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Morning Call Examines Internet Access in Pennsylvania

December 27, 2018

A recent piece from The Morning Call examined Internet access rates in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley using recently released American Community Survey (ACS) data. Christopher Mitchell, director of ILSR’s Community Broadband initiative, provided some context for the importance of closing the digital divide. His contributions are below: 

The cellphone, however, isn’t a good option for schoolchildren who need the internet to complete assignments, said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit that helps communities use the internet to improve the economy and quality of life.

“If you are a 10th-grader trying to do a term paper using a cellphone, that’s very difficult. It results in you having to work so much harder for much less gain than a well-off person,” Mitchell said.

“It affects society as a whole and impacts the achievement gap and the opportunity for young people to do better than their parents,” he said.

...

The internet also has become an essential tool for adults. Without it, people may pay more, as their shopping choices are limited to brick-and-mortar stores, Mitchell noted. And they certainly will spend more time filling out paper applications for jobs and government services.

...

When communities hover around 30 percent in lack of internet subscriptions — as Portland, Bangor, Easton, Nazareth and Wind Gap do — that’s “worrisome,” Mitchell said. It works against any effort to grow.

“If you are in that situation, one of the concerns is you are going to have much less investment, and so your community is going to struggle in the future. As a local leader, you need to figure out how to fix that. Whether it’s housing value or economic development, better internet access makes all those things better to solve,” Mitchell said.

...

According to Mitchell’s Institute for Local Self-Reliance, more than 750 communities across the country have built their own broadband networks to compete with large, established internet providers.

...

The only municipality in Pennsylvania to build its own internet network is Kutztown, which started a $4 million network in 2002 and paid for it with taxable bonds, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Read the full story here.

 

Tags: press center

Predictions for 2019, Year in Review for 2018 - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 337

December 26, 2018

We left our crystal ball, tarot cards, and astrology charts at home, but that won’t stop us from trying to predict what will happen in 2019 for this week’s annual predictions podcast. Each year, we reflect on the important events related to publicly owned broadband networks and local connectivity that occurred during the year and share our impressions for what we expect to see in the next twelve months. As usual, the discussion is spirited and revealing.

This year we saw the departures of Research Associate Hannah Trostle and Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer as both decided to head off to grad school. This year, you’ll hear our new Communications Specialist Jess Del Fiacco and Research Associate Katie Kienbaum keeping those seats warm. Hannah and Nick take time out of their schedules to offer some predictions of their own at the end of the show.

In addition to recaps of last year's predictions for state legislation, cooperative efforts, and preemption, we get into our expectations for what we expect to see from large, national incumbent ISPs, local private and member owned providers, and governments. We discuss federal funding, local organizing efforts and issues that drive them, concentration of power, our predictions for digital equity, efforts in big cities, open access, rural initiatives, and more. This podcast is packed with good stuff!

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

This show is 45 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

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

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

Image of John Dee’s Crystal ball by Vassil [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: podcastbroadband bitsaudiopredictionsfcccooperativeslegislationorganizingopen accessdigital dividemonopolyfederal fundingstate lawsrural

It's Christmas Eve and We're STILL Thinking of Muni Fiber!

December 24, 2018

As authors at MuniNetworks.org have the opportunity to add to our growing cache of holiday-themed, broadband-centric writings, we try to remember to share classics like this one from 2015. “Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber” was crafted by Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle. Both have moved on to the next phases of their careers but their contributions to ILSR’s work, including this poem in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore will be appreciated for many years to come.

Enjoy, share, and thank you for your support!

 

 

Tags: funnymunisatireincumbentcomcastdslcabletime warner cable

Donate to ILSR and Help Us Continue Our Work

December 24, 2018

The year 2018 is almost behind us. We hope that you've learned a little from your time at MuniNetworks.org and will consider donating to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Your donation helps us continue the important work of raising the profile of broadband networks that bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to local communities, encouraging economic development, local savings, and a high quality of life. Go to ilsr.org/donate to help.

As he reflected on 2018, Christopher shared his thoughts:

As 2018 draws to a close, we are seeing the rising anti-monopoly movement gain strength and visibility. This is an exciting time as people turn toward local solutions and recognize the need to build local power to improve their lives. 

We are seeing the increased threat of preemption - where states are limiting local authority - across the board. But on matters of broadband Internet access, our coalition has stopped new efforts to stop municipal networks and even rolled back minor barriers in California and Washington. We will be working to further restore local authority in the coming year but will undoubtedly face new threats to preserve the cable and big telco monopolies. 

As I write this, I am staying with family in northern Minnesota... and though I am stuck on very slow DSL, I passed thousands of homes with fiber-optic service from cooperatives on the drive up here. Our team was among the first to recognize the power of cooperatives to build the high-quality networks rural America needs and we have elevated those efforts in local communities, state capitals, and DC. 

We need your help to extend these victories in 2019. Though cooperatives are the single best solution in rural regions lacking local providers, too many policymakers haven't yet learned that lesson. Metro regions are increasingly flirting with municipal fiber options, but face powerful cable monopoly lobbyists that are determined to protect the status quo

Please support our work with a donation in any amount. We operate on a shoe-string budget and your support provides both material benefits and a psychological boost in knowing you value our work. Thank you so much!

 

Tags: institute for local self-reliancechristopher mitchellsupport

A Holiday Favorite: The Grinch Who Stole Network Neutrality

December 21, 2018

As our readers begin their holiday celebrations, some may remember our spin on the classic Christmas tale, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss. Although several states have passed or are considering legislation to combat Grinchy-Pai and the other FCC Commissioners who erroneously repealed federal network neutrality protections in 2017, their decision has still left millions unprotected.

We decided to share the poem again this year in the hopes that, perhaps, it will be the last time! Enjoy!

 

The Grinch Who Stole Network Neutrality

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

 

Every American online liked network neutrality a lot

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

 

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

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

 

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

ISPs could make more with lanes fast and lanes slow.

 

But whatever the reason, cash or prestige,

His choice pissed off subscribers by many degrees.

 

Americans cried out in anger and dismay!

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

 

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

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

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

We need it so businesses can hit the ground running.

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

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

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

 

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

But ILSR elves proved there was nothing of the sort.

 

The elves showed very little, almost no competition.

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

 

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

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

 

His planned to kill net neutrality completely.

His overlord ISPs would reward him so sweetly.

 

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

In a video taunting us, our ears loudly ringing.

 

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

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

Then subscribers will go back to what they always do!

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

“Innovation? Bah! Creativity? Boo hoo!

I’ll pull off a telecommunications coup!”

 

So Grinchy Pai did as he vowed long ago.

He killed net neutrality with one swift blow.

 

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

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

 

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

And as Grinchy Pai listened, it started to grow.

 

Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays

Network neutrality is our dream

Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays

We want a net that's open and free

 

Welcome, welcome, fahoo ramus

Welcome, welcome, dahoo damus

Free and open like the sky

We won’t be stopped by Ajit Pai

 

Millions of communities P.O.ed by the decision

Came together to share their power and vision.

 

It started right away with planning and grassroots

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

 

Grinchy Pai, next, wanted to redefine broadband speeds

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

 

He wanted satellite and mobile to be listed as broadband.

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

 

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

Locals harnessed the power of ten million horses.

 

Some ran for office while others built munis

Local folks realized they were powerfuls, not punies.

 

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

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

 

They reversed his bad policies every last one.

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

 

The ISPs were surprised, they expected more congeniality.

After all, it was only network neutrality.

 

Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and the rest

Decided net neutrality would be for the best.

 

Local communities and co-ops who built networks so fast

Went on to prosper with benefits that last.

 

States saw the wisdom and changed bad laws.

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

 

Net neutrality was restored; Americans shared a collective hug.

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

 

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

“Now everybody knows the power of publicly owned!”

 

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

Tags: funnyajit paimunisfccnetwork neutralitylocal

Minnesota Counties Help Fund Cooperative Broadband Projects for Economic Development

December 20, 2018

Even if a local government isn’t ready or able to build its own broadband network, there are still ways they can help bring the benefits of better connectivity to their community. Over the past few years, several counties in Minnesota have partnered with local electric and telephone cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access as an economic development strategy. In many instances, county governments have offered financial support to the local co-ops, in the form of grants and loans, to connect their rural residents with high-quality fiber networks, often supplementing federal subsidies or statewide Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development grants.

Projects Across the State

Minnesota counties have taken a variety of approaches when it comes to helping cooperatives finance broadband deployment projects.

Some, such as Cook County in the far northeastern corner of the state, provided grants to local co-ops. Cook County began its partnership with Arrowhead Electric Cooperative back in 2008 when both entities contributed to a broadband feasibility study. At the time, the county suffered from the worst connectivity in the state, and many people still relied on dial-up. In 2010, Arrowhead was awarded a $16.1 million combined grant and loan from the stimulus-funded Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) to build a fiber network in Cook County. The county government offered Arrowhead a $4 million grant for the project, funded by the voters’ reauthorization of a 1 percent sales tax that was due to expire. In return, Arrowhead agreed to provide services such as Internet access to county buildings at no cost.

Yet more local governments have opted to loan money to co-ops to expand broadband access in their county. Both Big Stone County and Swift County chose this route after Federated Telephone Cooperative received a $3.92 million grant and a $4.95 million grant from the Border-to-Border program to build fiber networks in each county. To help the co-op finance the local matches, the counties issued bonds and loaned the proceeds to Federated. In 2015, Big Stone County loaned the cooperative approximately $4 million, funded by tax abatement bonds, which Federated will repay over 20 years at roughly 3.8 percent interest. A year later, the co-op accepted a $7.8 million loan from nearby Swift County, which the county financed with general obligation bonds.

County governments don’t necessarily have to make large financial commitments to have an impact. After establishing a revolving Broadband Development Fund in June 2017, Fillmore County loaned a total of $150,000 to telephone cooperative AcenTek for two fiber deployment projects in the county. These loans will supplement the almost $4 million of grant funding that AcenTeak was awarded by the Border-to-Border program. The co-op will pay back the loans over the next three years at zero percent interest, with payments returning to the Broadband Development Fund.

In some cases, counties choose to work with cooperatives after other providers turn them away. The Lac qui Parle County Economic Development Authority established a partnership with Farmers Mutual Telephone Company to build a fiber network after Frontier Communications ignored the county’s outreach attempts. EDA director Pamela Lehmann explained:

“[Frontier] said they didn’t have the funds available for a project like this. When they are looking at the big picture a small county in west-central Minnesota was not their priority at that time.”

In 2010, the partners were awarded a $9.6 million combined BIP loan and grant to construct a Fiber-to-the-Premises network in Lac qui Parle County. The network would be owned and operated by Farmers, but both the county and the co-op would be jointly responsible to repay the federal loan. To finance the remaining costs of the fiber project, Lac qui Parle County chipped in an additional $1.5 million and loaned Farmers $1.5 million at zero percent interest for the first ten years.

Counties, Co-ops, and Communities Benefit

These kinds of partnerships offer perks for both counties and the cooperatives. By leaving ownership of the broadband infrastructure to the co-op, county government can rely on cooperatives to handle the operation or maintenance of a network. Telephone and electric cooperatives often already have access to utility poles, trained staff, and equipment that facilitate operation and deployment of a broadband network. For local governments with no experience developing or operating a broadband network, cooperative partners fill a void and have the tools and knowledge to get high-quality Internet access up and running posthaste.

County governments have access to low interest financing and can issue bonds or leverage tax revenue to help cooperatives finance broadband projects that wouldn’t have been feasible otherwise. Keven Beyer, general manager of Farmers Mutual Telephone Company and Federated Telephone Cooperative, told the West Central Tribune that the low-interest loans provided by the counties were essential to expand high-quality Internet access to rural households. In addition, the promise of county financing can make grant applications stronger. For instance, the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant program prioritizes applicants that can show community support and provide a greater local match.

Despite their different approaches to financing cooperative broadband projects, all of the counties hope to reap the economic development benefits of improved Internet access. Across the state, county officials recognize that better connectivity can help attract new residents and businesses. When explaining his support for extending the loan to Federated Telephone Cooperative, Swift County Commissioner Eric Rudningen said, “It will be great to be able to look at my constituents and know that we provided the opportunity to be competitive in the world.”

Image of the Gunflint Lodge in Cook County by Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: minnesotacooperativerural electric coopfarmers mutual telephone coopcook countylac qui parle countyacentek mnpartnershiprural

Cortez, Colorado, Looking for Private Sector Partner

December 19, 2018

In early December, the city of Cortez, Colorado, released a request for proposals in their search for a private sector partner to help bring last mile fiber connectivity to premises throughout the community. The city is seeking a way to bring high-quality Internet access to the entire community, but will not expand it’s municipal fiber infrastructure. They're looking for ways to overcome some of the same challenges other small communities face as they attempt to improve local connectivity to every premise.

At A Crossroads

Smith told us that the city is at a crossroads and community leaders think that a public-private partnership (P3) might be the quickest way to get the people of Cortez better services they’re looking for at the affordable rates they deserve. The city faces the challenge of funding the expansion. Approximately $1 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) funded the Cortez middle mile infrastructure and connections to community anchor institutions (CAIs), including schools, healthcare facilities, and municipal facilities. Cortez is not able to obtain more grant funding from DOLA for last mile expansion.

When we spoke with Smith in June 2018 for episode 310 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, he described how the city was contemplating a sales tax to fund the expansion, rather than the more common revenue bond funding. Smith explains that, if Cortez decided to go that route, their decision would trigger Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) regulations. Due to the time requirements, any ballot measure on such a funding mechanism could not be voted on before 2020. Once the measure is on the ballot, the city would not be able to promote it in accordance with Colorado law. If Cortez decided to ask local voters to support funding Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) with a sales tax, says Smith, the city would have to wait 4 - 5 years before they could promote the service. A survey in Cortez revealed that 64 percent of respondents supported a sales tax to fund expansion of broadband infrastructure to households and more businesses, but community leaders aren't comfortable waiting so long to bring better connectivity that is so desperately needed and feel that any services offered by the city would need more marketing to attract enough subscribers.

Smith also referred back to the feasibility study that Cortez commissioned earlier this year. The study recommended a single provider model due to the small size of the community. The study also revealed that the network would take approximately $10 - $14 million to deploy and might not become cash positive for up to 25 years if Cortez chose to using revenue bonds to fund deployment. Read the full feasibility study.

The city also wants to provide ample opportunity for private sector providers to develop the connectivity Cortez needs. According to Smith, “the fiber network is not going away,” and the city has no rigid plan for a type of partnership. They’re going to review the proposals that come to them and decide what’s next. “It gives us an opportunity to see how we can get this network built quicker and possibly without a sales tax and still – I call it a win-win – and still provide the level of service and services that fiber can offer,” Smith said.

Learning from the Pilot

Earlier this year, the city announced that they were developing a pilot project, as many communities do, in order to determine interest, challenges, and logistics of operating a FTTH network. When we spoke with Smith last summer, Cortez was fully engaged in their pilot to a limited number of premises. The experiment was a success, says Smith —  it gave the city the information they needed as they move forward. They now know what back office systems and staff are required and have insight into what is needed. They’ve also shown to any potential partner that people are interested and want the service.

Listen to episode 310 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast to learn more about the pilot and the network.

Funding Always Seems to Be the An Issue

With around 8,700 people, the large national incumbent providers won't invest in a community with low population density, but many federal grants are now going to areas that have even lower populations than Cortez. In a follow up article in the Journal, executive director of Colorado’s Southwest Council of Governments Miriam Gillow-Wiles addressed both the critical need for high-quality Internet access in places such as Cortez and the frustrating lack of funding to develop those networks.

“How not having broadband impacts communities and citizens is much wider ranging than most people think,” said Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of Southwest Colorado Council of Governments. “We think of broadband like, ‘Oh I want to do email, I want to watch Netflix,’ things like that. ... But it is also access to education, it is access to workforce, it is access to the justice system in a lot of ways.”

Without fast internet access, economic development could stall.

“Everything you think of, some aspect of it is based in connectivity,” Gillow-Wiles said.

Gillow-Wiles helped the city obtain the initial $1 million from DOLA to build out the existing infrastructure, but feels federal funds awarded to large companies such as CenturyLink would be better spend in places like Cortez.

“We give a lot of money to really big companies that don’t necessarily know what the challenges on the ground are or are not invested in the communities,” Gillow-Wiles said. “We just need more infrastructure to bring access to people’s residences and businesses. The hard part is the cost and the willpower.”

Cortez City Manager John Dougherty agrees:

“If the federal government would step up and say, ‘We have subsidies for providers,’ and not just give them to the cable providers who already don’t do the service anyway but they’re taking the money, we’d all be better off,” Dougherty said.

Responses to the Cortez RFP are due January 18th.

Cortez Broadband Feasibility Study ReportTags: cortezcoloradopartnershiprfpfundingfederal fundingpilot projectpilotstate laws

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 336

December 19, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 336 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with industry analyst and podcast host Craig Settles about telehealth. The audio version of this episode is available here.

 

 

Craig Settles: Come to Danville because we have excellent healthcare, thanks to our broadband and our healthcare facilities' use of the broadband. So that becomes an economic development tool.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 336 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, industry analyst and host of the Gigabit Nation podcast, Craig Settles, takes some time to talk to Christopher about telehealth. For the past few years, he's been focusing on the ways communities can use high-quality Internet access to make high-quality healthcare available to folks in rural and urban areas. In this conversation, Craig and Christopher discuss how telemedicine has evolved into telehealth and the differences between the two. They also discuss the way telehealth improves the quality of life for people with access to it and the way access to telehealth creates economic development opportunities. They also discuss the perks of telehealth to network owners because the ability to use the infrastructure for these applications increases interest for patients, healthcare providers, and investors. Craig also explains how local communities can approach specific challenges related to healthcare regulations. You can see more of Craig's work at CJSpeaks.com. Now here's Christopher and Craig Settles on telehealth and economic development.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, talking with my friend Craig Settles out in Oakland. Welcome to the show, Craig.

Craig Settles: Ah, thank you. I'm very happy to be here, and we've been talking broadband stuff for like, what, eight, nine years and stuff, so . . .

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, 12. Well, I guess I've been in it for 12. I've probably known you for eight or nine. You know, it's a funny thing because there's a number of people who I think, just because I'm so loud and obnoxious, that they assume I've been around since the beginning. But you — you go way back. Well before I got started in this business. How did you get into this?

Craig Settles: It was a fluke. I was writing a book where I was interviewing CIOs to talk about wireless technology, and the Philadelphia announcement that they were gonna build Wi-Fi citywide caught my attention because Philadelphia generally is not on the leading edge of technology, you know, at that time. And I'm from Philly and so I said, well, why don't I just include the CIO for the city of Philadelphia to talk about the process of how they built their plan for Wi-Fi. Right, so it was all about the planning thing — how do you make this thing work? And that was such an interesting story, I felt, that I wrote a book about just that. And I have been in this business since 2005 with the launch of, you know, how do you do the planning for citywide — at the time it was citywide Wi-Fi, but it just basically morphed into broadband across the board and whatever kind of technology that you use to get that Internet connection to as many people in your city or town as possible.

Christopher Mitchell: And you've been doing this as part of your own company — CJ Speaks, right? You're the official president of it.

Craig Settles: Right. At the time, it was Successful.com. I was primarily working with private sector companies, and I had moved from software and general kinds of high-tech to wireless in 2001. And I got really interested in the concept of citywide wireless or broadband because of a company I worked with that was called Ricochet, and they had the concept of hanging these Wi-Fi transmitters on telephone poles throughout the city. And that whole concept really caught my eye, and through a couple of weird changes and so forth, I got into the broadband, as I mentioned, with the Philadelphia announcement. And so here is where I've been.

Christopher Mitchell: More recently, you've been focused on telemedicine, doing some research on that. That's what we're gonna be talking about today. Let me ask you, what do you mean by telemedicine? When you're researching it and writing your articles about it, what does it mean?

Craig Settles: So right now, we're talking about telehealth, right? When we were talking about just the treatments and being able to talk to your doctor and so forth, that was telemedicine if you will, right? But people have now realized that broadband, basically, can affect various aspects of healthcare, including obviously treatments and so forth, but [also] using the broadband to facilitate radiology — you know, your MRIs, your x-rays and so forth. Being able to get information from a crash site or some sort of major activity where it makes sense to get medical data from or about individuals to some other hospital or clinic, and [there] can be a number of ways that they can do that. And then also just like passing the knowledge of medical practice and so forth that the average person can pick up. So when you look at all of these aspects of healthcare and knowledge about healthcare and so forth, and you put a nice little label, call it telehealth, and then you add in the broadband element of it, where you're basically trying to get people to understand that the Internet is a great way to transport all types of medical data, and so that becomes a sort of discipline called telehealth. And you know, why this makes sense is that telehealth, or healthcare if you want to look at it that way, that can be impacted by these community networks. Just about everybody at some point is going to be a recipient of healthcare, or you're going to know somebody, you're going to be responsible for someone, and so healthcare and telehealth is a integral part of life as we know it. So if I can use the broadband network to facilitate that healthcare delivery or just the knowledge of healthcare and medical terms and so forth, there's a value for that. And that's what I've been trying to focus on and educate people about in the last year in particular.

Christopher Mitchell: Let me get a little bit provocative. I feel like a lot of people, they hear it and they think, oh, talking to your doctor over video chat. That's like the obvious one, it strikes me. What else? Like, is there anything in your research where you're thinking, oh, interesting — I didn't think of that as telehealth, but we can do this interesting thing that will have major health outcomes.

Craig Settles: Well, for example, I had a stroke a couple of years ago, and when I went to the hospital — well, the take-in — my neurologist that runs the Alameda hospitals stroke center, she was at her home half an hour away. But she was able to see everything that the emergency doctors saw, all the stats and so forth, and she was able to start treatment within 35 minutes. And so what got me to thinking was that if I didn't have that Internet connection, I wouldn't have been able to survive, right? So if I look at all of these rural areas, low-income urban areas, and so forth, the ability to get needed medical care is crippled by just the fact that they're at a distance. They're somewhere in, you know, Appalachia or what have you, where they don't have good medical care. Well broadband can be the instrument that facilitates not only your doctor visit, which is the more common thing, but chronic care — being able to have a people who are elderly being able to live at home rather than being in an institution because if they have the broadband connection, they can get their various medical care that way. You have a lot of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, where there's a regimen that you have to follow, right? It's easier to do that when you can do it from home with your access to medical personnel, whether it's a specialist, whether it's a local doctor or what have you. But it affects more than just your random visit for a cold or strep throat. We're talking changing our method of healthcare so that it is enabled by broadband, high-speed Internet access, and that's the driving force, I think, for why you'd want to build one of these networks, you know, besides the obvious. There's all kinds of healthcare practices that can be facilitated by having all of your people [connected], whether it's wireless or fiber or some variation thereof, that has significant financial impact. It has an economic development impact, a quality of life [impact]. So we talk about, you know, all the entertainment aspect of broadband, but there's some serious healthcare types of practices that can be done that improve your overall quality of life in a small town — or a big town even, for that matter.

Christopher Mitchell: Of that I have no doubt. I think we're gonna talk in a few minutes about aging in place, where there's obvious, you know, tremendous implications for that, and local economic benefits and things like that. But let's take the perspective of the network owner. How does telehealth — how does that help me raise the capital and pay off the debt to operate and build my network?

Craig Settles: Well, one, if I am building a network to just deliver connectivity, that has a value, and you can go find money for it and so forth, right? But if you are saying to potential investors or even like government agencies, we're going to transform the quality of healthcare in our city by having a broadband network, where the endpoint is the improved medical care, a lot of people get really excited about that, both from a government standpoint, but also philanthropic organizations, community foundations, and so forth. So from an aspect of raising money, I think you can get more "umph" for your effort if you're telling people that the primary reason we're doing this is that we're going to improve the quality of healthcare in that area. The second aspect is, it becomes an economic development issue. Like if I look at Danville, Virginia, right? So they built a network initially to drive issues of unemployment. So that was their initial goal, but the hospital got together with all of the clinics and so forth, and they created sort of a sub network, if you will, where all of their services were connected and so forth. And so they were able to market this aspect of, you know, come to our town — whether you're talking about an individual or a business coming into town — come to Danville because we have excellent healthcare, thanks to our broadband and our various healthcare facilities' use of the broadband. So that becomes an economic development tool.

Christopher Mitchell: I like the point about Danville because there's something that they can do as the network owner. I presume that in connecting their healthcare facilities, for instance, they can connect them to each other using basically a private network. You know, they're not sending that traffic over the public Internet, I'm guessing, in part because HIPAA has all kinds of regulations as to how you treat this data. But what I'm really curious about is, if you're a community that wants to get a lot of enthusiasm, perhaps from community foundations, to demonstrate that you can improve local health outcomes, are there things you have to do that are different from what you would normally do if you were just building a business model to operate a fiber network?

Craig Settles: I would look at it as very similar to hooking up your hospitals in general. The applications that you would use for telehealth — those and those vendors would address the issues of HIPAA security and so forth. And so, I wouldn't necessarily expect the community network owner to be responsible for that, right? They would basically put the connections together. I think in the case of Danville, they created separate strands specifically for customers that wanted to have a private network within the bigger Danville network. When it comes to the specific application, there are the requirements for the provider of those applications. Or maybe in a better way to explain it — in Arkansas, they have a public, statewide network. They have vendors that work with one of the main hospitals to create a telestroke application, but in that build out of the application, all of these issues related with HIPAA and so forth [are] addressed there, not necessarily [by] the infrastructure owner.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. That makes sense.

Craig Settles: So I think that that's the important thing to keep in mind. You know, what I'm advocating is not that the network owner get into the business of telehealth, but they want to facilitate getting all of these components pulled together in some organized way. Now, you may have a telehealth vendor, such as Docity, which is D-O-[C]-I-T-Y, where they will work with a city's network owner to create a marketing or a joint marketing activity, right? So they might provide a discount specifically for the network subscribers, so anytime they use Docity's product, the network owner — you know, the city — gets maybe some "spiff," I think, is the sales term, and then the network subscriber may have some sort of bonus or a discount or what have you. So in that respect, it's a partnership, again, not the city getting into the business of telehealth. But I think that what is important is I would look at it the same way doing a needs analysis and a plan for an overall general network. I do a similar kind of needs analysis and say, what is it that the constituents would like? You know, are they interested in aging in place? Are they you concerned with being able to access specialists and so forth? And by getting that need on paper and how many people have that, then you as the network owner can say to the telehealth community, we have 2,000 users. We have 40 percent [who] are concerned with aging in place and all that means. We have 20 percent that are concerned with getting in touch with their family doctor and so forth. And now you can then draw the telehealth community in because you've done the research to figure out what it is that people need. You can figure out also, you know, should we be doing a telehealth in the schools using the school nurses? The small businesses, would they be interested in having telehealth at their premise? As you get all of this type of information, you can help, number one, figure out how to build your infrastructure, the broadband infrastructure, but also what kinds of partnerships and other activity that you want to either encourage or actually do more hands on. For example, Chattanooga, they did a pilot using a particular vendor's product, Docity, and they did six months of testing that product with several of the local doctors in Chattanooga and also some set of subscribers. Chattanooga saw a value in telehealth as something that they could facilitate in one way, form, or fashion with their network.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is not something that's primarily an engineering or a networking challenge then. It's really social. It's talking to businesses, to hospitals, to your subscribers, and things like that it sounds like.

Craig Settles: Well it is, but like for example, I had a conversation with Dublin, Ohio. They have a network that primarily goes to businesses and institutions, right? For a network such as that, and there are a lot of those in the U.S., if the constituents said, you know what, we really want to do telehealth. We want to make it easier. We want to make it affordable. We want to make it reach all of our citizens in our particular area. At that point, then you have to figure out, well, do you use fiber to get to those homes? Do you do a fixed wireless infrastructure and so forth. So there can be, indeed, an engineering component depending on, you know, what you're starting with and what is that you want the network to be able to do. If you're concerned about getting people on board for telehealth, you might want to have some additional engineering to make the redundant infrastructure to make sure that — like you and I just experienced, where CenturyLink went out. You don't want to have people doing healthcare, and all of a sudden, the network doesn't function at that particular time. So you want to have probably some element of redundancy as part of the engineering process, but probably built in more so than, you know, we want to build a separate network.

Christopher Mitchell: Craig, as we're wrapping up here. I think, you know, we see this a lot in the press. Mental health is increasingly a concern. How does that intersect with what we've been talking about?

Craig Settles: If you're going to facilitate that type of telehealth, you've got to make sure that your network can handle, among all the other things that the home might be doing, a video connection, right? So if you're planning for like maybe there's two main applications that people are gonna do, like Netflix and something else — you know, education. Well now you've got to figure out, if you have a lot of people doing mental health types of telehealth, then you've got to make sure that you have that infrastructure in place that will support those types of activities. I think that's really what you're looking at is that if I want to have different types of applications that are telehealth focused, then I've got to have an infrastructure that can handle that for half of your population, two-thirds of your population. You know, you have to sort of do research to figure out, you know, how much of your population would be affected by this kind of application, but you want to build accordingly, is what I think it comes back to.

Christopher Mitchell: Craig, let me ask you, for people who are interested in learning more, where should they go? Where are you writing about this? And we'll get to your podcast in a second, but where are you writing about this?

Craig Settles: On my website which is CJSpeaks.com. There are two reports on telehealth and broadband. My text blog talks a little bit about telehealth, and then I have a number of articles that are in my section on columns and articles. I would say as a general resource, many of the states have a telehealth resource center, and you can talk to them about the telehealth world within that particular state. And I think it would be a very good way to get an education on telehealth but also understand how it's being used or how it's being applied in your particular state.

Christopher Mitchell: And then let's close by just noting that you are also a podcast host. What's been happening with your show lately? I see episodes popping up in my feed from time to time.

Craig Settles: Yes, I do have Gigabit Nation, and in fact there is an interview I did with one of the doctors that is involved with the Chattanooga pilot program. And so that's actually really good, if you're interested in telehealth from the doctor's perspective or a doctor within a place where you have a community broadband network, that would be a good interview to listen to.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well thank you, Craig. I really appreciate you coming on to share your research with us.

Craig Settles: Glad to be of assistance.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with analyst and speaker Craig Settles on telehealth and economic development. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research; subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 336 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Telehealth: Promoting Healthier People and Stronger Local Economies - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 336

December 18, 2018

Many of our regular listeners will recognize this week’s guest voice. Craig Settles has been operating as an industry analyst and consultant since 2006. He’s also host of the Gigabit Nation radio talk show and Director of Communities United for Broadband.

In recent years, Craig has focused much of his attention on telehealth and the ways communities large and small can use their broadband infrastructure to implement telehealth applications. The ability to use high-quality connectivity to deliver healthcare has expanded as access to broadband and innovation has increased. Craig describes the ways “telemedicine” has evolved into “telehealth.” In this discussion, Craig and Christopher discuss the ways that telehealth positively impact residents and their healthcare providers. Communities are also discovering that access to online medical care and related applications can spur economic development in rural and urban settings.

While exploring different approaches to implementing telehealth via publicly owned infrastructure, Craig also discovered some of the challenges facing local communities. In this conversation, he and Christopher talk about some of the different issues that may arise and how local communities have addressed those issues. He also has words of advice for those who want to be sure to develop infrastructure that is capable of providing the kind of connectivity that can provide this increasingly critical feature. Craig has some suggestions for resources for people interested in learning more and for local communities also interested in making telehealth a widely available service.

Check out more from Craig at cjspeaks.com.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this episode is available here.

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

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

Tags: tele healthtelemedicinecraig settleseconomic developmentpodcastaudiobroadband bits

O'Rielly Gets Defensive When Experts Call Him Out

December 18, 2018

When he spoke at the “Free Speech America” Gala in October, did FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly think he would still be explaining himself almost two months later? After trying and failing to justify his false claim that munis violate the First Amendment, he’s once again on the defensive. He's getting no help from the big national ISPs he's trying to support.

“Flirting With A Perverse Form of Socialism"

In October, O’Rielly’s accused municipal networks, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics, of violating the First Amendment by limiting subscribers free speech. Journalists and organizations who know better were quick to correct him. In a December 13, 2018, blog post, he lashed out at his critics and tried to defend or explain his earlier comments, but once again missed the mark.

In his newest commentary, O’Rielly dramatically describes local decisions to invest in broadband infrastructure as “flirting with a perverse form of socialism.” He goes on to state that publicly owned networks deter private entities from entering the market. He’s correct if we only consider the large, corporate ISPs that refuse to compete with anyone on order to preserve the characteristics monopolies created through concentration of power: shoddy customer service, unchecked rates, and lackluster Internet access.

If we look at private ISPs more interested in serving the local community than in boosting share prices, however, we see some healthy competition. As in the case of Grant County, Washington, where more than a dozen ISPs offer services via the Grant County PUD open access network, if a private provider doesn't perform to subscriber standards, there are others to try.

Contrary to what Commissioner O'Rielly claims, when local communities invest in infrastructure, it often encourages private invetment. In Longmont, Colorado, incumbents Comcast and CenturyLink upgraded their services to keep up with the local publicly owned NextLight. In West Plains, Missouri, the local cable Internet access company upgraded their services to offer gigabit connections when the city developed a pilot project, and in Huntsville, Alabama, Comcast upgraded services to compete with Google Fiber, which had just entered into an agreement to operate via the city's dark fiber network.

It’s in the AUP

O’Rielly argued that municipal networks violated the First Amendment because they, like ISPs in the private sector, require subscribers to adhere to certain acceptable use policies (AUPs). In an article published soon after O’Rielly made his October speech, ISP OTELCO, which is now offering services via Leverett, Massachusetts’s municipal network, addressed O’Rielly’s concerns with AUPs.

OTELCO compares the language of AUPs from Verizon, the town of Islesboro (also providing municipal high-quality Internet access), and OTELCO. The company writes:

As you can see for yourself, there is very little difference in these AUPs, private or municipal. All of these AUP’s are asking the same things from their users: don’t break the law, don’t say cruel things to others, and don’t prevent other people from using the Internet. Most of these things are just basic human decencies.

OTELCO also took a critical look at O’Rielly’s source to back up his claims that municipal networks are likely to infringe on subscribers’ First Amendment protections, Professor Enrique Armijo from the Elon University School of Law. Neither gentleman could or did provide an example of a municipality that suppressed subscribers’ speech either purposely or through error.

It’s also important to remember that local governments don’t abandon all their own rights when dealing with First Amendment matters. Municipalities still have the ability to put some limits on time, place, and manner of speech -- for example, loudspeakers aren't typically allowed in the middle of the night in a residential area -- and there are specific limitations, with defamation, fraud, and child pornography being a few.

This legal precedent is often haughtily debated in courts of law. Unfortunately, racist, sexist, and bigoted speech are not covered by this. That is probably why municipal AUPs don’t directly mention those types of speech, whereas private ISPs do. A clear effort being made on the municipality’s part to uphold its citizens First Amendment rights.

OTELCO goes on:

The fact that O’Rielly is suddenly concerned about this so-called threat to the First Amendment would be laughable if it wasn’t so concerning. Studies done on the supposed threat to freedom of speech posed by municipalities are full of speculation. ISPs need to create acceptable use policies to protect their users and their network. Municipal owned networks are not doing anything that a normal ISP wouldn’t do, and they clearly have a right to do so.

Protecting the First Amendment?

Throughout his October 24th speech and his follow-up blog post, O’Rielly states that he’s motivated by the desire to protect the First Amendment. As Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia points out, he’s expending his energy in the wrong direction:

If Commissioner O’Rielly and the FCC were more focused on fixing known problems with broadband internet access across the U.S., the responsibility would not fall on cities to take action.

Commissioner O’Rielly cannot identify a single instance of a municipal broadband network infringing on anyone’s freedom of speech. He dances around the issue with examples of national governments around the world, but the Mayor of Chattanooga is not comparable to the Prime Minister of some national government on another continent.

Local government officials have a Constitutional obligation to uphold free speech. Mayors and council members are accountable to their constituency – they live and shop and attend events with the residents in their communities. If they are not adhering to the expectations of that community, they will be held accountable on election day.

In a recent Communications Daily article on O’Rielly’s reply to being called out about his misstatements, our Christopher Mitchell offered a similar sentiment on local power:

O’Rielly is conflating local governments with national governments, said Mitchell. “I’m probably with Commissioner O’Rielly in not wanting the federal government to control my broadband network, but I trust my local government." Local citizens have more of an ability to influence the behavior of their local government than they do to influence a large, national ISP, Mitchell said.

Lack of Influence

How fortuitous that this lack of influence on CenturyLink led to their decision to block the Internet for their Utah customers within just a few days of the year anniversary of the FCC’s end of federal network neutrality protections.

The large, national ISP took it upon themselves to disable subscribers Internet access, only allowing people to get back online after acknowledging an opportunity to purchase kid-safe filtering software. Those who were blocked all resided in Utah, where the state recently passed a law requiring ISPs to notify customers “of the ability to block material harmful to minors.” It was, however, CenturyLink’s idea to force people offline to do so. The law allows ISPs to put notification in with a monthly bill or in some other “conspicuous manner.”

Ars Technica wrote about the incident, reported by CenturyLink subscriber and independent journalist Rich Snapp. On his blog, Snapp described how, while streaming video, his TV went blank; all other devices confirmed that his Internet access was not available. When he checked his phone, he was directed to a website that required him to acknowledge that CenturyLink had offered him the chance to purchase the filtering service before he could return to his online activities. He soon discovered that other Utahns had been having the same experience.

When reaching out via Twitter to the sponsor of the legislation, Senator Todd Weiler confirmed that the bill did not require such drastic action. Weiler also replied that no ISP had blocked subscribers; he is, of course including the multiple ISPs that operate on the publicly owned UTOPIA network. This type of behavior is unique to the large, national Internet access companies that Commissioner O'Rielly appears to put so much faith in as gatekeepers of free speech.

We’re not sure whether or not to expect another explanatory response from Commissioner O’Rielly. In his December 13th blog post, he expressed deep concern that municipal networks would block subscribers from content protected by the First Amendment. He didn’t offer his opinion, however, about those big, national ISPs that block subscribers from ALL online content.

Maybe in his next blog post he’ll enlighten us.

Tags: fccmuninetwork neutralitymisinformation

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 17

December 17, 2018

Florida

Lakeland may rehire broadband consultant as high-speed Internet service debate gets new life by Mike Ferguson, The Ledger

 

Massachusetts

Small American town rejects Comcast – while ISP reps take issue with your El Reg vultures by Kieren McCarthy, The Register

It's a remarkable example of small-town America standing up to a corporate giant but it remains to be seen whether it acts as a template or a warning to other towns across the country. If nothing else, by putting all its work out there, Charlemont have given the US a blueprint for municipal networks.

Comcast rejected by small town—residents vote for municipal fiber instead by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica 

 

Minnesota

Blue Earth County Board looks to expand broadband options by Trey Mewes, Mankato Free Press

Meeker County to invest in broadband expansion over next decade by Cam Bonelli, Litchfield Independent Review

 

Ohio

Akron explores FairlawnGig services by Cassaundra Smith, Akron.com

 

Pennsylvania

Pa's lack of rural broadband may be underestimated by John Finnerty, The Herald

In Comcast’s hometown, the chasm between Internet haves and have-nots looks intractable, new census data shows by Bob Fernandez, The Inquirer 

 

Rhode Island

BIPCo to seek broadband connection by Cassius Shuman, Block Island Times

 

Wisconsin 

County board opens the door to broadband by Steve Sharp, Watertown Daily Times

"Internet is not a luxury, it's a necessity," she said. "I want the people in our communities to have all the advantages (others have)."

 

General

New FCC data indicates future broadband access for most Americans will be a monopoly

by Ernesto Falcon, Electronic Frontier Foundation 

The faster the speed you want, the fewer choices are available to you until, like a majority of Americans, you effectively return to monopoly options or no options at all. 

FCC Communications Marketplace Report finds high cable prices, uncompetitive broadband markets by Shiva Stella, Public Knowledge

One year after the net neutrality repeal: the FCC has abdicated its role protecting consumers and competition by Gigi Sohn, ProMarket

Compromise Farm Bill would raise USDA broadband loan and grant budget by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

Poor people should get slower Internet speeds, American ISPs tell FCC by Kieren McCarthy, The Register

FCC panel wants to tax Internet-using businesses and give the money to ISPs by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Tags: media roundup

Electric Co-op Connectivity Covered on New NRECA Podcast

December 17, 2018

More and more electric cooperatives have been building broadband networks to bring better Internet access to their rural members. According to the cleverly titled podcast “Along Those Lines” from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), that trend isn’t stopping any time soon.

In the second episode of the podcast, host Scot Hoffman, editor of RE Magazine, speaks with guests Mike Keyser, CEO of BARC Electric Cooperative, and Brian O’Hara, regulatory issues director for NRECA. They discuss the growing interest in broadband among electric cooperatives, some of the hurdles co-ops must overcome when deploying networks, and the impact that better connectivity has on Rural America.

Highlights From Their Conversation

A few years ago, the field of cooperative broadband was populated only by the early adopters. Now, Keyser tells the podcast host, “It seems like we’re reaching this tide where everybody’s now talking about [broadband] at every conference we go to.” One of the reasons for this groundswell of enthusiasm, O’Hara explains, is the increasingly vital role of communications infrastructure in managing the electric grid. Cooperatives’ commitment to local economic development and their “strategic advantages” in deploying networks also plays a role, he says.

BARC Electric Cooperative is one of the dozens of co-ops that have built fiber networks to connect their members. In the podcast, Keyser relates how the co-op ultimately decided to move forward with BARC Connects despite challenges:

“We finally got to the point as a co-op where the board said, look, this is going to revitalize our community, this is our mission, this is what we did 80 years ago . . . We need to just go. This is too important to the community and to the co-op.”

Local residents are clearly excited about the new network. “The single biggest question I get asked everyday is ‘When is it coming to my house?’” shares Keyser. He even believes that revenue from the broadband network will one day outstrip the co-op's income from selling electricity, a testament to the community’s need for better connectivity.

Later in the podcast, O’Hara argues that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should consider raising its definition of broadband, which is currently 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. He explains:

“If [the FCC is] going to give out money to build 25/3, that’s meeting today’s minimum . . . It’s not going to necessarily meet the needs in the future. And we think that as the federal government looks to put out its limited resources towards broadband, it should look at higher speeds.”

In some cases, O’Hara continues, the FCC is funding large providers to offer speeds of just 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload in rural areas. “We don’t think that’s right,” O’Hara remarks. “That’s almost setting up a second class citizen status for some of these communities.” At the same time, many electric co-ops are using more modest federal funding to build future-proof fiber networks capable of gigabit speeds.

Some electric cooperatives decided to build broadband networks only after other providers refused to connect their rural members. “They kept waiting for someone else to come in and solve the problem, and no one did,” says O’Hara. In many ways, this parallels how cooperatives originally electrified their rural communities after they were left behind by the electric utilities. Keyser recounts what another cooperative leader said to him about bringing Internet access to their members:

“It is as close as we’re going to get to what it felt like to turn people’s lights on for the first time.”

Listen to the podcast here or at the "Along Those Lines" website.

 

 

More Resources on Electric Cooperative Broadband Projects

Listen the other episodes of “Along Those Lines” on the NRECA website.

To learn more about the electric cooperatives connecting Rural America, check out the rural electric co-ops story tag or visit our page on rural cooperatives. Prefer to learn with your ears instead of your eyes? The rural cooperatives page has a list of relevant Community Broadband Bits episodes for more.

Tags: audiocooperativesruralrural electric cooppodcast

FairlawnGig Brings Better Connectivity to Akron Business Hub

December 14, 2018

After building out the community of 7,500 residents at the end of 2017, Fairlawn, Ohio, began expanding its municipal broadband service beyond city limits through a collaboration with the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN). In June 2018, FairlawnGig became the only municipal Internet access provider on the dark fiber network, which offers connectivity in the region, including in the Akron metropolitan area.

Ernie Staten, Fairlawn’s Deputy Director of Public service, stated that FairlawnGig is “thrilled to take [its] services beyond city limits to help regional organizations achieve business goals only obtainable with robust broadband service.” The newly formed Bounce Innovation Hub, located in the former B.F. Goodrich Plant in downtown Akron, is one such organization that will soon take advantage of the expansion. In early December, Bounce announced a partnership with FairlawnGig that will bring gigabit speed Internet access to its building that houses entrepreneurial and creative organizations.

Growing a Globally Competitive Region

In the little over a year since the creation of FairlawnGig, home values in Fairlawn have increased eight and a half percent. FairlawnGig now serves over 2,000 subscribers and 500 businesses in Fairlawn and more enterprises are choosing to locate in the town. Many of these new businesses, including an I.T. firm with 72 high-paying jobs, stated that their main reason for choosing to locate in the town was FairlawnGig. Staten believes that the network can help the entire region compete globally in the same way it has helped local businesses grow and thrive and that “[its] services are perfect to help businesses in Bounce innovate and create market opportunities.”

Listen to Staten and Christopher discuss the early benefits of the network on the community of Fairlawn in episode 292 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

A Partnership that Drives Change

Doug Weintraub, the CEO of Bounce, explained that as an innovation center attempting to recruit tech companies, it is imperative that the hub “have a public Wi-Fi solution that can accommodate high volumes at unprecedented speed with a convenient sign-on mechanism.” FairlawnGig will be able to deliver consistent, high-speed broadband service that meets these demands to the tenants of Bounce. While free public Internet access will be available throughout the building, companies in the hub will also be able to create customized network plans in order to meet their individual needs. Public Wi-Fi will also be available in the hub’s under construction first-floor space, The Generator, which will house a public working space, makerspace, cafe, events space, and esports lab. 

With this new public workspace and more than 50 organizations and 200 people already in the building, Bounce will become FairlawnGig’s largest customer outside of its home community. The deal will not only allow Bounce to provide high-speed and reliable broadband connection to tenants, but will also help FairlawnGig continue its expansion into new communities that can benefit from its service. As Weintraub explained: “FairlawnGig is able to give [Bounce] the power [it needs] here. This is the perfect example of how relationships can drive real change and opportunity.” 

Tags: fairlawn ohohioincubatorakronexpansionmedina countyeconomic development

Charlemont Chooses Muni Fiber Over Comcast Cartel

December 13, 2018

The people of Charlemont, Massachusetts, are ready to pay approximatly $1.5 million to own broadband infrastructure rather than shell over $462,000 to Comcast for cable Internet access in their community. At a packed December 6th town meeting, voters showed up to handily defeat the proposal from the cable giant and express their support for a publicly owned fiber optic network.

Making the Best Choice for Charlemont

According to Robert Handsaker, who chairs the Charlemont Broadband Committee, the standing room only crowd at the local school defeated the Comcast proposal by a 20 percent margin. He went on to state that the town already has a design prepared, which it developed with Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E). WG+E has been working with approximately 20 western Massachusetts towns interested in publicly owned broadband networks in several different capacities, including consulting and design. Having developed their own network, WhipCity Fiber, the Westfield utility is now offering skills as a consultant and as a network operator to nearby communities.

The Comcast proposal required Charlemont to kick in more than $462,000 while only serving 96 percent of the community. Ownership of the infrastructure would have remained with the national company. The city has been exploring options for at least two years, after plans for the broadband cooperative Wired West changed. When voters at a 2015 town meeting voted to approve borrowing for the project, community leaders considered Leverett’s financing model, using moderate property taxes to fund the project.

In the warrant article fact sheet comparing the two proposals side by side, Charlemont plans rates for $79 per month for symmetrical gigabit stand alone Internet access unless the local take rate falls below 40 percent, in which case it would increase to $99 per month. Comcast service would cost from $61 - $311 per month depending on speeds, with 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download estimated at $101 per month. Comcast upload speeds would be slower. 

Homeowners in Charlemont would also need to pay an average of $.66 per month per $1,000 of valuation until the infrastructure is paid off. With fewer subscribers, that rate increase and with more, that rate decreases. Voice service would also be available for an additional $23 per month from the town and up to $48 per month from Comcast.

Check out the other comparisons on the warrant sheet.

State Funding

Charlemont has received a grant from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED), which provided $960,000; the town used the funds for network design. Before they proceeded, however, town council wanted to present the Comcast proposal to voters.

The Greenfield Recorder reports that the Broadband Committee and the Finance Committee each took up the proposal from the cable company and, while the Broadband Committee voted unanimously to reject it, the opposite happened in the Finance Committee. The Selectboard chose not to make a recommendation to voters, letting people of Charlemont review the options and decide for themselves. However, two of the three Selectboard members spoke at the town meeting in favor of the Comcast plan, Handsaker said.

Shifting Plans

The 1,200 folks in Charlemont have anticipated fiber connections for years, having first planned to improve Internet access as a WiredWest member town. residents committed to the project by paying a $49 deposit to guarantee their connection to the proposed regional network.

When the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) objected to WiredWest’s plan to operate as a cooperative of Municipal Light Plants (MLPs), which are local entities responsible for operating publicly owned broadband networks, plans to develop a regional network began to fracture. MBI developed criteria that communities needed to meet before they could access funding, which slowed the process further. Community leaders took heart from the fact that more than 40 percent of households signed up with WiredWest, indicating a genuine interest in fiber optic service. Along with other local communities, Charlemont released an RFP for fiber optic design and contracting to develop a town network.

WG+E will build and operate the network; the Westfield utility has secured a little more than $100,000 in CAF-II funding that will apply to the Charlemont project. As in the case of Leverett, the town will choose an ISP to offer services via the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure. With control that comes with ownership, they will have the option to choose a different Internet access company if they aren’t happy with the service they receive.

Hansaker told the Recorder that next the city will begin filing make-ready applications with utilities that own poles in Charlemont.

Image of Curtis Country Store in Charlemont by John Phelan [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Charlemont Warrant Article Fact Sheet on Broadband ProposalsTags: charlemont mamassachusettsFTTHcomcastmassachusetts broadband instituteproperty tax

John's CenturyLink Phone Cord Saga - The Final Holiday Chapter

December 12, 2018

Over the past several months, we’ve recounted trials and tribulations as we tried to obtain a telephone power cord from CenturyLink. The saga has taken us through the horrors of Halloween to an odd fall Groundhog Day, and now we’re happy to report that our hero recently celebrated an early Christmas. The phone power cord has finally arrived.

In order to memorialize the event, we recorded John opening the package from CenturyLink. Against all odds, it WAS the correct cord.

All He Wanted Was A Phone Cord

As a recap, the CenturyLink Saga actually began on August 22, 2018, when our Co-Director and head of the Energy Democracy Initiative, John Farrell, contacted our Internet access and VoIP provider to request a phone cord. If you read the first story in the series, you’ll remember that a phone he ordered for a new hire came with no power cord in the box. Seems like a simple request, but is there such as thing as a "simple request" when dealing with a massive, inefficient bureaucracy such as CenturyLink?

What He Got Was A Trip on A Hamster Wheel

From that moment on, John was mindlessly shuffled from sales associate to “help” desk, and eventually routed back the first person he reached out to for help. When he expressed his frustration on Twitter, CenturyLink was all over the problem, tweeting that they could help him if he would just direct message him. He obliged, only to be sent through the same maze once more after being ignored after some weeks. The final response, after CenturyLink had wasted John’s time was, “We don’t provide power cords for the phone. I apologize.”

He Had to Let the World Know

All that changed, however, after we published our account of the bureaucratic bumble from behemoth CenturyLink. When we tweeted out our story on Halloween, once again, CenturyLink was all over our problem and asked us to take our complaints out of the public sphere. Whatever you say about CenturyLink, they have alert communications people manning the Twitter account.

Things "Escalated"

Within a week, a dozen or so direct Twitter messages, and another endless Groundhog Dayish loop of endless bureaucracy later, the “escalation team” took up our cause. It was obvious by the messages that the people we interacted with didn’t know what each other were up to in trying to solve out problem. No surprises there.

And Voila!

After 96 days, John finally received the power cord he requested so long ago.

Happy Christmas, John!

Tags: century linkcenturylinkbusiness servicescustomer service

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 335

December 11, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 335 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode Christopher speaks with Councilor Joel McAuliffee about efforts to establish a municipal fiber network in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Listen to the podcast here.

 

 

Joel McAuliffe: What is the cost of not doing it? If we don't make this investment now, if we don't be at the forefront of this technology at this utility, what opportunities are we losing?

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 335 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When a local community considers developing a publicly-owned fiber optic network, the process from idea to implementation typically takes several years. This week, Christopher talks with Joel McAuliffe, city councilor from Chicopee, Massachusetts, a community that is currently involved in that process of consideration. Joel and Christopher discuss the city, what Internet access is like there, and the work that they've done so far in exploring options for better connectivity. They talk about some of the reasons why Joel thinks that investing in a network is the best option for his community and what they stand to risk if they don't take action. Joel also discusses what it's like as an elected official faced with this type of issue. Now, here's Christopher with councilor Joel McAuliffe from Chicopee, Massachusetts.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today I'm speaking with Joel McAuliffe, the city councilor in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Welcome to the show.

Joel McAuliffe: Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: This is going to be, I think, a very good back and forth discussion. You have done a lot of research into this, you're a strong advocate for an aggressive municipal network in Chicopee, and you've made a difference — you're heading in that direction. So that's kind of a preview, but let's start a little bit with where is Chicopee and what is it's sort of economic situation. You know, what's it like to live there?

Joel McAuliffe: Sure. So we're about 90 miles west of Boston. We're known as the crossroads of New England. We're pretty much the center of Interstate 91, all the major highways. After coming from New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, you come through here. It used to be a major industrial hub. It's where a lot of railroads would cross through. We had a "Town of Seven Railroads." It's a huge industrial hub. We are home to the Ames Manufacturing Company, which made swords during the Civil War for the Union army. So we have a huge industrial base — home of Uniroyal, an old tire manufacturer. So that's really where we stand. We're a town of 56,000. We're trending upwards. We're growing in terms of population. And we're also home to the largest air reserve base in the country, Westover Air Reserve Base, so a huge military component here as well.

Christopher Mitchell: And your background is that you had previously worked for the mayor, but tell us a little bit about where you come from.

Joel McAuliffe: I grew up in Chicopee, went to school there, and shortly after my second year of college, was hired by the mayor of the city of Chicopee. I had run previously as a teen for school committee and was unsuccessful, but after my second attempt, the mayor hired me to work in his office. And it was in that time period where I did some work, working on certain special projects, where I came across the success of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which peaked my interest in municipal broadband, and also paid attention to what President Obama did in his State of the Union in 2015, where he pushed the success of certain municipal broadband utilities across the country and encouraged municipalities to make that investment. So that's where my interest in broadband Internet on a municipal level started. From there, I left in late 2016 to go work for our state Senator Eric Lesser, a Harvard Grad and a alum of the Obama administration, and I've been working for him since January 2017. Shortly after getting hired for him, I decided to take another plunge at electoral politics, and I decided to run for city council and was elected in November of that year. You know, fun story for me is, as much as I liked municipal broadband, I thought it would be a little bit of a too technical thing to try to talk about on the campaign trail. But as I knocked doors and met with voters, it increasingly became aware to me that this is something that was really important to them because they were incredibly frustrated with the Internet services and cable services in our area, which were pretty much confined to either DSL service from Verizon or cable service through Charter Spectrum, both which are not very well received in the community. And being a community that has a electric utility that is incredibly successful and well received, that became very clear to me that that was an issue that we should push and work on. And [I'm] continuing to work on it to today.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you say in an op ed that you wrote when running, is something that really resonated with me. You wrote, "So often in government, we look for reasons not to do something. We say it's too costly, or it's too much work. We hardly ever talk about why we should do something. Now is the time for us to make this investment in our city, so we can create jobs and build on our history of innovation by shepherding in a new modern economy that works for everyone." Now I have to say that, you know, pushing for a municipal utility is a real breath of fresh air in that what I often hear from city council members is, "Well, maybe we could do a partnership or something, but we don't want to take on risk." And so tell me, why do you think Chicopee is well poised to succeed with a municipal utility approach.

Joel McAuliffe: I appreciate you bringing that quote forth. I mean, I still feel very passionately about heading in that direction and everything that I said at that time because, you know, as an old industrial community, we have lost so much industry, so many jobs because the economy is changing. You know, in our area, we're one of the few communities that have that municipal electric utility, which allows us to spin off of that to create that broadband Internet utility. And additionally, because of some of the work that's been done in our community over the years, we already have a fiber backbone in place that's been used in the city over the last few years. So part of that project, what's needed to do a fiber build out to the home, is already done. Yes, I do hear those concerns from other people about the costs associated, the risk associated. The general manager of our electric light utility is advocating for a much more conservative build out than I am, highlighting the risk to their electric side of things. That is a valid point, but I'd like to hit back on the fact that, you know, what is the cost of not doing this? If we don't make this investment now, if we don't be at the forefront of this technology at this utility, what opportunities are we losing? You know, I traveled last month to Burlington, Vermont. I'm sure you guys know a little bit of the story about Burlington, Vermont. They were one of the first utilities to be created in the early 2000s, creating a Fiber-to-the-Home utility, and I met with their general manager. They were one of the number one cited failures of the municipal broadband generation. They were largely a failure because, as it was explained to me, they were created specifically because the people in Burlington did not like Comcast, and they wanted to find a way to stick it to them. But as time went on, as they struggled with the loans that they took out to do this, they realized that they didn't have a target approach and a reason or a issue that they were trying to solve with their creation of their utility. They didn't have a reason to do this outside of wanting to compete with Comcast. Fast forward a few years, they brought in a gentleman to try to revise their model, their business model. They changed their outlook. They figured out, you know, the business side of things — that they could attract businesses to Burlington, they could offer service at a lower price, they could offer better services to their residents. And they have become much more focused on all the things that we talk about, which is using it to create economic development, which is using it to save our residents money, which is using it to give them an opportunity to have that better service. And now, they are thriving. They are expanding to communities across Vermont, not just in Burlington, and they're a very successful utility. And I often point to folks that say that there are some failures in this area and say, yes there are, but those are really a confined to the first few years of the phenomenon. Lately you've seen very little failure in this area because we sort of have an idea how to do it and do it the right way. But you know, the communities that do this need to have people who think about this on a thoughtful level. You can't just throw all your eggs in a basket, create an utility, and expect it to be successful. There's multiple components associated with it. So that's what I'm trying to do. That's what we're trying to do in Chicopee, and it's been well received — at least from the residents. It's been a little bit more difficult on the governmental level, but the residents feel very passionately about this.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, I'm not surprised to hear you say that. That's actually pretty common in my experience in that the local elected officials are often much more timid than the constituents.

Joel McAuliffe: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to note that with Burlington, we have done an interview with, I believe, Stephen Barraclough, who I think is still managing it.

Joel McAuliffe: Yep.

Christopher Mitchell: And there were a number of factors. I mean, with Burlington, what you said is true, and those are important lessons for anyone building a network like this. In Burlington's case, one of the biggest problems though was I think one of the mayors basically lied about its performance and hid when it was struggling, and that led to loss after loss that nobody even really knew about. And so it's a reminder of the need for city council members to do their oversight job and things like that. So I just want to put that out there for people, to make sure that they're hearing that part of it as well. But what I really want to talk about is a little bit more about what you heard in running because, you know, you beat an incumbent that had been there for 10 years. You beat him significantly, that incumbent — I don't know if it was a him or her actually. And I'm curious, do you attribute that to your message on municipal broadband? Was it a combination of factors? What do you think drove that?

Joel McAuliffe: Well, I think with any sort of election there's varying factors, but municipal broadband, I think, was the center issue. You know, like most communities, as costs go up in different sorts of areas, things like trash and other sorts of services that municipalities offer, it seems today that the resident, the constituent is getting less and less in terms of services — less bang for their buck. So as they receive less and continue to pay more, we have to think about ways how to replace some of those services, enhance some of the things that they get, when they're losing some of the other services. And I thought this was just such a shining example as a way to do that. We're heading towards an area where people want to find a way to cut the cord with their cable companies, with their phone companies, and the only way you can do that is if you have reliable Internet that is able to handle the type of bandwidth that's necessary for them to do that. So on a much more basic level, to your average Joe, it's how can we save them money, and the only way you're really going to be able to save them money is if you find a way for them to lower their monthly costs by providing a service that allows them to do that. And that was a calculation that I made — that the way that they're able to cut the cord is to have that reliable service, to have uninterrupted service by offering the high speed broadband. And they were very receptive to that and they're very excited about that because they're looking for something out of their government. And one of the things that we continue to hear from my colleagues in elected government is concerns over the price. Now, we did a feasibility study in 2015 that basically analyzed the entire system that we had already, which was that fiber backbone that was part of the electric utility that already existed, and evaluated the economic climate in western Massachusetts [and] evaluated the interest in the residents in having such a utility. And it was pretty unanimous that, you know, this would be a huge success in Chicopee. It projected what the take rate would be, the interest in the consumer in becoming a part of the utility, a subscriber in the utility. It evaluated the economic climate in western Massachusetts to show that if Chicopee were to create this utility, it would a cement ourselves as a leader in the 21st century economy allow us to compete for tech companies and jobs that don't already exist. You know, for example, we look at Boston and Cambridge as a thriving tech industry, thriving in other industries as well, but a huge success in tech and innovation. But the cost of doing business, the cost of living in Boston and Cambridge and surrounding areas is so expensive, it's driving people out. I hear everyday of people who travel from Chicopee and from western Massachusetts out to Boston for work, and they find it difficult to do that. What I view happening — because no other municipality has this sort of technology, has this sort of utility, what we would be able to do if we build it out the way I'm advocating for would be to attract some of those companies to western Massachusetts where our cost of living, our costs of doing business is so much less than it is there. So it'll allow us to compete in this 21st century economy. It's a goal. And I keep returning to that phrase is "What is the cost of not doing this?" Because if we do not and we miss this opportunity, we miss this chance in time, we'll be [relegated] to falling behind everybody else, and we will not have found a way to replace the success we had during the industrial revolution when we were a player in terms of industry. So I think it's a huge opportunity to cement our future, to make our stake about where we're going to go, and I think it's largely important that we make an investment — a significant investment — to get that done.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, there is a context here as well, and that's that Westfield, Otis are already moving ahead with a fiber project. Others in western Mass. — I mean, you're looking at 20 or 30 towns that may soon have Fiber-to-the-Home to the majority of the area. You know, you're right next to Holyoke, which I believe actually even serves some of the places in Chicopee, some of the businesses, with their municipal utility. And so I have to think that you're feeling some pressure, that to the extent there is going to be investment in western Mass., if Chicopee doesn't have the infrastructure of the day, you're definitely going to be missing out on it.

Joel McAuliffe: Well certainly, and we just saw within the last week, South Hadley, which is a community that borders Chicopee hired away our project manager that was spearheading this effort in Chicopee to go work for them so that they could look at expanding. The difference between what those communities are doing is they're doing a much more conservative, slow build out. I'm advocating for making a significant investment in building this out much faster, and building out to every home. Those other communities have done — like Westfield, which has been successful — have done "Fiberhoods," have slowly built it out. I want to build fiber to every home and every business to make it accessible because I don't necessarily believe the "offer it and they will come" approach, which is currently what Chicopee is discussing doing. Getting people to sign up for a service that doesn't exist doesn't seem all that successful to me. So you have to be real for that interest to exist for people. They have to have that opportunity to make that switch, to realize that service before you realize all the success that comes with it. But yeah, we definitely feel the pressure. Things that have been going on in Westfield, things that have been going on in Holyoke are reasons that we need to cement ourselves as a main competitor, and we need to be leaders in this effort and not followers.

Christopher Mitchell: And I certainly wouldn't — I should've mentioned Leverett as well. I just want to give them a plug because they were quite sharp in their project

Joel McAuliffe: With regards to those communities, they are rural communities that had been without any sort of broadband at all, so them being able to get that is large in part because of a statewide effort to complete what they call that last mile to connect those communities that haven't had any sort of broadband. So they're going from zero to hero in some sense, and it's exciting for those communities, but it increases our need to be more competitive and ahead of the curve.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that was hard to follow from afar was the dynamic that I want you to describe to me because, you know, looking at the newspapers as it was happening, it seemed like some months ago, Chicopee basically decided either to make a decision later or to make a very gradual approach. And then you started a petition, and then all of a sudden it seemed like city council got more aggressive. What happened there?

Joel McAuliffe: Since I've come into office, I used whatever tools possible to keep this issue at the forefront and to not let it go away, so I think that has played a large part in that. It's continuously been discussed on the council. I brought resolutions forward to have the council take a stand. Of course, we can't generate funding, but we can certainly drive the public discourse. And the public has been very supportive and very adamant with their elected officials that this is something that they want to get done. The main difficulty that we face, and I'm sure many other communities face this, is a basic understanding from those in elected government of what this means. You know, I've heard it uttered in these meetings that I've been a part of and these discussions, that DSL is just fine. Everybody who wants Internet, has it. I don't understand why we need to build something that we already have. And this a lot of times, I'm sure other communities again face this, is that you have people making decisions on what kind of technological investment your community is going to make with people who don't use the technology, don't understand the technology. I mean, we've had a feasibility study that outlines a lot of this stuff that's been done for a number of years and available to the public, which people in elected government haven't read or don't understand. That really makes things difficult, so that that's the challenge we're facing: how to educate our elected leaders about how important this is. About how this isn't just creating a cheaper service so that you can stream Netflix easier, but how it really unlocks so many different doors and opportunities for your community that are limitless.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's push in on that as we wind down interview. You know, if the result of this, if the result of your pushing ahead aggressively with this was that a national cable or telephone company said, "You know what, we think Chicopee is a great place to build a Fiber-to-the-Home network. We're going to cover every one with the latest technology." Do you think that would solve your problem?

Joel McAuliffe: I don't know. I don't see Google or any sort of company coming to Chicopee and making that investment, but it certainly would be welcomed.

Christopher Mitchell: I know that you care a lot about net neutrality, and that's what I was kind of getting at it. What if it was AT&T or Comcast or Charter — companies that we know have worked hard to try to undermine the net neutrality tradition of the Internet?

Joel McAuliffe: Let's just dovetail off that a little bit. One of the main arguments from my council against progressing forward has been reports that were paid for by Charter and Comcast saying that this kind of area was a failure. One of the main reasons that early on this year I discussed about why we need to move forward with this is that the Trump administration and the FCC were rolling back those net neutrality rules that didn't allow any sort of discrimination to occur. As a municipal utility, we could reject that interference in terms of net neutrality. If AT&T or any other company came in, they're free to do what they choose with these new restrictions — or lack of restrictions. So while I would encourage and welcome any sort of investment in our city, I still think the municipal side is the way to go.

Christopher Mitchell: It's pretty clear in your advocacy and even in the supporters you've had, with Chattanooga's mayor, Andy Berke, encouraging you, that Chattanooga is in some ways an inspiration. You mentioned that toward the beginning, Chattanooga is undoubtedly one of the most successful networks. They also happened to have been —and this is in no way casting disparagement on any specific utility, but Chattanooga's one of the most, best, well run electric utilities in the country from what I can tell. You know, is there a danger in sort of using almost an outlier in terms of success as a measuring rod?

Joel McAuliffe: You're right about that Chattanooga was the first and one of the most successful, if not the most successful one.

Christopher Mitchell: Sorry, let me jump in because you actually just said something that is a common claim. They were actually not one of the first. They were probably like, you know, 30th or 40th or something like that in terms of the number, although I would say that they certainly have been incredibly successful. So just a quick note in terms of when they built it, they were in the sort of third wave almost

Joel McAuliffe: Certainly on the forefront of the technology compared to where everybody else is.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes.

Joel McAuliffe: But Chattanooga, the reason they were able to do this build out so quickly and so effectively was because they were able to get a stimulus money at the beginning of the Obama administration. So what they did is invested in their smart grid, which included this broadband utility. But, you know, when I went to Burlington, one of the things that stuck with me in speaking with Steven was he said to me, "You have to have a champion in your community to have this be successful."

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely.

Joel McAuliffe: That's what Chattanooga had. They had a mayor that was a leader on the issue and understood what this could do for his community. A lot of these communities that are entering this don't have that leader who fully understands what this does for your community, so the difference between us and Chattanooga is we're going to have to make a public investment, whether entirely from our municipal tax base or by bonding or however we do this or whether we receive any sort of state funds. We don't know how that's gonna work out, but what we do know [is] the comparisons in terms of them being a old industrial town that made an investment in itself and was able to change its future I think is very comparable to us. Are we going to see, you know the billion dollar investment, the thousands of jobs? It's not going to be that significant because some of that's already been done. But it is undoubtedly going to attract investment to our city. It is undoubtedly going to lower the costs that our residents have, and it is undoubtedly going to improve their service. And just because we're not the first or one of the first to do this, doesn't mean we won't realize those successes, so I think it's important for us to make the investment. I'm not too concerned at comparing us to Chattanooga because I think we have to learn from their successes, but as I've mentioned with Burlington, we have to learn from other failures as well. So I think that's important, but Chattanooga has done things the right way. They've marketed themselves the right way, and they've grown to offering their services to surrounding communities in a way that I think we need to think about doing, in a way that Burlington's also now doing, because other communities in western Massachusetts don't have the municipal light plant that they can use to expand. So I think it offers a tremendous blueprint, and I think it offers a great path forward for us.

Christopher Mitchell: And I just wanted to jump in to reiterate something you said at the beginning of that, which is key and sometimes has gotten confused in the minds of a lot of people working in this issue. And that's that the stimulus at the beginning of the Obama presidency to help the economy recover, that helped Chattanooga go from a 10 year build out plan to a three year build out plan, but they did have to borrow money still.

Joel McAuliffe: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: And some people have claimed that without that money, Chattanooga couldn't have done what they did, and the accurate piece of that is that that money enabled them to go faster. But I think Chattanooga was poised to have the success because of the right leadership and the right vision, and the timeframe is what changed with the Department of Energy grant.

Joel McAuliffe: Absolutely, and that's the argument that we get here, right? Is that because we have to do this all on our own, we should do it slower. And yeah, it absolutely did help Chattanooga move faster, but what we see here is we've already had the fiber backbone in place in Chicopee. So we do have the base of an infrastructure already, so that puts us a little bit further ahead than any other organization would be starting out.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you, Joel. I really appreciate your leadership on this, your passion for it. It's something that I think local governments really need, is to get that sense of vision back that we talked about with that line from your op ed about looking at the reasons why something should be done rather than focusing too much on the risks. It's important to measure the risks but I think people are scared sometimes, and it's important to make sure that you have a vision you're working toward. So I hope that others will take heart from you just as you've taken heart from Chattanooga and from the Obama campaign and presidency. But thank you so much for coming on the show.

Joel McAuliffe: Thank you. I appreciate you guys having me. And to all your listeners, I hope it's important that they realize that, you know, people who care about their community, when they feel very passionate about an issue, the power is in their hands. So continue to work on the advocacy. I appreciate what your organization does in raising awareness throughout the country and am so grateful for what you guys do and appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. And wish you guys the best.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with councilor Joel McAuliffe from Chicopee, Massachusetts, discussing efforts in his city to develop a municipal fiber optic network. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research; subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 335 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Possibilities, Challenges, Risks : Chicopee, Massachusetts, Considers A Muni - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 335

December 11, 2018

By the time a local community is ready to light up their municipal fiber optic network, they’ve already invested several years' worth of debate, investigation, and energy. While deploying a network is certainly a complicated task, educating the community, growing support, and helping elected officials determine the best approach is equally difficult. What’s it like in the early stages for those visionaries who feel that their city or town needs a publicly owned option?

This week we find out from Chicopee’s Joel McAuliffe, Councilor for Ward 1. He’s been advocating for a municipal broadband network for several years and his message is growing. In addition to working to educate his fellow council members about the need for local high-speed Internet access, Joel has reached out to folks in the community. Last fall, he encouraged citizens to sign an online petition supporting the proposal and to contact their elected officials to urge them to move forward on the matter.

Joel describes how the city has certain advantages that he’d like capitalize on for a citywide fiber network. He talks about local concerns that are driving the effort, such as high rates and poor services, and that with a municipal network to offer competition, he believes Chicopee can attract new business and new residents from the Boston area. Chris and Joel also discuss the challenges for a city council in making decisions based on technology when they are not well-versed in those technologies.

When Joel introduced his petition to the community, he also published this short video to encourage people to sign and share:

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

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

The transcript for this episode is available here.

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

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

Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitschicopee mamassachusettsconsiderationFTTHeconomic developmentpolitics

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority: Progress Made, All Indicators Favorable

December 11, 2018

As they look back over their accomplishments, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) has more than the holidays to celebrate at the close of 2018. In addition to stimulating competition in the region, the RVBA network is attracting more investment and helping local nonprofits operate more efficiently.

Dual Purpose

For Feeding America Southwest Virginia in Salem, connectivity from RVBA is critical. “Without that Internet connection reliability, it would be very difficult for us to achieve our mission,” says IT Director Eric Geist. The food bank is one of the enterprise customers that the RVBA serves in the region, providing affordable access to organizations and institutions such as nonprofits, businesses, and institutions.

By providing affordable connectivity and services focused on the needs of businesses, the RVBA network has helped drive competition in the region. According to CEO Frank Smith’s research, prices have dropped 25 - 30 percent. The change squares with the RVBA mission to enhance and promote economic development by improving connectivity services and prices in Salem, Roanoke, and the counties of Roanoke and Botetourt. They've seen results in the past three years with greater expectations ahead.

The History

Before the network, the valley was caught in a connectivity “donut hole.” The populations in Salem and Roanoke had access to some cable Internet access and were large enough to prevent the region from obtaining grants to entice providers to upgrade. In 2013, local governments decided to work together to improve connectivity and funded a feasibility study, which recommended an open access network.

Botetourt and Roanoke Counties were indecisive about their commitment to the project, but the cities of Salem and Roanoke pushed ahead. Salem, with its own electric utility, already had some fiber infrastructure in place, which lowered the cost of the project. Even through negative push polls from the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association (top donors Comcast and Cox), local support for the investment remained. Folks in the Roanoke Valley understood the connection between the network and economic opportunity.

By the spring of 2016, the network started connecting their intended customers — businesses, schools, libraries, and nonprofits. In addition to Internet and data transport services, customers had the ability to lease dark fiber and manage their own IT structure. The RVBA also hoped to attract last mile residential Internet access companies interested in delivering services to households in the Roanoke Valley.

It didn’t take long for entities taking advantage of the network to sing their praises, including Blue Ridge PBS, the Western Viriginia Water Authority, and David Carter, Chief Technology Officer from Advanced Logic Industries:

”For the first time in my years in IT; a fiber construction engagement; happened on time and as promised. You are to be congratulated on setting up the RVBA for continued success; and with customer service like this you can count on ALI to be an advocate for your services in the region. Thank you again; for helping us with a mutual client do what we were explicitly told could not be done in Roanoke."

Learn more about the network; listen to episode 221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher interviews CEO Frank Smith:

Word Got Around

After receiving the Governor’s Technology Award in the fall of 2016 and word spread about service from RVBA, more businesses and other entities signed up. In addition to GE Digital’s Meridium finance, RDG Filings, and Eldor Corp. When Elder Corp. was looking for a location to develop a $75 million manufacturing facility in Botetourt County, RVBA helped out by extending the network to their site.

Over the past three years, the RVBA has expanded the network to approximately 80 miles. In 2017, ABS Technology started offering residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services in Roanoke to a downtown apartment building via RVBA fiber. The network also serves Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) and have connected a downtown Roanoke business and tech accelerator, in collaboration with the college.

Heralded, But…

It’s clear that the local communities’ investment is paying off in several ways: employers are bringing new development, competition is making rates more reasonable for entities that can’t afford necessary high-quality connectivity, and services are finally available that never were before. The RVBA is accomplishing its mission to boost economic development, an ambition shared by local elected officials.

While most local leaders have shown support for the RVBA and the network, a few still oppose the investment. Often their lack of support is rooted in incorrect information that that, through repetition, perpetuates the wrong idea about publicly owned networks. For example, a recent Roanoke Times article, covers bipartisan support and accomplishments of the RVBA, but also repeats the line from former Roanoke Board of Supervisors Al Bedrosian that the investment amounts to “government subsidized Internet.” 

Like a municipal electric utility, the RVBA network is infrastructure that earns revenue from those that use it, which includes local businesses, nonprofits, and other entities. The local communities of Salem and Roanoke invested to improve economic development with fiber infrastructure and it’s paying off. Established rates are reasonable, realistic, and competitive — not subsidized in order to be artificially low.

Unlike proposed payments to large providers to build out rural Internet access (usually with outdated DSL) or to develop better service, when the RVBA or other publicly owned network earns revenue, it stays in the community. Public funds handed over to Frontier, Comcast, or AT&T are used to build inferior infrastructure that earns profits for shareholders.

The article also fails to clearly mention that the RVBA does not offer residential Internet access to the public, but allows private sector companies to do so. The RVBA provides the infrastructure that last mile providers lease and on which they deliver Internet access to homes. The RVBA isn’t competing for household subscribers, but creating an environment in which households have more options.

For more on the services and rates the RVBA offers to businesses, nonprofits, institutional customers, municipal entities, and similar organizations, check out their services page.

Both Sides of the Aisle

The Roanoke Times referred to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey indicating that both Democrats and Republicans believe local control should govern municipal broadband network decisions. When we examined elections between 2008 and 2012, we determined that conservative communities are most likely to have developed broadband networks. Joe McNamara, who was just elected to the Virginia House of Delegates on a strong Republican platform, has been an ardent supporter of the RVBA. When asked about the publicly owned option in the past, McNamara replied:

“It’s definitely, definitely something that whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, independent it really makes no difference,” McNamara said. “Everybody kind of has coalesced behind the need really to view broadband as another utility.”

Check out local coverage from WDBJ7 on the network and Feeding America Southwest Virginia:

 

Image of Roanoke, Virginia, by Joe Ravi [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Tags: roanoke valleysalem varoanoke countybotetourt countyvirginiavideoeconomic developmentdark fiberbusiness servicesleasecompetitionmisinformation

Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 10

December 10, 2018

Colorado

Fort Collins to tap into Platte River Power Authority fiber for municipal broadband by Nick Coltrain, Fort Collins Coloradoan

Trail Gazette Editorial - Estes Park needs broadband, Trail Gazette

A win for our community by Michelle Perry, Craig Daily Press

 

 

North Carolina

North Carolina communities draw up Internet service wishlist by Andrew Mundhenk, Times-News

Need speed? Towns seek input on broadband network by Bill Moss, Hendersonville Lightning

 

Oregon

Broadband coalition not awarded big grant by Richard Hanners, Blue Mountain Eagle

 

Utah

At home and online: Utah households among the most connected, census shows by Annie Knox and Art Raymond, Deseret News

 

Virginia

Fredericksburg, Va., OKs broadband Internet expansion by Cathy Jett, The Free Lance-Star 

 

Wisconsin

Census: Wisconsin incomes up, poverty down; digital divide yawns by Chris Hubbuch, Wisconsin State Journal

 

General

Native Americans on tribal land are 'the least connected' to high-speed Internet by Hansi Lo Wang, NPR

"Folks find a way to access it. Folks are resilient," she says. "But it shouldn't be this way in the U.S. We should have the same access as other folks, and if we don't, it's going to put us down a path of further have's and have not's."

Here are the most affordable places to live with high-speed Internet by Joel Hruska, Extreme Tech

Podcast: The homework digital divide by Kim Hart, Axios 

Digital divide is wider than federal statistics show, Microsoft study says by Steve Lohr, The New York Times

Overall, Microsoft concluded that 162.8 million people do not use the Internet at broadband speeds, while the FCC says that broadband is not available to 24.7 million Americans. The discrepancy is particularly stark in rural areas.

Rural small grants available to deploy broadband-based solutions by Rachel Engel, Efficient Gov

What the government is doing on Internet access by Kim Hart, Axios

Electricity 2.0: Small cities rush to innovate on wifi by Kim Hart, Axios

USDA’s rural broadband plan met with criticism, concerns by Christopher Walljasper, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Microsoft believes the broadband gap can be closed by Laurie Bedord, Successful Farming

Tags: media roundup

Estes Park Local Media Encourages Board to Move on Fiber

December 10, 2018

During the February 2015 referendum, approximately 92 percent who voted on the measure, chose to opt out of SB 152 in Estes Park. The mountain town of 6,300 has experienced catastrophic outages dues to ice and flooding, including in 2016 and in 2013 when telecommunications were wiped out for days.

Estes Park has their own electric utility and is part of a regional public power initiative that involves the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA). As a result the town has a fair amount of publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure in place. City officials hired consultants to offer recommendations and by 2016 had entered a design engineering phase of a possible Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) initiative. Experts estimated the cost to connect the community to be around $30 million and recommended a retail model.

At their recent November meeting, members of the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to allow Estes Park staff to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find broadband bond underwriters. To keep the momentum moving forward, the Trail Gazette published an editorial encouraging Estes Park leadership to continue the process and to bring better connectivity to the community:

…Estes Park needs more action and less discussion for greater access to information and global connectivity. No longer is accessible, fast and reliable broadband Internet a luxury; it is a necessity in our digital world.

Editors stressed that Longmont, Fort Collins, and Loveland have either deployed or are in the process of creating gigabit networks and that Estes Park will be left behind in many ways if forced to depend on the same slow, unreliable Internet access that has left them stranded in the past.

Estes Park, where tourism and the service industry drive the economy, needs to be able to meet the demands of visitors, the businesses that cater to them, and the many families that make tourist vacations worth repeating. Trail Gazette editors also note that local schools are integrating more online technology and that, without affordable connectivity at home, students won’t have the same opportunities as kids in better connected environments.

Primarily, the community needs a broadband utility to avoid the crises caused in the past, when lack of redundancy and weather events cut off Estes Park from the rest of the world. With no access to credit card purchases, ATMs, or mobile service, the local economy took a hit. A municipal network designed to ensure multiple paths would prevent a repeat.

Estes Park needs fast, reliable, affordable broadband internet to stay connected, be safe, stay informed and to continue to be competitive and successful as our economy and community continues to evolve to fit our future needs. The Trail-Gazette sees our Town's broadband utility as a major step forward. Full speed ahead!

According to the town's broadband initiative website, if they find a bond underwriter: 

Next steps include consideration of hiring a project manager to finalize a business plan including implementation options, marketing and customer service options. This information will lead the board to a final decision point on starting a new utility. Construction could begin in 2019.

Tags: estes park cocoloradoeditorialFTTHconsiderationbondtourism