efforts are really impressive and here's what they're doing. But in other places the municipality is not involved. And it's just community based organizations or it's just the library. Sometimes foundations are involved local foundations. But the efforts vary so it's not just one entity. The three places where we most often see digital inclusion work is community based organizations libraries and local governments.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there any particular program you just like to quickly highlight. I'm sure that there's many programs but it's a misere one that you can just tell us about. Ideally one I think that's run by a city. Since we are we tend to focus on municipally led infrastructure and the different programs I've seen city of Seattle.

Angela Siefer: They have been the the one program that all of us wished we had in our city for over a decade. Price within 16 years because they have actual funding for digital inclusion programs and they have significant funding. And I think they have forced staff like it's a big number. Most cities have zero staff or maybe have divers in and Seattle has an actual department whose job is to help support the they call it community technology because it was created back when that's the term that we all use or that some of us use so that the community technology department there they provide grant funding and they provide support to the community based organizations and libraries that are doing the digital inclusion work.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Unfortunately this kind of a flip side to digital inclusion organizations and that's redlining wasn't redlining campaigns but really it's more of a practice that I think is more or less natural in an environment with very little regulation and where the infrastructure is provided by profit seeking institutions.

Angela Siefer: So let me just ask you you know for people who might not be familiar that term or may have only heard it in regard to banking what is digital redlining the way that NTIA has used the term digital redlining is to refer to neighborhoods or even households where they do not have access to a particular broadband infrastructure. And the reason they don't have access to that broadband infrastructure is because the company rolling it out chose not to roll it out to that neighborhood because that neighborhood is inner city or is adjacent to inner city and from where we're sitting we're making assumptions that probably it was a decision about profit that you're going to make more profit if you invest your infrastructure in a wealthier neighborhood which is totally logical except the companies don't want to talk about that fact.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've come across as we've learned more about the municipal space is the real challenge of people that have bad credit which is to say that in these low income neighborhoods and we can talk about Cleveland where India has been very active and we're going to come back and we're going to focus a show just on Cleveland of what's happening there with digital redlining. But one of the things that I suspect happens is there's a strong demand there but people both have trouble paying the bills and then also can get behind for a month or two and then they're kind of stuck. So you know I'm just it's worth noting that companies not investing those areas it's not necessarily because of a lack of demand it's because of barriers to exercising that demand. In my experience

Angela Siefer: I think the challenge also is that we don't know why the companies aren't investing there. Maybe it has something to do with that. Maybe it doesn't. Right. Maybe it's it is really because they can charge more for a service in a different area.

Angela Siefer: And because we're not having honest conversations with the companies rolling out the service and the digital redlining work we did in Cleveland was about AT&T because we haven't been able to have those honest conversations. We don't know why they're not rolling it out there.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a really good reminder. And I think it's worth noting sometimes we fall into the trap and I says that people who like us suspect as well as me are very suspicious of people who have this belief that markets are magical. Now I happen to love markets and I and I love studying what makes markets work and I recognize sometimes they don't work. One of the reasons they sometimes don't work is because people bring their own prejudices into their work.

Christopher Mitchell: So if AT&T is not investing in Cleveland it may not be for good reasons.

Angela Siefer: It might be because they are just making some assumptions in terms of where they're investing because frankly AT&T is not a brilliant company in terms of its history of making smart investments and the talent in this is that as we do the mapping and we saw that we were we were able to overlay where AT&T was rolling out their more advanced services and where the poverty levels were. And we did it in Cleveland Detroit Toledo Dayton. And we've encourage others to do the same work. Are the challenges are that when we when we do that we don't know. We don't know the whys. Right.

Christopher Mitchell: We get reassurances that AT&T will bring infrastructure there but it might look different. We don't know what that look different is if it's going to be as good as what the other neighborhoods have receives.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And again I think this comes back to just a paradox of U.S. policy which is ignoring the tradeoff of embracing a competitive you know style of markets without being able to require or encourage competition and getting rid of all the regulation that that previously would have led to more investment. You know one of the things that I think people miss in terms of why we have cable networks everywhere in our cities is because cities required them to go everywhere and we don't have that with Internet access and there's a good reason that we may not want to encourage that. But there is a tradeoff to that.

Angela Siefer: Reed Mandia has made a clear line between the fact that the states that have state franchise cable franchise laws and where there are digital redlining that so in Ohio for example AT&T did not need to roll out to everyone because it's a state franchise and that they skipped the whole city of Youngstown because they just don't want to go to Youngstown. When

Christopher Mitchell: you think about Ohio people might think of Cincinnati Cleveland as being pretty hard hit in the modern economy. You know I just learned this in Columbus when I was there with the folks from the intelligence communities in Dublin. Youngstown is one of the hardest hits. And when you don't get the infrastructure of the future it makes it impossible to recover.

Angela Siefer: And then there's no competition.

Angela Siefer: Right so if AT&T is not going there well then who's left. So many in Ohio in particular we have the cable company that is most common here in the urban areas Charter Spectrum.

Angela Siefer: And so if they're the only option you can get them for 60 65 dollars a month or you can get. That is really good speeds it's really solid or you can get AT&T but you might only get stream while you're going. Hey forty dollars for it. There's no. And then that's it. You don't have any other choices. Right. The lack of competition is huge.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I always want to tack on when people say 3 meg is that you have to understand I know that you get this already but people should understand that you're not just talking about a solid 3 megabit connection. You're probably talking about a connection that's advertised three Meg may deliver to probably resets itself a couple of times a day. I mean that's an old school technology that just does not work as well and is often not maintained very well because it's part of the state that AT&T is walking away from. But let's let's dive into another issue which is net neutrality. You know as as this airs were two days away from the Federal Communications Commission getting net neutrality I think it is a theme from some of the cable and telephone companies they may try to present this as kind of like a Cadillac problem where you know Net Neutrality is just for you know upper middle class type of folks who might worry about it but it really doesn't impact anyone else. What's your perspective from the digital inclusion and Digital Equity lens.

Angela Siefer: So our concern is that this is going to cause more digital divides. When folks use the term digital divide. We will often remind them there's more than one divide that as technology progresses we will. We find ourselves in more and more situations where there's somebody who has access or somebody who has skills and somebody who doesn't. If our internet service providers are allowed to charge extra or not charge for certain types of content. Well then Individuals who have resources just purchased what it is they needed to purchase to begin with. And those who don't have resources will accept whatever it is the providers are giving them that is the cheapest option. When that content is tied to that we are exacerbating we're creating another digital divide.

Christopher Mitchell: There is a line of thought that giving the ISPs more power may allow them to create lower cost packages for people who don't use as much. You know I suspect one of the populations that we haven't talked about your groups work with is elderly folks who may one Internet access but don't use a whole lot. And there's an argument that you know if there could be fast lanes and slow lanes maybe the slow lanes would be less expensive for people who are more price sensitive. Would that help that population at all?

Angela Siefer: It helps if we don't want them to ever advance which just kind of makes me want to scream. So if a family can only afford the slow lane like actually it's not too far from the data cap situation that we have now. So if you can't, the closest you can get is your mobile phone which has a data cap and your whole family is on two Gigs or something insane you have to decide how you're going to use that.

Christopher Mitchell: And if you're in a slow lane you're going to make those kinds of decisions where well no honey you can't take that online class because when I looked at the university's website it said it had this minimum requirement for speed and we can't afford that speed. So the fast lane slow lane is very very real.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And one of the things that you know I often say when I'm presented with that argument when I'm not making it is a devil's advocate host position is that I can't remember the last time a major monopoly argued for deregulation in order to lower anyone's Bill.

Angela Siefer: Yes. Yes exactly. And were not. Those options aren't available now. Why do we think all of us and it's going to become available. The only low cost options that we have right now from major Internet service providers were mandated or they were agreed upon in some kind of merger agreement. Some of them decided to keep them like Comcast kept their Internet Essentials which is fabulous.

Angela Siefer: I wish every internet service provider had a low cost option that they would keep more than just a couple of years.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. That you could count on. Let's talk a little bit about the final part of our conversation about data. One of the things that you noted were going Cleveland is that you know like AT&T is going around saying these are the neighborhoods we're not investing in. And similarly there's no federal database of how much people are paying for internet access. What do you do to try and get the data that you need to do your analyses.

Angela Siefer: The lack of consumer internet service cost data is a huge problem in the United States. And I think that problem is actually leading to policymakers misunderstanding the issue of the digital divide because we're always talking about the data that we do have which is where is which infrastructure. Which side note that data is not very good either because it's limited to only it's based upon erroneous assumptions that but that we do have some data. So it's a good starting point starting points are really important. We have data on where infrastructure is whether or not we think it's great. What we don't have is the cost data. So if you have data that says where it is then you're going to focus upon where the infrastructure is but you're not focusing on how much it costs people to access that infrastructure because we don't have any cost data.

Christopher Mitchell: Nobody's talking about the cost of entering that and it's incredibly frustrating because it really controlled the conversation as far as I know.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the main sources of information we have on why people have not adopted is the Pew studies and they seem to suggest that it's a significant barrier in your experience? What is it, cost?

Angela Siefer: The main barrier or you know Dukie say that with any kind of precision we know from the work that Pugh's done from the work from the census and others from research from academic researchers we know that the barriers to our cost digital literacy and the term that was often uses relevance. So do you think the Internet is important to you if you think it's not important to you then you don't purchase your home broadband subscription. The relevance issue. What we've learned through researchers in the last few years is that the relevance issue is tied very closely to cost and digital literacy. So if you say it's not important and thus you're not going to purchase it. Are you saying that because you actually don't know what you could do with it. So with the digital it's tied up in digital literacy are you saying that because you can't afford it and why.

Angela Siefer: Why am I going to talk to you about something I can't afford. I can't afford it so I'm not going to tell you I don't need it. There are not three distinct barriers. All three of them are tied to each other.

Christopher Mitchell: That makes sense. I think I went through this with relatives my in-laws live in northern Minnesota and it took them a lot of years where we went up there and they did not have any internet access and there was no mobile access through the carrier that my wife and I use so you know we go up there for weekend and we would not have any internet access which was quite amazing. You know someone who does a job in which I'm responding to e-mails often seven days a week. Now they have a DSL connection that's actually better than I thought it would be. It's on the order of six megabits on a good day and it's been fascinating because I don't think they would have thought of what it could do. So we got them an iPad and with the internet connection there. It's so easy for them to peruse books from the county and local library.

Christopher Mitchell: And so I used to be on the Hunton used bookstores to look out for books that I thought that my father in law would like. And now he just finds all kinds of books on the library and it's you know this amazing thing and it's what's interesting is that in some ways it's unlocked a public resource that was already there but inconvenient for them. And I know they can use it differently. But but they wouldn't have known that until they spent and it wasn't just something that we learned in like a week of using the Internet. They had to have a period of time where they were using it and trying different things experimenting and libraries are learning that too right. So there are more libraries recognizing that they need to be working on home broadband because their resources are so digital.

Angela Siefer: That they have created their own digital divide intentionally right intending to be very helpful to the community and have these digital resources but there are portions of the population that have to get into the library branch to make use of those resources.

Angela Siefer: And there are the individuals there those of us who are more fortunate and don't have to get ourselves out of our houses to get those resources.

Christopher Mitchell: If someone is listening to this and they're thinking wow I could do something I could help out. Is there a place we can get plugged in or get inspired as to what they might do.

Angela Siefer: That's a tough one. The reason that it's tough to send folks somewhere is because these efforts are so local. Right. So it is asking around locally what you can do is go to the NDAA Web site digital inclusion dot org and on our affiliates there's a tab that says affiliates you click on affiliates and then kind of buried or in process of Exynos. There's a link that says map. So if you click on the map you'll be able to see where our affiliates are. Know that it's important to note that we don't know where all the digital collision programs are. These are the ones we've managed to gather into the family but there are a lot more beyond this. So this is just the starting place to see who's working on this conclusion efforts in your area. If you know of others that we don't know of send them to us. We went to the family we want to bring more folks. But it's also I think a matter of asking around in your community. So who's tweeting digital literacy.

Angela Siefer: And you'll probably be told the library and then you might also be told a church or a community center.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well thank you so much for this initial interview. And we're going to have you back soon to talk about some other matters around digital inclusion and go a little bit deeper.

Angela Siefer: I look forward to that. Thank you Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Angela Siefer from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. We have transcripts from this and other podcasts available meaning networks dot org slash broadband bits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow us on Twitter his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through creative commons and thanks for listening to episode 284 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 283

January 3, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 283 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Stephen Barraclough joins the show to discuss lessons learned from Burlington, Vermont's network Burlington Telecom. Listen to this episode here.

 

Stephen Barraclough: But what we have now is an amazing infrastructure that's highly cash flow positive highly profitable and has very significant growth potential.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 283 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez at the November Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta. Christopher interviewed Stephen Barraclough from Burlington Telecom in Burlington, Vermont. Stephen has been instrumental in reshaping BT as it's weathered stormy times over the past few years. Christopher interviewed Stephen prior to the final decision on the fate of BT and in November 27 city council meeting Burlington's local leadership voted to sell the network to Schurz communications and ZRF partners. Learn more about what happened and is happening in Burlington by checking out our coverage on MuniNetworks.org. Stephen and Chris in this interview talk more about lessons learned in how to pick up a network that seemed difficulties after a prior mayor's administration mismanaged BT and kept difficulties hidden from the city council. Burlington had to overcome trust issues and find a way to move forward. Now here's Christopher with Stephen Barraclough and Burlington Telecom.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance I'm in Atlanta today for the broadband Communities Conference the Economic Development Series and we're doing a live interview with Stephen Barraclough the general manager of Burlington Telecom for the past many years. Welcome to the show. Chris good to be with you. So Stephen for people who aren't familiar Burlington Telecom was one of the earlier municipal networks, fell upon hard times and ultimately ended up running up a debt. There's a there's sort of a conflict in Burlington as to what went wrong. We're not really going to focus on that today we're going to talk about you came in at a time when Burlington Telecom was very distressed it was not really financially viable it seemed like what was happening in that time 2012-ish.

Stephen Barraclough: I think it was actually March 2010 and the blue ribbon commission that the city appointed to look at the problems that BT had gotten itself into had just issued reports which basically said that there was something here to save and that should be made to save it but it would probably need to be sold. I was bored in and really the first things I was told is you know there's no money to borrow cashflow was running six figures positive a month and did the figure out how to get it to break here. No positive or lock the doors and turn the lights off behind you say the first thing there are a number of phases. BT one was to stabilize things and actually get positive cash flow. Luckily we had a number of things we were able to do in terms reducing costs and a couple of big things we'd found where we've been overcharged for things that we're able to get to claim back so that provided cash in the early days had to take a lot of cost out of the business which unfortunately meant we had to lose number of people but there were quite a few opportunities to basically start to reduce the level of costs in the business and a big help at that time were HBC Hiawatha Broadband Communications who had been one of the entities that the city the Blue Ribbon Commission brought in to provide an evaluation of BT it was clear to me when I first became involved that they were listening to HBC name particular Gary Evans more than others.

Stephen Barraclough: One of the first things I had to do was put together a financial plan for BT and knowing that the first thing they would do with the financial plan that I produce would be to give it to Gary Evans and HBC and say what you think about this then I preempted them and involved Gary and his then chief financial officer and actually helping me put a plan together and they actually came to Burlington on several occasions while we were through the situation and actually became part of the plan authorship rather than the plan reviews and that was the start of a long and ongoing relationship with HBC right out of southeastern Minnesota.

Christopher Mitchell: It just so happens that me being in Minnesota I knew of them. I had great respect for Gary Evans who has since retired is still doing interesting things but he spent so much time in Burlington I was trying to wonder if he's going to buy property out there. Maybe he even did.

Stephen Barraclough: No, he rented property out there and and yes there was a period where he'd spend one or two maybe three or four days a month for one or two years. And he remains a great friend. Today we speak every few weeks and and he's been instrumental in shaping my views on BT and and really helping BT to come through a very difficult situation.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I think is interesting is that individuals can matter a great deal and Gary is someone who can can do that now. You want to make sure you weren't taking all the credit for turning around Burlington Telecom you said that's more of a team effort.

Stephen Barraclough: It's always a team effort when you come to something so fundamental insists on multiple levels. I mean one the people on the ground who who were at BT who had to face meaningful changes in the work they did and how they did it as we needed to become leaner more nimble and more efficient at what we did say major challenges their whole other set of challenges in dealing with Citibank and the litigation. We owed them 33 and a half million dollars. They eventually settled for ten and a half million dollars. A lot of work and effort including the current mayor of Burlington and a whole raft of other people involved in that major milestone. The current team who were there at the moment to probably about half the workforce has remained from the original. The other half is new people there have worked incredibly hard over the last several years and now have have gone from something that people regarded as toxic to having real pride and passion in what they do and if there's anything that's satisfying out of this journey which I have absolutely loved it's the fact that we have this really neat local business that is now highly cash flow positive but with a team who is not a job it is a huge pride and passion and a belief that they making a difference.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I want to talk about how you got there and as we're talking the future status bring telecoms not been resolved but people who are listening already know it because it's been inserted into the beginning of the show so that's why we're not talking about that kind of process of where it is today in terms of ownership status but to give people a sense how many customers did you have then when you took it over versus how many you have today.

Stephen Barraclough: We had well over 4000 when I took over in early 2010 but we were getting weekly sometimes daily bad press articles. We were getting threats of litigation from Citibank and a multiple audit from different entities if I could just jump in. I

Christopher Mitchell: remember clearly I forget the gentleman's name as a reporter for The Burlington Free Press and it seemed like his job was solely to churn out articles about how bad Burlington Telecom was at one point.

Stephen Barraclough: It certainly felt like at the time it felt like no matter what you did way you turned you were just waiting for the next shoe to drop the next bad article to come out. And one of the consequences of that is it started really spooking some of the residential subscribers. And so for the first couple of years we actually kept losing subscribers, so our subscribers went down to below 4,000. And for me the concerning part was could I cut costs fast enough to enable us still to remain in business. And the reason they were leaving us was you know mainly residential, very few commercial subscribers left us but they're concerned that one day they get home and there was no service. We just had to close the doors something that was never going to happen because the public service board wouldn't have allowed that to have happened there had been an orderly wind down of BT's operations. But nevertheless that happened, and we focused really on cutting costs and then looking at the perception of BT and it was clear that not only were we spending too much money on many things. We also had a customer service problem as well and customer service problem driven by multiple things. One we are a business in crisis so people at BT were nervous too. We had you know some early stage equipment here we are one of the first builds and as you'll know the way one of these operations works isn't like you buy a Ford car or you buy a Chrysler you buy a Ford and GM Chrysler gearbox a Subaru windscreen wipers it's all different things that come together and with our equipment aging some of it was starting to be less reliable than it needed to be. And every time you try to change something then that often causes unintended consequences somewhere outside our platform was not as stable as we needed to be but we had no money to do anything about it.

Christopher Mitchell: Just to jump ahead. How many subscribers do you have today.

Stephen Barraclough: We have 7,300 subscribers today. And growing in double digits every year for the past several years.

Christopher Mitchell: I feel like there is almost a singularity there because everything you've described is several years of things getting worse and somehow you turned the corner. What do you credit in Britain telecom turning around.

Stephen Barraclough: I think there are two or three milestone events won in early 2011 late 2013 early 12. We stood back and looked at what are we. What are we trying to do here. We have failed municipal local triple play builder or are we something more because we felt like a failed municipal and then to what can we do operationally given what we have to work with. That could enable us to start to do something positive rather than just react to negative and so we look at our position versus the competition in the market. And we said how how do we differentiate ourselves? Can we differentiate ourselves against this huge giant? And then again listening to HBC and just natural inclinations it was pretty obvious we had something on the internet that could be and bandwidth that could be pretty special but our equipment limited 20 to 25 Mbps symmetrical at the time and clearly customer service was a problem and I've got a long history of working with businesses that have differentiated themselves through customer service. That became an obvious area

for me: local business, poor customer service doesn't work. So focus focus focus on customer service and then focus on trying to upgrade our equipment so that we could differentiate our offering in the marketplace.

Christopher Mitchell: When you talk about customer service does that mean giving a pep talk to the CSR customer service representatives? Does it mean getting rid of certain people in hiring new people what do you do?

Stephen Barraclough: It's all of that and more. So we had to reorganize the business three times I think because unfortunately some of the people that we had simply didn't have the right skills for how we needed to operate going forward. And whereas we talk about customer service, I believe customer service to be effective has be part of the DNA of a business. It's not something you can talk about. It's not something you just teach something that's inherent in you and you believe it's a reason for your being or it never really works.

Christopher Mitchell: Right it's not an act. It comes from. It comes from within. [Cross-talk] Right.

Stephen Barraclough: That was quite a long long term process but it's something that now is part of BT's DNA and the minute we began focusing on customer service we actually started to see results quite quickly in that there were some things that were just easy fixes low hanging fruit that had an impact and our subscribers stabilized or bottomed out in January 2012 and since then every year I said net subscriber numbers have gone up every single year and at increasing rate say that was first point. Second part was once we stabilize once we reduce costs enough we were able to start investing in replacing some obsolete infrastructure which caused the system to be unstable. And so the next several years were spent on replacing that obsolete infrastructure and also tackling our cost of goods. We were we were a fiber island in the middle of a sea with no connection to the mainland and the only way we could buy broadband was from our competitors and I charge a lot of money and when I got there in 2010 we were we were into three contracts one of which was sixty four dollars and make a month.

Stephen Barraclough: And the other was 60 125 of make a month. So even though we had this incredible infrastructure you know just the internet run over it was was so high that we couldn't afford to use it for what we now have our own transport to both Boston and New York with several redundant routes and we we buy as everybody else buys as well as having Google and Akamai and others peer with Netflix peer with us in Burlington's we have a completely different cast of goods now completely different operating costs.

Christopher Mitchell: And one of the things I find really interesting is that you didn't quite double the number of subscribers from your trough to current day but you came close and you have fewer staff now than you did when you came on.

Stephen Barraclough: Yes, some of them would tell you they work way too hard. But we do we we try to say there are a number of things we tried to do we didn't just want to be a recovered local broadband. If we were going to do anything we wanted to try and become as good as we could be and amongst the best in the U.S.. And that meant we had to get our cost base right. We had to have a reason for being which was the drive of the customer service the the DNA to try to be exceptional. We then embraced the bigger picture which is economic development and USC ignites and we're in a state that young people are leaving in a city that young people are leaving and you know people like me are coming more and more and we have to turn that corner and hey we have this incredible infrastructure that we're not really utilizing and that we need to spread more widely to drive that economic growth.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you did at a time in which I'm sure it was difficult was you had a low income program so that households that had low incomes and qualified would be able to pay to ten dollars a month for I think at the time what was an incredibly fast connection. Trying to fight back right now in which no one was doing this is a time in which Comcast as a result of the NBC merger had just started its 10 megabit by 1 megabit ten dollar per month program. So you came in with at the time the most generous high speed ten dollar a month program. How did that work given your limited resources at that time.

Stephen Barraclough: I think we're very well for us. We were in the process of swapping out Jeep on equipment for twenty five make Sumantra call to get symmetrical and say we had a surplus jeep on equipment so we could hook up a low income family. We had the labor in-house IT costs as little or nothing. And this points to another major differentiator that we've we've tried to do. Not only is customer service critical but I think it's absolutely possible to be a really outstanding business citizen and have a profitable business. You've got to have a profitable business because as you know we're an infrastructure business and if we don't make money we can't invest in expanding the infrastructure. But I've seen no conflict at all between outstanding customer service outstanding business centers and communities that isn't making a profit in fact they all work together really well. And another of our hallmarks is being to try knowing that BT was eventually going to be sold to try to institutionalize those values that we would hope would attract to buyer that would have similar values and that would show to a broader audience that you can be a great corporate citizen and and run like a private business.

Christopher Mitchell: One question that I have. I feel like people never appreciate time in that. There are people who will say brilliant telecoms a failure as though I think you would even say that it felt like a failure. Back in 2010 2012 time period. Would you describe it as a failure today.

Stephen Barraclough: The interesting thing to me is I've been there almost eight years and I actually see more opportunity for Burlington Telecom now than at any time during those eight years. The future is very rosy. We had to go through some hard times. I do believe that the amount that was invested in the system originally would have made it hard for it to be able to continue. Had some pain not be taken remember the city of Burlington still has 17 million invested in this that wasn't supposed to be. Citibank had to take a settlement that was meaningfully below what they lent to the city of Burlington. But what we have now is an amazing infrastructure that's Hajduk cash flow positive highly profitable and has very significant growth potential within Burlington itself. We're now at around 45 percent market share and growing our addressable market will grow by 30 percent through 2023 because we're actually out of our own cash flow building out the rest of Burlington and we'll have that by the end of 2018 or mid 2019. And we have plans to spread much broadly much more widely into it encounter in a model that we believe can work. And we'll work from that broader expansion say really exciting times really exciting journey and opportunity for what was once regarded as a failure and toxic.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there anything else that people should know about Burlington Telecom before we were able to write the next chapter?

Stephen Barraclough: It's in the fairly early chapters of a novel. It's not anywhere near the end/ its best days are in front of it and I'm really hopeful that the values that have gotten it to where it is today and form part of its current DNA continue. We have great customer service we try hard to be ready good communities cities. And as you know our residential broadband pricing we have the $70 Gig and we have 150 Mbps for $55. So we've also tried to position pricing wise positioning ourselves as being competitive as anyone in the US.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I think you're succeeding on that measure. Thank you for coming. I know a lot of people have been interested in what's happened over the years embroiled in telecom. So I really appreciate you taking the time to give us a perspective.

Stephen Barraclough: And thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Stephen Barraclough from Burlington Telecom. Remember to review our BT coverage at MuniNetworks.org. We will continue to cover this network as developments arrive. We have transcripts from this and other podcasts avail that MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter his handler is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter where its handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all 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 podcast. Never miss out on original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at LSR.org. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 283 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

The Challenge of Mobile Only - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 287

January 3, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 287 - Deb Socia of Next Century Cities & High School Students Lilah Gagne and Herron Linscott

With the Federal Communications Comission Republicans poised to redefine broadband to include slow, unreliable, and often bandwidth-capped mobile service, we talk with two high school students from southeast Ohio, Herron Linscott and Lilah Gagne, that have succeeded despite the lack of fixed broadband access in their homes. Soon the FCC may include those homes as having broadband though they clearly don't fit the description of what any sane person would call advanced telecommunications. 

We start off episode 287 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia, who reminds us why mobile Internet access is not an adequate subsitute for fixed access. Next Century Cities has launched the Mobile Only Challenge - share MobileOnlyChallenge.com around - to highlight the challenges of relying solely on mobile Internet access. 

We then talk to Herron Linscott and Lilah Gagne about their experiences in southeast Ohio as high school students without home fixed Internet access. Both have had to schedule lots of time away from home in order to complete assignments and partake in extra-curricular activities and both offer a window into the importance of connectivity for the next generation. 

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: Wirelessmobilemobile phonesohioruralmobileonlyfccregulationpolicyaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Oconee County, South Carolina: Achieving Goals Beyond AT&T Obstruction

January 2, 2018

Most residents and businesses in Oconee County, South Carolina, used dial-up connections when county officials applied for stimulus funding in 2010; there were still people in the county with no Internet access at all. A few had DSL connections, but even county facilities struggled with antiquated infrastructure. After an AT&T attack upended their plan to offer retail services, they pressed on and improved connectivity in the rural community. Powerful incumbent forces and a bad state law, however, eventually led this community to choose privatization.

Ripe For Stimulus

We spoke with Kim Wilbanks, who served as Project Manager for Oconee FOCUS, the 240-mile fiber optic publicly owned network. She worked with a small team of people that applied for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to obtain funds for the project. Wilbanks and former FOCUS Director Mike Powell were instrumental in establishing the infrastructure. The Wilbanks family used dial-up Internet access until 2010 when AT&T finally installed DSL on her street on the edge of town in the mostly rural county.

The mountains and hills across the county’s 674 square miles create a terrain that is speckled with man-made lakes. Fishing, water skiing, and sailing are popular and the lakes and waterfalls contribute to the region’s hydroelectric energy. Approximately 75,000 people live in Oconee County scattered within many of the small rural communities. The largest city’s population is only about 8,000.

Oconee County’s rural environment with a sparse population, sluggish economic growth, and high number of unserved and underserved premises, was the type of region where stimulus funds helped jump start projects. When the county received a grant in the second round of awards in the summer of 2010 for $9.6 million, officials at the county planned to connect community anchor institutions and municipal and county facilities first. They planned to later expand and bring businesses and residents better Internet access. The county matched the federal grant with $4.7 million to deploy the $14.3 million fiber optic infrastructure. After the RFP process, they were able to start construction in early 2011. By the end of 2013, they had finished construction; by 2014 six providers offered services via the publicly owned fiber infrastructure in the northwest corner of the state. It was obvious that the community was eager to connect to high-quality Internet access.

Problems From The Incumbent

In 2011 and 2012, AT&T sent its many lobbyists to South Carolina to try to stop Oconee County and any other community that might have considered improving their local connectivity through publicly owned infrastructure. When AT&T lobbyists convinced state legislators to pass H3508 in 2012, county officials had to change their business model to avoid running afoul of the law. They had planned on operating as a utility and offering retail services to the general public, but after the bill passed, Oconee was forced to operate as a wholesale only model. 

The bill changed the future of the network. In addition to bringing connectivity for municipal and county facilities up to date and providing better connections for CAIs, residents, and businesses, county officials hoped that the network would provide a future steady revenue stream. Because incumbents were not offering DSL instead of the kind of Internet access people in Oconee County wanted, community leaders knew that people in the region would sign up for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity from FOCUS. 

Once H3508 passed, and the county had to reassess and come to terms with changes imposed on them by the state legislature. They entered into contracts with local ISPs that wanted to offer services via the fiber infrastructure, but the revenue they obtained from small local companies would never match what they had hoped to draw as a broadband utility working directly with the public. It became increasingly difficult to cover operating costs under the wholesale-only model and county officials considered selling the network.

Slow Move To Privatization

In the late 2015, county officials decided to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find an operator and potential future buyer for the network. The county had designated two staff to manage the project and, as Kim described, county officials felt it didn’t have the resources to dedicate to continued operation of the growing network. She and her colleague Mike Powell had worked to manage the project and had taken on managing the finished network. County officials released the RFP in January 2016 and received three responses.

Oconee County accepted a proposal from OneTone Telecom that Kim describes as a “lease to buy.” In keeping with one of the stipulations that accompany federally funded Internet infrastructure, the county must retain ownership of the asset for its “useful life.” In August 2016, Oconee County entered into an agreement with OneTone to exclusively lease the network to the provider for 20 years at the end of which time OneTone would purchase the infrastructure. Over the course of the lease, OneTone will pay $6.3 million to Oconee County.

As part of the agreement, OneTone will continue to bring 10 Gbps wide area network (WAN) connectivity to the school district so connections between facilities are fast and reliable. The schools will also retain their 1 Gbps Internet access; there will be no increase rates during the 20-year term unless the school requests an increase in services.

County facilities and approximately 70 community anchor institutions will continue to receive symmetrical connections at 100 Mbps and 30 Mbps respectively for $75 per month per location. Fire stations will receive Internet access and 100 Mbps symmetrical connectivity at no cost.

OneTone has also agreed to invest in expansion and marketing to make residents and businesses aware that Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) is available. They’ve also agreed to invest in fiber deployment and additional infrastructure to attract carrier-to-carrier arrangements, redundancy, and to attract large institutions such as hospitals and colleges. They’ve also agreed to a right of first refusal for the county that includes both the existing fiber assets and new infrastructure that they will deploy during the course of the lease.

Looking At The Positives

Improving access to broadband and creating economic development opportunities in the rural county were the drivers behind the project. Even though the county will eventually privatize the network, Wilbanks feels satisfied that she and Powell have established a foundation to achieve their goal:

“The whole point of doing this was to make this county better,” says Wilbanks, “It wasn’t to have fiber to my house. It wasn’t for me…It wasn’t for just this county building. We were so far behind the world. There are places across the seas that have better Internet than Oconee County. It’s kind of a bittersweet thing…To me, it’s a good thing because it will continue to do what we intended for it to do.”

Powell has stayed with the project, having left the county to work with OneTone to manage the network. Wilbanks feels better knowing that the network she worked so hard to establish is still in the hands of someone she trusts.

State Law Wrench In The Works

South Carolina’s state law impinging on local authority and championed by incumbent AT&T severely limited Oconee County’s opportunities. In Utah, iProvo and UTOPIA have contended with similar restrictions. UTOPIA has flourished after a few difficult years, but Provo also chose to privatize their infrastructure with a sale to Google Fiber. These state laws that preserve an anti-competitive environment for AT&T, Comcast, and other national incumbents handicap efforts to raise up local communities. The harmful H3508 required county officials to reorganize their plans but they still brought high-quality connections to unserved and underserved areas of the county. If they had not been hampered by lobbyists’ endeavors, Oconee County could have achieved even more.

While poor laws in their state may be pushing them to privatize, Wilbanks, Powell, and Oconee County have created a foundation for better connectivity in the rural community. After working on the FOCUS project, Wilbanks learned how critical her role was in improving life in Oconee County.

“People laugh at me when I say this, but once you get into this business you realize, people would rather have Internet than they would power or water. When there’s a storm or anything that goes through they couldn’t care less about power as long as they have their laptop charged, their phones charged, and…they want to know when their Internet is coming back up.”

Image of the Oconee County Courthouse by Darkspots (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: oconee countysouth carolinapublic v privatewholesale-onlyh3508 2012middle mileleasedsldial-upunservedruralat&t

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 2

January 2, 2018

Colorado

City of Longmont Receives Community Broadband Award by Sergio R. Angeles, Longmont Observer

Can Colorado Lawmakers Create State-Level Net Neutrality? Some May Try by Sam Brasch, Colorado Public Radio

Boulder-owned broadband has advantages by Joseph T. Priestley, Boulder Daily Camera

In the case of the proposed city-owned broadband network, the city could give any citizen who wanted to participate the option to make a pre-payment of $1,000 (or some other set amount) toward their eventual monthly internet bills. The incentive for the citizen would be that he/she could influence getting internet service sooner than might otherwise happen. That is, the city would build out the internet infrastructure sooner in those neighborhoods that had the higher pre-payment participation.

The advantage to the city would be to make city-ownership of the network much more feasible by significantly lowering the amount of the bond issuance necessary. Also, it would be a great way to gauge the city's interest in this project.

 

New Jersey

Newark commits to keeping its fiber network net neutral by Kim Hart, Axios

The mayor of Newark, NJ, is taking a stand against the recent FCC decision to overturn net neutrality rules. Ras Baraka will announce today that the city's high-speed fiber optic network will continue to prohibit blocking, throttling and fast lanes on its network even after the FCC rules go away. The city's contracts with third parties that connect its network will also include net neutrality clauses.

 

New York

New York City Broadband RFI Generates Strong Response by Theo Douglas, Government Technology

 

Oregon

City of Independence preps for Smart City technology project by Andy Giegerich, Portland Business Journal [Subscription Required]

 

Tennessee

Tennessee Co-Op Broadens Rural Gigabit Reach by Dave Flessner, Government Technology

 

Virginia

ESVBA: Four new 'Fiber to the Home' locations open in Accomack and Northampton Co. by Tahja Cropper, WMDT - ABC 23

 

Washington

Letter: Cities can step up internet service by Rory Bowman, Vancouver Columbian

City Council sends ‘clear’ and timely signal in support of Click net neutrality. By Matt Driscoll, The News Tribune

 

General

What Net Neutrality Really Means For You (And For Us) by Paul Blumenthal, HuffPost

Because of this sort of consolidation, much more of the internet — and access to it — is dominated by just a handful of companies, less than even a few years ago. Soon those internet service providers that havevertically integrated media empires will be able to operate much like the old closed system of television — controlling both the production of media and the means of distributing it, warned Mitch Stoltz, a senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Without Net Neutrality, Is It Time To Build Your Own Internet? By Eileen Guo, Inverse Innovation

What It Means to Fight for Technology Users in 2017 by Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Comcast claims it’ll spend $50B because of net neutrality repeal and tax cut by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

But based on previous years, Comcast's spending likely would increase regardless of whether the net neutrality repeal and tax cut happened. In the 12 months ending September 30, 2014, Comcast's capital investments were $7.2 billion. Over the next 12 months, leading up to September 30, 2015, the spending rose to $8.1 billion.

The net neutrality rules took effect in June 2015. Though Comcast and other ISPs claim in some public statements that the rules suppressed investment, Comcast's annual capital expenditures continued to increase, hitting $9.2 billion in the four quarters ending September 30, 2016.

In wake of net neutrality decision, should cities build internet networks? By Patrick Sisson, Curbed

Fiber Broadband Sees Record Growth by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Tags: media roundup

Community Of Coulee Dam Acquires Local Fiber For Future

December 29, 2017

The central Washington community of Coulee Dam took a significant step this month to establishing its own fiber optic network. At a December 27th special city council meeting, they announced that they had purchased one mile of fiber optic cable and equipment from Basin Broadband, LLC, for $34,995.

According to The Star, the former owners had only one customer and used the infrastructure to connect the local school district’s offices with the school on the opposite side of town. The district pays $170 per month to lease the line and their agreement expires in 2020; the city promised to honor the agreement.

Changing Charters

Community leaders have considered the prospect of starting a publicly owned fiber optic network for at least 16 months, when they began seeking out the owner of the infrastructure. The city’s population is only approximately 1,100 people, which means national incumbents have little interest in providing high-quality connectivity. CenturyLink offers DSL for residential and business service, but town leaders want to improve economic development possibilities with fiber.

This past summer, the city council began discussing  changing the community’s legal designation in order to step out from under Washington’s restrictive laws that govern the authority of “towns.” City Attorney Mick Howe advised that if the city changed its charter to operate as a “non-charter code city,” they would have more authority. Rather than acting only on specifically allowed activities in state law, they could act as long as they were not engaging in specifically forbidden activities as spelled out in state law.

Councilmember Keith St. Jeor said he knows people who settled in other towns because they have Internet service that is “100 times better.”

Councilmember Schmidt said the town is severely lacking in technology solutions and that they were not likely to come from private enterprise because of the small population. Changing to a code city would simply allow the municipality to explore more options.

“You might be surprised what solutions you find when you have more opportunities,” he said, in favor of starting the process.

City council members determined that the change would allow Coulee Dam to explore the options for better connectivity and decided to hold public meetings on the topic. In October, the proposal passed unanimously.

Coulee Dam

The community fo Coulee Dam straddles the three counties of Grant, Douglas, and Okanogan in central Washington. It was established in 1933 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to serve as a headquarters when the Bureau constructed the Grand Coulee Dam. It was two separate sections -- Engineers Town in Douglas and Grant Counties and Mason City in Okanogan County -- until 1959. By 1959, after all sections had been transferred to the public and the dam was completed, the community was incorporated into the town of Coulee Dam. Grant County PUD provides electricity to the city. The Okanogan portion of the city lies within the Colville Indian Reservation, and the Douglas County area of the city is part of the Wenatchee-East Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Tags: coulee dam wawashingtonpublic v privateruralinfrastructureeconomic development

North Carolina Local Media Focuses On Frontier Failures

December 28, 2017

Local investigative news shows often earn a reputation for digging into scams and rip-offs that pick consumers’ pockets. In a recent WLOS News 13 Investigates segment, Western North Carolina’s ABC affiliate started asking some tough questions about Frontier’s Internet access service in rural parts of the state.

A Comedy Of Errors

At the heart of the rip-off in this investigation is Frontier’s habit of advertising speeds that it cannot provide. The WLOS crew traveled to a home in a mountainous area of the region to visit Craig Marble, who moved from D.C., and works from home in the tech field. “It's just a comedy of errors except that it's not funny. It takes five minute to load a single webpage,” Marble said.

Marble discussed how he has paid for service of up to three Mbps download but he has never, to his knowledge, been able to obtain even that slow speed. As far as he’s concerned, he should at least be able to get what he’s paying for every month.

“This should be 3.0, not .3,” Marble said. He showed News 13 various speed tests for his service, they came up .3 and .5, and .6 at various times throughout the morning and afternoon.

Complaints, Complaints, Complaints

According to News 13, numerous complaints against Frontier resonate through local conversation. The station had received other complaints from people, some reporting that their Internet access works about 60 percent of the time. When they followed up with the Attorney General, they learned of 56 complaints filed against Frontier, about half due to issues with slow speeds.

WLOS spoke to Christopher about big telecom’s tendency to advertise “up to” speeds:

“If you can get good speeds in the middle of the night, but not during the day, I think that's deceptive advertising to be suggesting to people that they can get those speeds,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minnesota.

Mitchell says, companies shouldn't advertise what they can't offer.

“This is not something that is beyond the ability of the company to solve, this is a decision that they're making which is to market a service that they cannot deliver or are willing to deliver on reasonable terms,” said Mitchell.

“It’s bad for our economy. We need to find ways for people who want to live in our rural areas can live there, and they can live good lives that will be economically productive,” Mitchell said.

Christopher also pointed out that states need to keep a close eye on companies like Frontier that receive Connect America Funding (CAF) and promise to upgrade rural areas. It’s important to make sure they follow through and use those public subsidies to keep their commitments to improve connectivity in rural areas.

In North Carolina, Attorney General Josh Stein encouraged citizens to contact his office with complaints.

“If there are companies out there making representations to consumers that they can not back up and we hear from consumers, we will absolutely take action on their behalf.” 

“If we determine that Frontier is not complying with the law, we'll hold them accountable, but there's a lot of work we still need to do,” Stein said.

“If the consumer's not getting what they are marketed by, what the representation by the company is, they have a legitimate gripe and they should let my office know,” Stein said.

Survey

The North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office has hosted a survey for people living in western North Carolina for the past several months and will continue to collect responses throughout the rest of 2017.

Contacting WLOS

The I-team at WLOS also asks people in the region to contact them with similar complaints by sending a short video that displays speed test results.

File A Complaint

If you live in the region, or in another area of North Carolina and are plagued with similar Internet problems, you can file a complaint with the state’s Attorney General here.

Watch the report and read the responses from Fairpoint at WLOS.

Tags: north carolinafrontierruralsurveychristopher mitchell

2017 in Review and a Preview of 2018 - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 286

December 26, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 286 - ILSR Office Year End Predictions and 2018 Preview

It is that time of year - as 2017 draws to a close, we pulled Nick, Hannah, Lisa, and myself back into a podcast to talk about the predictions we made one year ago on episode 234. And despite having to deal with our failed predictions from last year, we dive right into making more predictions for next year.

Along the way, we talk about the lessons we are taking away from 2017 and thinking more broadly about 2018. 

We talk about net neutrality, cooperatives, preemptive state laws, consolidation, and even start with me going on a mostly-unneeded rant about radio. 

So give the show a listen, and then start forming your own local Broadband and Beers informal group to begin organizing locally around better Internet access!

This show is 39 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: predictionspreemptionstate lawslegislationaudiopodcastbroadband bitsnetwork neutralitycooperativeconsolidation

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 25

December 25, 2017

Alaska

Connecting the Last Frontier By Anand Vadapalli, Multichannel News

High-speed internet to bring big change in remote Alaska By Rachel D’Oro, The Seattle Times

 

Colorado

Net neutrality controversy could embolden Colorado efforts to build public internet infrastructure By Jack Queen, Summit Daily News

Mitchell argued that public broadband providers are less likely to throttle access to or jack up prices for certain sites and services because they're directly accountable to voters.

"Because of that accountability, local governments can typically deliver faster internet at a lower cost and with better customer service," he said. "If they were to suddenly raise prices or block off eliminate access to Netflix, voters could make them pay."

Municipal broadband—what Longmont did right By Theresa Rose, North Forty News

 

Hawaii

A Hawaiian Politician Is Introducing a Bill That Would Encourage Creation of Locally Owned Broadband Networks By Jason Koebler, Motherboard

 

Iowa

Group works to start municipal internet in Dubuque following Net Neutrality repeal By Samantha Myers, KCRG News

 

Massachusetts

What does net neutrality repeal mean for Massachusetts municipal internet providers -- or towns without broadband? By Patrick Johnson and Jim Kinney, Mass Live

 

North Carolina

News 13 Investigates: The disconnect of internet service in the NC Mountains by Jennifer Emert, WLOS News

“If you can get good speeds in the middle of the night, but not during the day, I think that's deceptive advertising to be suggesting to people that they can get those speeds,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minnesota.

Mitchell says, companies shouldn't advertise what they can't offer.

“This is not something that is beyond the ability of the company to solve, this is a decision that they're making which is to market a service that they cannot deliver or are willing to deliver on reasonable terms,” said Mitchell.

 

Virginia

Bland County broadband network expands By Millie Rothrock, SWVA Today

 

General

Proposed FCC Rules Could Threaten Local Broadband Competition By Dave Nyczepir, Route Fifty

Koch Brothers Are Cities' New Obstacle To Building Broadband By Susan Crawford, Wired

In the meantime, fed up with federal apathy and sick of being held back by lousy internet access controlled by local cable monopolies, scrappy cities around the US are working hard to find ways to get cheap, world-class fiber-optic connectivity. It’s always been an uphill climb, as the “incumbents”—giant carriers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T—are constantly working behind the scenes to block competition. (Recently, Comcast spent nearly $1 million opposing a municipal-fiber vote in Fort Collins, Colorado. The company did not prevail, I’m happy to report.) But now there’s an additional obstacle: Powerful right-wing billionaires have joined the fight against municipal fiber efforts, using their deep pockets to fund efforts to block even the most commonsense of plans.

Twit Bits 4632: Sparking Competition With Municipal Networks By Fr. Robert Ballecer, CacheFly

The end of net neutrality benefits the rich and modern robber barons By John T. Reuter, Inlander

Earlier this month the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality, which ensured people could freely share and access information online without interference. With the repeal of these rules, internet service providers can speed up access to some websites and internet applications while slowing down or blocking others — presumably based on who's willing and able to pay, limiting all of us to an internet selected by the rich.

In Protests of Net Neutrality Repeal, Teenage Voices Stood Out By Cecilia Kang, New York Times

The repeal of net neutrality has gotten many of these teens politically engaged for the first time, with fears that the dismantling of rules could open the door for broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast to distort the experience of accessing anything online with equal ease. For them, a dry issue that has often been hard to understand outside of policy circles in Washington has become a cause to rally around.

Motherboard & VICE Are Building a Community Internet Network By Jason Koebler, Motherboard

In order to preserve net neutrality and the free and open internet, we must end our reliance on monopolistic corporations and build something fundamentally different: internet infrastructure that is locally owned and operated and is dedicated to serving the people who connect to it.

Killing Net Neutrality Has Brought On A New Call For Public Broadband By Zaid Jilani, The Intercept

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has studied the systems that have popped up all over the country. He pointed out to The Intercept that these systems have far greater incentive to maintain net neutrality and that local control has some benefits people may not immediately consider.

“One of the things that we’ve seen with a hundred examples of municipal broadband is not only do people get the benefit of non-discriminatory access, they typically pay less, they have better access, and if something does go wrong, they get much better customer service,” he told The Intercept.

What Can Cities and States Do About Net Neutrality? By Adam Sneed, CityLab

Grassroots internet offers hope for net neutrality advocates By Luke Barnes, Think Progress

 

Tags: media roundup

A MuniNetworks Holiday Tradition

December 25, 2017

 

Along with family, appreciating what we have, and sharing our benefits, the holidays have a strong sense of tradition. Several years ago, our team put together "Twas The Night Before Muni Fiber" and we've made it a tradition to share it each Holiday Season.

We look forward to more collaborations, challenges, and sharing in 2018. Enjoy and thank you for your support!

 

Tags: funnymunisatireincumbentcomcastdslcabletime warner cable

The Grinch Who Stole Network Neutrality

December 21, 2017

A holiday poem in the style of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss.

 

Every American on the Internet liked network neutrality a lot

But the FCC’s Grinchy Pai, former lawyer for Verizon, did not!

 

Pai hated net neutrality! He despised it, he dreaded it!

And on December 14th, he and his cronies, they shredded it.

 

It could be, perhaps, that he wanted more dough.

ISPs could make more with lanes fast and lanes slow.

 

But whatever the reason, cash or prestige,

His choice pissed off subscribers by many degrees.

 

Americans cried out in anger and dismay!

“We like net neutrality! Don’t take it away!”

 

“It’s good for free speech and new businesses too! Selling, reporting, and artistic debut!

We need it for school kids who have tests to take.

We need it for far away doctors with prognoses to make.

We need it so businesses can hit the ground running.

We need it for working from home, for homework, for funning.

We need it to save money. To get good Internet service.

We don’t want ISPs to decide what to serve us.”

 

“You have market protection,” he said with a snort.

But ILSR elves proved there was nothing of the sort.

 

The elves showed very little, almost no competition.

But Grinchy Pai didn’t care for the net neutrality tradition.

 

He wouldn’t listen to pleas to stop and investigate.

Even millions of fake comments didn't make him hesitate.

 

His planned to kill net neutrality completely.

His overlord ISPs would reward him so sweetly.

 

“Pooh-pooh to subscribers!” he was grinchily singing

In a video taunting us, our ears loudly ringing.

 

“Tough cookies for them! There’s nothing they can do!

They’ll complain and they’ll cry for a week or two!

Then subscribers will go back to what they always do!

 

“They’ll pay up the nose if the ISPs demand!

Companies will pay lots of cash for the fast lane of broadband!

 

“If Comcast streams a show that they want to do well

People will see it first, others can just go to hell!

 

“Verizon likes FOX News? That’s what subscribers get!

With no net neutrality, ISPs get to decide the media outlet!”

 

“Innovation? Bah! Creativity? Boo hoo!

I’ll pull off a telecommunications coup!”

 

So Grinchy Pai did as he vowed long ago.

He killed net neutrality with one swift blow.

 

With a gift of more power for Verizon and AT&T

And a card that said “Happy Holidays from Pai, Carr, and O’Reilly.”

 

But then Grinchy Pai heard a sound that started in low.

And as Grinchy Pai listened, it started to grow.

 

Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays

Network neutrality is our dream

Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays

We want a net that's open and free

 

Welcome, welcome, fahoo ramus

Welcome, welcome, dahoo damus

Free and open like the sky

We won’t be stopped by Ajit Pai

 

Millions of communities P.O.ed by the decision

Came together to share their power and vision.

 

It started right away with planning and grassroots

Their next job, they realized, was to put on their boots.

 

Grinchy Pai, next, wanted to redefine broadband speeds

From 25/3 to 10/1, which just didn’t meet America’s needs.

 

He wanted satellite and mobile to be listed as broadband.

American's said, "No way! This is getting out of hand!"

 

They met in coffeehouses, shared beer, and joined forces.

Locals harnessed the power of ten million horses.

 

Some ran for office while others built munis

Local folks realized they were powerfuls, not punies.

 

They won elections at the federal, state, and local level.

And tossed out that Grinchy Pai, the mean old devil.

 

They reversed his bad policies every last one.

They passed better ideas to fix the harm that he’d done.

 

The ISPs were surprised, they expected more congeniality.

After all, it was only network neutrality.

 

Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and the rest

Decided net neutrality would be for the best.

 

Local communities and co-ops who built networks so fast

Went on to prosper with benefits that last.

 

States saw the wisdom and changed bad laws.

They took away Florida’s, they took away Utah’s.

 

Net neutrality was restored; Americans shared a collective hug.

And a sad little man cried into his giant Reeses mug.

 

“I was wrong to take net neutrality!” Grinchy Pai groaned,

“Now everybody knows the power of publicly owned!”

 

The Community Broadband Networks Team at ILSR wish you Happy Holidays and we look forward to continuing our work in 2018! Thank you for all your support!

Tags: funnynetwork neutralityajit pailocalmunisfcc

Get Ready For 2018 With A 2017 Donation To ILSR

December 21, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, please consider donating to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Your donation helps us continue the important work of raising the profile of broadband networks that are accountable to communities rather than shareholders. Go to ilsr.org/donate.

As he reflected on 2017, Christopher shared his thoughts:

I know you've heard that the FCC repealed network neutrality on December 14th. We find this extremely disappointing, but take solace in the fact that communities with their own networks will face the least harm by the decision.

We aren't mourning. We are back in the office with an even greater dedication to community networks.  Listening to the Commissioners in the majority -- who just finished working for the big monopolies or will go on to lobbying jobs with those companies or both -- pretend that they are helping small businesses made my heart pound. 

A little more than 10 years ago, I began working here at ILSR to help communities thrive in spite of the big monopolies and crony capitalism in D.C. Two years ago, my wife and I had our first child. The last two years left me really tired at times. Worn out. Burned out.

No more. I'm revitalized! I'm ready for another 10 years of helping community after community regain control of its future. The list of interested communities is growing faster than it ever has before.

We have a great team here, doing great & unique research. We made the first map of rural cooperative fiber networks. We dug into FCC data and found that 100 million Americans can get broadband only from the four big monopolies that have a history of violating net neutrality (AT&T, Verizon, Charter, and Comcast). And we mapped where they all live. This work gives me hope.

We need your help to keep it up. Please donate and keep us going. Spread our work around and rate our podcasts so more people will find us. Any donation amount helps - knowing that you care enough to give us material support will help to keep us energized in the tough days ahead

We aren't going to stop at ensuring an open Internet. We will keep going until the monopoly power than corrupts our country is distributed back into the local business and residents of our communities.  

Tags: institute for local self-reliancechristopher mitchellnetwork neutrality

Net Neutrality Repeal Threatens Some States More Than Others

December 20, 2017

On December 14th, FCC Chair Ajit Pai and the Republican Commissioners voted to present a huge holiday gift to big ISPs by dismantling network neutrality, despite outcries from the American people. When we examined FCC data to determine how many Americans would be left without market protections from known network neutrality violators, the numbers were discouraging. Now we’ve reached into the weeds to analyze the numbers on a statewide basis. 

Percentage Of Population

The results reveal that a significant percentage of Americans will be limited to Internet access only from large monopolies that have a history of violating network neutrality and very strong incentives to abuse their market power. 

Some states with higher population benefit slightly from competition relative to others — compare Florida’s 40 percent to 65 percent in Pennsylvania — but this also reflects the anti-competitive nature of big ISPs that tend to cordon off sections of the country and respectfully stay within their zones. Other, more rural states, such as Wisconsin at 66 percent, have few options because national ISPs just aren’t interested in serving areas where population is sparse and the pay-off is a long time coming. Lack of competition means high probability of service from one of the big four known violators in our study — AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Charter.

In this chart, we've listed states in order of greatest percentage of impacted population: 

State Population Served Only By Big 4 Net Neutrality Violators % of State's Total Population DE 756,350 80% MA 5,204,104 77% MD 4,110,198 68% WI 3,815,361 66% PA 8,361,856 65% GA 6,471,665 63% ME 834,424 63% NC 6,265,838 62% MI 5,962,699 60% TN 3,955,073 60% VT 361,647 58% NH 717,457 54% NJ 4,731,401 53% IN 3,429,425 52% OH 5,920,163 51% SC 2,519,089 51% HI 723,565 51% CA 19,835,378 51% IL 6,160,038 48% KY 2,092,698 47% AL 2,203,805 45% VA 3,735,042 45% FL 8,180,268 40% NY 7,797,446 40% MO 2,303,228 38% DC 234,941 35% MS 891,827 30% WY 150,561 26% TX 6,521,153 23% LA 989,252 21% OR 793,431 19% WV 355,081 19% NV 549,117 19% CT 623,485 17% MT 177,149 17% MN 698,720 13% NM 262,655 13% AR 331,062 11% CO 407,006 7% ID 81,844 5% WA 339,246 5% AZ 251,655 4% NE 61,583 3% RI 15,644 1% OK 31,600 1% UT 6,246 0% KS 5,417 0% AK 0 0% IA 0 0% ND 0 0% SD 0 0%

 

Here's the same data listed alphabetically:

 

State Population Served Only By Big 4 Net Neutrality Violators % of State's Total Population AL 2,203,805 45% AK 0 0% AZ 251,655 4% AR 331,062 11% CA 19,835,378 51% CO 407,006 7% CT 623,485 17% DC 234,941 35% DE 756,350 80% FL 8,180,268 40% GA 6,471,665 63% HI 723,565 51% ID 81,844 5% IL 6,160,038 48% IN 3,429,425 52% IA 0 0% KS 5,417 0% KY 2,092,698 47% LA 989,252 21% ME 834,424 63% MD 4,110,198 68% MA 5,204,104 77% MI 5,962,699 60% MN 698,720 13% MS 891,827 30% MO 2,303,228 38% MT 177,149 17% NE 61,583 3% NV 549,117 19% NH 717,457 54% NJ 4,731,401 53% NM 262,655 13% NY 7,797,446 40% NC 6,265,838 62% ND 0 0% OH 5,920,163 51% OK 31,600 1% OR 793,431 19% PA 8,361,856 65% RI 15,644 1% SC 2,519,089 51% SD 0 0% TN 3,955,073 60% TX 6,521,153 23% UT 6,246 0% VT 361,647 58% VA 3,735,042 45% WA 339,246 5% WV 355,081 19% WI 3,815,361 66% WY 150,561 26%


What The Data Also Shows

Some states, like Utah, Washington, and Minnesota, reveal small percentages of people who are trapped in this worrisome situation. While there are likely multiple reasons for their good fortune, it should be noted that some states have taken steps to improve connectivity without any of the four ISPs in our study. Utah with it's open access network UTOPIA and Washington, where Public Utility Districts such as Grant County provide infrastructure for competition, encourage options and better services, especially in rural areas. Minnesota also has a strong tradition of cooperatives; several municipal networks bring high-quality connectivity to local communities. Many of the ISPs that serve these communities have come out publicly against revoking network neutrality and have policies in place to adhere to its tenets.

Worse Than We Expected 

When we decided to take on this analysis, we knew that the FCC's plan to let the market protect subscribers through competition was a weak one. After examining the Commission's own data, we know now that it leaves significant segments of Americans at risk and vulnerable to the whims of already powerful ISPs. FCC Chairman Pai and the other Republican Commissioners appear poised next to tell rural Amreicans that mobile Internet access is "good enough." We wonder how much farther corporate interests can go before the backlash is too strong.

Tags: network neutralitydatastatecomcastverizonchartermonopolyduopolyruralajit paiat&t

Christopher on TWiET: Net Neutrality, Munis, And Local Movements

December 20, 2017

It wasn’t long after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other Republicans on the Commission rescinded network neutrality protections that murmurs began to rise about the future role of municipal networks. Soon, journalists reporting on tech issues began contacting us for comment about the intersection between network neutrality and publicly owned Internet network infrastructure.

The day after the FCC decision, Christopher appeared on This Week in Enterprise Tech (TWiET) with Fr. Robert Ballecer for episode 269, “After Net Neutrality.” Christopher’s segment of the show starts at around 14:16 and finishes around 44:22. Fr. Ballecer comments that, while municipal networks were of interest in the past, now that network neutrality protections have been revoked, they are a more urgent possibility.

Christopher shared some of the data we’ve discovered that reveals how very little competition actually exists, even though the FCC uses market protection as a crutch for dismantling network neutrality. The guys also discuss local franchises and how they helped to encourage deployment, limits to local franchises that exist in certain states, and existing telecommunications monopolies.

Even though municipal networks typically adopt policies that adhere to network neutrality standards, there remains a question of what will happen when those network connect to the middle mile, often controlled by companies known to by network neutrality violators. The hosts and Christopher speculate on whether or not publicly owned networks can create the competition needed to put the big companies on their best behavior. They also get into wireless vs. mobile vs. fiber and the struggle to accept the need for complements. Christopher offered some tips on ways to initiate a grassroots movement for a muni network initiative and creative early steps to situate a community favorably for a future network.

Check out the conversation:

Tags: christopher mitchellvideonetwork neutralitygrassrootsfccfixed wireless

Catching up with Lincoln on Fiber, 5G, and US IGNITE - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 285

December 19, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 285 - David Young from Lincoln, Nebraska

David Young is a veteran of our Community Broadband Bits podcast, having been interviewed in episodes 182, 228, and 238. For reasons that are beyond this interviewer, he still has a job in Lincoln as the Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager. Just kidding David - you are such a friendly person I cannot help but say mean things about you due to my own character flaws. Don't worry folks, I'm just a little bit anxious to get out of 2017 alive. And does anyone actually read these podcast descriptions anyway? 

Where were we?  Ah yes - David consented to another interrogation while we were both in Atlanta for the Broadband Communities Economic Development conference. He updates us on the progress around the Fiber-to-the-Home network that Allo is building using conduit leased from Lincoln. 

We also talk about Lincoln's progress in working with wireless carriers to deploy 5G and the role David played in helping the Nebraska Legislature develop appropriate deployment policies for the entire state. We wrap up talking about US IGNITE. 

Ending 2017 with David Young is a privilege so you might want to ignore next week when our Community Broadband Networks staff discusses our past predictions for 2017 and what we are thinking about heading into 2018. 

This show is 17 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: FTTHallolincolnnebraskaWireless5Gconduitus igniteaudiopodcastbroadband bits

EPB Fiber Optics Reaffirms Network Neutrality Commitment In Chattanooga

December 19, 2017

FCC Chairman Alit Pai and Republican Commissioners earned big lumps of coal for holiday gifts this year when they shredded network neutrality protections on December 14th. They also raised interest in publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Existing publicly owned networks are reaffirming their commitment to network neutrality, including EPB Fiber Optics in Chattanooga.

Online Q & A

In order to reassure their subscribers and help clarify their policy, EPB held a live session via the utility’s Facebook page on December 15th. To start off the conversation, CEO David Wade explained that nothing will change for EPB customers, regardless of the FCC decision. “For EPB fiber optics customers, [this ruling] means nothing,” Wade said. “We’re committed to having an open Internet.”

In an effort to better educate the community, EPB also asked legal counsel David DiBiase, marketing manager Beth Johnson, and Vice President of Marketing J.Ed. Marston to participate in the conversation and answer questions from viewers.

Customer Care Pledge

EPB has embraced network neutrality principles in its Customer Care Pledge, a simple and straight forward list of commitments to subscribers:

The best possible service delivered with the utmost respect. That's always been our commitment to our customers — and it always will be.

  • Internet Privacy - We never sell your web site browsing information or online content
  • Open Internet (Net Neutrality) — Every home and business customer can send web content through EPB's network at the same fast speed without having to pay extra
  • Fair and Equal Internet — EPB doesn't play favorites when it comes to online traffic, so businesses of all sizes have a level playing field for delivering new and innovative options for customers. That's good for customers and good for creating new jobs
  • Internet without data caps or speed throttling
  • Free residential installation and no contracts
  • No hidden fees or surprise billing
  • Neighborly customer service, 24/7/365 to serve you

Shortly after the FCC decision to repeal the policy, Wade released a statement, revealing EPB’s understanding of how deep high-quality Internet access now weaves into everyday life:

“Whether you’re talking about grade school students completing their homework or adults re-training for new careers, applying for jobs, or working from home, the internet provides critical access to educational and economic opportunities."

“At the same time, the internet has become a primary platform for business operation, growth, and innovation. In the near future, healthcare delivery and other essential human services will be transformed by the internet. That’s why EPB Fiber Optics is committed to providing a standard of internet service that doesn’t create barriers, restrictions, or delays for our customers.”

Watch the EPB Q&A segment here; the video runs approximately 35 minutes:

Tags: chattanoogatennesseenetwork neutralityvideocustomer serviceEPB

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 18

December 18, 2017
On December 14th, The FCC voted to repeal Net Neutrality Protections. To stay up to date on the issue, we have included a roundup of the media coverage of the vote in our weekly Community Broadband Media Roundup:

What is net neutrality? It protects us from corporate power By Matt Stoller, The Guardian

More than 100 Million Americans Can Only Get Internet Service from Companies That Have Violated Net Neutrality By Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

This is a problem faced by millions of Americans, according to a new analysis from the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a nonprofit that advocates for equitable development and local government rule. Based on the Federal Communications Commission’s own data, the ILSR found that 129 million Americans only have one option for broadband internet service in their area, which equals about 40 percent of the country.

Of those who only have one option, roughly 50 million are limited to a company that has violated net neutrality in some way. Of Americans who do have more than one option, 50 million of them are left choosing between two companies that have both got shady behavior on their records, from blocking certain access to actively campaigning against net neutrality.

Net Neutrality Repeal Could Be Bad News for Cities, Mayors Warn  By Natalie Delgadillo, Governing Magazine

The repeal could have huge consequences on the local level, particularly for communities that rely on small businesses for economic growth, says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“If your city has a lot of small companies relying on [net neutrality principles] to survive, you might not have as bright of an economic future after this vote,” he says

Could municipal broadband provide another way online if net neutrality rules go away? By Molly Wood and Kristin Schwab, Marketplace 

100 million Americans live in areas where every single ISP has admitted to violating net neutrality By Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance reveals the full scale of the problem: of the 129,000,000 Americans served by a single ISP, 50,000,000 have to rely on monopolist providers that have been convicted of breaching Net Neutrality. Another 50,000,000 Americans are served by only two ISPs, and all of those duopolists have also been convicted of breaching net neutrality.

Internet Pioneers Urge Cancellation of Net Neutrality Repeal Vote By David Jones, E-Commerce Times

If Net Neutrality Is Repealed, What Will It Mean For People Who Don't Have Broadband Yet? By Craig Lemoult

And while much of the discussion around the dismantling of the so-called net neutrality rules has focused on the possibility of internet providers charging for faster delivery of websites or blocking content, the issue is also raising questions about how the change might affect cities and towns that are trying to ensure high-speed access for all their residents.

Internet Pioneers Urge Cancellation of Net Neutrality Repeal Vote By David Jones, Tech News World

Fcc Votes This Week On Net Neutrality, WCLU Radio

 

California

San Francisco Pursues City-Owned, Citywide Internet by Juliet Van Wagenen, StateTech Magazine

Building on that motivation, city leadership announced in October that it will pursue a citywide municipal internet network that will offer residents access to 1-gigabit connections as part of a $1.5 billion project. It is the first major city in the country to commit to such an ambitious endeavor.

“Bridging the digital divide is right for our residents and right for the future of our city,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement to SFGate. The announcement came in conjunction with a report by CTC Technology and Energy that laid out the potential to offer the fiber-optic connection to the city.

 

Colorado

Private Providers Spent Nearly $1 Million to Fight Municipal Broadband in One Small Colorado City By David Z. Morris, Fortune

New financial disclosures for a November ballot initiative show that a group backed by private internet providers spent just over $900,000 to try and block city-owned broadband service in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The big spenders were nonetheless defeated by a citizens’ group that spent only $15,000 to support the bond measure, which passed with 57% of the vote on Nov. 7, approving up to $150 million in financing for a city-run broadband utility.

$900K spent on failed fight against Fort Collins broadband By Nick Coltrain, Coloradoan

Centennial’s new gigabit internet service that’s not Comcast breaks ground next week By Tamara Chuang, Denver Post

Big ISPs Spent $1 Million Attacking Colorado Community Broadband by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Colorado is one of more than twenty states where incumbent broadband ISPs have quite literally written and purchased state protectionist laws prohibiting towns and cities from getting into the broadband business, even in instances where the private sector has failed to deliver.

As net neutrality repeal looms, Boulder takes closer look at city-owned broadband By Alex Burness, Boulder Daily Camera

Comcast-backed group spent $1M to fight Colorado town’s municipal broadband effort By Sean Buckley, Fierce Telecom

 

Kansas

Broadband for All of Kansas By Bill Sutton, Gardner Edge

We need Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, to remember the rural state he calls home and work to close the digital divide. Every farmer deserves to be given the tools to succeed in a world increasingly reliant on technology. Every student deserves the chance to learn everything they can and as fast as they want. And every small business owner deserves the ability to promote their business beyond their community and learn from their competitors.

 

Virginia

Nonprofit finds Internet connectivity gap closing in Virginia By News Staff, CBS 19 News

 

General

Congress Took $101 Million In Donations From The Isp Industry — Here’s How Much Your Lawmaker Got By T.C. Sottek, The Verge

The Secret Savior of Net Neutrality? By Victor Luckerson, the Ringer

Overall, more than 100 communities in 24 states have publicly owned networks offering gigabit internet service. And citizens are clamoring for these kinds of options as an alternative to traditional privately owned ISPs. According to a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of U.S. adults (including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans) believe cities should be allowed to build their own high-speed networks. While trust in the federal government is near an all-time low, most Americans continue to put faith in the ability of local government to solve problems. “People trust the city of Fort Collins much more than they trust these incumbent providers,” Cunniff says.

Nationalize the Networks By Evan Malmgren, Dissent Magazine

Expert: In Absence of Net Neutrality, Community-Owned Networks Could Be an Answer, University of Colorado Boulder, Newswise

Tags: media roundup

Join The January #MobileOnly Challenge

December 18, 2017

In addition to shredding network neutrality, the FCC is making it more difficult for us to obtain high-quality Internet access. Under the Obama administration, the FCC raised standards for broadband, but the new administration is set on driving us backward. Chairman Ajit Pai and the other Republicans in the FCC want to equate mobile Internet service with home connections. They also want to revert to a slower definition of broadband. We have to show them that their plan is ludicrous and shortsighted; the #MobileOnly Challenge is a start.

What Is The #MobileOnly Challenge?

It seems as if Pai and his chums aren’t aware of what it’s like to depend solely on a mobile connection, especially for people in places where mobile service is spotty or slow. In order to share the experience, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, along with nine other organizations and FCC Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel, are supporting the #MobileOnly Challenge.

For one day in January, participants will put away their laptops and use only their smartphones to access the Internet. During the day, they will report on their experience via social media with #MobileOnly in the tweet, FB post, Instagram post, or other notification about the experience.

The FCC expects to vote on the mobile Internet access and broadband definition question by February 2, 2018. Right now, the Commission defines broadband as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload; they want to redefine that speed to 10 Mbps/1 Mbps. January will be the time to let them know that we don’t want a slower Internet — we want an Internet for the future.

How Do I Do It?

Choose one day in January to take the challenge and on that day use ONLY your mobile device to access the Internet. During that day, share your experiences on social media using #MobileOnly. When your day is over, encourage your friends to also take the challenge. Don’t forget to contact @FCC during and after your challenge to let them know that mobile only is inadequate for Americans in the 21st century.

Get More Info, Spread The Word

Next Century Cities has created an excellent resource to help you spread the word about the #MobileOnly Challenge. In addition to information about why the event is so important, they’ve created an FAQ Sheet, a list of Talking Points, sample social media posts, and an email message you can customize for the day in January you choose to take the challenge. They’ve also assembled a social media tool kit that also includes graphics and more. You can start posting now to let people know that you’re going to take the challenge next month and encourage more people to sign up.

You can sign up today for the day of your choice and Next Century Cities will send you a reminder.

Tags: fccajit paimobilegrassrootsnext century citiesinstitute for local self-reliancebroadband

Chelan PUD Continues To Expand Fiber Network In Washington

December 15, 2017

The Chelan County Public Utility District recently approved their budget and, to the delight of residents and businesses in Chumstick, Merry Canyon, and other areas, they included funding to expand the publicly owned fiber network.

Continuing The Growth Process

News of the expansion underscores the increasingly important role high-quality connectivity plays in everyday life. Fiber and Telecom Manager Mike Coleman told the Chelan PUD at its recent meeting that 73 percent of the county now has access to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). He noted that in 2012, average wait time for new installations was 31 days; the utility has shrunk that time down to 11 days. The demand in the past five years has grown and the number of subscribers has grown from approximately 12,000 in 2012 to almost 15,000 today. The PUD expects to reach an additional 1,059 premises in 2018.

“We’ve come so far in the last five years,” says Coleman. “Our goal is to be a world-class fiber transport provider and to facilitate the retail service providers in providing the best possible customer service they can.”

The PUD plans to increase marketing efforts so more residents and businesses know that fiber from the county is an available alternative. Apparently, many residents didn’t realize that the PUD offered the service until this year.

Coverage of the meeting:

Tags: chelanwashingtonexpansionFTTHvideo

LUS Fiber Expanding To Two Neighboring Communities

December 14, 2017

For more than two years, the prospect of expanding to two nearby communities has been on the LUS Fiber to-do list in Lafayette. Now that the municipal fiber optic network has achieved at least a 40 percent take rate, the time is right to reach Youngsville and Broussard.

In 2016, the utility generated $36 million in revenue, according to Director of Utilities Terry Huval. The triple-play network has been generating profits since 2013; this will be the first expansion outside of Lafayette city limits.

Poised Pretty, Prudent Planning

Within the next few weeks, LUS plans to begin installing fiber in one subdivision in Broussard and one subdivision in Youngsville. The expansion will progress in “measured steps,” said Huval, so LUS Fiber can evaluate interest in the new areas. "Like any business," he said, "we have to be prudent in how we expand."

Back in 2015, we reported on potential expansion plans that would have required the two communities to pay for the cost of expansion. At the time, Brossard and Youngsville weren’t keen on the idea, but now LUS Fiber is in a position to tackle the project without financial assistance from the two towns. The network has still not reached every premise in Lafayette, but Huval looks at the opportunity to reach Youngsville and Broussard as a way to solidify the utility’s financial position to complete the city deployment.

Some subdivisions were developed in the city after LUS Fiber's first bond sale, so they have not been serviced yet, Huval said. But LUS Fiber will be extended to those areas in the city at the same time fiber is extended to some areas of Youngsville and Broussard, he said.

"Every home (in the city of Lafayette) will have access to fiber," Huval said. "That's the intention."

Huval stated:

“The investment is very small compared to what the benefits could be down the road for us,” Huval said, adding that the expansion is being paid for strictly with proceeds from the original bond issue or self-generated revenue. 

Challenges Beat

Lafayette overcame attacks by the incumbent cable provider Cox Communications, which sued to prevent the deployment and preserve a lack of competition in the city. The network began serving the community in 2009 and now brings high-quality, affordable, reliable connectivity to the community of 124,000. New enterprises have invested in Lafayette, bringing better paying jobs and ancillary economic development. The community has earned the nickname “Silicon Bayou.”

You can read about the city’s challenges and how they improved Internet access for the community in our 2012 report, Broadband at the Speed of Light.

Listen to Christopher interview Huval in episode 144 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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