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KentuckyWired: Statewide P3 Project Difficulties Drag On, Multiply

May 24, 2019

The fifth anniversary of the announcement of the KentuckyWired project is approaching later this year. As voters start to assess their candidates’ job performance, the unfinished and over budget middle mile public-private partnership (P3) has become an albatross that incumbents aren’t able to easily cast off. When we last discussed the project in 2017, we shared our observations and misgivings. Not much has changed, except some of our concerns have played out and the project has become troubled by new problems.

In Case You’re Just Arriving to the Party… 

The statewide, massive middle mile project officially began when Kentucky announced in late 2014 that they would build a fiber optic network in order to bring better connectivity to rural areas. They planned to find a private sector partner and sought bids. In the fall of 2015, Australian firm Macquarie won the contract for what soon became an even larger endeavor — a fiber optic network that would enter every county in the state at a minimum of one location. The network would consist of approximately 3,200 miles of fiber and connect about 1,000 public facilities. At the time the project was developed, the state estimated that deployment would cost approximately $300 million.

With early bipartisan support, the state allocated $30 million from their budget, which they expected to combine with $23.5 million in federal grants. When the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority issued $232 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds and $58 million in taxable revenue bonds to complete financing, Bond Buyer named the issue the “Deal of the Year” for 2015. Macquarie’s timeline estimated an optimistic one-year completion for the entire statewide project.

Macquarie Capital, as the entity managing the project, included in the agreement with the state a requirement that they and their partners, including Black & Veatch from Kansas and Ledcor of Canada, would build, operate, and maintain the network for 30 years. During the course of those three decades, the state would pay them approximately $1.2 billion and when the term was over, Kentucky would own the infrastructure free and clear. During the contract period, Kentucky would make “availability payments” which would increase over the course of the contract, regardless of the status of construction. State facilities would no longer need to lease lines or pay AT&T for services because KentuckyWired would replace AT&T at state facilities. The shift would eliminate the $27 million per year telecommunications fees that Kentucky paid to AT&T.

Kentucky planned to first connect 173 school districts and use federal E-rate funding to contribute to availability payments. They anticipated that schools would be connected to the network within the first year and the E-rate dollars would be made available right away. In the past, E-rate funds had been used to pay AT&T for services through a long-term arrangement, and when the state tried to solicit new bids expecting KentuckyWired to bid on the contract, the company was ready to sue. E-rate regulations disqualified the project from using the funds as intended in 2015 and the state was stuck in a bind: facing pressure from the telecommunications giant and caught owing availability payments while their anticipated stream of funding was now cut off. Eventually, the state chose to continue their contract with AT&T. The events lead to a gap in funding to the tune of $11 - 13 million annually. It foreshadowed other problems that would plague their celebrated project. 

According to a story developed by ProPublic and the Louisville Courier Journal, State Auditor Mike Harmon had looked into the shortfall as part of the 2018 report on the project. Harmon’s team found that the Commissioner of Education in 2015 informed Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Lori Flanery along with former cabinet secretary Mary Lassiter that the project would not qualify for the E-rate funds but those warnings were ignored.

Obtaining easements from private property owners added to the delay. While the KentuckyWired project is supposed to be working with municipal networks in the state, it’s natural to expect some hesitation from local municipal network officials. For example, Glasgow’s Billy Ray expressed concern about a new entrant with the financial backing of the state competing in their service area. “We have some concerns about what is their ultimate goal,” he said. It doesn’t appear that KCNA or Macquarie did much to ease concerns from local officials in order to move the project along.

More Shifting of the Risk

As we covered in our 2017 article, the state established the Kentucky Communications Network Authority (KCNA) to operate and maintain the infrastructure. As per the contract between the state and Macquarie, the KCNA has had the responsibility of obtaining pole attachment agreements. As is often the case, large incumbent ISPs like AT&T can delay the launch of a new entrant’s project by prolonging negotiations for the agreements. The KCNA and Macquarie also grossly underestimated the number of poles that AT&T owned in the state, which greatly complicated their ability to obtain pole attachment agreements.

As part of the partnership agreement, Macquarie would also have the ability to lease capacity to ISPs and share the resulting revenue with the state. Macquarie estimated that the firm could garner as much as $600 million over the 30-year term. All this delay cut into the revenue that Macquarie had expected to obtain from the project.

ProPublica and the Courier looked into 2015 negotiations between Kentucky and Macquarie; the results indicate high risk for the state but not for its partner. In addition to the availability payments, made regardless of whether the network is up and running, Kentucky agreed to pay the firm if the state was not able to secure pole access in less than a month. Obtaining the agreements took more than seven months and all the while the state’s obligation to pay “penalties” to Macquarie due to the pole attachment debacle in addition to availability payments to partners continued to pile up. In February 2019, Macquarie and Kentucky negotiated a settlement that ended in a payout to the firm of $93 million.

The timeline of the project has been pushed back to a 2020 completion date.

Experts have gone on record describing the overly-ambitious construction schedule as “unrealistic” and “wildly aspirational.” Phillip Brown, who used to work for the KCNA but left to work for ISP Crown Castle told the Courier Journal that he believes the quixotic construction schedule resulted from an attempt to convince lawmakers and the public to back such a large project:

“What would the reaction to KentuckyWired have been if the state had said at the beginning it will take us until 2020 and it’s going to cost about $400 million?" Brown asked. "Well, maybe the state doesn’t do the project, but it also means that we don’t have those false expectations that were created by a schedule that wasn’t achievable."

The state made the mistake of letting its desired costs on paper dictate an ultimately impossible construction schedule, he said.

The Affect in Frankfort

When it became clear that lack of access to E-rate funding created a 45 percent funding gap, and the state was still on the hook to Macquarie and others for availability payments, state lawmakers began to lose enthusiasm for KentyckyWired. There were calls to scale back the project to serve only the eastern area of the state. Governor Matt Bevin, who assumed office in December 2015, at one time supported reducing the scale of the project but has reversed course. In 2016, Bevin proclaimed that the state had solved the funding issue, but no one seems to know the details of how the administration planned to accomplish that feat.

Besides the fact that the state would face off against Macquarie and its partners if the contract were broken, the long-term future of the project depends on the ability to reach urban areas beyond those in the east. Reducing fiber miles deployed needs to be balanced against loss of potential revenue.

Lawmakers have granted permission for KentuckyWired to borrow some, but not all, funding to help right the ship as it related to the Macquarie settlement. Legislators have kept a close eye on how much they’ll allow because it has the potential to negatively impact the entire state’s credit rating. There’s still talk of ending the project, but as 2020 approaches, most in the Bevin Administration continues to work to shore up support:

"We're on the cusp — the eve, literally — of this project being completed and starting to produce revenues, and we're having a discussion about terminating this project? It makes no sense, financial or otherwise," [KCNA Scott] Brinkman told state lawmakers. "It makes no sense."

Not everyone in the Bevin administration has been expressing support for the project, however, including the generously compensated Chief Technology Officer Charles Grindle. He’s made several public appearances and bruskly voiced negative feelings about any switch from AT&T to KentuckyWired for state facilities. While Grindle may be justified in his concern for an abrupt change in provider, his willingness to accept invitations to “exclusive conferences” where famous acts perform and his repeated praise about the virtues of AT&T as a “trusted partner” could cast a shadow on the motivation for his disdain for the project. Regardless, it exemplifies the tight hold large ISPs such as AT&T have on state government.

Almost There

Phillip Brown notes that some of the largest state entities, including the University of Kentucky and other educational institutions, are likely to have access to the network when the first of six rings is completed in the fall of 2019. By working with other Internet access companies in the state that have their own fiber, KentuckyWired has been able to cut some costs and reduce construction time. 

A few local communities, however, have given up on waiting for the project and some just aren’t close enough to the proposed route to think it will benefit their need for better connectivity. Lechter County is moving forward with their own project, and Hopkinsville is upgrading their system to fiber through their electric utility. Telephone and electric cooperatives in Kentucky continue to offer services and expand to more premises.

Political Fall-out

To no one’s surprise, challengers who want Bevin’s job are using the problems surrounding KentuckyWired as a way to both lambast his performance and make their own promises for broadband across the state. Those who support the project claim Bevin, who inherited the project from former Governor Beshear, has not done enough to keep it on schedule. In the other camp are those who say he should have ended KentuckyWired long ago.

Politicians running for Governor who believe the project should be scrapped argue that funds should be distributed on a local level, some to large ISPs and some to rural co-ops. A few point to the success of rural cooperatives as a promising solution to the state's rural broadband problem. Others believe the only way to proceed is to move forward with the project and remain committed to a public-private partnership model.

What Is A True P3? No.

We’ve articulated misgivings about the statewide approach of KentuckyWired in the past and those concerns remain, although now we see the damaging results.

First, the state's P3 put too much risk the shoulders of Kentucky and too much gain in the lap of Macquarie. One wonders if the state was too rushed in developing the schedule and contract. We wonder if attorneys for the state consulted technical experts who had deployed fiber optic networks in territories where AT&T operates. Did they listen to warnings about what to expect from the incumbent?

As we covered in our 2016 report, public-private partnerships have potential but need to include shared risk and shared reward. Often a public entity enters negotiations considering themselves at a disadvantage, which is typically inaccurate. Clearly all the risk in Kentucky fell on the state; Macquarie and their partners gain financially regardless of whether or not they deploy the KentuckyWired network. The firm sought a guarantee-type arrangement at one time when they considered investing in Utah’s UTOPIA network around the same time they began negotiating with Kentucky. The UTOPIA deal fell through. We’ve had our doubts about Macquarie from the beginning.

Few public-private partnerships don’t find their way on to our Community Networks Map because the shared risk, shared reward arrangements are few. In places like Westminster, Maryland, where both public entity and private sector ISP are motivated to invest in the network, the P3 has succeeded, earning accolades from experts, gaining subscribers, and expanding.

Going With the Preferred Local Option and Connecting Subscribers

Westminster’s P3 with ISP Ting is also successful because it is a local project that offers last mile connections. While the future of KentuckyWired is yet to be determined, middle mile publicly owned networks don’t have the track record that compares to last mile projects. Middle mile projects still require investment from ISPs that want to use the infrastructure, which may prevent smaller ISPs from participating because they don’t have the capital to develop the last reach of the project. 

Local communities scattered across Kentucky have their own needs. We still believe that a statewide project operated and managed by a state entity is less likely to understand and respond to those needs as well as the people who live and work within those communities. When we wrote about the project in 2017, we noted that Kentucky was, at least, working to address the lack of broadband in rural areas. Since then, little has changed in areas where co-ops or municipalities are not making investments in broadband networks.

Tina Sparkman in Letcher County told the Courier Journal that she relies on satellite Internet access because it’s her only option. Her rates are high and she hits her bandwidth cap early in every billing cycle. Her college-age children don't visit as often as she'd like because they need access to the Internet to complete assignments. “We can’t wait 10 more years for Internet,” she says.

Until KentuckyWired is launched, we won't know if the project will help attract better broadband to rural areas. On a positive note, when or if Kentucky and their partner complete deploying fiber throughout their state, they will have resources in place for private sector providers who may be interested in offering 5G or fixed wireless services. Once again, Kentucky's agreement with Macquarie might hinder what the state can do with their own infrastructure for the remainder of the contract.

In 2017 we wrote:

Time, money, and politics will limit whether Kentucky stays steadfast and completes the project as planned, or decides to reassess the choices they've made so far. However they move forward, they've established some important lessons on scale, partnerships, and thoroughly preparing a sound plan. From our perspective, it has not done much to change our argument that large scale investments are best done at the local level and public-private partnerships are significantly riskier than many realize.

Things appeared difficult in 2017 and after five years of compounding problems, disagreements, and significant financial troubles, are still troubled. As state leaders and project officials keep their eye on a fall launch, Kentuckians such as Tina Sparkman are done waiting for the state and are acting locally. She's joined the Lechter County Broadband Board and the group recently applied for a grant as they pursue local solutions for better connectivity. Go, Tina, go.

Image of Kentucky landscape by David Mark from Pixabay.

Tags: kentuckypartnershipstate policyfinancingat&tmiddle mileruralmacquariee-ratepoles

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 357

May 24, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 357 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. In this episode, Christopher interviews Monica Webb and Adam Eisner from Ting Internet about how the company is partnering with municipalities to connect communities across the country. Read the transcript of the interview below, or listen to the podcast episode. 


Monica Webb: We're really selecting communities that are very interested in Ting coming to town. They work with us very productively, and we end up with a very strong presence and reception from the communities.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 357 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Once again, we have an interview to share that Christopher recorded while in Austin at the 2019 Broadband Communities Summit. This time our conversation is with two folks from the Internet access company and mobile service provider Ting. As you'll hear in the interview with Monica Webb and Adam Eisner, the company is known for a lot more than what we at MuniNetworks tend to focus on. They share some of their history and discuss how it has become a partner with several municipalities in order to bring high quality gigabit Internet access to local communities. Monica and Adam also talk about the different projects that Ting is working on and the ones that they've developed so far. Ting is experimenting with different models to get their services to subscribers. Along the way, they've continued to emphasize strong customer service and learn some lessons, which they share with us. They talk about some of the ways municipalities can make adjustments to help companies like them quickly and efficiently deploy high speed networks. They also offer some examples based on their own experiences. Now, here's Christopher with Monica Webb and Adam Eisner from Ting.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. I'm with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I am worn out after a wonderful set of days here at the Broadband Communities event in Austin, Texas, and I'm talking with two of my favorite people — one who's been on the show before, one who's new. Welcome back to Ting employees, the people who make Ting work, Monica Webb, the director of market development and government affairs for Ting Internet.

Monica Webb: That's correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Or just welcome. Sorry, this is really fun because I've known Monica for a long time and Adam I haven't known for quite as long, but he's a very relaxed guy. Adam is the vice president for networks for Ting.

Adam Eisner: I am very excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: So we're going to talk a bit about what Ting's doing. You've worked in many public private partnerships, you've learned different lessons. There's a new model in Fullerton, California. That's exciting. We're going to talk about a number of different things, but the first thing, I think it's always worth noting some of the people who listen to this show do remember Tucows, so just briefly remind us where Ting came from.

Adam Eisner: Tucows is the parent company, I guess is the best way to say it. You know, been around for across three decades now — very old Internet company. Started as a software download website in the 90s, turned into a domain name registrar that is currently — you know, we're the second largest registrar in the world behind GoDaddy.

Christopher Mitchell: You can say it. It's Hover, and actually Robert Wack and I were just using it yesterday. He was having issues, was on help desk with them, and I've been on help desk three or four times with Hover over the years and it's a wonderful experience.

Adam Eisner: Yeah, so it's interesting you say that. You know, is our retail arm of that domain name registrar, which is actually a wholesaler, so it's got lots and lots of different retailers on it and Hover's one of those. But, Hover was this domain name business that we built that had this great idea around great customer service, great interfaces, you know, fair pricing. And that actually was the genesis or the idea behind Ting mobile, which was the next business Tucows sort of launched, which was a mobile provider, a mobile virtual network operator, using those same principles, and that business then took off. And so, you know, between this now very established domain name business and this great mobile business that took off and is ranked one of the best mobile providers in America now by Consumer Reports, we went, okay, well we have two stable businesses that are generating a lot of cash that we want to invest appropriately. Where else can we spend that cash in areas where people have lousy relationships with their providers or could benefit from a better customer experience? Then we moved to broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I have to say, I've been a longtime customer of Ting wireless as well. I have been very happy with it. I've never become a shareholder of Ting or of Tucows I guess because I feel like it would be a conflict of interest and people would be like . . . you know, because I am frequently praising you publicly. So from my very, very powerful perch in this industry . . . So Monica, I'm curious, can you run down — maybe you could start running down the projects that Ting is involved in around the country.

Monica Webb: So currently we have eight markets that have been announced. One of them, Westminster, Maryland, is largely complete. We have six that are lit are in various stages of construction. Holly Springs, North Carolina, is almost finished. So we have subscribers on six of those networks running live, and we have very active construction. And those particular projects vary from Sandpoint, Idaho, you know, where we have population of 7,500, right up to Centennial, Colorado, where it's a population of 100,000. So they represent a variety of sizes of municipalities and certainly geographies and also, you know, maybe most interestingly different models in terms of how we work with local stakeholders, how we work with other partners in the model that we're deploying in those markets.

Christopher Mitchell: So here we are, we're in Texas right now, and you had a stake in UVA, the University of Virginia, in the National Championship. How are you tied to UVA?

Monica Webb: Well, you know, Charlottesville was ground zero for Ting internet, in that that was our very first market, and interestingly, when we closed on that sale, we went out to celebrate by going a game, a UVA Cavaliers game. So, I feel like we all support that team over other US college basketball teams.

Christopher Mitchell: There are no Toronto Rapids in the eyes of Elliot.

Monica Webb: That's right. But you know, perhaps most exciting for us is this year we undertook a partnership with UVA where we actually supply the Internet for the public at both the stadium, where the Cavaliers play, as well as their UVA football stadium. We brought fiber in, and then we have wireless access points and have worked really hard to provide a robust and seamless wireless experience for all of the attendees to those games. So we feel, you know, very vested in UVA itself, and as I said, it also had an instrumental moment with us when we first embarked on our deal in Charlottesville.

Adam Eisner: We had this funny thing where, you know, I think Duke was playing in UVA at the stadium and Lebron James was there, and we were all sort of looking around going, "I wonder if he's on Ting Wi-Fi? Is Lebron James using our Wi-Fi? Because that would be pretty awesome." So you get all these, you know, funny sporting anecdotal stories, like UVA won the national championship for basketball a few days ago and they're having a homecoming sort of thing in a couple of days at the football stadium and we all sort of went, we gotta make sure the Wi-Fi is still on even though football season is over. So, you know, we have a lot of people in and around that organization and those sports, so it's been pretty cool.

Christopher Mitchell: So Adam, let me stay with you for a second because people that are long time listeners will know Monica's background — been with Ting for many years now. Prior to that, we had interviewed you when you were with Wired West in Massachusetts. But Adam, as far as I know, you were kind of thrust into this position at Ting and I wonder if you can just tell us a little bit about that.

Adam Eisner: Yeah, so I'm a bit of a Tucows lifer. You know, I've been at the company for about 15 years, which in internet years is a lifetime, and boy, I'm not even the longest serving employee by a long shot. And so, you know, my genesis through the company was kind of starting in marketing, ended up running the wholesale division of Tucows on a product level for a number of years, so the domain name, email, SSL sort of businesses, and after a number of years was kind of looking around the organization just because Tucows is really good about affording you different opportunities to do different things if that is your interest. And so, [I] kind of said, "Hey, are there other things that I could get involved in here?" And so, at that point the company was looking at getting into the broadband space, so, you know, they said, "What about this fiber idea?" And so, I basically locked myself in a room and started looking up the elements to, you know, what goes into deploying fiber, and shortly thereafter, we were on our way. And so ever since then I've really been involved pretty deeply in finding the markets, building the markets, operating the markets, and it's been a lot of fun to watch it go from this idea that what was effectively a software and services company to something that's now an ISP in a whole number of areas. Interestingly, Tucows was owned by an ISP, has a lot of ISP DNA in it, so although, you know, the space is a little new from the terms of deploying fiber and running a Fiber-to-the-Home project, a lot of people in the building that grew up in ISPs somewhere.

Christopher Mitchell: Historically, the companies that have tried to get into this, particularly in a sort of bigger way where you're picking different markets across the country rather than just picking up a name brand in one area, I think they've struggled a bit. Like, RCN, a lot of those companies have consolidated over the years and they've really faced challenges. You seem to have been more successful. We're not going to talk about specific take rates, but my impression has been that in all of your markets you're not getting ready to bail out. It seems like it's working.

Adam Eisner: Right, yeah. I mean, we're really happy with the way it has gone so far, and you know, just us introducing new markets I think is indicative of that. I think we're lucky in that, until recently anyway, we had a little bit of an advantage of being a startup inside of a large successful company. So, you know, there were no preconceived notions about how we were going to pull this off, but we're also well supported, well capitalized to be able to take our time to figure that out and do it. And so, I think that's really benefited us as we've gone out and sort of, you know, spread the word and gone into new markets.

Monica Webb: I think our expansion has been fairly thoughtful. As Adam mentioned, we do have a startup culture, so we felt like we had a good handle on it when we started to scale up. We have, you know, obviously a world class customer experience to rely on as well, fantastic branding and marketing, and that has really allowed us to succeed in these communities. We have a very local-centric approach in the communities. We're not going into giant metros. You know, we're really selecting communities that are very interested in Ting coming to town. They work with us very productively, and we end up with a very strong presence and reception from the communities.

Christopher Mitchell: And you're using a variety of different models. I think I might simplify it into into three, briefly. And we can do a tree in how these branch out as we go down because each community seems to be somewhat unique. But, you bought a company and so you are a company in Charlottesville in which you are just a total private company. In Westminster, the city — Robert Wack's city — really led the effort, built a network, and you partnered to operate on the network, which is — you know, you're doing some equipment-type stuff also but we've done a podcast on that. People who are interested can go back and look at that. But that's where you're leasing municipal assets. My impression was in some ways that you thought that maybe that would be a common model moving forward, but in many other cities — and this is still at the second model that I'm elaborating on — you're leasing municipal assets but less so. And then the third model was just announced this week— which is now several weeks ago because we're canning the best interviews to let them age like a fine wine. In Fullerton, California, SiFi Networks is launching — a private company building an open access network to enable other private companies to compete on services. So anyway, is that a pretty fair, like, way to break them down?

Monica Webb: Chris, you get an A+.

Christopher Mitchell: I didn't really ask you a question, so . . .

Monica Webb: You know, I think what I would say is we're not afraid of dirt and hard work, and that's something that we have, you know, painfully but definitely successfully figured out over time — how we can build networks efficiently and effectively. However, what we know we do best and can scale most efficiently is the provision of a fantastic customer service experience and the marketing of those services, and so, when we partner with, for example, the city of Westminster or SiFi networks and they're taking on that piece of design and construction —

Christopher Mitchell: Adam's job. When they're doing Adam's job, right?

Monica Webb: That's right. When we offload Adam's responsibilities, yes. So it does allow us to scale faster and as I said, you know, provide the same fantastic customer experience but just not take on so much of the design and construction responsibilities.

Christopher Mitchell: So that's what you see as the value add. I mean, like, I think companies that succeed often know what they do well and so you're very focused on that customer experience.

Monica Webb: Yeah, I would say that's been the defining characteristics that Tucows has really built its reputation on, is providing a genuinely human customer experience. And you know, all of the other core administrative functions we have down to a science, ao it really does allow us to offload something that is . . . you know, it can be a difficult from a timeline perspective, it can be difficult from a resourcing perspective, to other entities and we can look for other markets where we can make sure Adam stays busy.

Adam Eisner: Yeah. I don't think we came into it thinking that we wanted to become a construction company. The easier it is for us to provide, like, this great service we're talking about is . . . You know, the easiest way to allow us to do that is probably the most important thing, and so if we can do that in connection with adding a lot of addresses to our portfolio, to our network, boy, we're pretty happy with that. So whether we're doing that or someone else is doing that on the construction side, we're pretty okay either way, I think. You know, we didn't get into it thinking we'd be a construction company, although here we are and I think we're pretty darn good at it. And it's important and you know, strategic to us; it's not the only way for us at this point. We're happy to do it any number of ways.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious what lessons you've learned aside from the challenge of getting places on time with the airlines being what they are. I know that you both do a lot of travel, and sometimes it's challenging as Monica's arrival here was, but what have you learned that may have surprised you in terms of taking Ting from, you know, the very first network that you were working on in Charlottesville to where you are today?

Adam Eisner: Ooh, you know, there's, so much. I don't think we necessarily underestimated, but we've learned a lot about just what it takes to be able to build a network from the ground up. If you think about it as a service provider, software company that we were historically, we — and I'm looking at Monica here. Like, you know, Monica and I have had to do a lot of pulling of the organization into — and others, obviously it's not just us — but explaining to people inside the organization that we're going to have a fleet of trucks now, when historically we were largely a group of support, operations, development, and any myriad number of things. It was a real new idea for us. And so—

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, you're managing a fleet a thousand miles away and 2,500 miles away, maybe now.

Adam Eisner: Yeah. And if I think about my product days at Tucows, if you had a big project that you needed to finish on time for something, not to say it always worked perfectly, but boy, you could add some resources there to finish a project in short order. You know, construction, you can't really do that. There's so many different elements, third party sort of things that can have an impact on your build that you have to learn a lot to figure out how to mitigate properly. And I think we're there, but you know, there was a lot of learning around all of that to get there.

Monica Webb: The other thing I would add to that that is interesting given our software dev. roots is that we've been able to do a lot of internal work on billing and provisioning and workforce management that is going to ultimately really help our operation be as efficient as it possibly can be. I think the other learning — and I think we came into this particular aspect of the business with our eyes open, but it's just, I think what we've realized is that you can have a recipe for how you interact with municipalities for success on permitting, success on franchise agreements, success on leasing or potentially purchasing land, but you really need to be very specific in the initial discussions to make sure that they understand this is an enormous impact. We're talking about building infrastructure, the scope of which hasn't been seen since the large cable build out in the seventies. This is going to overwhelm their permitting department if they don't have really super streamlined processes already in place. So I think that, you know, what we've taken from that is each municipality is different in terms of their capabilities there and that we really need to be upfront with them with how much throughput we're going to need in order to build this network so that their constituents aren't waiting around for years to get the service.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'd like to push in on that for a second because I'm curious if you can talk a little bit about maybe what you've seen that's worked well for cities and areas in which you might encourage cities to think about their processes they may not even be aware of. Because Monica, you come from a background in which you are really representing the other side, the interests of the cities, and now I think you have a very full picture. At the same time, I mean, it's worth noting for people who aren't familiar, Elliot Noss has done a tremendous amount for the open Internet. The guy in charge and the guy that I've always associated with all of this stuff, you know, he's long been committed and put in his personal time and company time to things that matter for the open Internet worldwide and net neutrality and things like that. You've remained strong supporters of net neutrality as you've gotten in the business of wired access. So, I'm just curious if you can just talk a little bit about maybe how your perspective of government has shifted, and then we can roll into any ways you might suggest cities would be thinking about how to improve their processes.

Monica Webb: Well, one thing I would say about open Internet, Elliot really believes strongly in everybody having a fair and equitable experience on the Internet. Our tagline is "unlock the power of the Internet," and that comes through in the fact that we give this great customer experience and we are more than happy to stand up for policies that support an open internet. Sometimes we don't actually have the bandwidth personally to get in the trenches, but that's why we support other organizations that are doing that work. We sign letters to legislators, we do whatever we can because it really is important to protect the right for everybody to have free and open access to the Internet. I'll use permitting for an example. We'll say to cities, okay, we're going to be putting through a lot of permits. We're going to need you, you know, to make sure that your processes are streamlined. They'll say, absolutely, we'll do that, and then it comes down to it and that's more than more than often not the case.

Christopher Mitchell: You bring a wheelbarrow full of permits into city hall and their eyes fall out of their heads, right?

Monica Webb: And, you know, some things that have worked for example, is sometimes our contact at the city will actually work with the various departments to make sure that even though they're not the permitting department, that person will make sure — our point of contact — that the permits are moving through. We will say to them, you know, here's our timeline of how we need the permits processed. We need to have a permit in our hands within a month of the initial submission. So let's work back and figure out what your approval timelines are with each different department to make sure that that can happen. Make sure that you have a permit category that is appropriate for what we're doing so that we're A, not paying a lot of money to do it, but also it's getting to the right people in the right hands as soon as possible. If there are any ways to streamline it where we can help, tell us in advance and let's make that happen. So it really is getting into the nitty gritty details of how each task is performed that we're reliant upon to successfully deploy. That is the secret to the success.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I mean, the impression I get is that when you're approaching them, you're working with cities, first of all, that are going to be open to working with you, but you found that they're pretty receptive to trying to identify these challenges and solve them.

Monica Webb: Some are better than others. One of the other things that one of the towns that we're working with has been wonderful about is just increasing the size of the permit basically. So not limiting it at a few blocks or so many houses or so many square miles but actually saying this'll be a blanket permit for the city, and then you'll just supply us with the plans and we'll review them one phase at a time. That has been enormously helpful. So I would say the cities genuinely want to streamline. It's just a matter of how that actually happens. You know, larger cities, there can be more steps, more red tape to getting that kind of thing done, so we generally find that the smaller towns are more receptive to making things happen quicker.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Well, and I'm just thinking, I mean, you actually have a broad view because you're in very red states, very blue states, and purple states. It's worth remembering, towns, you know, they're not subject to the state voting patterns always, just in terms of the politics.

Monica Webb: Yeah, I mean, I would say we haven't seen a difference based on, you know, what the state level politics are. It's really — as they say, all politics are local, and certainly when it comes to processes like permitting that fall under local politics, it really does come down to what the local administration makes as a priority.

Adam Eisner: One other thing there is that we're typically working with municipalities where we're not trying to sell them on the idea that broadband's a transformative thing, so we're generally working with municipalities who, conceptually anyway, are onboard with the idea that this is going to be a good thing. But you know, the proof is in the pudding. When it comes down to the people you're working with initially may be onboard, but as you get deeper into especially larger cities — as Monica was saying it's usually easier with smaller ones — you know, you've got to make sure that all the pockets that you're going to be dealing with are of that same belief. Although generally that's the case, but sometimes there's a bit of cajoling involved in certain places.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious what extent you can discuss some of the tradeoffs between different municipal assets that you've leased? I think you've leased conduit, you've leased dark fiber, and you know, the arrangements of dark fiber may have been different in different places, so what are some of the tradeoffs that you're seeing as you're doing this?

Adam Eisner: You know, the more assets that you're leasing, the less control you have over where they are, how accessible they are. Even with those municipal — you know, like I said, everybody's on board with the idea of broadband. Depending on who they've been working with and what they understand, pricing models can be very different as an example. So there can be some real challenges if you're relying entirely on municipal assets because they're typically not designed to be exactly in line with what your objectives are. So we're finding more and more that we're moving to, you know, some hybrid solutions there, where maybe it's some empty duct as opposed to a full duct of fiber that we're trying to lease, as an example. And we're also cognizant of the fact that when municipalities are building these things, there's obviously only going to be a limited amount that's going to be for, you know, a private entity that wants to come in and lease some assets there. So we're finding ourselves in every market, doing it a little differently. Generally speaking, pretty thankful for what is there for assets that we can use, but, you know, we have long conversations with each municipality that we're working with right now on what they have, what they're able to make available, and how that might fit into our build plans, which as we get better at it, you know, we tend to take more in house. And so, it's a bit of an ebb and flow, if that makes sense.

Christopher Mitchell: Are you considering . . . Would it make sense for you to just, like, say, come to Saint Paul, Minnesota, and start being an ISP there on your own without leasing anything, or are you generally thinking about leasing assets in order to get into a market?

Monica Webb: I don't think we actually need to to have municipal assets made available to us in order to enter a market. What we do want to see though is that a municipality is open and interested and engaged in the process of bringing an ISP in because it really is just a different — having a different perspective, wanting to work productively with us.

Christopher Mitchell: You're telling me I should move?

Monica Webb: Yeah. Toronto's got four seasons

Adam Eisner: At this point, assets are definitely nice to have, but like Monica was saying, it wouldn't preclude us from going in somewhere if we thought that the city had the right sort of attitude to this if the competitive situation was such that particularly citizens didn't have access to fiber. So a lot of the markets we go into are one phone company that everybody's really frustrated with and one cable company that everyone's really frustrated with. So, you know, if we're sort of ticking off those boxes and it's a market that can sort of sustain gigabit Internet that we're looking at, we're in that mode where we're still looking

Christopher Mitchell: And are you looking in Canada as well? I get that question every now and then from Canadian folks.

Adam Eisner: Yeah. You know, we're in a real weird spot where we're this Canadian company that doesn't do anything in Canada . . .

Christopher Mitchell: Elliot did say once said that he'd have to build 10 markets in the United States before he would build in Canada because he felt that he wasn't taken seriously until he had achieved more market success. You know, he may have just been joking, but . . .

Adam Eisner: This is a bit of a personal answer, but I think that there's a lot more — if I think about where I live in Toronto, I'm not saying that the options are amazing. However, Bell is spending something like $2 billion in Toronto to build fiber to every home effectively, nd they're starting to do that across the province of Ontario. Telus out west is doing something similar. You know, Rogers, who's a cable provider, is spending a lot of time going to DOCSIS 3.1 and so on and so forth. So competitively, you know, there's a lot of action there. It's a much smaller country population wise, and so there are fewer markets in which to look at that don't have one of those three people or two, you know, really investing a lot of money right now in upgrading the network. That said, the pricing is garbage, but that's another story.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I'm going to avoid the obligatory joke about the exchange rates.

Adam Eisner: Right? Yeah, let's not even get into that. And so, you know, if you look at the U.S., there's just so many more opportunities where, what I was describing earlier, just around bad service, not a lot of options. You know, if you look at a place like Sandpoint, Idaho, you have companies, enterprises coming to you and saying, "Please help. We get a meg up and a meg down." You know, there's a lot of places where we feel like we can solve that problem here in the U.S. Relative to what's in Canada.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you. Thank you both for taking some time. I love to talk to you in person. You know, Ting is a fun company and I'm excited to see where you all go.

Adam Eisner: We're still having a lot of fun. Thanks for having us.

Monica Webb: Yeah, thanks for having us, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Monica Webb and Adam Eisner from Ting, discussing their company's experiences deploying Internet networks and working with local communities. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at While you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 357 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

"We Can Do This," Says Palo Alto Muni Fiber Leader

May 22, 2019

During the 20-year on-again-off-again relationship between Palo Alto and a possible fiber optic municipal network, the people of the community have waited while plans have changed, leadership has shifted, and city staff has researched potential infrastructure plans. For the people of the city, it’s a long time to be patient. In a recent opinion piece, resident Jeff Hoel described his long wait and expressed why his city needs to finally move forward and create a citywide municipal Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network.

Knows of What He Speaks

As a retired electrical engineer who has intimate knowledge of technology and networking, Jeff writes in his piece that one of the reasons he moved to Palo Alto in 1998 was because the city was considering deploying a community network. At the time, Palo Alto had already invested in dark fiber, which they have used to generate approximately $2.1 million per year through leases. The revenue has been held in a fiber optic fund, which has grown to around $26 million.

Over the years, the city has commissioned studies and community leaders have publicly advocated for an expansion of the network to a citywide utility for residents and businesses. Palo Alto’s residents have supported the idea, but stumbles in securing funding, difficulties locating private sector partners for a P3, and a failed bid to bring Google to town, have all left the city with no fiber optic network.

Now, Jeff Hoel feels that his city is ready to look at the facts and recognize that there are many municipal networks that are providing fast, affordable, reliable Internet access across the U.S. Jeff notes the success of Longmont, Colorado, where folks can sign up for symmetrical gigabit connectivity for around $50 per month. If so many other communities can manage to deploy networks and operate them efficiently, Palo Alto also has a fighting chance:

"It's not rocket science. We can do this."

Getting Organized for Change

In order to help educate the people of Palo Alto and to organize the support that he knows is in the community, Jeff has launched Muni Fiber Palo Alto. He shares information about municipal fiber networks and other types of technology, resources for more information, and the history of the municipal fiber discussions in the city. Jeff also has listed contact information in order for people of Palo Alto to express their support for a municipal fiber utility to community leaders.

Jeff has included a link in his opinion piece to Palo Alto Council Member Greg Tanaka’s online petition in support of a fiber optic network and encourages supporters to sign.

Check out our Community Broadband Bits Podcast episode 26 from 2012, in which Christopher interviewed Josh Wallace from Palo Alto about the city’s dark fiber network. Perhaps in the future, we’ll be interviewing them about a citywide FTTP project.

Tags: palo altocaliforniaconsiderationgrassroots

Nimble Customer-centric Approach Sets Ting Apart - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 357

May 21, 2019

In early April while Christopher was at the 2019 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, he recorded a series of interviews for the podcast. We’ve been sharing them over the past two months. This week we’re presenting his conversation with Director of Market Development and Government Affairs Monica Webb and Vice President for Networks Adam Eisner from Ting.

In addition to giving us a quick history about the Canadian company that provides Internet access, mobile phone service, and other services, Monica and Adam describe how the company’s culture that focuses on customers has been a driving force behind their success. Christopher asks Monica and Adam about the different models that Ting is using in its efforts to bring high-quality connectivity to places like Westminster, Maryland; Sandpoint, Idaho; and now Fullerton, California. Our guests describe how the company’s startup culture, emphasis on branding and marketing, and hyper local approach has assisted them with becoming and integral part of different communities and in developing unique partnerships. 

Monica and Adam also share some of the lessons they’ve learned in working with municipalities. While places vary widely in character, there are some actions every local community can take that help expedite deployment, especially with regard to preparation of permitting processes and related matters. The sooner a network is constructed and launched, the sooner local residents and businesses are enjoying high-speed Internet access.

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.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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: podcastaudiobroadband bitstingFTTHwestminsterfullerton casandpoint idpartnershipfuquay-varina nccharlottesvillecentennialholly springswake forest

ECFiber Wins Award, Expands in Two Towns

May 21, 2019

In late April 2019, the Vermont Public Service Department announced $220,000 worth of grants to bring high-speed Internet service to 220 homes and businesses around the state. The Department awarded ECFiber with about $63,000 to serve nearly 50 homes and businesses in Tunbridge and Corinth, Vermont, according to the press release. 

This was a competitive award: 20 organizations applied for $960,000 worth of grants from the Connectivity Initiative, but only a few organizations received funding. The Department explained that they chose those projects that had the most bang for their buck. The Department is spending less than $1,000 on average for each address that is considered unserved or underserved. According to June Tierney, Commissioner of the Public Service Department:

“The Connectivity Initiative enables providers to bring high-speed internet to communities with some of the hardest to serve locations, both in terms of cost and terrain.”

From DSL to Fiber

ECFiber is a community-driven effort of 24 member towns focused on bringing high-speed Internet service to rural Vermont, but for the first few years of its existence, the government continually passed over ECFiber for funding. The organization instead used an innovative self-financing model to raise funds, got some funding from a capital investment group, and later, after the state established the "communications union district" designation, issued revenue bonds to continue to grow. Now ECFiber connects more than 2,000 rural homes and businesses, and it continues to expand. Tunbridge and Corinth are small towns that are finally getting the high-speed Internet access they need to stay connected.  

Tunbridge is home to about 1,300 people and Corinth has a population of about 1,400. As of April 2019, Corinth is completing a new town plan that will guide their community far into the future. In the May 2019 draft town plan, high-speed Internet service is highlighted as a needed utility, and the plan recognizes that the current DSL in the town is not enough. In the accompanying town survey, 88 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed:

“Universal cell phone and high speed internet service are important in Corinth.”

Documenting this level of support for high-speed Internet access is a good step for any community because it can be used to support funding efforts. Corinth will soon say goodbye to DSL and hello to fast Fiber-to-the-Home service thanks to ECFiber and the Vermont Public Service Department.

Tags: ecfiberVermontgrantrural

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 20

May 20, 2019


State Sen. Clay Scofield: Survival of rural Alabama depends on broadband expansion by Tim Howe, Yellowhammer News



What a broadband preemption victory in Arkansas means for rural cities by Spencer Wagner, CitiesSpeak

Arkansas plans to deploy broadband statewide by 2022 by Ryan Johnston, StateScoop



AT&T and San Jose, CA reach agreement on smart cities tech, digital divide funding by Jason Plautz, Smart Cities Dive

Inside the war over 5G equipment in northern California by Sarah Holder, Pacific Standard



With trips east, Loveland looks to other cities’ expertise on building broadband network by Julia Rentsch, Reporter Herald 



Next Century Cities highlights state action for broadband, co-sponsors broadband conference in Idaho by Drew Clark, Broadband Breakfast 



Community forms task force to increase broadband access by Kraig Younts, Rushville Republican 

“This is not something a community accomplishes overnight,” co-chair of the Rush County Connect Broadband Task Force Mark McCorkle said. “It will take considerable time and effort to accomplish our goal of affordable, adequate and reliable internet access to every home and business in Rush County. By working together we can get there.”



Telecom group launches survey to gauge Mainers’ broadband priorities by J. Craig Anderson, Press Herald

Broadband committee starting to look ahead by Lars Trodson, Block Island Times 



Farmington, Farmington Hills consider building broadband network by Shelby Tankersley,



2019 promising year for rural broadband in Missouri by Dan Claxton, KRCG


North Carolina

State is stepping in to help bridge the digital homework gap by Mandy Mitchell, WRAL 

Will North Carolina dig its teeth into teledentistry? By Anne Blythe, North Carolina Health News



Gov. Tom Wolf summons army of municipal leaders to show support for his Restore Pa. plan by Jan Murphy, PennLive

The Digital Literacy Alliance wants to lessen the digital divide in advance of Census 2020 by  Tom Beck, Philly  



'You're doing this to allow your communities to survive:' Rural electric co-ops on broadband by Paul Flahive, Texas Public Radio  



Scrambling for broadband in rural Vermont by Katherine Sims, VTDigger

The big leaps in service lately across the state have come from communities banding together, like EC Fiber in the Upper Valley, or partnering with small providers. In Craftsbury, where I live, the town received federal grants to build its own 13-mile fiber network, which it leased last year to Kingdom Fiber, a locally owned company that is starting to hook up customers. The percentage of buildings in town with access to true broadband speeds went from 8% to almost half.




Washington will create a statewide broadband office to expand Internet access by Monica Nickelsburg, GeekWire



Telecom, cable groups push rival plans on FCC broadband mapping by Jon Reid, Bloomberg Law

“The biggest consequence is when an area is considered served because they lose access to funding,” Christopher Ali, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, said. “That is hugely problematic when one building in a community has quote-unquote broadband, and the rest don’t.”

Broadband infrastructure should be a national priority for policymakers by Anne Stauffer and Kathryn De Wit, The Hill

Communities are fighting 5G, permit by permit by Sarah Holder, CityLab

Tribes across country push for better Internet access by Felicia Fonseca, Seattle Times

Opinion: Flawed data keeps rural America on the wrong side of the digital divide by Zippy Duvall, Successful Farming


Tags: media roundup

Traverse City Light and Power Votes "Yes" on Fiber Deployment Negotiations

May 20, 2019

At their May 14th board meeting, the Traverse City Light & Power Board (TCLP) decided to move forward and begin contract negotiations with Fujitsu Network Communications to expand the city’s fiber optic network in order to begin serving residents as well as businesses.

A Careful Approach

The community of about 10,000 has taken a cautious approach as they’ve investigated the possible ways to improve Internet access in the community. TCLP and city leaders have thoroughly examined the pros and cons, which has allowed them to make decisions based on ample amounts of information.

Earlier this year, they hired Fujitsu to develop a potential business plan, along with a design and operations plan for a municipal network. In past years, the city issued an RFI for a partner to develop an open access network on which TCLP would offer services as an Internet access provider, and they’ve commissioned a feasibility study which examined leasing to a single provider or operating as a municipal Internet access network. TCLP has also discussed the possibility of working with an electric cooperative that operates the region. In the end, they decided to pursue a municipal fiber network.

Traverse City has operated its own downtown WiFi for more than a decade, so understands the value of Internet access to the economy, while folks who live there have come to appreciate access to connectivity.

In Stages

At the May meeting, representatives from the firm went through the plan Fujitsu has developed. The firm described an incremental build, focusing first on an area of the city with a mix of residences and businesses. Working with the TCLP staff, Fujitsu identified an area where premises are somewhat dense, located near a data center, and also geographically close to existing TCLP fiber. Fujitsu explained that by focusing on a subset of Traverse City that meets these requirements, deployment can be effective and less expensive, allowing quicker and more efficient expansion of the next phase. The first phase should be completed in year one. Fujitsu spokesperson Anthony Bednarczyk described the approach as “financially sound and operationally sustainable.”

According to the Record Eagle, TCLP Board Members, who had looked over the Fujitsu report, fired off a long list of questions for Bednarczyk and the other Fujitsu representatives. After receiving answers, all but one voted to allow TCLP Executive Director Tim Arends to move forward with negotiations to build the fiber network.

The city will also hold a public hearing on June 11th to present the report to Traverse City constituents.

The Starting Proposal

As part of the arrangement, the company has proposed that the city allow Fujitsu to handle marketing, selling, and providing services on behalf of TCLP while the network is young. As the municipal network becomes more established, Fujitsu will hand-off these functions to TCLP.

Throughout their report, Fujitsu provides information on the competitive environment in Traverse City and stresses that the service will need to be managed as a competitive entity. Within the report, the firm has provided information based on the competitive environment, where CenturyLink, Spectrum Cable, and AT&T operate. They also remind TCLP that, in order to make the network a success, subscribers will have to switch from incumbent providers which will take steps to retain the customers they now serve. Subscribers of current incumbents have remarked in surveys that they are not happy with the services they receive, however, and seem to strongly support the move for a municipal network.

Fujitsu’s report addresses the first phase of the project, which will be funded with a $4 million interdepartmental loan from the electric utility to the fiber optic fund. In order to break even in 5 years the firm estimates TCLP will need to obtain an Internet access take rate for the project area of 40 percent and a VoIP take rate of 28 percent. The phase one project area will potentially serve about 400 residential and 380 business premises. The firm also shared scenarios with “most likely” and “optimistic” figures that include somewhat larger connection areas and higher take rates.

While 40 percent seems like a high rate, TCLP already has an advantage as being a trusted electric provider and has having local residents pushing the process along. Anti-muni groups have already targeted Traverse City with letters to the local press and to community leaders, but their efforts appear to be wasted. City Commissioner Amy Shamroe told the Record Eagle in January that "...most feedback she hears isn't from people opposing the project but from locals asking what's taking so long."

Image credit Iulus Ascanius at English Wikipedia [Public domain]

Tags: traverse city mimichiganFTTHmunielectricincremental

Good News for Electric Cooperatives as State Legislatures Correct Obstructive Laws

May 17, 2019

Legislative changes are helping electric cooperatives continue to expand high-quality Internet access in rural parts of America. At least three state governments have bills in the works that empower cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet service in their service territories.

Georgia, Maryland, Alabama

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law SB 2 and SB 17, which clarify that both electric and telephone cooperatives are able to provide broadband service. This change allows the electric cooperatives to use their easements which have been used for electric service to extend those easements so they also apply to equipment and lines needed in order to supply broadband service. Electric cooperatives have already been at work on providing Internet service in Georgia: Habersham Electric Cooperative operates Trailwave Network, and the Pineland Telephone and Jefferson Energy Cooperatives have partnered to bring Internet service to their communities.

In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan has just approved SB 634 which similarly underscores how electric cooperatives can use their easements to provide broadband. Meanwhile in Alabama, HB 400 will codify in existing law that electric cooperatives have the ability to offer broadband service and that their easements are valid for that use. Alabama HB 400 has passed in the House and is now working its way through the Senate. Alabama cooperatives North Alabama Electric and Tom Bigbee Electric already provides high-speed Internet service in their service territories. 

Cooperatives Bring New Tech to Rural Areas

The fact is, from electricity to Internet service, cooperatives have taken the lead in bringing new technology to rural areas. They have been building next-generation Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks in order to ensure that every farm, business, and household is connected within their service territories.

Both telephone and electric cooperatives have built FTTH, but electric cooperatives have hit a few bumps with the language of the easements and lack of clarity in state law. For instance, Lake Region Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma had to go door-to-door to ask people to update their easements to include broadband service. Having a law on the books stating that the easements can be used for both electricity and broadband saves cooperatives significant time and money better spent on deploying the next-generation network.

We first saw Indiana make the change in the law for electric cooperative easements in 2017. Since then, the law has been cited as one of the factors that helped encourage Orange County REMC to develop a FTTH network. Now that states are clarifying that electric co-ops have the legal freedom to offer broadband, people who suffer with poor Internet access in these states know that their cooperatives can move forward with projects to improve local connectivity.

Tags: cooperativeelectriclegislationgeorgiaalabamamarylandeasementrural electric coop

Leaders in Lancaster, California, Authorize Resolution to Allow City to Move on Muni, Other Utilities

May 16, 2019

At a Lancaster City Council meeting on May 14th, community leaders voted unanimously to take a step toward establishing several municipal utilities, including a publicly owned fiber optic network.

Good Experiences with Their Public Utility 

Lancaster Choice Energy (LCE) is the city’s municipal electric utility, but in the future may be one of several publicly owned utilities. LCE has a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, which allows individual users within the community to join together for purchasing power and gives them more control over matters such as the source of their energy. Lancaster wants to become a net-zero city and is exploring a range of approaches to reach that goal.

The community also underwent traffic signal upgrades like many other California communities and has installed additional fiber as the city has started to implement Smart City initiatives. At the city council meeting, City Manager Jason Caudle noted that using the fiber optic assets to develop a community network was a strong possibility.

In an article in the Antelope Valley Press published prior to the meeting, Caudle also noted that they plan other uses for the fiber, “As part of our smart cities effort, we’ve installed fiber-optic networks already throughout our city, and then we’re looking at putting our streetlights into Wi-Fi hotspots as well as 5G networks,” he said.

In his report to the council, Caudle wrote:

The establishment of a municipal utility is the next step in continuing to ensure that citizens and businesses are provided with utility services that meet the current and future needs of the community. As a municipal utility, Lancaster will have the opportunity to utilize advanced technology, provide utility services at rates and charges that are fair and reasonable, provide high quality customer service, and provide alternatives to existing providers of utility services similar to what the City achieved through the development of the City’s CCA.

City council appeared enthusiastic about the prospect of taking the step toward establishing municipal utilities, including broadband. One local citizen stepped forward to thank community leaders for their decision to localize utilities: “It makes you proud to live in a city that has a vision for the future and a way to make it be what we want. Thank you so much.”

Watch the short discussion of Resolution 19-18 here: 



About 160,000 people live in Lancaster and anther 158,000 live in its sister city of Palmdale, which is adjacent and to the south. There are about 94 square miles in the city, located approximately an hour north of downtown L.A. in the Antelope Valley.

Since 2009, the community has focused on reducing unemployment and has succeeded in shifting those numbers from 17 percent to around 6 percent. There’s significant manufacturing and related industry in the community, including a BYD Auto manufacturing facility, where locals produce electric buses and large scale batteries for the Chinese firm. Lancaster has a thriving renewable power manufacturing industry and is considered the state leader in solar panel manufacturing.

Image of LancasterCA at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Lancaster, California, Staff ReportTags: lancaster cacaliforniamuniresolutionelectric5Gtraffic lights

NRECA Fact Sheet: Electric Cooperatives Could Bring High-Speed Internet To Another 6.3 Million Households

May 15, 2019

Cooperatives are building the next-generation networks that will support rural areas long into the future. We’ve covered this extensively at ILSR as we have gathered materials on community networks from across the country into one place. We want to share this fact sheet from National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA) on how electric cooperatives are well-situated to bring high-speed Internet service to another 6.3 million households.

6.3 Million Households Have a Co-op, But No Broadband

The fact sheet features an insightful map of the areas within electric cooperative service territories that do and do not have broadband. (Note: The FCC defines broadband as a speed of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.) Many telephone and electric cooperatives can take the credit for bringing needed connectivity to their communities. For example, more than 90 electric cooperatives across the U.S. have built Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, which offer some of the fastest Internet service in the country.

The NRECA fact sheet, however, reveals the 6.3 million households in rural electric cooperative service areas that still need high-speed Internet access. These areas are primarily in the Midwest and the South. Creating pathways for electric cooperatives to extend Internet service is increasingly a priority in a number of these states, and state legislatures are now passing laws to empower both electric and telephone cooperatives. NRECA offers more policy recommendations to continue the momentum.

You can learn more about the ways rural cooperatives are bringing better connectivity to rural areas by reading our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.

Check out the NRECA fact sheet, and drop us a line if you know of more resources to add to the ILSR’s Community Networks Initiative archives. 

NRECA Fact Sheet: Electric Co-ops Part of Solution to Expand Rural BroadbandTags: electricnational rural electric cooperative associationmapmappingrural electric coopfact sheetrural

Legislative Intent in Arkansas: A Talk With Senator Davis - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 356

May 14, 2019

It’s mid-May and while some states’ legislatures are still in session, other’s have already debated new legislation, voted, and adopted new laws. This week, we talk with one Senator from Arkansas who, along with her colleagues, are interested in bringing better broadband to rural areas of her state, Breanne Davis.

During the 2019 session, she introduced SB 150, which was ultimately adopted. The bill makes slight changes in Arkansas law that prevent local communities from developing infrastructure to be used for broadband. She and Christopher discuss why she and her colleagues decided it was time to ask lawmakers for the change after years of depending on large ISPs who weren’t living up to promises to expand broadband in rural areas.

Christopher and Senator Davis discuss some of the details of the bill and address the amendments that changed a broad piece of legislation to a targeted law that allows local communities to apply for federal grant funding. She explains some of the reasons for the amendments and how those changes fit into the vision she and her colleagues in the legislature have for the future of Arkansas.

Read more about SB 150.

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

This show is 21 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.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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 bitsArkansaslegislationsb 150 arbarrier

BrightRidge Creating 10 Gig Connectivity in Tennessee Communities

May 14, 2019

About ten years ago, we first reported on Johnson City, Tennessee. At that time, the community was in the process of installing fiber to improve reliability for their public electric utility. The Johnson City Power Board (JCPB) discussed the possibility of offering broadband via the new infrastructure, but they weren’t quite ready to move forward. Now JCPB has renamed itself BrightRidge and has not only started connecting local subscribers with fiber optic connectivity, but is offering 10 gig symmetrical service.

Past Plans

Johnson City has considered more than one model over the years before realizing the current plan. After initial consideration, they decided to move forward with a public-private partnership to first serve businesses and later residential subscribers. Later, they concluded that a public-public partnership with the Bristol Virginia Utility Authority (BVU) was a better option. After difficulties in Bristol with political corruption and state restrictions, however, that ultimately ended public ownership of the BVU, Johnson City was considering options again.

In 2017, they commissioned a fresh feasibility study to build on lessons learned from their own and others’ experiences and look deeper in the the possibilities of a publicly owned broadband utility.

Johnson City is located between Chattanooga and Bristol. Both cities have fiber infrastructure which has helped spur economic development. Being sandwiched in between these two communities requires Johnson City to be able to compete or contend with the possibility of losing employers and residents who want or need better connectivity. 

The JCPB also decided in 2017 to change their name to BrightRidge; they remain a “not-for-profit, local power company.”

An Eight Year Plan

In July 2018, BrightRidge shared their plan to deploy high-quality Internet access throughout their service areas at a public meeting. Service will be offered through a combination of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless to the more rural areas. Throughout the four-phase plan, BrightRidge will deploy both fiber and wireless systems. Cost of the plan will reach approximately $64 million and will offer connectivity to approximately 61,000 electric customers, or 75 percent of those in the service area, by 2026.

The first phase, happening this year, will bring BrightRidge service to approximately 8,500 premises. The first to be served will be downtown Johnson City, nine industrial parks, and also in downtown Jonesborough, which is located about eight miles from Johnson City. Approximately 4,000 of those will be households in Washington County. At a community meeting last July about the infrastructure plan, BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes told attendees:

“In those more dense areas and around the industrial parks where we have access to our substations, we will roll out the fiber. But we will also be rolling out at the same time the wireless into those rural communities so we can get you high speed access.”

Jonesborough is part of the project due to existing conduit. BrightRidge was able to run their fiber down main street, which had been previously installed for an unrelated underground wiring project.

Dykes told the Johnson City Press in March that phases 1 - 3 will connect 3,847 homes and 373 businesses. In a recent WJHL report, Main Street Cafe and Catering’s Zac Jenkins expressed his excitement at being one of the first businesses in Jonesborough to subscribe to the Fiber Optic Elite 10 gig package:

“This was a great opportunity because there’s a couple [of] buildings right here that don’t have the infrastructure for cable. So it’s been awesome for them to be able to help us put the infrastructure in.”

Approximately 50 businesses and 105 households in Jonesborough will have access this first year of operation. Next, downtown Johnson City businesses and residences will be connected.

Hybrid Approach

Subscribers in more densely populated areas will have access to fiber connections and will have the option to sign up for capacity as high as symmetrical 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service. Rates for residential fiber service include:

  • Fiber Optic - Advantage (200 Mbps) : $49.99 per month
  • Fiber Optic - Performance (1 Gbps) : $79.99 per month
  • Fiber Optic - Elite (10 Gbps) : $299.99 per month

BrightRidge is also offering VoIP for $18.99 per month and a $14.99 per month managed Wi-Fi and streaming video support package. There’s no fee for installation, no contracts, and subscribers can supply their own Wi-Fi routers or lease them from BrightRidge.

Fixed wireless subscribers in rural areas don’t have the same options as those in the denser areas where FTTH will be available, but many will see a noticeable improvement over CenturyLink DSL or Satellite Internet access, which are two of the main ISPs in the rural areas in the region. There will also be no data caps and subscribers will have local support to help with any issues that may arise.

  • Fixed Wireless Internet - Essential (up to 25 Mbps download /3 Mbps upload) : $29.99 per month
  • Fixed Wireless Internet - Advantage (up to 50 Mbps/5 Mbps Bandwidth) : $64.99 per month
  • Fixed Wireless Internet - Performance (up to 75 Mbps/10 Mbps Bandwidth) : $89.99 per month

Looking Forward to Better Service

At the July 2018 public meeting to introduce locals to the plan, people expressed enthusiasm. David Bench, who receives electric service from BrightRidge said, ”I can't say enough good things about it, and wish it had happened 10 years ago.”

Local coverage from WJHL:

Photo credit Mrgriffter [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Tags: johnson citytennesseemuniFTTHfixed wirelessruraljonesborough tn10gbpsgigabitsymmetry

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 356

May 14, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 356 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher talks to Arkansas State Senator Breanne Davis about recently passed Senate Bill 150, which lifted some of the state restrictions on municipal broadband networks. Listen to the interview, or read the transcript below.



Breanne Davis: In the year 2019, we shouldn't have to choose between where we live and taking a job that requires us to send email.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 356 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, state Senator Breanne Davis joins us to discuss changes in the law in her home state of Arkansas. Earlier this year we reported about a bill that she and several other women lawmakers introduced to lift state restrictions on municipal broadband. After a couple of amendments, the bill passed, and while it doesn't remove all barriers in Arkansas, it is a small step toward local authority for better connectivity. In this interview, Senator Davis describes how she and the other authors of the bill chose broadband as an issue that needed their attention. She discusses how they refined the bill to allow local communities to access federal grant funding. Lawmakers in the state of Arkansas have run out of patience waiting for large ISPs to make good on the promise to deliver rural broadband after taking so many subsidies over the years. You can read more about the specifics of Senate Bill 150 at to discover how and why state lawmakers decided to make the change. Now let's hear from Breanne Davis, state senator from Arkansas.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with Senator Breanne Davis from Arkansas about a very interesting bill that made its way through that that Senator Davis sponsored, dealing with municipal broadband questions. So welcome to the show, Senator.

Breanne Davis: Hi. Thank you. I'm happy to be on.

Christopher Mitchell: I wonder if you'd maybe just start by giving us a sense of, what is broadband like in the area you represent and even more largely across Arkansas, for our listeners to get a sense of that.

Breanne Davis: Well, a lot of my district — I represent about 90,000 people and my district is pretty rural, so there's plenty of places that don't have access to broadband, and it's similar throughout the state. We have over 40 percent of Arkansans that don't have access to broadband as defined by the FCC, and actually 25 percent of Arkansans that don't have access to broadband at all. So we're really lagging, and it was an important issue for us to take up this session.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I was actually surprised. I know that across the nation there's some places where even a county library may not have access, and that seems like something that occurs occasionally in Arkansas. I don't think a lot of people have a sense of that.

Breanne Davis: Yeah, I think it's interesting because there's a few things we've done really well in Arkansas and you know, one of them is providing broadband to all of our public schools, K-12. So 99 percent of our public schools have high speed broadband, and that was an initiative that our governor took on a little over four years ago. And we actually lead the nation in that. Then we have a coding initiative that our governor also took on to put computer coding into classrooms K-12, and we're leading the nation in that. Yet we're lagging so far behind. I believe we're last or next to last in access to broadband throughout the rest of the state.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and as our listeners will be familiar with, it's varying tremendously within the state. We've done interviews with Randy Klindt, who I believe is at Northern Ozarks Electric Cooperative [correction: Randy Klindt works at Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Missouri] where — I could be mangling some things here, but OzarksGo, where you may be in a rural area and you could have gigabit access and like you're saying, you could be pretty close to there and maybe not even have anything above dial-up.

Breanne Davis: That's exactly right. You know, and it's not just true for our rural areas, but it's true for places within Little Rock, our state's capital, or right outside of a city. You can have access to broadband and hit a spot and not have it at all, and so it's not just true for our rural areas, but all kinds of places across the state. It's actually very interesting.

Christopher Mitchell: And Arkansas is one of the states — we count about 20 in our analysis that have limitations on the ability of local governments to provide service. In Arkansas, basically, cities that have municipal electric utilities have, I think, more broad authority and cities that did not have electric utilities really didn't have any authority. And so, you authored a bill to change that, and I'm curious if you can describe that to us — just your vision.

Breanne Davis: To be honest, I worked with and 21 other women. We actually this session had all of our Republican women legislators come together and just formed a caucus, and we called it Dream BIG, which was Bold Initiatives for the Good of Arkansas. And we tried to find issues that weren't really Republican or Democrat issues, but they were Arkansas issues and problems that we needed to solve and solve quickly. And so, we started talking about access to broadband and realized that Arkansas had on of the fifth strictest laws in the nation in regards to, like you mentioned, cities, municipalities, and counties being able to partner and to bring broadband to their area. And so, as we started to dig deeper, we found that since 2015, there are three major companies in Arkansas that have received $223 million in federal grant money to bring broadband to several areas in Arkansas, but we weren't seeing any closing of the gap in service provided to Arkansans. And so, we just decided, you know what, if they're not going to help solve the problem, then we're going to take matters in our own hands and we're going to lift the restriction and let municipalities if they want to either partner with an Internet service provider or go in on their own and apply for a lot of this federal grant money that's available right now to bring broadband these areas. We started realizing how big the problem was and that it had not been solved and wanted to try to find a way to be aggressive in helping solve it.

Christopher Mitchell: I like the way you put that, that this is in Arkansas issue, not a left or a right issue because I was heartened when the federal government created the ReConnect act, which was created by a Republican Congress and signed by Donald Trump, who's the republican president of the United States, obviously, and it expressly made grants available to cities, whether they wanted to partner or do it themselves. But there is a history, I think of at the local level, this is totally nonpartisan, at the state level, depending on the state, it can get partisan, and inside DC, it actually is quite partisan. And so, was there any resistance, I mean, among your Republican colleagues saying, you know, actually we're uncomfortable with giving cities this larger authority?

Breanne Davis: So we did have a little bit of pushback and questions like that from a few members here and there just saying, you know, what does government even do well so do we really want to allow government into another space? By and large, Republicans throughout the legislature were really on board with it, and I think the best way to be able to explain that shift is really because we've given private companies the opportunity for years now to solve the problem and they haven't done so. And so, I think we just realized, like, we sat back, we let these companies have the opportunity to solve this for us, and we just have to do something different. And so, yeah, we had that conversation, but we actually, to be honest, we didn't have a single person vote against this bill, Republican or Democrat. It just shows you how bipartisan it was and how frustrated all of us were with what was being done here in Arkansas. So it worked out well.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I want to talk a little bit about some of the motivations that have been ascribed. There's two modes of thought I've seen in newspaper articles and in other forms of media covering this, and I want to get your reaction as I sort of describe them. One is that a lot of the people you were working with were motivated because of a frustration around the fact that Arkansas was the first to require a lot of Medicaid reporting online and people were struggling to do that in some areas because of a lack of access. And then there was another article that claimed — really I don't know if I should say "it claimed," but it used as motivation — it was talking about Netflix and being able to stream video as being a frustration that people didn't have access to that as much. And so, we've seen quite a different number of claims. That's why I wanted to talk to you to get a sense of what sort of things were you talking about along those lines.

Breanne Davis: That's funny. I didn't either of those comments directly as we were working through — I mean, I did hear mention of the Medicaid work requirement and having to sign up and do some stuff online, but what we really heard were people just saying, you know, I had to help my child turn in their college application or we had to apply for the FAFSA online, and we had to go down the road, sit down at the end of my gravel road to get Wi-Fi. Or I tried to, you know, pull up an email for work and it took a week for that email to download, and you know, I have to go into town and sit at the local McDonald's and pull up my work email there. And so I felt like there is — in Arkansas anyways, we have so many rural communities, and agriculture, you know, is what we're known for here in Arkansas and our top industry. And we have our small communities that are, I feel like, begging for help from our state and just saying, you know, our community is slowly dying off, our young people are moving off to find jobs and opportunity, and we want to still have a thriving small community. And to me, I think that in the year 2019 we shouldn't have to choose between where we live and taking a job that requires us to send email. And so, I think that what we heard back from Arkansans were, like, very practical things. Of course, Netflix is a way of life for so many of us. It's what we, you know, what we do at night, find a good show, and so I think that of course probably plays into some of the frustrations. You can't even do basic things like watch a show on Netflix. But what we understand is broadband is a commodity, and it's something just like water that we feel like we should have when we go into our home, you know. And like I said, it wasn't just about rural Arkansas. It was about even in the cities too.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to — I always chafe when I hear people sort of almost dismissively using Netflix as an issue in these discussions because whether or not your home has Netflix has thousands of dollars of implication in real estate values. I mean it's a good policy actually for a lot of things regarding the health of a community.

Breanne Davis: I think you're right.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, one of the comments you made was someone had said, you know, "What does government do well?" and I'm someone who alternates between raging at poorly designed government programs and trying to praise others that have really done a transformative job. And so, I'm curious because my vision of this is, I think, like that of many Republicans and frankly I think most Democrats as well, which is that we don't want a government monopoly. We don't want any monopoly. We want some competition. And I wanted to ask you about that because it's something that came up a lot when you talked with my colleague Lisa about this issue, the role that you want to competition to play.

Breanne Davis: A lot of us would say that competition makes each other better, and so I think the same applies here as far as competition goes. And any of us who have paid attention to the broadband issue have read articles about census blocks and how, you know, one service provider is saying, well, we cover this area and this area is covered while they're really maybe just serving one home or one business in that entire census block. So it really gives us a false idea of, you know, what our coverage map across Arkansas and across the nation actually looks like. And so, you know, I think a great example is we have a smaller town in Arkansas. It's called Fairfield Bay, and the mayor there, they just built a convention cente. And it's a great community, but they don't have broadband. I think it's hard to have a hotel and a convention center and ask people to come in when they can't connect to the Internet. The mayor there couldn't get anyone to partner up with him to bring broadband to that area. And so, I think that'd be a great example when we talk about competition that, you know, there's no one there willing to serve that community. And so, him partnering with someone to bring maybe a smaller Internet service provider into community, and then all of a sudden some of the other Internet service providers are jumping at the chance. They know we'll come there, we'll bring a service out to you. And so it makes people, when they realize someone else is coming out that way or there's going to be competition, it makes people react. It makes them move and want to suddenly help solve an issue.

Christopher Mitchell: When you posted your bill, I'm sure it got some attention, and then I think your bill made it through the first committee without any, um, changes to it, any amendments, unanimously. Then it had some significant revisions, and I'm just curious if you can give us a sense of what the reaction was from particularly the three big companies you mentioned, the big telephone companies that have received almost a quarter of billion dollars, I guess, over the last ten years, but also maybe the big cable companies. Like, what kind of a reaction did you get in general?

Breanne Davis: From those companies actually, the day that we announced our initiatives and that bill, I think I had every single one of them in my office that day just talking through it and what it meant. And to be honest with you, they were actually great to work with, and I just appreciated the back and forth that we were able to have. It was good conversation and good discussion about what we were doing and why, and just sort of getting them to at least be neutral on the bill. But some of the changes that we did make resulted in, I would say, unintended consequences from the bill. And so, I've kind of talked about the K-12 initiative bringing broadband to all of our public schools, and there was some language in there that we had stricken originally that impacted our department of information services that worked with the schools and even our higher ed institutions have their own network as well across the state. And so, striking some of that language impacted that and that was not our intent, so some of the amendments that we made were sort of to fix some of those things. We wanted to make sure that we were targeted in what we were doing. I mean, our purpose was just that underserved or unserved areas would be able to get the coverage, and so other things that were happening within that bill — and even you mentioned some of the companies that were already grandfathered in, like electrical companies in certain communities and stuff. So, we wanted to, like, make sure we kept that stuff as it was. We weren't trying to mess with too many things. We were very specific in our purpose and wanted to really keep that vision and move that way.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the — as I read it, your initial bill would have, aside from the unintended consequences which I'll admit I paid less attention to because I'm hyper focused on municipal networks, but I very much appreciate the importance of the committee process to work those things out. I deplore when states and the federal government fail to do that due diligence, so I'm glad that that was caught. But it originally basically would have given cities total authority. You would have had no restrictions, which is what we support at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and what most states have, and you ended up with a bill in which I believe still the municipalities that have electric utilities have broad authority. Now the cities that don't have municipal electric utilities, I believe they have to get a grant in order to be able to build or to partner. And I'm curious, was that something that you saw then as a compromise? Or given that you wanted to make sure you were very competitive in receiving the grants, was that your aim to limit in that way?

Breanne Davis: Yeah, that was more our aim to limit it that way. The lead sponsor on the House end, Representative DeAnn Vaught, her and I just had a lot of conversations between each other just saying, okay, you know, we have groups leaning on us, asking us to amend this or that. And so we just talked back and forth, like, all right, at the end of this, we are not going to give. We think we have the support to get this through as it is right now. As it was originally before any amendments, you know, we believed that we have that support, but we wanted to, like I just spoke about the unintended consequences, but we wanted to make sure that we kept our vision for the bill and what we wanted it to do. So I would say, you know, we don't feel like we compromised and we feel like we really honed in a little bit more on the vision and our intent for the bill. And we really wanted Johnny Rye because it still does say on its own or in partnership with the private entity and yes, then apply for that grant or loan money, and that's what we wanted our cities and counties to do is go after that money that's out there. And so that was really our push towards that direction.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to finish up by noting that there's, I think, a very bright future for a lot of rural Arkansas because of just a lot of co-ops. A lot of the electric co-ops are making really smart investments. I'm very hopeful that we see Arkansas leapfrogging. You know, I think there's a history perpetuated by media often that Arkansas, something may be wrong with it or something like that. I have an uncle that lives there. I've loved my visits to Arkansas. It's beautiful. So, I definitely hope that this works out in the way that you're hoping. I hope you get some of these ReConnect funds.

Breanne Davis: And you know, we're of course going to be watching this and making sure that, you know, different part of government entities that, you know, need to be reaching out to municipalities do so. And you know, if this build it and go far enough, then it's something that I think we're definitely willing to revisit in the next legislative session to make sure that this is getting done for Arkansans.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to say that for those of us who've been working on this and as you've seen, there's no partisanship at the local level. I'm very glad to see that in Arkansas at the state level that you are able to work, you know, sort of pragmatically on it as well, and I hope that that's infectious to other states.

Breanne Davis: Yes. I do too. It was really a great session, and I love the results that we got on it.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well thank you so much for your time today.

Breanne Davis: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it. I enjoyed being on. Thanks for having me.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Arkansas state senator Breanne Davis discussing her bill SB 150 which reduces some of the barriers to local broadband network projects. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 356 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 13

May 13, 2019


Thin on broadband: Tribal areas still struggle with lagging technology by Keerthi Vedantam, Cronkite News



Empower local communities to close the digital divide by Greg Norton, California Economic Summit



Broadband Internet access lags in Greeley, badly, and the city is well aware by Bobby Fernandez, Greeley Tribune 

NextLight wins affordability awards from Broadband Now by Sophia Collender, Longmont Observer



Minot selectmen consider broadband study by Eriks Petersons, Sun Journal 



Petersham residents to get update on broadband by Greg Vine, Athol Daily News 



Opinion: Municipal fiber is good for communities by Jon Anne Willow and Curtis Dean, Traverse City Record Eagle



Lawmakers negotiate education funding, broadband expansion ahead of budget deadline by Mark Zinn, News-Press NOW

Commissioners say river flooding projected, broadband project continues by Sarah Gray, The Marshall Democrat-News


New Mexico

New Mexico utility building rural broadband infrastructure, Albuquerque Journal


North Carolina

North Carolina awards $9.8M in grants to boost rural Internet speeds, WRAL TechWire

“The most current map of broadband availability in North Carolina shows that 93.7 percent of North Carolina households have access to broadband. This implies that most North Carolina households should be able to effortlessly connect to the Internet and without too much waiting or delay: run a small business, stream video, complete homework assignments, communicate with friends and family and play video games… But interactions with citizens from all parts of the state have led our office to believe this figure—93.7 percent—is wildly inaccurate.”

NC Company plans to bring faster Internet to northwest Rowan County by Josh Bergeron, Salisbury Post

Rural broadband in NC: A new season or more reruns? By Kirk Ross, Carolina Public Press

Swain, Jackson counties receive grant funding for broadband infrastructure, Cherokee One Feather

Rural Counties Get $10M for Broadband from N.C. Legislature by Charlotte Wray, Henderson Daily Dispatch



The oldest town in Tennessee receives the fastest broadband by Kristen Gallant, WJHL



Broadband is no longer a luxury for rural Vermont by Carolyn Partridge, Brattleboro Reformer



Community responds for broadband survey by Diana Zimmerman, Wahkiakum County Eagle



Your 5G phone won’t hurt you. But Russia wants you to think otherwise by William J. Broad, New York Times 

Henry Waxman: Congress should act now to ensure a free and open Internet by Henry A. Waxman, Los Angeles Times

Big telecom isn’t the answer to bridging the digital divide by Deborah Simpier, Broadband Breakfast 

As is often said, if big telecom could make money in rural areas they would already be here. When it comes to bridging the digital divide, big telecom probably isn't the answer. The future of rural access, instead, belongs to rural people who are blazing new trails of innovation and community powered networks, and that is a revolution I am excited about.

Broadband is the new railroad by Jonathan Sallet, Benton Foundation 

House passes 'pretty minor' broadband bill, expert says by Ryan Johnston, StateScoop


Tags: media roundup

Berrien County Makes Broadband A Priority

May 13, 2019

On April 4th, 2019, the Board of Commissioners of Berrien County, Michigan approved a resolution that formally acknowledges that achieving countywide access to high-speed Internet is crucial to the county’s mission of improving quality of life for present and future generations.

Read the resolution here.

Connected Nation ranks Michigan 34th among states for broadband adoption and an estimated 368,000 rural households still do not have access to FCC defined broadband at 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Many areas of Berrien County lack access to Internet speeds over 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps uploads. The resolution will ensure that the county commits to pursuing opportunities and partnerships that increase broadband availability.

County commissioners Ezra Scott, of New Buffalo, and Teri Freehling, of Baroda introduced the measure and have already begun taking steps to turn it into action including creating a board subcommittee that works with municipalities and community partners to pursue broadband opportunities. They're also exploring the possibility of a grant application for the newly announced U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program). The commissioners hope that the resolution demonstrates how serious Berrien County is about pursuing countywide broadband access. As Freehling stated, “broadband is more than an option, it’s a necessity.”

Other local leaders have put their commitment to better local connectivity on record with various resolutions. Most recently, Bozeman, Montana, passed a resolution declaring broadband essential infrastructure. In 2018, Bangor, Maine, passed a similar resolution.

Broadband as A Necessity

Berrien County is located in southwest Michigan and home to just over 150,000 people. As part of the state’s “fruit belt”, the county leads the state in production of peaches, pears, and grapes and half of the county’s land is dedicated to agriculture.

Despite high-speed Internet access being crucial for modern “precision agriculture,” which uses elements of GPS to track crops, Freehling, who lives on a working farm, said she has no access to broadband because her home is on the wrong side of the road. Likewise, Internet speeds are so slow, with download speeds sometimes not exceeding 4.2 Mbps, in Scott's town of New Buffalo, the township clerk has trouble downloading county tax records and election documents.

Freehling's goal is to make Berrien County “a top five pick” for those seeking to locate here and she does not “want the lack of broadband to hinder that.” With the approval of the new resolution, Freehling hopes that the county can work towards universal broadband access, which will in time attract new businesses and employees.

Pursuing the ReConnect Program

One way Freehling and Scott believe Berrien County can start pursuing countywide broadband is through the ReConnect Program. Established on March 23rd, 2018, the ReConnect Program will make available at least $600 million in rural broadband projects, through $200 million in grants, $200 million in loan and grant combinations, and $200 million in low-interest loans. The program was created because, as United States Secretary of Agriculture Perdue describes, “Reliable, high-speed broadband Internet e-Connectivity is critical for economic prosperity and quality of life in the 21st century, from education to health care to agriculture to manufacturing and beyond.”

Telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, Internet service providers, and municipalities may apply for the program and are eligible if they are in a rural area where more than 90 percent of the households do not have sufficient broadband access. Most communities in Berrien County are eligible because they have fewer than 20,000 people and currently lack broadband.

Freehling explained that the resolution does not mean that the county is looking to start providing Internet, but instead will serve as “‘conduit’ to municipalities, companies or organizations that want to apply for a grant.” 

A Proactive Approach

Depending on the package available, grant applications are due between May 31st and July 12th, 2019. Because the application involves numerous steps, including having all plans certified by a professional engineer, this deadline is expected to be difficult to meet. The county’s director of community development, Dan Fette, told the commissioners that, “there is no way to put together a credible application by May 31st.” Despite this, Scott and Freehling are determined to bring broadband to Berrien County.

As Freehling noted, more funding should become available in the next fiscal year and there is a possibility that the current grant application deadline may be extended. Additionally, when Scott met with the U.S. Commerce Department officials, they offered to assist with the process because they want Berrien County to be a pilot for expanding broadband. Scott said:

“We can’t sit back and let other counties and people do this around us. We have to be proactive. We have to take action instead of reacting.”

While Scott estimated it may take years to see significant progress in broadband coverage in Berrien County, Freehling asserted that she hopes with the approval of the resolution, expanding high-speed Internet across the county will remain a strong long term priority. As Freehling said of achieving universal broadband, “this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Berrien County Resolution Declaring Broadband Essential to County's GoalsTags: michiganberrien county miresolutionruralfarmfederal funding

Plainfield Votes to Fund Gigabit Community Network

May 10, 2019

At the 2019 Annual Town Meeting, voters in Plainfield, Massachusetts, unanimously approved the $150,000 necessary to begin operating the Plainfield Broadband network. Westfield's Whip City Fiber, about 35 miles south, will be working with Plainfield to manage the latter's network. Plainfield Broadband expects to have Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) high-speed Internet service to a few homes at the end of 2019 and a finished network in 2020.

Local Dollars

The funding comes to about $150,000 in the 2020 town operating budget, and will cover the Plainfield Broadband project expenses. Departmental receipts will pay for about $132,000, and the remaining $18,000 will come out of taxes. In future years, however, the network will be funded through service receipts according to Plainfield Broadband Manager Kimberley Longey in the local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Longey also told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that 162 residents have signed up for Internet access from Plainfield Broadband; if another 110 residents sign up for service, then the network will be in a secure financial position. Plainfield residents can register online or at the local library.

Plainfield is a small town of only about 600 people and the plan is to bring high-speed Internet service to several homes in late 2019 with a full rollout in 2020. The prices for the Plainfield Broadband services are $85 each month for residential Internet service and $12.95 for phone service. Residential service has upload and download speeds of up to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps), and there is no contract for the service.  

A Collaboration of Community Networks 

The town of Plainfield has been working on a plan to improve Internet access for years. In 2015, they created the Plainfield Light and Telecommunications Department, commonly known as Plainfield Broadband, as a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). Originally designed to provide for electricity, MLPs are now also a way for communities to own and operate their own networks for Internet service. 

The town partnered with Whip City Fiber, the MLP of the nearby city Westfield. Whip City Fiber currently provides Internet service in several other western Massachusetts communities and is working in some capacity with around 20 different towns in the region. They're offering consulting services, managing infrastructure, and providing Internet access.

This is a large step for the small town, but they are ready to move forward. As reported by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Longey explained the importance of the supporting Plainfield Broadband:

"This is a community network … Our sustainability is based on people taking service from us for TV and [I]nternet."

Tags: massachusettsFTTHplainfield mawestfield magigabit

Looking for A Graphic Design Summer Intern

May 9, 2019

Summer is quickly approaching, which means we’re opening up opportunities for interns looking to gain some experience while classes are not in session. This year, we hope to find a Graphic Design Intern to help us develop more resources to help spread the word about publicly owned Internet networks. We want a creative person to fill this June 2019 - August 2019 opening; check out the posting below and apply before May 22, 2019.

Graphic Design Internship (Summer 2019)  — Minneapolis, MN 

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is looking for a paid graphic design intern to work primarily with our Community Broadband Networks initiative. Our ideal candidate is enthusiastic about working to make the world a better place. You will get real life experience in educating the public on hot topics while learning how a nimble nonprofit policy organization works. You will have some tasks assigned but we want someone who can jump in with their own ideas as well.

This internship is paid $15/hour.

Application materials due: Wednesday, May 22, 2019.

Term of internship: June 2019 – August 2019 (these terms are negotiable, given school schedule and/or other commitments).

Position description: Designing in-house web and printed materials, including research reports, fact sheets, and promotional materials. 


  • Applicants should be pursuing (or have acquired) a degree in graphic design, marketing, or a related field.
  • Experience with Pages, Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop
  • Strong creative skills
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Access to a computer for work use is preferred

To apply, please submit cover letter and resume to Broadband(at) using the subject line: Graphic Design Intern Application

Tags: jobsinstitute for local self-reliance

Three States, Their Local Communities, and Broadband Funding Denied

May 9, 2019

During this legislative session, state lawmakers in several states passed bills that allocated funds to broadband deployment and planning programs. In many states, elected officials are listening to constituents and experts who tell them that they need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to keep their communities from dwindling. States that refuse funding to public entities, however, block out some of the best opportunities to connect people and businesses in rural areas. In places such as Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, states need to trust their own people to develop necessary broadband networks.

The Great Lakes State: Not Great at Supporting Local Broadband

Michigan’s HB 5670 caught the attention of community broadband advocates when it was introduced by Representative Michele Hoitenga in 2018. The bill was firmly anti-municipal network and after some investigation, it became clear that Hoitenga received guidance from lobbyists from big cable and telephone monopolies. HB 5670, with its sad definition of “broadband” and attempt to fork over state funds to big national ISPs didn’t go anywhere alone after word spread.

Folks from the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and other constituents in rural Michigan voiced their concern and the bill seemed to disappear. In reality, the House folded the language into SB 601, a large appropriations bill, which has now become law. Section 806 lists the types of entities that are eligible to receive grants from the $20 million set aside for infrastructure -- public entities are specifically eliminated.

In Michigan, places such as Sebewaing, and Marshall have already proven that local residents and businesses need gigabit connectivity and that they trust services from their local municipal utility broadband provider. The language of SB 601 as written will also prevent local governments from obtaining grants with which they could develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships. In Lyndon Township, the community is building a fiber network and working with a local cooperative for gigabit Internet access, but such an arrangement would prohibit Lyndon township from receiving any funding from the Michigan program, even though areas of the township were considered “unserved,” another grant requirement.

Tennessee Still Refusing to Follow Their Own Advice

Tennessee chose to dedicate $14.9 million to rural broadband this year via their Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, which passed in 2017. As in the case of Michigan, the Act includes a range of entities as eligible to apply and receive funding, including cooperatives, but specifically excludes municipalities and their municipal electric utilities.

In a 2017 article in Nooga Today, former Representative Kevin Brooks who now serves as Mayor of Cleveland, commented on the less admirable qualities of the bill:

When asked why it was more difficult to include city electricity providers, Brooks said it is about competition and money.

Allowing municipalities to offer services increases competition, but Comcast and other providers have said that it isn’t fair for them to compete against government entities such as EPB.

Last year, the corporations lobbied legislators and killed another effort for broadband expansion.

“We got the co-ops and we’re going to keep working on cities and municipalities,” Brooks said. “We are going to take what we can get … It’s a big deal.”

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Program still does not consider municipalities eligible to apply for funding two years later. When the state announced which applicants won the awards this year, Christopher commented the obvious on Twitter:

Great news! And without spending a taxpayer dollar you could bring fiber to 2x as many households by removing the prohibition on muni fiber expansion that was created to protect out-of-state monopolies.

— Christopher Mitchell (@communitynets) March 20, 2019

This year, state funding will go to 13 grantees, more than half of which are electric and telecommunications cooperatives, which is a plus, but the state of Tennessee is home to several munis that have the ability to expand to nearby communities but for state legal restrictions. Governor Bill Lee’s press release notes that the funds will be used to expand broadband to more than 8,300 households and businesses in 17 counties. Approximately $20 million in matching funds will add to the state investments.

Almost three years ago, the state Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) released a report to the former Governor on broadband accessibility and adoption. In that report, the TNECD recommended that state laws prohibiting municipal network expansion be lifted, but the state legislature still remains in the grip of big cable and telephone monopolies.

Rather than allowing local communities where fiber networks have proven benefits of economic development, public savings, and better access to education and healthcare, state leaders remain stubbornly faithful to large corporate ISPs. State lawmakers are willing to subsidize deployments by companies such as AT&T and Spectrum Cable, allowing shareholders from elsewhere to profit, but limiting competition. If Morristown's FiberNET or Tullahoma's LightTUBe could expand unrestricted beyond their electric service areas, bringing high-quality Internet access to rural residents and businesses would happen faster and keep precious dollars in the state.

Lobbyists in Virginia Control State Broadband Spending

This past session, freshman Delegate Bob Thomas, Jr., introduced HB 2141 in an effort to expand local authority for broadband funding and control. The state allows local communities to develop service districts, giving them the authority to create special taxing districts for necessary services, such as water, sewage, and garbage disposal. Rep. Thomas’s bill as introduced would have allowed local governments to do the same with broadband infrastructure, granting that authority under Sec. 15.2-2403. Powers of service districts. The Virginia General Assembly Legislative Information Services (LIS) summary of the bill as introduced reads:

Local services districts; broadband and telecommunications services. Authorizes a local governing body, with respect to a service district, to construct, maintain, and operate such facilities and equipment as may be necessary or desirable to provide broadband and telecommunications services.

The bill appeared to have support in the House, but lobbyists from the large corporate Internet access companies went to work in the Senate to erode any enthusiasm for the measure. They found a way to convince Rep. Thomas to amend the bill, persuading him that it was doomed to failure without changes. 

The House passed the bill but when HB 2141 went to the Senate, lawmakers amended it further, specifying that only “nongovernmental broadband service provider(s)” could work with municipalities and other local governments to develop broadband networks. Lawmakers had extracted the heart of the bill and in conference committee, the Senate version won out. The final version that was passed by the General Assembly and will be adopted into law reads:

Local services districts; broadband and telecommunications services. Authorizes a local governing body, with respect to a service district, to contract with a nongovernmental broadband service provider who will construct, maintain, and own communications facilities and equipment required to facilitate delivery of last-mile broadband services to unserved areas of the service district, provided that the locality documents that less than 10 percent of residential and commercial units within the project area are capable of receiving broadband service at the time the construction project is approved by the locality. 

In Virginia, state law discourages municipal Internet networks with a series of burdensome reporting requirements and hurdles, and the Virginia rural broadband funding program locks out public entities. The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) requires applicants to be units of government, but only accepts applications from them if they work with a private sector co-applicant. Only projects that bring Internet access to unserved areas can obtain funding through the VATI. Most troublesome, however, is the provision that prevents public entities from owning and operating a network funded through the VATI, even though they are expected to provide matching funds. Unfortunately, Rep. Thomas's bill did not amend either drawback.

People in Virginia who support publicly owned broadband networks will continue to work to educate legislators before the next session. If the state removes existing barriers, local governments will be able to assist in bringing high-quality Internet access to unserved and underserved areas. Networks such as those developed by the Eastern Shore of Virgninia Broadband Authority (ESVBA), has already helped to connected areas once unserved and continues to expand, via its open access infrastructure.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) manages the VATI program. Even if the DHCD chose not to award funding to local governments for broadband initiatives, municipalities, counties, and other public entities should be eligible to apply. No one knows the needs of the local population better than those who live there; by refusing their right to apply, the State of Virginia is leaving significant local knowledge untapped.

Feds Think Otherwise

While elected officials in some state capitals say they’re trying to solve the problem of the rural / urban digital divide, they’re establishing unnecessary hurdles for their constituents by locking public entities out of the funding process. State lawmakers are taking an outdated approach that even the federal government has abandoned. 

The Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program) through the USDA, makes $600 million available in a combination of grants and loans for rural broadband. In addition to traditional Internet access providers, co-ops, and other traditional broadband providers, tribes, states, local governments and other public entities can apply for funding. 

When states such as Tennessee, Virginia, and Michigan purposely deny local governments the right to bring better connectivity to their residents and businesses, they interfere with local matters. If the federal agency recognizes the intuitive vision of local communities, states need to follow suit.

Image of the Michigan House Chambers courtesy of Steve & Christine from USA [CC BY 2.0]

Tags: state lawsstate policymichiganvirginiatennesseefundingrural

Going for a Gig in Grinnell, Iowa: Competition on the Horizon

May 8, 2019

Grinnell, Iowa, home to about 9,000 people, has a need for speed. That’s why the city is looking to Mahaska Communication Group (MCG) to provide high-speed Internet service of up to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) over a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. After MCG announced the possibility in mid-April 2019, Windstream Communications now also plans to bring FTTH to Grinnell according to The Scarlet and Black.

“Undeniable Correlation"

MCG has already distributed a two-question survey to residents in the Grinnell area to determine interest in the FTTH network. To give residents an estimate of the prices, MCG linked the price list for Oskaloosa. The prices are $50 for 25 Mbps (download) / 25 Mbps (upload) and $75 for 1 Gbps/1 Gbps. The company also offers triple play packages of Internet, TV, and phone.

The Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce stated that MCG may start building the FTTH network in 2020. Similarly, Windstream has revealed a plan to start building its own FTTH network in Grinnell in the Fall of 2019. City Manager Russ Behrens told The Scarlett and Black:

"At the end of the day, our goal is not necessarily to support one [Internet service provider] over the other, it’s to provide the best broadband service to the community that we can, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

He also mentioned that there was “an undeniable correlation" between the MCG interest and the Windstream announcement.

Two Years of Examination

About two and a half years ago, the city and the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce put together a series of focus groups to learn what residents and businesses wanted. Better Internet service made it into those conversations, and since then the city and chamber have been in discussions with Internet service providers. None of these conversations, however, made much progress until MCG stepped forward.

MCG is based out of the small town of Oskaloosa, Iowa, and was recently profiled in Broadband Communities Magazine as "an accidental ISP.” The Musco Lighting company was only trying to provide service for its business operations in the early 2000s, but community members wanted in on this new connectivity. In 2006, MCG partnered with the nearby city of Indianola to expand Internet service there. Since then Indianola has built its own FTTH network. Now, MCG is providing service not only in Oskaloosa, but also in the communities of New Sharon, Montezuma, and Lake Ponderosa as of 2018.

Economic Development 

Although any FTTH network in Grinnell would be aimed at residents, it still advances economic development. Chamber of Commerce Director Rachael Kinnick explained in The Scarlet and Black:

“Traditionally when people thought of economic development they thought of brick and mortar and the actual infrastructure of a particular building. Now we’re thinking more community-development based, things that make [a community] attractive for people to want to take jobs at your companies.”  

Tags: mcgiowagrinnell iagigabitFTTHcompetitionwindstreamsymmetry

Carolina Public Press Covers North Carolina Broadband Bills

May 7, 2019

The Carolina Public Press interviewed Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR's Community Broadband Networks initiative, for a story about two proposed bills in North Carolina that aim to help bridge the digital divide. 

His contributions are below: 

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said it’s evident by what’s happening on the ground that the major companies like Spectrum, AT&T and Century Link are far more interested in investing to compete in the lucrative, more densely populated markets. At the same time, he said, they’re fighting off changes in order to hold onto their monopolies in the less populated regions.

“It’s a fundamental conflict because North Carolina needs to encourage other kinds of investment,” he said.

“The big companies will not get the job done in the rural areas.”

Mitchell, who took part in a series of broadband discussions in January in several North Carolina communities, said the result has deepened the digital divide here. Among the states, he said, North Carolina has one of the greatest discrepancies between the digital haves and have-nots.

“There is more investment in high-quality networks in North Carolina cities than the average cities in the United States, and there is less investment in the rural areas than the average for rural America,” he said.

“I would expect to see a second or third fiber option in Chapel Hill or Raleigh before I’d see the first one in a town 75 miles east of there,” Mitchell said.

Read the full story here.


Tags: press center