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Colorado Towns Say YES To Local Authority; State Lawmakers Take A Stab At More Rural Funding

April 10, 2018

In Colorado last week, communities held spring elections if they needed to choose elected officials or ask voters to make decisions on local matters. In six rural communities, voters decided to join the almost 120 municipalities and counties around the state that have already voted to opt out of Colorado’s restrictive state law SB 152. Meanwhile, the General Assembly tried to help bring broadband to the state's most rural areas.

A Resounding Yes

In all six towns, the decision to reclaim local telecommunications authority far outpaced the number of voters who voted “no.” In keeping with similar measures we’ve followed during previous elections on this same question, voters want the opportunity to use their own infrastructure to improve connectivity either directly to the public or with a private sector partner. Most communities that put this issue to the voters don’t have a solid plan in place at the time it’s on the ballot, but they understand that opting out of the 2005 law is a necessary step, should they decide in the future to move ahead with a muni or public-private partnership.

The measure always passes and voters usually approve the opt out provision by a wide margin, as was the case on April 3rd. Here’s the tally:

Firestone : Yes 1568 - No 347

Frisco : Yes 634 - No 69

Lake City : Yes 222 - No 18

Limon : Yes 347 - No 92

Lyons : Yes 526 - No 139

Severence : Yes 621 - No 118

Colorado has been abuzz with activity in recent years as local communities reclaim their right to decide how they handle connectivity improvements. The developments have run into resistance from Comcast and other big national ISPs that feel their monopoly threatened. Last fall, Comcast spent close to a million dollars in a failed attempt to defeat a measure in Fort Collins as the city amended its charter to allow it to invest in a municipal network. Before it could take that step, however, the city held a referendum in the fall of 2015 to opt out of SB 152.

In addition to Fort Collins, several other communities that have opted out in recent years are moving forward. Rio Blanco County is offering connections to some of the most rural areas of the state and a few places, such as Larimer County, and Erie have engaged firms to conduct feasibility studies. Other communities have taken no action, but want to keep options open for the future. 

Legislative Boost For New Proposals

Since 2005, SB 152 has complicated local communities’ ability to invest in local Internet infrastructure but leaders at the state level have taken steps this legislative session that may signal shifts in attitude.

Changes to the rules that determine how state funding will be distributed to providers willing to deploy in rural areas were adopted this session. After groans of opposition from CenturyLink, the state’s High Cost Support Mechanism (HCSM) will be restructured to direct more funds to rural broadband infrastructure deployment. The changes have the potential to create competition for CenturyLink and better Internet access options for Coloradoans living in rural areas.

As the incumbent telephone company, CenturyLink has benefitted more than any other company from the existing HCSM funding structure and their lobbyists in Denver put up a fight to keep the status quo. The HCSM is a 2.6 percent surchage that Coloradoans pay on voice landline and mobile phone service - about $33 million annually. Up until 2014, those funds were used to subsidize deployment of more landlines.

In 2014, the state’s General Assembly recognized that it was time to start using some of the funds to deploy broadband connectivity and they restructure the HCSM to split the use of the fund. This year’s SB 2 will speed up the original plan to shift the use of the funds away from landline deployment to broadband projects in unserved areas. As Colorado’s phone provider of last resort, CenturyLink saw that their place at the cash cow teat was at risk and strongly opposed the bill. 

SB 2’s chief sponsors Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and Sen. Don Coram of Montrose are both Republicans and both interested in speeding along the process of deploying high-quality connectivity in their rural districts. SB 2 will change the current system to increase by 20 percent each year the amount of HCSM funding to be dedicated to Internet infrastructure deployment. By 2024, the entire fund will be allocated to Internet infrastructure projects. The bill passed both chambers and the Governor John Hickenlooper signed it into law on April 2nd.

Redirecting funding away from old landline deployment toward rural broadband infrastructure and opening up opportunities for entities other than CenturyLink to use the funds will help bring deployment to areas that desperately need it. One should note, however, that these funds will only be used for areas where residents and business are considered “unserved.” From the final version:

(32) (a) “Unserved area" means an area of the state that: 

(I) Lies outside of municipal boundaries or is a city with a population of fewer than SEVEN thousand FIVE HUNDRED inhabitants; and 

(II) Consists of households THAT lack access to at least one provider of a broadband network that uses satellite technology and at least one provider of a broadband network that uses nonsatellite technology. 

As some of these extremely rural areas of Colorado obtain broadband access through the new HCSM funding rules, perhaps the General Assembly will consider easing eligibility criteria for projects in communities that benefit in order to create more competition.

On a positive note, it’s refreshing to see a state funding bill that requires projects to provide speeds:

“…OF AT LEAST TEN MEGABITS PER SECOND DOWNSTREAM AND ONE MEGABIT PER SECOND UPSTREAM OR MEASURABLE SPEEDS AT LEAST EQUAL TO THE FCC'S DEFINITION OF HIGH-SPEED INTERNET ACCESS OR BROADBAND, WHICHEVER IS FASTER.” (emphasis ours)

Each year our excitement bubble pops when state funding bills for broadband infrastructure include language that offers public subsidies to telephone companies that propose to build out slow DSL at 10/1 Mbps in rural areas. Just because people live in the country doesn’t mean they want or deserve inferior wireline Internet access. At the moment, the FCC defines "broadband" at 25/3 Mbps. In the past there has been talk of reducing it to 10/1 Mbps, but that discussion seems to have lost momentum.

Will grants go to applicants proposing projects in communities restricted to one DSL provider in the community? Residents and businesses that can subscribe to it will be meeting the definition of "unserved" at ths time if their only option is less than the FCC's definition of broadband. We’d prefer SB 2 eliminate the 10/1 language entirely, but this may be a step in the right direction.

Read the entire bill here.

As we reported last month, HB 1099 was moving through both chambers without much opposition. The bill’s language adjusted the right of first refusal which incumbent ISPs have abused in the past in order to stop publicly owned projects and new entrants from developing high-quality broadband infrastructure in unserved areas. The bill, which was signed into law by the Governor on April 4th, now requires incumbents to show that they will provide comparable services at comparable prices if they choose to exercise the right of first refusal to stop grants to a new project.

Apparently, the bill came about as a reaction to a fiasco we covered in episode 256 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Doug Seacat’s company had been awarded funding to deploy fiber in the rural areas of Ridgway, but CenturyLink exercised it’s incumbent right of first refusal and took the funding. Instead of investing in high-quality connectivity, however, the telephone company only deployed slightly better DSL. When word got out, elected officials were not amused.

Colorado Locals Say No To Monopolies - Other States To Follow?

CenturyLink and Comcast have been playing dirty pool for a long time and local communities want the opportunity to cast them off and solve their own connectivity problems. As more than 120 municipalities and counties have already decided to reclaim local telecommunications authority and state leaders see the wisdom of local decision making, Colorado is blazing a trail for other states.

Image of the Severence, Colorado post office courtesy of the Severence website.

Colorado SB 2 as Signed By GovernorTags: coloradosb 2 cosb 152referendumfirestone cofrisco colake city colimon colyons coseverence cohb 1099 coright of first refusalstate lawsfunding

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 300

April 9, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 300 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Jody Wigington and Sharon Sharon Kyser describe the partnership between two municipalities. Listen to this episode here.

 

Jody Wigington: Yeah, that's the brotherhood of utilities, whether it's co-op or munis, but we help each other and we're in it, you know, not for profit, but we're in it for the long haul and it's been our honor to be part of it.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 300 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In rural communities where population density is low, large corporate Internet access providers typically shy away from making investments to offer broadband. An increasing number of these communities are looking for ways to exercise local self-reliance and add broadband as a municipal service. When local communities joined forces to help expand connectivity in rural areas, they improve economic development, educational opportunities, and increase the chances that these small rural communities won't just fade away. Residents and businesses in and around Newport, Tennessee have an urgent need for better connectivity. Now, Newport Utilities aims to change that by bringing fiber optic connectivity to communities through a partnership with nearby Morristown Utilities. Morristown has had its own Fiber-to-the-Home network for more than a decade. In this interview, Christopher talks with Jody Wigington, who's been on the show before, and Sharon Kyser from Newport, who explains the situation in her community, the to describe how Newport in Morristown are working together to strengthen both communities and the entire region. Now, here's Christopher with Sharon Kyser from Newport and Jody Wigington from Morristown.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and today I'm speaking with Sharon Kyser, the Marketing and Public Relations Manager for Newport Utilities. Welcome to the show.

Sharon Kyser: Chris,

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have a returning champion, Jody Wigington, the general manager and CEO of Morristown Utilities, also in Tennessee. Welcome back.

Jody Wigington: Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: So you guys are working together on a really exciting partnership. I was really lucky to have a chance to come down to talk to folks in Newport last year about an idea for building a municipal network in Newport that would be supported by Morristown, and now we're going to tell folks what's going on. Now that you're actually connecting folks, the best way to start sharing would be, you know, if you could just describe Newport for people who aren't very familiar with it.

Sharon Kyser: So Newport is the county seat of Cocke County, and of course our service area is all of Cocke County, a little bit of Jefferson County and Sevier County. It's a rural area located in east Tennessee, not too far outside of Knoxville, so you might know Knoxville if you don't know anything else. We have a population of just over 35,000 people, and the area is popular with artists and outdoor enthusiast, mostly because of the abundance of mountain views, mountain trails, rivers for rafting, and it's just an incredibly beautiful area. We're close to the smokey mountain national park where close to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, you know, all those folks who know Miss Dolly and Dollywood with a lot of other attractions that yeah, mostly just an incredibly beautiful but rural area

Christopher Mitchell: in Knoxville for people who aren't super familiar. That's the home of a University of Tennessee. It's really thriving, in, in a lot of ways. Right,

Jody Wigington: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: So you benefit from that a bit now. Now you also have not far from you Morristown, so you know, Jody, for people who haven't gone to the back catalog as much as they probably should have. I'm curious if you could just give people a refresher for what you've been working on up in Morristown all these years.

Jody Wigington: Morristown is about 20 miles from Newport and you know, we got into this business about 12 years ago as a fiber to the home provider. Basically just answering the call of the people who through elections of city council asked them to do something about the poor services rising rates. So the decision back then was, you know, it was really, for us, based on video and today it's all about, you know, probably, you know, more than video, been similar in size to Newport. It is 31,000 in the city and about 61,000 if you head to Hamblen County, which we sit in, but we are pretty well, I think we're at 49 percent take rate financially solid. And then that work has progressed from the pond switch digital, now we're in a conversion to full api platform there that shows the beauty of fiber optic infrastructure like building and then we've accomplished these upgrades with electronics on both ends.

Jody Wigington: But the optical delivery system state, same as far as right stability, you that you know, are Internet was 34.95 in 2006 and it's 34.95 today. So we've been able to create that stability in town. Of course the product has gone now to a 50/50 minimum will be a 100/100 minimum once fully launched. And, but we're, we're like all our brethren, we'd see a decline in video and landline residential. So. But the flip side is the Internet continues to grow. Hosted voice services and I think community fiber service's done what it promised, you know, to do, increase the competition, maybe improved products and businesses, the economic development became better, the educational system is improved, they're all connected on fiber. It jump-started workforce development. And uh, we have a lot of remote access workers who drive in to Hamblen County or work in our industry. And they go back home to the rural areas, some even from, from, from Scott County, but maybe five counties around us. So I just think of, aside from all the basics of a, you know, what it does for economic development and education is just a general quality of life, for society that is increasingly dependent upon broadband. An upside for Newport because they are dedicated to the mission, committed to their customers and they're doing it the right way. So I expect the similar results in their community.

Christopher Mitchell: We'll get back to Newport in a second, but I wanted to ask one other question about Morristown. You've been quite generous in trying to work with others nearby that would like to see your services expand, but when you were last on this show, I think we're talking about Appalachian Electric. Now, that project is kind of still on hold, right? You decided to move forward because you have this opportunity working with Newport in the meantime,

Jody Wigington: Newport pulled the trigger a little bit faster. Appalachian did a feasibility study. And Newport's study was after that. But just last week, Appalachian did put out an RFP onto the street for broadband services. We were not allowed as municipals to go into the co-op areas, but with the legislative change, the co-op can do that themselves and we hope we have an opportunity to maybe wholesale with Appalachian, similar to the way we are in Newport itself. It's crazy. And to said we've got seven head-ends so we really don't need to build any more of them if we can find a way to work collectively.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and that's one of the things that I want to, I want to talk about is how working together take some of the risks out of the project from Newport's point of view. But the first thing I want to know about Newport, Sharon is, is what are the problems that you're trying to solve? You know, when, when you look at this from utility point of view, what's wrong with with the way things were before you got started?

Sharon Kyser: Same thing Chris is in it's very connected world in which we live. That 35 percent of our population has zero access to broadband. Some of our areas are telling us they can't even get dial-up, the incumbents say "no, we stop at this line and we can't go any further." You know, the challenges that that presents for our citizens if you think about opportunities that they're missing out on, whether it's online classes or work at home opportunities. If it's telemedicine, these are opportunities that are severely restricting growth for our citizens. Personal growth. so that was an opportunity that we saw and really what we saw is that as a challenge to our community and one that we feel like we can help them overcome as essential services. Right? So we're electric water, wastewater, we are essential to the community. We are a major community partner and we look at that relationship very personally.

Sharon Kyser: So broadband for us is another essential service that our customers need is very interesting. We actually, we've, one of our Beta customers that we just, uh, recently hooked up and said that this was an answer to prayer that so often just a throw away line, but she meant that literally a, she also says that broadband access the need. And I really liked the statement that she made that uh, she wants desires and their needs and that this is a need because of the opportunities that for her children, for her family or the community in general. And so we're just, we're -- we're excited to be a part of that and feel like that's just part of our mission as being a good community partner.

Christopher Mitchell: Some of the communities that reach out to us and when we work with at the Institute for local self-reliance or they may have cable service to everyone and they even have a hundred megabit gigabit download, but the trend to solve a problem of competition or rates, but you actually have a substantial number of people that just don't even have broadband access is what you're saying.

Sharon Kyser: That is correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Wow. That's.

Sharon Kyser: Yeah. I, it's hard to believe, isn't it

Jody Wigington: Chris? Some of those same things are in play in Hamblen county. I mean we only serve the corporate city limits and the cooperatives like Appalachian or around us. And it's the same problem in education. Some kids go home and they have really good broadband and they all have laptops now in the school or half of them too and in this four year project that you have and the others go home to a dollar per satellite or cell phone trying to complete their homework. So we're very interested in helping the cooperatives to get into the rural areas. That's where we're different community from Newport, they do have to go into those rural areas. So it's a neat here too.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about how we're solving that. Then Jody, if you can tell me, what are you doing to help new poor to be able to offer the services that they're launching.

Jody Wigington: Obviously we have a head-end so there's probably $12 to $15 million cap ex [capital expenditure] in this head-end one of -- it's an IP video plants. So you have all your channel receiver. This is something Newport did not have to invest in. We are a CLEC, we have our own phone switch but a balanced hosted services. Again, that's, you know, cap ex [capital expenditure] Newport can leverage from our side without spending themselves and we've already developed diverse redundant Internet back again, they or anyone else can elect to do some of these services and it's a hardened facility. It's fire protection, back-up power to security. Ah, HVAC, it's a, it's a nice head-end and it has pleased us to be able -- to be able to share that and help them improve their business planning. We also have a call center that we established a several years back, so it's another kind of a mature service with sales people that can answer trouble calls.

Jody Wigington: So we have some contracts with, with Newport, Chris, to provide those sort of services. Now we can't do the service. So it's, you know, Newport owns the customers, they roll the trucks, do the billing and they provide the services. They come to me and buy at a demarcated place, like they buy these services and we have two fiber routes to Newport. So there's redundancy in case one cut or something like that. It helps them get to market a lot faster. And you know, the other thing I would say is job shadow or we share best practices and Newport and Morristown shared a lot of time because over the last month, a year, I guess just trying, you know, said "hey, you know, come over to this is the way we do things that you want to ride in the trucks with the field guys, talk to the customer service people accounting? I mean, what? Whatever." So yeah, that's the brotherhood of utilities, whether it's co-op or municipal. Well we, we help each other and we're in it, you know, not for profit. We're in it for the long haul and it's been our honor to be a part of.

Christopher Mitchell: Your voice switch as I understand it, the smallest, cheapest voice switch. So you could probably get serves far more customers than there are people in Hamblen County, is that basically right?

Jody Wigington: That's true. It's, it's about a million dollar switch. It's meta switch and it is currently could do 250,000 lines, but it's upgradable to 500,000 and we have 3,000 lines. So we made the commitment because of the reliability and the type of services that we, we didn't feel we were getting from a wholesale level. So from here, so the downtown's generated here locally, we have control over that. So, but yes, it's expandable easily

Christopher Mitchell: And I just wanted to make that point that, you know, a lot of the, the telecommunications equipment is designed for its peas that are, that are much larger and so it's not a matter of, of you I'm losing money or making investments you wouldn't otherwise have made, but in fact it would be crazy for Newport to duplicate these investments because you have idle capacity that you have no choice but to get in that you can now share. So, it, it's, it seems like it's a, it's a no brainer a. But Sharon, let me, let me ask you from your perspective, what are some of the benefits that you're getting out of working with Jody besides hearing that lovely voice on a, on a regular basis?

Sharon Kyser: As Jody said, there's capacity there already in the equipment that's not being a head-end is a tremendous investment. Are Advantage in partnering with Moorestown is that we didn't have to do that $15 to $17 million investment in a head-end and it kind of reduces the time to market because the facilities are already in place, but the biggest thing that we have in our partnership, which has just been absolutely invaluable is the experience and the expertise that Morristown brings to the table. They've been doing this for 12 years now and so they have just been wonderful partners with us. Everything from setting up our our back office systems to understanding a technical support, customer satisfaction, customer service, all of these things they already have in place. That worked very well and so we're able to take Morristown's expertise and build our own systems that are very similar, but at the same time we're -- we're Newport utility, so we put our Newport Utilities face on it. Our customers, when they, when they go to a broadband service will still know Newport Utilities. They'll still be able to walk into the lobby, deal with the same people that they're used to dealing with, but then we've got that, that support on the other side and Morristown for technical support or just a knowledge base that has just been invaluable for us. Ensure. You mentioned that you have signed up some customers already. What's that looking like? How many folks are signed up and what are the plans for expansion?

Sharon Kyser: So we have nine beta customers online right now. We just got seven of them installed last week and that gives us an opportunity to really test the systems not only from a service perspective but also our back office systems and we've been able to identify some gaps in processes that were, you know, now filling in so that when we go to full market launch it will be a very positive customer experience. The feedback that we're getting has been phenomenal and people love it and one of our Beta test customers is actually an IT person at Bush brothers and so we've got him testing the one gig service and he is delighted.

Christopher Mitchell: I'll bet!

Sharon Kyser: He gives us excellent feedback. So it's really nice to be able to have someone that is technically very savvy and so he's given us good feedback on the system and how it operates, any glitches he may have encountered that gives us a chance to clean it up before we go full market launch. So we're doing this in a rolled a, you know, a phased approach we will have online in the next coming four to six weeks, about 2,000 customers that we can offer service to and then we'll just keep progressing from. There are phase one plan is the city of Newport and our electric sub-stations and you know, some of the schools, the area and that's going to take us roughly through the end of the year. We've also already gotten board approval for the next two areas in our phase two launch so we can begin doing our, our engineering and design and those areas. And these are areas of East Parisville, West Cosby, including Rocky Flats. That's one of those areas that, as I said earlier, have nothing. They're an artist community online service is really important right now. They they have a convenient store that everyone refers to as the community spot because that's the only place I can get get a wireless signal, so they like all gather in the parking lot to try to do work, so we're really excited to be able to start moving forward and be able to offer broadband services in those communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Judy, I'm curious if there's been any unexpected either benefits or challenges so far between the reality of rolling this out versus what you contemplated when you begin considering working with others like Newport?

Jody Wigington: Yes. This is a heavy lift. I mean it's not as easy as plug and play or snapping. Your fingers are tons of interfaces, intensive things that we have to do to try to comply with state, state law or not trial. We do, but it's been a lot of work and we would like to, if both of us like to have gone a little faster at it that these networks are gay are incredibly complicated, but yeah, we've done it. It's very doable and sometimes it just takes more time to change it, but yes, we've. We've learned in this project things that we would be the cookie cutter for the next one because I really believe this is potentially how you solve broadband in Tennessee, working together as a co-ops in municipals. So we, we've learned things that will be better at next time, but the problems is just incredible amount of network engineering and interfacing that you just have to do and do it right before you get out the gate. But we're getting there when smile project yet. So that yeah, there's been good and there's, there's been some things that disappointed as far as how fast we can move that, you know, you have a lot of different players in this and from the fiber to the home providers do the video. We're in the middle of an IP video change. So, but yeah, there's going to be as good as good a product is out there. State of the art video.

Christopher Mitchell: So since you mentioned that I recently, uh, was uh, talking to folks from Cedar Falls, Utilities who did an upgrade and you know, they have all kinds of Cubase the capacity to do 4k, but there's not a lot of content available or you're going to be doing some 4K?

Jody Wigington: I think Chattanooga tried a little bit, but that's what I understand is a lot of the programs are probably passing for K to go something bigger, you know, so we don't see a lot of 4K programming, so we haven't made a big, big deal of that yet. I mean, HD TV still often sharp. I don't know the number I'd be guessing, but it's very small number of programming hours you could roll out in 4K right now.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who are interested. From what I understand that really the only content that's available and really easy to get then is NASA does a channel that's 4K. but I appreciate the reality check there from -- from what you're thinking about. And, I just wanted to note for people who are interested in this sort of stuff, you know, it's hard to get the content for 4K. Sharon, before we run out of time, I wanted to ask, how, how have you financed this because my understanding is it's somewhat unique and actually was a tremendous opportunity.

Sharon Kyser: There are a couple of things that we're doing, but the biggest thing that's really unique is that we're, we have approached this as a smart grid project, so, you know, connecting our electric sub-stations, getting all of the data from SCADA and AMI and all of that. So we were able to get a USDA rural development loan for a smart grid project that's a long term, very low interest loan. and that is primarily how we're financing the project. So we're really excited about that because it helps us to control the, the, the implementation cost.

Jody Wigington: Any utility that does it, you know, think about the benefits that fiber is going to bring to the Utilities is missing something. You'd have to live on fiber for years we have to appreciate what you can do in, in your, not only your electric, but your water, and your waste water system. It does change the utility the way it operates for the better.

Christopher Mitchell: Can you say a little bit more about that? I mean, maybe like one example

Jody Wigington: For instance, we have the same EMR system as Newport, but these, these meters in our situation, they're 15 minutes back to the server, over the fiber and some of them talk every five minutes and then we'll talk in a matter of five or 10 seconds if there's alarms. So we have integrated a lot of the AMI system, -- which basically returns over the fiber optic network. We've integrated it into the electric SCADA for real time, low control.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that, as I understand it, that how that comes into play would be that if something starts to go wrong, you can fix it at a much lower cost because you don't have to enroll as many trucks or get as many people called in and things like that. I mean, this is, this is ultimately a mean among saves a lot of money. You know, a lot of ways I'm sure, but one of those is labor.

Jody Wigington: I guess one meter reader left and a w, m a way to track it is about 6,000 truck rolls a year that we don't make that we'll use to make ancillary benefits.

Christopher Mitchell: So the big question is how will we know that this was a, was a good investment? yeah. And I'm, I'm curious if we look out 10 years, you know, what, what will you be looking back and saying, wow, I'm, I'm, you know, I'm so glad that, that happened?

Sharon Kyser: For us, for each utilities. We believe that this investment is going to be smart in any of that. So we look at the opportunities that broadband opens up for our citizens and for our communities, anywhere from better education, better healthcare, a better job opportunities, economic development opportunities. We have businesses now that we have one business that has recently moved in and primarily because of the availability of the one gig fiber service. We have other businesses that we understand are starting to look at the areas. But, you know, fiber is just so important anymore in business expansions and so that's gonna be a real boon to our county, into our communities. So when we look back 10 years down the road, I think that what we're going to really be cognizant of is the fact that we have through this, this, this fiber investments have had provided opportunities for growth and for a sustained growth, within our community. And that's gonna mean growth in the tech space, even from just the perspective of families. Some of our families, the kids need to have to move elsewhere to try to get good job opportunities. So if we can bring industry in back into cobb county and they don't have to move out, then we're talking a stronger families. So, uh, you know, there's just so many benefits and I think 10 years down the road we're just going to look back and say, Oh yeah, this was the right thing.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, let me ask you a slightly different take on it for Jody. You are one of very few cities in the United States where anyone in your community can get a gigabit. You know, you're soon going to be offering a hundred megabits symmetrical as the base offer prices that are a fraction of what I pay for a fraction of those speeds from a big cable company. Why wouldn't you just sit on this and tell people, if you want to come to the broadband Mecca, you have to come to Morristown. Why do you want to share it with your neighbors?

Jody Wigington: I mean, I'm in public service. I mean I have a vision for East Tennessee. This is where I grew up and I don't think people around us having broadband is a threat to us. In fact, it makes our community better from the education system to the remote access that workers have to come into the factories and you know, we have 9,000 plus manufacturing shops here and we had like 20,000 cars coming into the city today to work in these industries. So the more broadband there is a better it is for my workforce, for these plans. But even if it wasn't for that, I mean, when you're, when you're a public like this, I mean, you're about the people. We're here here for the people. We're not for profit. We're here to do the right thing. We're here to be willing to leverage investment over the years. And I worked there. There's nothing selfish about it. I think it just makes the region so, so much better over time. And I can't stress enough the vision of Newport Utilities and the city council there that made these decisions are not for the timid. And Glenn Ray, his leadership team are working hard to answer the bell and, I think they're doing the right thing. But it's not a threat. This, we're, we're more than happy to see the region become connected.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'd like to second that, particularly the leadership that Newport Utilities in the city council has shown because there was a group that came in and tried to scare people, tried to scare elected officials saying that this would be a disaster and it's scary. And, and, and really tried to -- what they did was they gave excuses to city officials that if they had concerns that could have backed down, they could've hid behind that and said, no, we're gonna, we're not gonna do anything but they're moving forward and I think that the entire community is really going to benefit from it. So I really want to thank both of you for coming on, telling us more about what's happening because like, like Jody said earlier, this is, this sort of sharing is what we need to really expand high quality Internet access. So thank you both for taking the time today.

Jody Wigington: My pleasure.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Sharon Kyser from Newport and Jody Wigington from Morristown in Tennessee. They were talking with Christopher about how the two communities are collaborating to improve connectivity in Newport. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/Broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets follow Muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power, the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 300 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 9

April 9, 2018

California

SF receives ‘several’ proposals to build a fast citywide Internet service for all by Joshua Sabatini, San Francisco Examiner

San Francisco received “several” proposals by Monday’s deadline to build a citywide Internet broadband network connecting all homes and businesses.

Mayor Mark Farrell is working to lead The City toward creating a citywide fiber-to-the-premises Internet service at one gigabit speeds. The project would be developed as a private-public partnership with an initial 15-year agreement.

Broadband, bike share on City Council agenda by Anne Ternus-Bellamy, Davis Enterprise

Los Angeles Considers Building Broadband Network For All by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

California’s Legislature Seeks to Protect Network Neutrality and Promote ISP Competition by Ernesto Falcon, Electronic Frontier Foundation

San Francisco Is Quietly Building an Open Access Fiber Network by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

Colorado

6 Colorado communities vote to establish municipal broadband, joining dozens of others across the state by John Aguilar, Denver Post

Six more Colorado communities this week have voted to overturn a 2005 state law that prohibits local governments from setting up their own broadband network, joining 86 others in the state that have already done so.

Voters in Severance, Lake City, Lyons, Frisco, Firestone and Limon voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing municipal broadband Tuesday, with margins of 347-92 in Limon and 222-18 in Lake City, for example.

Since 2008, cities and towns across the state have cast off the law, known as Senate Bill 152, as they have found existing high-speed Internet service to be unavailable, too slow or too expensive — especially in rural areas of Colorado.

Colorado Kills A Crappy, Anti-Competitive Law Bought by Comcast by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

More Colorado Towns Vote Down A Comcast State Law Hamstringing Broadband Competition by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Colorado's rural broadband push may foreshadow a national trend by Colin Wood, StateScoop

In addition to new laws, six Colorado cities on Tuesday voted to exempt themselves from a 2005 law that outlawed government- and community-funded networks from competing with the private market. The latest round of voting makes for about 120 Colorado cities and counties to have exempted themselves from the law. While about 20 other states have similar laws prohibiting the creation or expansion of such municipal networks, Colorado's provision allowing localities to vote out of the law is unique.

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says the activity in Colorado is a reflection of heightened attention on the issue of broadband Internet nationally. Colorado cities have had the option to vote out of the law since its passage more than a decade ago, but Mitchell, who has been advocating for the right of community-based networks since the mid-2000s, says most Colorado cities were happy to wait for existing providers to deliver improved service. But then they got tired of waiting.

Municipal broadband expected to get support from more Colorado towns after Tuesday’s vote by John Aguilar, Denver Post

Boulder to hold input session on community broadband by Jensen Werley, BizWest

Engineering and design of broadband network gets go ahead from Craig, Moffat County by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck, Craig Daily Press

 

Florida

City of Gainesville invites businesses to negotiate an agreement for Internet broadband services by WCJB-20

 

Georgia

Broadband Bill May Bring Better Internet To Rural Georgia by Tasnim Shamma, WABE

 

Maine

SanfordNet broadband project to start July 1 by Tammy Wells, Sanford Journal Tribune

 

Massachusetts

Community Broadband Sticker Shock? Try a Different Approach by Trevor Jones, Bangor Daily News

Monterey to vet local Internet company's financials for new broadband proposal by Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle

The town is about to hire Bay State Municipal Accounting for help in its attempt to convince the state to allow Monterey-based Fiber Connect LLC to complete its system build-out here.

Fiber Connect has already wired about 40 percent of the town, and is continuing until it reaches about 70 percent by the end of the year, according to town Broadband Committee Chairman Cliff Weiss. The company, which is using its own money to wire Monterey, and also 70 percent of Egremont's premises, was not approved as a suitable provider by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, which oversees the state's last-mile funds to help rural towns without access get faster Internet speeds.

 

Minnesota

Lake Shore: City to research broadband service options by Nancy Vogt, Brainerd Dispatch

 

New Mexico

How a rural electric co-op connected a community by Leah Todd, High Country News

By the 1930s, 90 percent of urban dwellers in the U.S. had easy access to electricity. Not so in the rural parts of the country, where only 10 percent of the population had electricity in their homes. Major electric companies said it was too hard to extend electric service to those areas; they couldn’t make enough money.

The New Deal established rural electric cooperatives to do the work the big companies would not. The U.S. set out on a massive subsidy program, offering low-interest loans to rural electric co-ops.

“Essentially, rural infrastructure has generally been delivered by nonprofits,” said Chris Mitchell, a researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance who studies cooperatives and other community-led broadband networks. For-profit companies need to make more money than they invest. Co-ops don’t. Any extra revenue over co-ops’ costs simply goes back into the service, or to co-op members. Now, nearly 100 years since the New Deal, more than 1,000 nonprofit telephone and electric cooperatives operate in rural America.

Small towns look for a road forward, paved with fiber-optic by Kate Shimel, High Country News

Co-Ops Bridge The Digital Divide In Rural N.M. by Marisa DeMarco, KUNM

 

New York

NYC Official Quits FCC Broadband Committee, Alleging Industry Bias by Bevin Fletcher, CED Magazine

 

Pennsylvania

Rural Pa. demands broadband access; providers cite logistical difficulties by Min Xian, WHYY

 

Tennessee

Congress's Biggest Opponent of Net Neutrality Is Getting Destroyed in Midterm Election Polls by Karl Bode, Motherboard Vice

While competition for the telecom corruption crown is fierce, it’s hard to find a politician more beholden to big ISPs than Blackburn. Blackburn has hoovered up telecom sector campaign cash for years, then loyally and routinely opposed every and any effort to hold uncompetitive telecom giants accountable for anti-competitive behavior and poor service.

 

Texas

Rural customers lag as broadband Internet sprints ahead by J.B. Smith, Waco Tribune

 

Virginia

Broadband Internet expanding in remote areas in Dinwiddie, Amelia counties by Megan Woo, NBC 12

 

West Virginia

Designation may hurt broadband initiatives by Tim MacVean, The InterMountain

 

General

Watch Out Telcos, There's a New Muni Broadband Wave on the Horizon by Mari Silbey, Light Reading

In the latest wave of municipal interest in broadband network infrastructure, there is general consensus that cities and commercial operators are going to have to find new ways to partner. While a few communities are taking broadband entirely into their own hands, most are actively seeking help from the private sector, recognizing that particularly as the smart city movement gains momentum, local governments aren't best suited to handle the complexity of network operations and the rapid pace of technology change.

ACLU to cities: Provide broadband services to counteract federal rollbacks to net neutrality by Wisconsin Gazette

Mozilla awards final grants from its $1.2 million Community Gigabit Fund by Anna Hensel, VentureBeat

While many communities no longer see gigabit networks as a “silver bullet” that can jumpstart their economy, the adoption of gigabit networks is only quickening. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, more than 130 communities in the U.S. now have a municipal broadband network offering Internet speeds of at least 1 gigabit per second.

Ajit Pai faces heat over proposal to take away poor people’s broadband plans by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Cities to FCC: Stop Undermining Us by Mari Silbey, Light Reading

Reclaiming Our Local Democracy by Christiana McFarland, Cities Speak Blog

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the city is not permitted to extend its municipal broadband service to woefully underserved rural neighbors, despite widespread support from people who live there. The city of St. Petersburg, Florida, is prevented from regulating the plastic bags and drinking straws that litter their waterways and harm wildlife.

In every case, these cities have had their power to solve problems and improve their communities stripped away by their state representatives. These examples are not rare instances — across the country, state legislatures and courts are usurping city authority at alarming rates.

FCC Broadband 'Advisory Panel' Under Fire for Cronyism by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Tags: media roundup

Broadband Communities 2018 Summit April 30th - May 3rd: Still Time To Register

April 9, 2018

Spring refuses to appear here in Minnesota, home of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative team. The lingering snow and ice makes the 2018 Broadband Communities Summit seem super nice — it will be located in warm, sunny Austin. You can still register online for the opportunity to attend the event; this year’s theme is FIBER: Putting your Gigs To Work.

The program has been taking shape as new panelists and topics have been added to the agenda for the 4-day event.

As usual, Christopher will be at the event to answer questions, direct conversations, and tackle both new and persisting issues that relate to connectivity. On May 1st at 3p.m., he’ll be presenting as part of the "Economic Development Track Blue Ribbon Panel" along with Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D., from the Center for Technology Innovation Brookings Institution and Will Rhinehart, Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum. Lev Gonick, CIO from Arizona State University, will be leading the discussion.

Later that day, Christopher will also be leading a panel titled "Creating a Tech Ecosystem," which brings together community leaders from different areas of the country who discuss the elements that complement broadband infrastructure. They have a conversation that includes supporting start-ups, developing a tech workforce, investors, incubators, accelerators and youth/adult tech programs. 

Look for Christopher to participate in other discussions and sit in on other panels. You can also check out who else will be speaking at the Summit; it’s a long list that covers a broad range of expertise.

So Many Topics

A few of the other topics that will be tossed around by the long list of presenters include:

  • Electric Cooperatives
  • Open Access
  • IoT
  • MDUs
  • Rural Broadband

Topics are organized into tracks, so if you're attending the Summit in search of answers related to a specific area, it's easier to organize your day. If you're interests are broader, you may have a hard time deciding which panels and discussions to attend.

CLIC Special Program

The first day of the event, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) plans to bring community leaders from different organizations and entities across the U.S. to discuss why local authority for telecommunications is critically important. They’ll present “The Vital Role of Local Internet Choice” on the afternoon of April 30th, which includes a panel discussion on local authority and preemption along with a conversation about the community of Westminster and their partnership with Ting Internet. Christopher will also be involved in CLIC’s discussion, "What’s Next," which closes out the CLIC program.

With three weeks left, you have plenty of time to make plans for Austin. Register for the event, to be held at the Renaissance Hotel — there’s still time.

 

 

Image of Austin Evening by Argash [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: eventconferencebroadband communities magazinejim ballerjoanne hoviscoalition for local internet choicechristopher mitchell

Read The Indigenous Connectivity Summit Community Report

April 6, 2018

In November 2017, about 200 people attended the first Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The summit brought together activists, network administrators, researchers, and many more to consider the successes and challenges in improving Internet access in indigenous communities. The Internet Society has released the Indigenous Connectivity Summit Community Report outlining next steps on leaving the summit.

I was on the ground in Santa Fe and experienced first-hand the collaborative discussions that took place. Although brief, this report contains the key takeaways from these conversations. The saying, “for the Community, with the Community, by the Community,” appears as a title in the report and was a constant refrain during the summit. If we are to have affordable, reliable Internet access in our communities, we must have an active role in creating the solution.

Highlights from the Report

The ten page document outlines recommendations on what will make this possible. Some of these action items are creating sustainable connectivity and building capacity within our communities. Policies that can support these goals include making spectrum easier to access, developing collaborative backhaul solutions, and collecting better data on connectivity. 

The report underscores how Internet access relates to native nations’ autonomy and self-determination. Internet access can support cultural revitalization and language preservation as well as economic development. The summit offered a creative space to dive into the details and learn from one another. 

More Info

Read the report on the Internet Society’s website or download it here If you want to get into more details or to experience the summit for yourself, watch a recording of the event:

 

2018 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Community ReportTags: tribal networktribal landsnative americansconferencenew mexicosanta fe

New Legislation Paves Way For Port Of Ridgefield's Dark Fiber Network

April 5, 2018

In March, Washington state legislators passed HB 2664 and sent it on to Governor Jay Inslee, who signed the bill on March 22nd. In the Port of Ridgefield, where the community has been developing plans for a dark fiber network, the community had advocated for the change. Now that the law will be changing for the better, they’re ready to pursue the partnerships they need to spur economic development and improve connectivity for residents and businesses.

Not A New Idea In The Port Of Ridgefield

Back in 2016, we reported how town officials from the Port of Ridgefield had already started setting aside funds to invest in a 42-mile dark fiber loop. The quality of residential and business Internet access options in the community depended on where a premise was located. The community’s Vice President of Innovation Nelson Holmberg described connectivity in the Port of Ridgefield as a “mixed bag”.

The port already had some fiber in place, as many do for communications between facilities and other uses, and port officials wanted to integrate those assets into the design of the new infrastructure. At the time, state law would only allow "rural" ports to use their fiber in any partnership agreements designed to offer connectivity to people or entities outside of the port districts. The Port of Ridgefield did not qualify as "rural". After advocacy from officials from the Port of Ridgefield and other ports around the state, legislators passed HB 2664, which amends the law to remove the restriction. All ports will soon be able to enter into wholesale arrangements with ISPs interested in leasing dark fiber to offer telecommunications services to the public.

Big Plans In Ridgefield

Last fall, the community in Clark County received a $50,000 grant from Washington’s Economic Revitalization Board, which they used to complete a feasibility study. There are approximately 7,000 people in and around the City of Ridgefield, which disqualified the port because it was not "rural" enough, in keeping with the law prior to HB 2664. Large ISPs, however, don’t consider Ridgefield densely populated enough to justify investment in the kind of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity businesses need. The community needed to do something to step out between the rock and the hard place.

“Limited broadband service here has left our community at a competitive disadvantage relative to retaining and attracting business, and it has hampered our educational institutions in delivering current, quality content,” said Port of Ridgefield Vice President, Innovation Nelson Holmberg. “That’s why we’ve been pushing hard to get a change to that law, and we’re excited our efforts have paid off.”

Community leaders’ consider a dark fiber network an important piece of their plans to inject economic development into the Discovery Corridor, one of the projects the Port of Ridgefield is developing. In the early 2000s, the Port Commission purchased 75 acres of land northeast of where I-5 passes through the town of Ridgefield. They are transforming the area to attract new businesses; the dark fiber loop will run through the Discovery Corridor.

Clark College and healthcare provider PeaceHealth Southwest are scheduled to begin new campuses in the area within the next year; they will need the kind of connectivity only available from fiber. The network is planned to also reach to the Vancouver campus of Washington State University, about 11 miles to the south along I-5.

Getting To It

As soon as a legislatively imposed 90-day waiting period ends, the Port of Ridgefield is ready to release a bid request for the project, hopefully by the end of June. At this point, the port has already earmarked approximately $1 million to dedicate to the $2.5 million project. They’re taking an incremental approach and hope to make at least some areas of the network available to lease to ISPs by the end of 2018. Holmberg tells us that the port’s capital budget for the next five years includes construction of the network and that: 

[C]apital comes from operating revenue, tax revenue and real estate sales over the past decade or so that is set aside in our capital planning for the purpose of constructing facilities that aim to create jobs in the port district.  

The Ports Of Washington

In 1911, the state passed the Washington Public Ports Act, which allows residents to form port districts and elect commissioners. The people of Ridgefield waited almost 30 years to form their port with the intention to spur economic development in the city of Ridgefield and in the region. Since establishing the port district, the community has expanded it several times by purchasing additional parcels of land.

Holmberg describes the port as a municipal corporation that works closely with the city and Clark County, but is a separate agency. Three elected commissioners govern the agency and a CEO operates it and manages the staff, which includes eight people. Officials at the port anticipate the Discovery Corridor as a location for new industries that need fiber optic connectivity. 

“We’re going to start seeing manufacturing I think, that’s my hunch, with the vocational training that Clark College will offer,” Holmberg said. “Advanced composites, advanced manufacturing interest — a lot if it is going to be sparked by this new push for broadband infrastructure.”

Interested Parties

Holmberg tells us that he and the Port of Ridgefield have been talking with interested ISPs over the past year. In addition to some of the large national corporate companies, small local ISPs have approached him to learn more.

Image of Port of Ridgefield Waterfront at morning with flock of birds courtesy of the Port of Ridgefield.

Tags: port of ridgefielddark fiberwashingtonlegislationhb 2664 waeconomic developmentleasestate lawspartnership

Gainesville, Florida, Releases Invitation To Negotiate; Responses Due April 23rd

April 4, 2018

About a year ago, the folks in Gainesville, Florida, decided to commission a feasibility study to explore the pros and cons of various municipal network models. Residents had had enough with the high rates from incumbent Cox Communications. City leaders and leadership at Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRUCom) recently released an invitation for qualified businesses to negotiate (ITN) an agreement for services in their search for fast, affordable, reliable broadband throughout the community. Responses are due April 23rd.

They Got GATORNET

Apartments and businesses in areas near the University of Florida have access to GATORNET, a fiber network that was established in the 90's. GRUCom had deployed fiber throughout Gainesville and had been offering services to government facilities and some businesses prior to the Gig.U project. In addition to some 600 miles of fiber and a data center in Alachua County, GRUCom provides wireless services.

With all these assets, local community members who were paying high rates for Internet access from incumbent Cox felt that the community should be considering using the fiber to provide competition — and encouraging better rates. Last year the grassroots group, Connected Gainesville, made a potential municipal fiber network an important election issue by pressing candidates for their positions on publicly owned Internet infrastructure investment.

From the press release:

“Through the robust fiber-optic network currently in place, the addition of increased internet speeds and lower costs, will keep Gainesville in a unique position to reduce disparities in our community when it comes to being connected,” said City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, Chair of the Broadband Connectivity Subcommittee.  “The process will also allow us to explore new ways to further develop plans for smart city applications, infrastructure and communications systems in collaboration with private firms.”

Interested firms are encouraged to contact Clint Lockhart, Senior Buyer at LockhartCM(at)GRU.com or (352) 393-1250.  

Responses are due April 23rd, 2018.

Tags: gainesvillegainesville regional utilitiesfloridagig.urfprfi

Neighbors Helping Neighbors For Fiber In Rural Tennessee: Newport And Morristown Join Forces - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 300

April 3, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 300 - Sharon Kyser from Newport Utilities and Jody Wigington from Morristown Utilities System

An increasing interest in publicly owned network projects has also spurred an increase in creative collaborations as communities work together to facilitate deployment, especially in rural areas. This week, we talk with Sharon Kyser, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for Newport Utilities (NU) in Newport, Tennessee, and Jody Wigington, General Manager and CEO of Morristown Utility Systems (MUS), also in Tennessee, for episode 300 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We’ve written about MUS Fibernet and had Jody on the show several times to talk about how they built their own network and the ways it has improved the electric utility and helped the community. Now, they’ve entered into a partnership with their neighbors in Newport, who also want to reap the benefits of public ownership. Sharon tells us how the people in Newport need better services, economic development, and how her organization is working with MUS to make that vision a reality.

The two communities are working together to develop a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for residents and businesses in the NU service area. MUS is offering the expertise they’ve developed over the past 12+ years along with other technical and wholesale services that will greatly reduce costs and deployment time for NU. This is an example of rural communities sticking together and is an example we hope to see more often in the future.

In the interview, Jody also mentions a partnership in the works with Appalachian Electric Cooperative; we spoke to him and General Manager Greg Williams about the proposed collaboration for episode 203 of the podcast. Listen to that conversation here.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

Tags: morristownnewport tntennesseepartnershipruralcollaborationmuniMUS FiberNETutilityaudiopodcastbroadband bitsFTTH

North Carolina League of Municipalities Releases Report On Better Connectivity Through Partnerships

April 3, 2018

The North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) released a report in March with several recommendations designed to help the state boost connectivity for residents, businesses, and organizations. NCLM Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia and CTC Technology and Energy President Joanne Hovis authored the report that offers policy changes to encourage smart partnerships.

Download the report, Leaping theDigital Divide: Encouraging Policies and Partnership to Improve Broadband Access Across North Carolina.

The report dedicates time describing different public-private partnership models and the elements that make them distinct. In recent years, the term has been used to describe a broad spectrum of arrangements. We've highlighted partnerships in places like Westminster, Maryland, and Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, where both partners invest and share in risk and reward.

The North Carolina Situation

Wynia and Hovis spend time on the gap of coverage in rural areas vs coverage in urban areas. They compare data from the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office and the FCC’s form 477. The authors explain why FCC data is so flawed and provide examples of real people who’s lives are impacted due to access to broadband, or lack of it, in their community.

Fiber is the best option for future-proof, fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Wynia and Hovis compare fiber to other technologies and explain we can’t let hype cloud our long-term thinking. We were happy to supply our map of private ISP fiber availability in North Carolina so readers can see where it’s currently deployed in the state.

The report looks at the state’s existing law that limits local authority regarding municipal broadband infrastructure. As the authors point out, state law does not expressly address local communities’ authority as it relates to public-private partnerships. They recommend the law be clarified to allow municipalities the unquestionable authority to raise and spend funds on broadband infrastructure. They also recommend communities be expressly allowed to lease the infrastructure to private sector partners.

Wynia and Hovis also recommend that state law be amended to ease current restrictions on cooperatives that wish to offer broadband service. As we addressed in our report, North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, North Carolina electric cooperatives have their hands tied by financial limitations from state law. These barriers need to be resolved. Rural cooperatives are quickly emerging as a strong force for fiber optic deployment in areas where traditional corporate ISPs won’t serve.

The authors also recommend that the state establish a grant fund, similar to the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program, that would allow entities to compete for resources to help deploy infrastructure projects.

From the report conclusion:

Two decades into the digital revolution, it has become clear that private-sector solutions alone are not going to close this gap, and that large private-sector providers and their investments will continue to primarily focus on densely-populated areas. At the same time, local governments – as experienced providers and builders of infrastructure – are uniquely positioned to help close the digital divide. They cannot accomplish that task though without help at the state policy level.

At a March 21st news conference to share recommendations from the report, NCLM President Michael Lazzara said:

“Broadband is crucial 21st century infrastructure, no different than water and sewer, electricity and roads. It is critical that everyone have access to it, and that businesses in towns and cities of all sizes have access to the internet speeds that they require to conduct commerce across the country and around the globe.”

Download the report and read the recomendations for North Carolina.

Video from the press March 21st press conference:

 

Image of the Wilson, North Carolina Train Station by DanTD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Leaping the Digital Divide: Encouraging Policies and Partnership to Improve Broadband Access Across North Carolina Map of Private Providers' Residential & Business Fiber in North Carolina from ILSRTags: north carolinanorth carolina league of municipalitiesreportdigital dividepartnershipjoanne hovisstate lawsstate policyvideo

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 2

April 2, 2018

California

LA Councilmember Proposes Municipal Broadband Feasibility Study by Zack Quaintance, GovTech

San Francisco Taps Citywide Internet in Bid to Close the Digital Divide by Mickey McCarter, StateTech Magazine

Only government intervention can truly close the digital divide, San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell declared in a keynote address at Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo in Kansas City, Mo., this week.

Over the past four years, San Francisco has been planning a fiber project to do just that, Farrell said.

“We fancy ourselves as the innovation capital of the world, yet we have communities in our city that are getting left further and further behind,” he said.

Roughly 100,000 San Francisco residents have no internet access, and 15 percent of public school students lack internet access. African American and Latino students face even greater disparity as 30 percent of them lack internet access.

 

Colorado

Improving the next National Broadband Map by Rep. Jared Polis and Jessica Rosenworcel, Sky Hi News

Every map tells a story. In the 1860s, maps were key to establishing Colorado Territory's place in the gold rush. In the 1970s the state's residents decided to map a course from Durango to Denver, which was eventually christened The Colorado Trail. It's justifiably known as mile-for-mile one of the most beautiful pathways in the country.

Today, the most important maps for our Centennial State are different than those that came before. Instead of marking majestic peaks and valleys, they map out the digital future by showing where high-speed internet or broadband is available—and where it is not. Having maps that detail broadband deployment is vital for economic development in Colorado—and beyond. That's because to have a fair shot at 21st century success, every community needs access to high-speed internet.

Cortez City Council to vote on broadband pilot program by Stephanie Alderton, The Cortez County Journal

Colorado rural broadband gets help on two fronts: General Assembly and Congress by Marianne Goodland, Durango Herald

Colorado State University to host public forum on net neutrality by Kelly Ragan, Coloradoan

 

Maine

Isolated Maine islands get $1.3M grant for broadband project by Associated Press

 

Maryland

Better access to Internet available to students in Montgomery County by Justin Ward, WDBJ-7

Baltimore City Council President wants to explore municipal broadband by Stephen Babcock, Technical.ly Baltimore

 

Massachusetts

State Senators Clash With Telecom Providers Over Net Neutrality Rules by Colin A. Young, WBUR

 

Michigan

When They Couldn’t Afford Internet Service, They Built Their Own by J. Gabriel Ware, Yes! Magazine

 

Minnesota

Dayton pushes for more broadband expansion money by Don Davis, Duluth News Tribune

 

New York

Satellite isn’t the answer for universal broadband by Paul Reese, Sun Community News

NYC official resigns from 'unproductive' FCC broadband committee by Colin Wood, StateScoop

 

North Carolina

City and county see modest population growth by Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Times

Close the internet access gap in rural NC by News & Observer Editorial Board

 

Virginia

Mid-Atlantic Broadband hires new director of economic development and community engagement by Charles Wilborn, Go Dan River

 

Washington

Governor Signs Broadband Bill by Mia Carlson, Daily Fly 

 

West Virginia

7 WV counties ineligible for broadband program after report claimed 100% access by Max Garland, WV Gazette Mail

Shortcomings in federal data on internet access may slow down West Virginia’s race for better connection speeds.

Funds from a $1.98 billion federal program to expand rural internet access will not be used in the West Virginia counties a report claimed had 100 percent access to a fixed broadband connection.

Much of West Virginia’s southern half is eligible for funding through the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II, along with its panhandles. Through the fund, internet providers will be able to bid via an auction on establishing a broadband connection in unserved areas throughout the country, sorted by census blocks.

Local partnerships seek to increase access to broadband by JoAnn Snoderly, WV News

Statistics can lie — and the FCC's broadband data does by John Miller, WV News

Our attempts to increase broadband access in this state seem to always be taking one step forward and two steps back. The latest issue centers on a report from the Federal Communications Commission that shows Harrison, Lewis, Barbour, Marion, Randolph, Upshur and Gilmer counties all have 100 percent broadband access.

This is 100 percent wrong.

 

General

Preemption Threatens Economic Development and Innovation by National League of Cities Staff

The Broadband Boost Small-Town America Needs by Alex Marshall, Governing

They are mostly towns you’ve probably never heard of, places like Sandy, Ore., Leverett, Mass., Lafayette, La., and Longmont, Colo. Yet these smaller communities, and hundreds more like them, have something even the techiest big cities such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle don’t have: widespread, fast and well-priced broadband service.

Big cities usually have the edge in the traditional drivers of economic development. They have the universities, the sports teams, the big airports, the interstate highway access, the ports. But in arguably the most forward-looking part of the economy, some smaller localities have the edge. They made it for themselves by developing their own broadband networks, typically employing the latest fiber-optic technology. “I believe over the next three to five years people are no longer going to be surprised that some small cities have much better internet access than big cities,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, whose national map shows more than 500 communities with some type of publicly owned network.

AT&T/Verizon lobbyists to “aggressively” sue states that enact net neutrality by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Why Can’t the U.S. Government Make a Decent Broadband Map? By Eric Null, Slate Magazine

When you’re moving to a new home, one critical question is whether it has access to fast broadband. In those circumstances, it would be nice if you could, say, look to a nationwide map that shows broadband coverage at the address level. But if you visit the website of the National Broadband Map, you will find this notice: “National Broadband Map data is from June 30, 2014 and is not being updated.”

For four years, the map has sat dormant because funding ran out. In February, the Federal Communications Commission released a shiny new map that was supposed to take the place of the old one and offer comprehensive, interactive, consumer-facing information showing broadband availability throughout the United States. But as Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn put it, it’s really just “lipstick on a pig.” Good maps need good data—something that the FCC’s new map lacks. And this isn’t just about convenience for homebuyers: The lack of reliable data leads to faulty understanding of the state of broadband in this country and bad policymaking, which combined have a particularly acute effect on America’s most marginalized communities.

ACLU urges cities to build public broadband to protect net neutrality by Harper Neidig, The Hill

ACLU: Net neutrality can be saved with more local broadband by Roger Cheng, CNET

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 299

April 2, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 299 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Eric Lampland of Lookout Point Communications discusses 5G and the latest technology. Listen to this episode here.

 

Christopher Mitchell: And that's where we are with 5G. It's a very promising technology at a number of different levels.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 299 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. As the conversation about 5G continues to grow, it's important to consider the reality of the technology and not get caught up in the marketing. We asked Eric Lampland, founder and principal of the consulting firm Lookout Point Communications to join us this week. Eric has visited us several other times to talk about technical issues and matters. Community should consider when exploring ways to improve connectivity. Christopher and Eric were presenting at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Telecommunications Conference, and took a few minutes to talk about the technology behind 5G and how it differs from current wireless networks. Christopher and Eric also take time to address some of the hype around claims that 5G will solve the problems of rural connectivity. Eric also answers some of Chris' questions about new passive optical networking developments. This is one of our podcast that focuses on technology rather than policy or specific community. So geeks in the audience will really appreciate the conversation. Check out our other podcast with Eric episodes 80 on indirect cost savings, 128 on open access challenges, and 246 on feasibility studies. Now here's Christopher with Eric Lampland.

Christopher Mitchell: What'd you have for breakfast? Erik?

Eric Lampland: I didn't have breakfast.

Christopher Mitchell: Really? No breakfast?

Eric Lampland: No breakfast.

Christopher Mitchell: I had donuts. I don't know which one of us did better.

Eric Lampland: You brought one to my room.

Christopher Mitchell: Your room, the room in which I invited you to present with me.

Eric Lampland: And exactly and you didn't bring me a donut so I couldn't have had any breakfast.

Christopher Mitchell: That's, that's true. I did not.

Eric Lampland: I mean, there, there it is.

Christopher Mitchell: This is Chris Mitchell with a -- This is a -- this is going to be a-- an open that we keep I think because this is pretty important stuff -- How Eric and I did not have breakfast and that it was my fault that Eric did not have breakfast -- as we are here at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Conference -- the telecommunications conference. Once again, welcome back, Eric.

Eric Lampland: Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Eric Lampland is the founder and principal of lookout point communications. A veteran of our show. And this is the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the institute for Local Self-Reliance, just trying something a little different here or an episode 299 as we head toward 300. And maybe we should have a different intro for once. We'll be interested to see that we're going to be talking today about two things that Eric knows quite a bit about. In fact, we presented this morning on it and that is, what is the future of 5G? This all this 5G wireless stuff that we're talking about and the is what's the next generation of the, uh, of PON, the passive optical networking, that most of the municipal networks that have built fiber networks are using. So excited to talk about that.

Eric Lampland: Both good areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Um, but we're going to start I think with, uh, with just a brief introduction, which is the same thing I said this morning and I think I've said it a number of times and that's that when I started working with communities and building networks and studying what was happening, um, some people suggested to me that I was wasting my time on this fiber thing because Wi-Fi was clearly going to stomp all over it. We wouldn't need a wireline anymore. Wireless was the future. And then Wi-Fi had some very significant limitations and WiMAX was coming along and people said, you fool, stop thinking about fiber optics and these old fashioned wires. WiMAX is going to do everything is going to be amazing. Just you wait, when that didn't happen, those same people said to me 4G LTE, very exciting long term evolution. You can't beat that. Don't need any more wires for sure. Now, now we're talking about 5G. So Eric, just very briefly, am I going to need to worry about wires in the future?

Eric Lampland: Absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: All right. That's what I thought. No, this has been so much. Talk around 5G and there's so much hype around it. I want to be able to talk a little bit about what's actually happening from a slightly technical point of view in a way that everyone will be able to understand, but to get there, I think it helps to just quickly encapsulate what happened with 4g. So what happened with 4g in when I say 4G I want to lump everything together between the marketing and the technology. Just spell it out for us please.

Eric Lampland: To really understand 3G, 4G, or 5G. We need to first look at the industry groups that come together and create these standards and the one that has done this has been 3G PP. It's the 3G Partnership Project in 3G PP obviously started with 3G, but later did 4G and now is doing 5G and when it does that, it does that by issuing various releases which have technical content release one through seven. We're really 3G release eight was almost 4G, but really to get 4G you had to get up to release 12, 13 perhaps guy.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say releases, you mean kind of like when we download software on our computer as like release three, release three point five, or at least for that sort of thing?

Eric Lampland: Exactly. And in each one of those releases that you download to your systems, your software, they have new functions in them and so the releases in 3GPP identify the new things that we do. Right. And how to do them.

Christopher Mitchell: And the G is for generation, right?

Eric Lampland: The G is for generations.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm sure some people were doubting themselves, I know I was.

Eric Lampland: No, that's good. That's good. The point about what happened to 4G is that as we sort of crept up on these ladder, a release levels of, uh, from the 3G PP group. Marketeers in the various different wireless companies started saying, well, we finally arrived at 4G.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I blame t mobile for getting that all started in that case.

Eric Lampland: Well, I don't know about t mobile, but --

Christopher Mitchell: I'm pretty sure it was them.

Eric Lampland: It seemed like all of the carriers piled on pretty quickly.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, definitely.

Eric Lampland: -- but the promises that were made about 4G really were made about later releases 12, 13, and so on. And the actual implementation that was in the field was more like version 8, 9, 10.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? So what you're, what I remember happening was people would say, oh, you're going to have all this incredible stuff and they're talking about like release 13 or 14 when in reality what's out there is release 8, 9, or so.

Eric Lampland: Well said. That's exactly right. Uh, and, and we have the same phenomenon happening with 5G now, and their releases 15 and 16 and 15 is getting close to being resolved. In 16, we're just beginning to understand what work elements should have to be in 16, but until we get to 16, we don't have the full impact of what people think of as 5G.

Christopher Mitchell: And what's more properly is that a lot of the things that we're actually being sold. If you pick up a newspaper or you read a popular news story about 5G, they're probably thinking about multiple releases down the row.

Eric Lampland: Well, in fact, what we have today in the marketplace is we have a combination of experimentation that's going on in the carriers so they can learn what, what are the issues involved in millimeter waves and all of the techie stuff. Uh, and we have proprietary structures that are put out by individual companies that want to sell high capacity wireless. Unfortunately they're all calling that 5G and in reality, none of it is OK.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? And so there's, there's two separate things that have started to fall under the 5G umbrella. One is, as you were mentioning, these high capacity, fixed wireless services, those are often gear that's so expensive. It doesn't really work for single family homes on a business plan, but may work for a large apartment buildings. The sort of things that I'm Netblazer is doing well, Monkey Brains and Webpass was doing before Google bought them and for some reason seems to be running away with um, but, but that's sort of one thing. And I think most of what I think what you're thinking about, what's going through the 3G PP standard, if I understand correctly, is more what the, what will you be getting from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and those guys?

Eric Lampland: Well that's true, but what's important about the fact that it's going through large scale carriers and large scale carriers worldwide as 3G presents its technology to what we call the international telecommunications union part of the UN, is that those standards go worldwide. And the importance of that is that what you have working in the United States should also work in France, should also work in Singapore. Uh, more importantly, you have to have not only what the carriers are doing, but you also have to have the devices that we're carrying around recognize those same frequencies, those same standards, uh, or otherwise, you know, you're Samsung or your apple or your Motorola phone doesn't work with 5G if it doesn't have many antennas and so forth and so on.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? So that's, that's kind of a in a sense, what we're waiting for right now for 5G.

Eric Lampland: Correct.

Christopher Mitchell: And so just to sum up, we don't have the slides in front of us like the, the group that this morning, I have to say I had a lot of praise from folks who thought we did a really good job this morning. So I'm just to pat ourselves on the back briefly in front of his podcast audience, but the timeline here that we have, um, basically the release a 15 is coming, right? And that's going to be the first release for 5G, but that still has to go through all the standard setting process. And then once they're done setting the standard among the companies, then the ITU, the International Telecommunications Union has to ratify that and say, yeah, we all agree to it.

Eric Lampland: Yes. And they actually, um, we talked about that in three stages or three phases. And the first stage of this are actually the specifications about what we're trying to create guy. So when we say millimeter waves, those are defined when we say how much speed at a given antenna, that's a definition. And so on those definitions go guy, that portion of it deals with the radio access network. But behind the radio access network, you also need an architecture that actually moves data, bits around in, so forth and so on. And that is a different group called the ITU-T, and that technology has, has yet to be defined where the specifications for release 15 at stage one or phase one at the ITU we're just done in December.

Christopher Mitchell: So that's a, that's a sense of how this will not just get sped up because people are excited about it. Like there's no, there's not going to be a 5G, a real 5G in 2018 or 2019 because these processes require time.

Eric Lampland: They do, they time and they require some learning as well. And in fact, some of the deployments that people hear about, uh, such as verizon going into Sacramento or t mobile, talking about using a different frequency nationwide. Um, our experiments on the part of the carriers whose purpose is to learn, you know, we, we haven't deployed an international network using millimeter waves using this kind of capacity to various different, uh, and devices and so forth. So w engineers aren't god-like there. They're just the opposite of that. No, no, they come quite close. We were known by being able to fix just today's failure.

Christopher Mitchell: So I think one of the key questions here is, aside from the fact that let's ignore the innate desire in a market economy for the telecommunications companies to just one advertise something new and exciting. I'm in somewhere. In some sense it seems to me that you could just have released 15 and 16 be called 4G. I mean, it seems somewhat arbitrary. Is there really a difference that we're talking about in 5G beyond just faster service to my cell phone?

Eric Lampland: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, the, the criteria for 5G a and as we now know, it, um, is defined primarily by three individual use cases in those use cases. One of those use cases is the one that you would generally hear a great deal about, which is enhanced mobile broadband. So all of those claims for speed and whatnot, um, are in that group, but we also know that right now we need to address and the wireless people are wanting to address a world called Internet of things or better said machine to machine communications. So there is another set of criteria in 5G, uh, that are referred to is enhanced machine type communications.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't understand why for this machine, massive machine type communications. Why can't we just put a lot more devices on 4g? What do we need to change? I mean, I think a lot of us might just intuitively think, well just put more machines on if we need more antennas or whatever. Fine. Like why does, why does something major needs to change to have more machines talking to each other?

Eric Lampland: There are a couple of different reasons for that. I'm the easy one to understand is there are different revenue sources for the carriers and so there needs to be a way of distinguishing that kind of traffic from some other kinds of traffic.

Christopher Mitchell: Ha building relationships. This is the key. This is, this is what makes networks complicated.

Eric Lampland: Yeah. In the end result, a lot of it is about revenue. Now the second thing about machine communications is that quite a large number of machine type communications do not require very much bandwidth. And so if you allocated a particular set of frequencies and capacities to a machine communications that you, uh, allocated to a mobile phone, you may be wasting a great deal of that, uh, overall capacity of that radio.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. If I had dumped 100 environmental sensors on a single access point, the access point is thinking, oh, well maybe I need to be thinking about 10 megabits per, per thing per unit that's connected. And in fact, they may only need 300 kilobits.

Eric Lampland: Exactly, exactly the same. It's exactly the right idea. Different machines require different properties. So you may have some machines that need 300, you may have some machines that need 3000, you may have machines that need a best effort service, and you may have machines that need some fairly low latency and certainly high reliability issues. OK,

Christopher Mitchell: and that's that latency issue is in reliability issue is the third piece that just to recap, because I sort of way laid you on the machine to machine, but the three use cases are. The first one was enhanced mobile broadband, faster services to our cell phones. The second is what we were just talking about, the machine to machine communications, and the third one is the most exciting one.

Eric Lampland: Ah, and that's third one is called ultra low latency, reliable communications guy. Uh, and it's, it's not common that we get a five letter acronym, but that's what it is, right? Or I don't know how you'd pronounce it, but in that particular area we're talking about communication responses that have a latency of under, of, at or under one, one millisecond. Uh, and that's extraordinarily fast in comparison. Today's to today's standards,

Christopher Mitchell: right? One of the things that gamers on wired networks really care about is they're paying their latency and if they're done at like 15, 20 milliseconds, they're really happy. You're talking about really faster than that,

Eric Lampland: Really faster than that. Even in a 5G enhanced mobile broadband, a, we're shooting for a latency target of four milliseconds, but for some applications in particularly applications dealing with cars guy, we're down into these very low latency areas because as you drive along any, any highway now and various different cell towers along the way, you get handed off from one tower to the next tower. Well, depending on how fast you drive and whether or not it's a Tesla or whatever the case may be, you really want that response to be fairly quick and you don't want to have to deal with all the timing issues dealing with hand-offs. But there are lots of other reasons to have low written low latency. That's just one example of

Christopher Mitchell: Right. But I think that gives a sense of how people think of 5G. I think it's intuitive to think, oh, it's just about faster speeds, but it's not. It's really about moving us into a new world and yet we will still need wires in this world.

Eric Lampland: Well, in fact, the, the specifications that were done in December, uh, require that a given wireless access point guy has a capacity of 20 gigabits per second that supports that particular access point and the only thing that does that today is fiber. So we've got fiber to those wireless antennas.

Christopher Mitchell: So the last thing I want to talk about with 5G is a thing called spectral efficiency. And this, this I think deals with within a very important issue, which is that it sort of gets back to this issue of 5Gs going to solve everything in these claims that are made by lobbyists to state legislators to the FCC. These lobbyists for the wireless companies want us to believe that 5g will solve every problem that we have, that it is going to be amazing in rural areas. It's gonna, it's gonna break through any, any RF challenges that we have today. Um, so w, what is spectral efficiency and how does it fit into all of this?

Eric Lampland: No, spectral efficiency really refers to the carrying capacity of a given network. So we refer to the frequencies on spectrum as some multiple of Hertz, Hertz being a cycle, um, uh, in the greater number of cycles you have, the higher the frequency is. So currently when you think in terms of Wi-Fi, um, that most people are familiar with, you have 2.4 billion hertz or 2.4 Gigahertz frequency is the slow one and 5 Gigahertz frequency is the fast one with 5G we're in millimeter ranges. So you're the two favored a ones are 29 Gigahertz, 29 billion hertz or above a, something in the range of 20 to a hundred gigahertz. The question is within that particular frequency range. If I carve out a hundred megahertz or a half a billion megahertz and I'm on a frequency of, of 29 Gigahertz, let's say 29 to 29 point 5Guy, then I have that kind of range. And if my spectral efficiency on a given Hertz guy is 30 bits per hertz, which is the target overall, OK, then I'd have that, that 500 times 30 and I'd have that many bits per second across the wire. So spectral efficiency times the bandwidth allocation is equal to the bits delivered.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? And so, I mean, it's easier when you're looking at the equation, but I think one of the, one of the keys is that it's somewhat intuitive is that if you're spectral efficiency is really good, you're at 30 bits per hertz and if it's not, then your lower, let's say 10 bits per hertz and that means that you're roughly one third the capacity or worse.

Eric Lampland: That's correct. OK. And so the targets that people talk about for some of those environments would include in house, in home a hot spots. And the target for that is nine Spec, the spectral efficiency of nine. So a third of the 30, if you will. OK,

Christopher Mitchell: I'm a bit surprised to hear that it's just nine because I mean it is the 30 just perfect laboratory conditions in and we, in real world, we don't, we don't get to that

Eric Lampland: or you can think of it that way. Um, there are other things that happen within a house that is going to knock down your efficiency of getting it through. The most common thing that knocks down spectral efficiency is distance. The more distance you have, the less bits per second you're going to deliver at that far end point.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm glad that won't be a problem in rural areas.

Eric Lampland: So in rural areas, the spectral efficiency that is targeted is three point three bits per hertz.

Christopher Mitchell: All right, so have you thought, have you thought by household was bad at 30 percent of the, of the 30 boy, now you're looking at 10 percent.

Eric Lampland: Yes. If, if a calculation at 30 bits per hertz and delivered to you, a gigabit guy, then the same signal in a rural environment should get you maybe something like a hundred meg, but in truth there is very little that is expected to be in the gigabit range on 5G. In fact the target for end users is a hundred megabits, so it's more like if it was a hundred megabits on the 30 bits per hertz and it would be something in the area about 10 megabits by the time you delivered in a rural environment.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and, and one of the things that I would guess, and I don't, I wonder if the 3.3 figure for spectral efficiency takes into account is that, you know, it's, it's one thing to have to go through trees and other obstacles. It's another thing to have to go to distance, but if you're going a long distance and hitting obstacles, boy you're in a world of hurt. Is that, that's, that's why it's three point three or is that something that we would expect it for some people to be much worse?

Eric Lampland: No, I think that those are good to think about. You know, how that signal travels in through what it travels affects its efficiency.

Christopher Mitchell: What I'm hearing is that 5G might not be the savior that some self interested people when it claim that it is. Yeah. Although it is, it is worth noting that it is, as we've discussed here, important, it is necessary and we're excited about it, but we just don't want to be unrealistically, you. I'm just hyping a bubble.

Eric Lampland: Well in, in that's where we are with 5G. it's a very promising technology at a number of different levels. We will need it. If you're a urban transportation vehicle is an electric self driving car that uses vehicle to everything, a communications which is 5G and you drive it from a major metropolitan area down into a far rural area. It's going to be a question of whether or not that car is actually working properly.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to say I have my doubts about some of this stuff with electric cars. I think the low latency or it's going to be all kinds of things that are important. I think that when we look at security and other things, I actually think that the vehicle, the vehicle, low latency stuff will turn out to be less important. I think of it in some ways as in the in the eighties when computer programmers and computer aficionados wanted to explain to people why computers are so exciting, they would say, well, in the future you can store your recipes on them. That was one of the things and and, and there's all kinds of ways for people who are not watching. I may have just killed Eric. My recipes are, so there's all these things that we can do. I think that when we have ultra low frequency networks, we will find all kinds of ways to use them. I'm just not convinced it's going to be the cars in part because I don't want a car that falls apart if the radio system stops,

Christopher Mitchell: I'm working.

Christopher Mitchell: So anyway, that's an example Eric's been using. I've been biting my tongue and now I just, I couldn't do it anymore. Eric, while I have you here, I'm sequestered in Des Moines. Um, I, I wonder actually one other thing which is um, you know, we talked about 5G and how it's uh, it's very exciting and what the realistic course of it is, but there's also something else and you've done a lot of presentations on this and that's the next generation of passive optical networking or PON, which is, you know, it's how Chattanooga's network works. That's how the majority of fiber to the home in the country works. And this is not taking sides among those active ethernet partisans. But I just wanted to get a sense of what's next for the PONs that we should care about.

Eric Lampland: Well, there are really two protocols coming forward. One is referred to as XGS PON. In XGS PON it's 10 gigabits down to some end device, a splitter typically and 10 gigabits back. So that compares to GPON, which is two and a half gig down in one point, and two gig back. Yeah,

Christopher Mitchell: right. And so I, as you said, that was to the splitter. So there's some sort of magic wizardry. We don't have to go into, I shouldn't say magic wizardry around an engineer, but there's some kind of technology that um, that is for, for instance, uh, if you're getting a gigabit network service from a passive optical network, really you're sharing 2.4 gigs with your neighbors, but it's arranged in such a way that you can get a gigabit peak if you need it. And so now we're going to be seeing with this, with this particular standard, this one XGS PON

Eric Lampland: So XGS PON is 10 gigabits in both directions. It's symmetrical. And the, the other standard is called Next Generation PON 2, NGPON2. It is made up of wavelengths each being 10 gigabits in both directions. So because it's made up by wavelengths in the implementations we're seeing use for wavelengths, but the standard needs a allows up to eight guy. If those four wavelengths all go to a singular endpoint, that particular endpoint would be receiving 40 gigabits. Wow. So knock your socks off, knock your socks off. And so if you're a company on upon network, that's really not an unrealistic speed in some cases, but there are all sorts of things that you can do with NGPON2 such as a, if you're receiving a given wavelength, cool, we'll call it red guy in red fails, maybe you just turn up blue and you have that service back. Uh, so you can tune those up from, uh, the same OLT or separate OLTs and so forth. And so on. A. So there's flexibility there. The difference is that XGS PON is implemented today primarily because it's a stable 10 Gig, a laser involved guy with a n, d pond to you have to have tune-able lasers, so you turn to that red wave or the blue labour, the green wave or whatever. And those are a bit more expensive these days.

Christopher Mitchell: Is that, is that a way of. I think in some ways the holy grail for you and I, as we think about the world, would want to live in. We would have one physical connection to our home. Um, maybe, maybe a choice in that, but the point would be that we would have multiple services available over at least one connection to our home right now. It seems like the way networks are designed, if you did that, your services could compete with each other and kind of fight with each other. With this technology. Seems like you might be able to have a single ISP that allows multiple services to, that aren't even aware of each other.

Eric Lampland: You could try that with NGPON2, um, the bigger motivations for NGPON2 are really, um, motivations that deal with what is that end device we're trying to get to? Is that a commercial entity? Is that possibly a cellular antenna? For example, we were talking in 5G about requiring a 20 Gig path from the antenna down. Well, that's two NGPON2 wavelengths. One of the goals with NGPON2 is to be able to develop a network that supports all of the services that we're trying to deliver, whether they happen to be wireless services, data center to data center services, home services, commercial services, and the like.

Christopher Mitchell: Also, there's a business case which is in an excessively partisan country. You could tell someone, I'm only delivering your service on the red wave one, and to a more liberal person you can say I'm only gonna. Use The blue wave length. And for those people in the middle you can say, luck. You could use both red and blue and get yourself some purple.

Eric Lampland: I don't think anyone's going to do that, but it's an interesting use case to kick around.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you so much for coming on. I think this might be the most entertaining of the in-depth technical episodes that we've done.

Eric Lampland: Well, thanks Chris. Good talking to you.

Christopher Mitchell: I really appreciate you spending the time to come up and talk about this after we already did it this morning. And then I definitely want to thank Curtis Dean down here for putting together this show, at the IAMU and recommend that folks look at it for next year. It's -- it's an event in Des Moines. It's easy to get to. It's a great hotel year after year. It's good to small conference where you can talk to people that are actually doing stuff. I, I really liked this event so, so thanks for that.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Eric Lampland from Lookout Point Communications for more check out lookoutpt.com. We have transcripts from this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts --Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules. podcasts you can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons, and we also want to thank you for listening to episode 299 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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West Virginia Editor Urges Federal Elected Officials To Act On Sloppy FCC Data

April 2, 2018

The application window for the Connect America Fund (CAF) II Auction recently closed among debate about eligibility criteria. A recent editorial from the WVNews, where multiple counties were hit hard by flawed FCC data, urged their federal elected officials to act before rural residents lose more funding opportunities.

Wha’ Happened?

As multiple experts have shown, the Form FCC data collection uses an overly broad measurement by relying on census blocks to show areas with broadband service. The FCC has admitted that their methodology overstates who does or does not have FCC defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. This year, seven West Virginia counties that hoped to access CAF II funding have been deemed ineligible because the new FCC Form 477 data indicates that each county has 100 percent broadband access.

Folks in the region are reasonably confused, concerned, and upset. In 2015, the FCC’s data indicated that these same areas were underserved and there have been no deployments to cause such a seismic change.

The editors at the WVNews noted that the chairman of the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council described the new FCC determination as “not even close to being correct” and that he had predicted there might be difficulty obtaining CAF II funding.

The president of a local fixed wireless provider offered a useful analogy:

“The problem is, with the Form 477, if one person in that census block gets [broadband], then that whole census block is counted as served…That’s like saying if someone in the U.S. has access to fresh lobster, then they all do. That’s just not really true.”

He also described the dilemma companies like his face because they might want to apply for funding:

“The very data we’re turning in to the FCC that they mandate from a funding standpoint can turn out to be your worst enemy…You turn it in and may say, ‘I shot myself in the foot.’ It’s a complex problem, and I’m sure it’ll have a complex answer.”

Their Own Testing

Last fall, the Broadband Enhancement Council launched their own speed test. Their goal was to share the data with the FCC to help create a more accurate picture of what Internet access is like in West Virginia. Before the data can be useful, however, more people need to take the speed test, especially from the seven counties that the FCC have deemed ineligible for CAF II funding. Those counties are Barbour, Gilmer, Harrison, Lewis, Marion, Randolph and Upshur.

At a meeting in early March, Hinton told the Enhancement Council:

“I know there are inaccuracies with the [FCC report’s] data, and there are also myriad inaccuracies with the speed test data….Somewhere in the middle, we may end up finding some common ground comparing the two, a more reliable assessment of where broadband service is and where it isn’t.”

Bad Stats

In his WVNews editorial, Executive Editor John Miller addresses the issue of the FCC’s unreliable data and reminds us that sloppy approaches have consequences for people living in rural West Virginia and in other places:

Our attempts to increase broadband access in this state seem to always be taking one step forward and two steps back. The latest issue centers on a report from the Federal Communications Commission that shows Harrison, Lewis, Barbour, Marion, Randolph, Upshur and Gilmer counties all have 100 percent broadband access.

This is 100 percent wrong.

The FCC uses Census data which, if it shows one person in a Census block having access to broadband service, then everyone else in that block is assumed to be covered as well.

We all know what happens when we assume.

[A]t this point, the loss of any funding could apply the brakes to our efforts to get everyone connected.

We strongly urge the West Virginia delegation in Congress to work with the FCC to straighten out this problem because, otherwise, many areas of the state have a lot to lose.

 

Tags: west virginiafccruralconnect america funddataeditorial

ACLU Report: Publicly Owned Networks Offer Better Connectivity And So Much More

March 30, 2018

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ALU) examines municipal networks as a way to protect network neutrality and privacy, and to improve local access to broadband. The report, titled The Public Internet Option, offers information on publicly owned networks and some of the most common models. The authors also address how community networks are better positioned to preserve privacy, bring equitable Internet access across the community, and honor free speech. There are also suggestions on ways to begin a local community network initiative.

Read the full report.

Preserving Online Expectations

The ACLU report dives into the changes the current FCC have made that have created an online environment hostile toward preserving privacy and innovation. When FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican Commissioners chose to repeal federal network neutrality protections, they handed a obscene amount of power to already overly-powerful corporate ISPs. Ever since that decision, local communities have been looking for alternatives.

Authors of the report describe the ways local communities are using their existing assets and investing in more infrastructure in order to either offer connectivity themselves or work with private sector partners. In addition to having the ability to require network neutrality from partners, communities with their own infrastructure are able to take measures to protect subscribers’ data and implement other privacy protections. The current administration removed privacy protections for subscribers in 2017.

The ACLU offers best practices that rely on three main principles:

1. High-speed broadband must be accessible and affordable for all.

2. Community broadband services must protect free speech. 

3. Community broadband services must protect privacy.

Within each principle, the report offers specific information and considerations. As we would expect from the ACLU, they cover the principles as they intercept between individual freedoms, human rights, and the practicalities of municipal networks. We were happy to help out with information from our map and articles, and we're pleased the authors suggest MuniNetworks.org as a clearinghouse of information to get people started on educating themselves.

From the conclusion:

There are many reasons for Americans to want their municipalities to offer broadband directly or indirectly to their residents. With internet service becoming ever more central to modern social, political, economic, and political life, access to functional and affordable broadband, like access to running water and electricity, must be available to all. Given the poor choices offered to so many Americans by corporate broadband carriers, many cities are finding they need to take matters into their own hands. And as the Trump-era FCC works to terminate important protections for the integrity and privacy of communications, many Americans are also deciding they want a broadband provider that they can trust and that is locally accountable and responsive.

As cities respond to these needs by providing internet access, they must take care to respect constitutional values of free speech and privacy and to ensure that access is provided equally to all. And communities that don’t offer Internet services should consider doing so as a way to advance and protect those values.

Download The Public Internet Option.

The Public Internet Option: How Local Governments Can Provide Network Neutrality, Privacy, and Access for AllTags: municommunity broadbandnetwork neutralityprivacydataaclureportuniversal accesslocal

Cortez Community Network Pilot; Ready To Connect Residents

March 29, 2018

Cortez is ready to use its publicly owned infrastructure to begin a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project. At the March 27th City Council meeting, members unanimously approved fees and rates for the Cortez Community Network Pilot, which marks a shift as the city moves to offer retail Internet access to residents and businesses.

Time To Serve Residents

Earlier this month, General Services Director Rick Smith presented information to the City Council about the pilot at a workshop so they could ask in-depth questions. At the workshop, City Manager Shane Hale described the challenges of finding ISPs willing to offer residential Internet access via Cortez’s fiber infrastructure. “We found that there were very few providers that actually wanted to go Fiber-to-the-Home,” he said. “Homeowners are a lot of work.”

The city’s network has provided open access fiber connectivity to municipal and county facilities, schools, community anchor institutions (CAIs), and downtown businesses for years. They officially launched the network in 2011 after serving public facilities and a few businesses on an as-needed basis. A 2015 expansion brought the network allowed Cortez to offer fiber connectivity to more premises. There are at least seven private sector ISPs using the infrastructure to offer services to local businesses.

The open access model will remain for commercial connections in Cortez, but for now the city plans to operate as a retail ISP for residents who sign up on the pilot program. At the March 27th meeting, the City Council established rates for subscribers, who will pay $150 for installation and $60 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for upload and download speeds. Subscribers will also need to rent a GigaCenter Wi-Fi router for $10 per month.

Waiting On The Wings Of The Pilot Program

According to Smith, potential subscribers are already interested in signing up to participate in the pilot program. He told the Cortez Journal that 11 residents were in the process of being connected and 58 residents and businesses had requested broadband through the Cortez Community Network Pilot as of mid-March. Premises where fiber is already in place are eligible to participate.

Cortez is taking the same route as an increasing number of communities that want to improve local connectivity with publicly owned infrastructure. Places like Ellensburg, Washington; Owensboro, Kentucky; and Holland, Michigan, have all engaged in pilot programs to cut their teeth on offering residential Internet access. Cooperatives have also used pilot programs to test out their broadband programs. Launching broadband in a limited fashion before offering it to a wide area allows a cooperative or municipality the opportunity to anticipate challenges and respond proactively.

Looking Forward, Looking Good

With so many years of experience under their belts, Cortez is likely to have no problem contending with challenges that arise during the pilot program. Community leaders are excited about the new venture.

Mayor Karen Sheek said she hoped the program would lead to the city taking a more active role in Internet services.

“I’m so glad that we’ve reached this point because for a long time, I’ve felt that the city should be an ISP,” she said.

Check out our conversation with Rick Smith about the Cortez network from 2014 for the Community Broadband Bits podcast, episode 98.

View the City Resolution establishing rates for the pilot project here.

Watch the City Council discuss the pilot project and the resolution here:

 

Image of Mesa Verde National Park by Tobi 87 (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Cortez City Council Resolution For Pilot RatesTags: cortezcoloradomuniretailFTTHopen access

Tacoma RFI/Q For Partnership: Responses Due April 27th

March 28, 2018

In recent years, leadership in Tacoma, Washington, has debated the future of the Click! Network. They recently released a Request for Information and Qualifications (RFI/Q) to gather ideas and proposals from potential partners. Responses to the RFI/Q are due by April 27.

A Dozen Goals

The Tacoma Public Utility Board and the City Council have established a list of 12 policy goals that they plan to adhere to while moving forward. At the top of the list is, “Continuing public ownership of the telecommunications assets, especially those assets necessary for Tacoma Power operations.” Back in 2015, the Tacoma community began discussing the possibility of leasing out operations of the network. In our four part series, "The Tacoma Click! Saga of 2015", we examined the history, challenges, and potential future of the municipal network.

Other goals are designed so that low-income residents will not be left behind, network neutrality principles are respected, user privacy remains protected, and open access is preserved to encourage competition. The City Council and the Public Utility Board also want to be sure that the infrastructure continues to be used for the city’s power utility and that the telecommunications business operations are financially stable. You can review all the goals on the city’s press release.

Click!

Tacoma invested in its network back in the 1990s. The coaxial cable network passes about 115,000 premises in the Tacoma Power Utility (TPU) service area. In addition to wholesale Internet connectivity in keeping with state law, the network offers cable television service. TPU used the network for smart metering in the past, but is switching to a wireless system, which will only require the fiber backbone. They feel that now is the time to find a partner to take over broadband operations to reduce their operational costs.

The city wants to find a partner that will pick up marketing and increase take rates, upgrade the network when needed, and offer more services to residents and businesses. In their RFI/Q, the city notes that retail ISPs that use the Click! infrastructure account for about 15 percent of the market; incumbents are Comcast and CenturyLink. While Click! passes about 90 percent of the available TPU customer premises in the city of Tacoma, there are still a significant percentage of premises outside of the city that aren’t able to connect to Click!. The city and TPU want to find a way to reach more of TPU electric customers.

For more specific information, check out the full RFI/Q here and read the press release.

Request for Information and Qualifications for Partnership Arrangements For Tacoma's Click! NetworkTags: tacomawashingtonrfirfqpartnershipmuniclick!

Straight Talk About 5G; Potential, Limitations, Hype - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 299

March 27, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 299 - Eric Lampland, Founder and Principal of Lookout Point Communications

If we want to talk technical stuff on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we know Eric Lampland is one of the best guys to call. Eric is Founder and Principal of Lookout Point Communications. Earlier this month, he and Christopher presented information about 5G at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Telecommunications Conference. They took some time during the conference to sit down with the mics and have a conversation for episode 299 of the podcast.

There’s been scores of hype around the potential of 5G and, while the technology certainly opens up possibilities, Eric and Christopher explain why much of that hype is premature. 5G networks have been touted as an affordable answer to the pervasive problem of rural connectivity, but like other wireless technology, 5G has limitations. Eric breaks down the differences between evolutions of wireless technologies up to now and explains what needs they will fulfill and where we still have significant work to do.

Eric also helps us understand GPON and NG-PON2, the technology that much of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) relies upon. He describes how the technology is evolving and how new possibilities will influence networking.

For information on 5G, we recommend you check out these resources from Next Century Cities:

Guest Blog: What Can Cities Do To Prepare for the Next Generation of Mobile Networks? by Tony Batalla, head of Information Technology for the city of San Leandro, California.

Next Century Cities Sends Mayoral Letter to FCC in Defense of Local Decision-Making, Releases New Market Research on 5G, Smart City Deployments - Read the full letter here.

Report: Status Of U.S. Small Cell Wireless/5G & Smart City Applications From The Community Perspective, by RVA, LLC Market Research & Consulting

Fact sheet on the RVA report.

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

Fact Sheet on Status Of U.S. Small Cell Wireless/5G & Smart City Applications From The Community Perspective, by RVA, LLC Status Of U.S. Small Cell Wireless/5G & Smart City Applications From The Community Perspective, by RVA, LLC Mayoral Letter to FCC in Defense of Local Decision-MakingTags: 5GWirelesstechnologytechnicaleric lamplandgponmarketingmobilebroadband bitsaudiopodcast

Electric Co-ops Finding Funding To Connect Folks In Rural Virginia

March 27, 2018

Electric cooperatives in Virginia are continuing to transform connectivity in the state’s rural communities. With funding assistance from state and local government, projects in Mecklenburg and Appomattox Counties will soon be moving forward.

Building Out Mecklenburg

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRCC) was formed when the state, along with Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas, chose to break off from a Master Settlement Agreement between the largest tobacco companies and the remaining 46 states. The proceeds from their separate settlement have been used for broadband and other projects to diversify the economy. The TRCC administers grants and a loan fund.

Last fall, the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) announced that they planned to upgrade their fiber optic network infrastructure to connect substations and district offices. The board of directors decided that the upgrade would give them the perfect opportunity to engage in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project. As part of the project, MEC entered into an agreement to use the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) fiber backbone.

The cooperative applied for a grant from TRRC and recently learned that they've been awarded $2.6 million for the $5.2 million project. They've dubbed the initiative the EmPower Broadband Cooperative.

EmPower will begin by offering 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet service for approximately $65 - $75 per month; VoIP will also be available. Members within 1,000 feet of the backbone that MEC deploys will have the ability to sign up for the service. Like other pilot projects, MEC will use the opportunity to fine tune the service and gage interest before they decide whether or not to take EmPower to the rest of their electric service area and possibly beyond.

President of MEC John Lee:

Electric cooperatives are, far and away, the best positioned entities to bring ultra-high-speed broadband to the unserved or underserved rural areas of the Commonwealth, and MEC has been down this path before, providing electric service in the 1930’s when no one else would. This time, we are addressing the injustice by leveraging a vast network of existing infrastructure including easements, poles and wires that connect every home and business in our service territories. Several Virginia electric cooperatives are already investing in fiber to accommodate increasing communications needs and, in those instances, the only remaining step is deploying fiber to the doorstep of the homes and businesses to whom they provide electric service.  While the story of rural “Internetification” is still being written, it is clear that the electric cooperatives will have a significant effect on provisioning last-mile broadband services. We are committed to bringing economic and educational opportunities back to our region and believe this effort is a strong step towards meeting that objective.

The MEC pilot project will bring FTTH to members in Brunswick, Charlotte, Greensville, Halifax, Mecklenburg, and Pittsylvania counties. 

Collaborating In Appomattox

The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) recently received good news about funding for their proposed 450-mile FTTH network. In addition to also receiving around $980,000 in funding from the TRRC, the Appomattox County Board of Supervisors voted earlier this month to approve the co-op's proposal and is considering assisting CVEC with tax rebate incentives.

The Board still needs to review and approve specifics of a plan for the rebates proposed by CVEC at their March 18th meeting. They plan to discuss the proposal in detail at their April meeting.

With a unanimous vote to support the proposal, the Board seems poised to do as much as they can to encourage the project for better connections in the rural county.

“I think the most important thing about it is the education avenue that it’s going to provide our county residents, our county schoolchildren, the opportunity to access the internet,” board chairman Sam Carter said.

“I believe it enhances our economic development opportunities to attract businesses and also attract businesses who might not have that capability now or are underserved by the capabilities they have, and hopefully that could help us create more employment and create more business expansion in the county,” Falling River District Chairman Chad Millner said.

The first phase of the project will connect about 1,650 premises. In total, CVEC will provide FTTH to 3,400 premises in the county.

Tags: virginiarural electric coopruralFTTHcooperativemecklenburg countymecklenburg electric cooperativecentral virginia electric cooperativegrantfunding

Colorado Legislature Revamps Incumbent Right Of First Refusal, Blocking Monopoly Battle Tactic

March 26, 2018

A bill making its way through the Colorado General Assembly is tackling one of the tools that big incumbent ISPs use to secure their positions as monopoly Internet access providers - the right of first refusal. If HB 1099 passes, and other states see the savvy behind this approach, community leaders and advocates for a competitive broadband market will be able to put a chink in the monopoly armor.

A Familiar Story

ISP entrepreneurs, cooperatives that want to offer high-quality Internet access, and entities planning publicly owned projects know the story. Grants are available, usually for an unserved or underserved area that the incumbent DSL provider has ignored. Said entity invests the time and money into developing a plan and applying for the grant, feeling good about the fact that they will likely be able to serve this community that no one else seems to want to serve. 

They apply for the grant, may even receive a preliminary approval, BUT then the incumbent ISP exercises its right of first refusal, which throws a very big wrench into the plans of the ISP entrepreneur, cooperative, or entity.

In June 2017, we interviewed Doug Seacat from Clearnetworx and Deeply Digital in Colorado who told us the story of how his company had applied for and won grant funding through the Colorado Broadband Fund to develop fiber Internet network infrastructure near Ridgway. CenturyLink exercised its right of first refusal, which meant that unless Seacat could change the mind of the board that considered the appeal, CenturyLink would get the funding rather than Clearnetworx.

CenturyLink prevailed because it had the attorneys and the experience to wield the right of first refusal as a weapon. When all was said and done, however, the people in the project area did not have access to the fast, affordable, reliable fiber connectivity they would have obtained from Clearnetworx. CenturyLink instead obtained state subsidies to deploy DSL that was better than the services it was already offering, but no where near as useful as the Internet access Seacat’s company had planned to deploy. Community leaders did not quickly forget the fiasco.

HB 1099

Democrat Barbara McLachlan from Durango Republican Marc Caitlin from Montrose introduced the bill this session. So far, the bill has passed through the committee process in the House and the Senate and has passed the Third Readings in both bodies. There have been no amendments in committee or on either floor. HB 1099 just needs to be signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House and then sent on to the Governor.

The bill, titled the "Broadband Deployment Level Playing Field Act", has had strong bipartisan support. In the House, the Third Reading passed 61 - 2 and in the Senate, the Third Reading passed unanimously. The bill signals an impatience with CenturyLink and its failure to deliver in rural areas while preventing other companies, municipalities, and cooperatives who want to offer high-quality connectivity.

HB 1099 puts conditions on the right of first refusal, rather than eliminating it outright. Rep. McLachlan explains the proposed measure in a recent opinion piece:

Under HB-1099, which I co-sponsored with Rep. Marc Catlin (R-Montrose), if a new provider bids to provide high-speed service for an unserved rural community, a company that is already active in the area and has the right of first refusal may either let the new company go ahead, or else they must match the speed and price the new company is offering. The bottom line? Unserved areas of Colorado get quality, affordable broadband. 

Here’s the language from the bill:

(g)(I) With regard to an applicant that has submitted a proposed 12 project to the board, affording each incumbent provider in the area that 13 is not providing access to a broadband network in the unserved area a -2- 1099 1 right of first refusal regarding the implementation of a project in the unserved area.

(II) If an incumbent provider proposes a project for the area, the incumbent provider commits to providing access to a broadband network:

(A) Within one year after the applicant's submission of a proposed project; 

(B) AT DEMONSTRATED DOWNSTREAM AND UPSTREAM SPEEDS EQUAL TO OR FASTER THAN THE SPEEDS INDICATED IN THE APPLICANT'S PROPOSED PROJECT; AND 

(C) AT A COST PER HOUSEHOLD IN THE AREA TO BE SERVED THAT IS EQUAL TO OR LESS THAN THE COST PER HOUSEHOLD INDICATED IN THE APPLICANT'S PROPOSED PROJECT.

Check out the entire bill here.

Over the past several years, Colorado has become one of the places where bipartisan local and state leaders have recognized the value of high-quality connectivity in rural areas and have taken steps to improve policies to encourage deployment. Lobbying from powerful incumbents still has some influence in the General Assembly, but measures like HB 1099 suggest that there are legislators in Denver that are tired of broken promises. This is a move worth watching in other states where big corporate incumbents have derailed new projects with the right of first refusal.

Image of Durango fromRim Drive by Ron Clausen (Own work) [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons.

HB 1099 Bill TextTags: coloradohb 1099 colegislationright of first refusalincumbentruralgrantappealcenturylink

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 26

March 26, 2018

Alaska

Alaska lawmakers, following other states, consider bills to keep net neutrality by Annie Zak, Anchorage Daily News

 

Colorado

Cortez announces new broadband pilot program by Stephanie Alderton, The Cortez Journal

Broadband deployment in rural Colorado by Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Durango Herald

Cortez council candidates talk business, broadband in forum by Stephanie Alderton, The Cortez Journal

Fiber service for faster internet on horizon in Centennial by Ellis Arnold, Centennial Citizen

Ting signed a lease March 1 to use the City of Centennial's fiber-optic cable system, an underground infrastructure that's currently built in the middle of the city — roughly from Interstate 25 to South Jordan Road — that the city is expanding to its east and west parts. Ting will be able to provide service by building its own local fiber network in certain neighborhoods by connecting to the city's fiber system.

Whether Ting can expand across the city depends on demand, but that is the goal, according to Mark Gotto, Ting's city manager for Centennial.

Fort Collins council tweaks election code, approves city broadband bonds by Nick Coltrain, The Coloradoan

 

Georgia

Commissioners Consider Starting City-Run Broadband Service by Blake Aued, Flagpole

 

Massachusetts

4 Berkshire towns team with state to find 'better approaches' on broadband, energy by Adam Shanks, Berkshire Eagle 

Group forms to push city-owned broadband in Cambridge by Abby Patkin, Wicked Local Cambridge

 

New York

NY says Charter lied about new broadband, threatens to revoke its franchise by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

New York government officials have threatened to terminate Charter Communications' franchise agreements with New York City, saying the cable company failed to meet broadband construction requirements and may not have paid all of its required franchise fees.

The NY Public Service Commission said Charter should pay a $1 million fine for missing a deadline to expand its broadband network statewide and is questioning Charter over declines in franchise fees paid to New York City.

 

North Carolina

Rowan County commissioners establish broadband task force by Andie Foley, Salisbury Post

Report: North Carolina Cities Need Powers to Aid Broadband by The Associated Press

NC Towns And Cities Push For Expanded Broadband by Will Michaels, WUNC

The FCC's most recent report says about 20 percent of rural North Carolina does not have high-speed Internet access. 

"We have students and senior citizens who park daily in front of our senior center building. We thought something was going on, but no, they're sitting in their vehicles accessing our Internet because they can't do it at home," said Jacque Hampton, clerk for the town of Bolton in rural Columbus County.

The League of Municipalities wants the General Assembly to approve laws that make it clear local governments can enter public-private partnerships to expand coverage, and offer investments like bonds, taxes and economic incentives. A bill that includes such provisions stalled in the state Senate last year.

Cities have a way to expand internet access, and want the state to let them try it by Colin Campbell, Charlotte News & Observer

 

Texas

Digital Inclusion Alliance Looks At New Structure To Help Connect San Antonio Homes by Paul Flahive, Texas Public Radio

 

Virginia

Editorial: Lack of broadband may cost some of these workers their jobs by The Roanoke Times Editorial Board

Appomattox supervisors OK broadband proposal by Carrie Dungan, Lynchburg News and Advance

More broadband internet officially is coming to Appomattox County after the board of supervisors approved Central Virginia Electric Cooperative’s proposal for a 450-mile fiber optic network in parts of the county during a Monday night meeting.

CVEC received just less than $1 million in grant funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission last week to assist with the project. Total costs to construct the Appomattox portion of the project are estimated at $10 million.

Another Path to Rural Broadband: Electric Co-ops by James A. Bacon, Bacon’s Rebellion

 

Washington

City council creates group to find way to lower broadband rates, increase speeds by Kaitlin Riordan and Ryan Simms, KREM 2

 

General

Senators From Both Parties Say FCC Broadband Maps are a Joke by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

We've already discussed how the FCC's recently released broadband availability map is comically error prone, not only hallucinating competitors, but the speeds they're actually able to deliver. The map, which the FCC recently dusted off and re-launched without really fixing its core problems, also omits pricing data entirely. The accuracy and lack of price data stems from one core reason: ISPs fight tooth and nail to try and downplay coverage gaps and the overall lack of competition in the US broadband market, lest somebody try to actually do something about it.

And as it turns out, the map the FCC uses to determine which areas get subsidies for wireless deployment isn't much better.

‘Dig Once’ Now Policy, Not Mandate. You Dig? By John Eggerton, MultiChannel News

Opinion: FCC Set to Waste Billions on the Wrong Rural Broadband Provider by Matthew Marcus, The Daily Yonder

Rural communities have already proven that cooperatives are the way to get good, fast Internet access to underserved areas. So why are AT&T and other big corporations in line to get $2.5 billion in government funding to reach customers – again.

A wide gulf between federal agencies on broadband competition by Tom Wheeler, Brookings Institution

Preserving Local Voices in Broadband Deployment by Sharon Buccino, National Resource Defense Council

The Cable Industry Is Quietly Securing A Massive Monopoly Over American Broadband by Karl Bode, TechDirt

The Dangers of Big City Subsidies by Susan Crawford, Wired

In the American internet access world, public assets are privatized all the time. Sometimes this happens when private companies are handed direct payments in the form of subsidies: public money, amounting to at least $5 billion a year, which is showered on companies to incentivize them to provide access in places where they feel it is too expensive to build. Sometimes this happens when companies are handed low-cost or no-cost access rights to infrastructure by state legislatures. And sometimes it happens in the form of broad public/private partnerships for "smart city" services.

But the federal government doesn’t set high enough standards for the quality and price of the services the public subsidizes—and we're certainly no good at requiring competition. (Federal government support for fiber running to schools and libraries was supposed to be one of the bright spots in this murky story, but even there the Trump administration has been wavering and slow-rolling the process.) We'll take anything that seems to fill the gaps left by the private market. In particular, we'll throw poorer and rural people under the bus, relegating them to subpar services. 

Tags: media roundup

Federal Grants Available for Rural Broadband Projects

March 22, 2018

Federal broadband grant programs start accepting applications in the spring. 2018 is an especially exciting year because the Connect America Fund (CAF) II Auction is finally open. This program has been years in the making, but it still has its flaws. Learn more about the federal grant opportunities and how we can improve federal broadband data below.

Due March 30th, 2018 -- CAF II Auction

At noon ET on March 19, 2018, the much anticipated CAF II Auction opened. Application are due by 6pm ET on March 30th, 2018.  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will distribute $2 billion to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to build new Internet infrastructure in rural areas. This auction is the latest program of the larger CAF program that started offering funds in 2012. In the past, most CAF funds have gone to the largest incumbent ISPs, such as Frontier or Verizon. This auction is a chance for small rural ISPs to win funding for their communities through innovative projects.

Watch the FCC’s Application Process Workshop Video and then explore the map of eligible grant areas.

Due May 14th, 2018 -- Community Connect Grants

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced that the Community Connect Grant program is open. Webinar presentations on the process will be available on April 5th and April 10th. Applications are accepted through May 14th.

Community Connect Grants are each $100,000 to $3 million and focus on improving rural broadband infrastructure. Areas are eligible if they do not have access to speeds of 10 Mbps (download) and 1 Mbps (upload). Nonprofits, for-profits, federally-recognized tribes, state governments, and local governments can propose projects. Winners must match 15% of the grant and the program has a budget of about $30 million.

Sign up for a webinar on how to apply for the Community Connect Grants: 

April 5th 1pm - 2pm ET  

April 10th 1pm - 2pm ET  

Federal Programs Still Rely On Flawed Data

These grant programs mainly rely on the FCC’s Form 477 to determine the locations of the biggest disparities in broadband access. This data has significant limitations. It is self-reported by the ISPs and reported twice a year. It also likely overstates the availability of broadband. An entire census block (the unit of measurement for the Form 477) may be counted as having broadband access if an ISP claims it can offer service to one resident there.

Jonathan Chambers, former Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning for the Federal Communications Commission, included this issue among the top five problems with the CAF II Auction in his post, “FCC to rural America: Drop Dead, part 2.” The CAF II Auction originally included an additional 432,302 households, but the FCC removed them from the grant process because of the latest Form 477 data from December 2016.

This data is also the basis for the FCC’s Broadband Map, and many have brought the discrepancies to light. The CityLab article, “The Problem With America's New National Broadband Map,” by Rob Pegoraro describes many people’s frustrations with the map. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel encourages people to submit errors to broadbandfail@fcc.gov to improve the map and correct the data. 

Tags: ruralfederal grantfederal fundingconnect america fundusdadatafcc