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Louisville To Save Big With Embattled Anchor Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 273

October 4, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 273 - Louisville Chief of Civic Innovation Grace Simrall and Civic Tech Manager Chris Seidt

Back in June, Louisville had a close call with missing a key opportunity to build municipal fiber to local anchor institutions at a substantially reduced cost. An anti-muni broadband group pushed hard to disrupt the project but city staff educated metro council-members and moved forward with a unanimous vote. 

Louisville Chief of Civic Innovation Grace Simrall and Civic Technology Manager Chris Seidt join us for episode 273 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss the project and the importance of educating local decision-makers well in advance of they decisions.

We talk about the network extensions Louisville is building to connect key anchor institutions and internal city offices. The network will not only save on connectivity costs by reducing leased lines but also provide increased security and opportunities for efficiency. We also discuss the key points Grace and Chris made to the Metro Council in arguing for this investment. 

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

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

Tags: louisvillekentuckyanchor institutionsciosecurityCost Savingsmisinformationlessons learnedpodcastaudiobroadband bitsring

"Not Feasible" May Be A Reflection of the Consultant Rather Than A Community Network

October 3, 2017

To be fair, "not feasible" could also mean that you are asking the wrong questions. Nothing rules out that the problem lies with both the consultant AND the questions. It's hard to tell from the outside which of these factors dominates.

An Incomplete Path

For years, Iowa's Decorah has been considering a municipal fiber network and local folks have been educating people on the possibilities. With so many other communities in Iowa moving forward successfully with projects, one would have thought Decorah might snag one of the consultants involved in those. It went instead with Uptown Services.

We generally don't name consultants unless we feel compelled to on this site but Uptown Services was also the consultant the last time I saw such a poor feasibility that I couldn't avoid writing about it - in Hillsboro, Oregon. They were also the consultant for Provo, Utah; Alameda, California; Salisbury, North Carolina; and other networks that have encountered significant challenges in their business plans. We don't know what role, if any, the consultants played in their struggles and, to be fair, Uptown Services has contracted with networks that have avoided any serious pitfalls.

I have no way of evaluating the many services they provide, but I can say that cities looking for feasibility analysis and early guidance in how to improve Internet access in a community should carefully consider their track record.

What upsets me is not that Uptown told Hillsboro and Decorah that a bond-financed rapid-deployment of citywide FTTH was too risky in their analysis. That may or may not be correct - and I deeply respect consultants that are willing to tell clients what they do not want to hear. The problem is that a consultant's job should not be to say "yeah" or "nay" for one particular approach but rather to guide a community along a feasible path of improving Internet access.

We have seen examples of communities where they found building a citywide fiber network at once to be too risky for their appetite. Rather than giving up and foregoing the essential benefits of high-quality Internet access in the modern era, they set about building an incremental or phased approach. See our interviews with Auburn, Indiana and Erwin, Tennessee for two solid examples. 

As time goes on, we believe these phased approaches will be more important because the market will continue to fracture - for instance, mobile wireless services will not meet the need of most residents but some fraction will use it to substitute for fixed access.

As I read the Decorah RFP, I notice that the city included language that seems to have been open to such an analysis:

The utility commission seeks an independent third-party contractor to conduct a study of the current status of local network facilities and services, alternative network designs for optimization of local fiber optic resources, business model alternatives and operational implications, and recommendations to the utility commission’s task force for further action on the envisioned project.

It is possible that conversations with the utility board directed Uptown to be rigid and banal in their assessment. I don't know. What I do know is that communities should learn from this experience - including Decorah.

This is the "Feasibility Study" that Uptown gave back to Decorah: a basic slide deck. I have long advocated that communities demand much more in a feasibility study - below are links to 5 interviews offering insight about what is important to ask and what products should result from a feasibility study. 

The bare minimum in my mind is a spreadsheet that allows a community to understand how the model works. What happens if a take rate is higher or lower than expected? Change a cell and find out. What happens if something goes over budget?  These are the things communities should understand before they make any final decisions. Beyond that, maps and some engineering should also be included. Communities need guidance, not a yes or no.

With the right questions and consultants that are both capable and willing to work with the community, the worst that will happen is a short-term plan for modest investment and the potential to re-evaluate as technology progresses and the economics change. That is far, far preferable to the headline in Decorah "Study shows Fast Fiber not feasible" when the city already has some fiber assets available and the public is overwhelmingly in favor of a municipal nework according to multiple surveys.

The Uptown survey showed 68 percent of respondents said they would prefer to take service from the city compared to CenturyLink (3 percent), Mediacom (8 percent), "a new provider" (4 percent) and 18 percent that didn't know. Results like these indicate a deep dissatisfaction with the current state of local connectivity that requires further exploration.

Are there any recommendations for how Decorah should move forward?  Not in the feasibility study. This should be just as unacceptable as it is unhelpful. 

If Decorah doesn't want to move forward, they should be free to make that decision. Frankly, I would be looking more closely at what several of the recent and soon-to-be municipal fiber networks are doing elsewhere in Iowa and who is advising them. I doubt Decorah is really that different and others working in the state for years have confirmed my assumption.

But the larger lesson every other community should take away from this is that hiring a consultant should be more about hand-holding and guidance than "please evaluate this single model without any deviation." The consultant should help you understand how better Internet connectivity can improve your community and what feasible options you have to move in that direction. 

Learn More

Here are a collection of interviews we have done that offer insights in what a community should consider in the early phases of considering a network. Each of these has a transcript linked from the text of the story. 

Image of Deborah’s Winneshiek Courthouse by Bobak Ha'Eri (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Decorah, Iowa, RFP Seeking A Fiber to the Premise Feasibility StudyTags: feasibilitydecorahiowaconsiderationconsultantlessons learnedadvicerant

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 272

October 2, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell sits down with three local leaders in Lyndon Township, Michigan, to discuss how the community decided to pursue a Fiber-to-the-Home network. Listen to this episode here.

Gary Munce: We had a voter turnout of 43 percent of the Township residents. That is by far and away the largest turnout for any August election in the history of voting in Lyndon township.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In August, the small community of Lyndon Township, Michigan voted to raise property taxes to fund publicly-owned fiber optic infrastructure. Marc Keezer, Gary Munce, and Ben Fineman from Lyndon joined Christopher to talk about the vote, their proposed network, and how they spread the word about improving connectivity in their rural community. Our guests also describe the work of Michigan Broadband Cooperative that's working on the Lyndon project. Now, here's Marc, Gary, Ben, and Christopher.

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with a cohort of folks from Lyndon Township in Michigan. I'll start with introducing Marc Keezer, Lyndon Township Supervisor. Welcome to the show.

Marc Keezer: Thank you, Chris.

Chris Mitchell: We also have Gary Munce who led the Lyndon Broadband initiative ballot campaign and is also a board member of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative. Welcome to the show.

Gary Munce: Thanks, Chris.

Chris Mitchell: And our third guest is Ben Fineman who volunteers as president of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative and is someone that I know has been working on this for a long time. Welcome to the show.

Ben Fineman: Thank you very much for having us, Chris.

Chris Mitchell: So we got three guys from Lyndon township working on this for a long time. I think a good place to start is with Marc Keezer, Lyndon Township Supervisor for people who might have forgotten already. So tell us a little bit about Lyndon. What is Lyndon like? A little bit about where it is situated?

Marc Keezer: Lyndon is situated in Washtenaw County. We are a typical-sized township, and that's 36 square miles, and we're 52 percent state and local land. So we're a little different there than most townships. We have approximately 2,800 residents here in our township. Like I said we're a rural recreational community. We have lakes, woods, trails -- lots of recreation opportunities.

Chris Mitchell: Is it fair to say that Lyndon is a bit higher educated than the average township around the Midwest? I get the impression that being so close to the University of Michigan might lead a certain kind of person to want to live there.

Marc Keezer: That is true. We're somewhat of a bedroom community for Ann Arbor and other universities in the area. So we do get a lot of doctors, attorneys, teachers, professors out in our area.

Chris Mitchell: Great. Well one of the things that you have in Lyndon is something I think actually stretches beyond Lyndon is the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, and I'm curious, Ben, if you can tell us a little bit about what that is?

Ben Fineman: To talk about what the Michigan Broadband Cooperative is we have to go back a little bit in history. About four years ago, there was a group of folks in our community that was actually in the conversation convened by our state representative at the time. And this group got together to talk about the lack of broadband in the western part of the county and what we could do about it. And basically, one of the main outcomes of those conversations was that there wasn't anybody who was going to come in and solve the problem for us. And so, if we wanted to solve the problem, we're going to have to do it ourselves. And so, that's the reason that we've formed this organization that we call the Michigan Broadband Cooperative to actually take action and find a way to build broadband infrastructure in our unserved community. And so, it's a grassroots organization, all volunteer run. It is a nonprofit organization, and we are a federally-recognized, private 501C12 cooperative, and this is a cooperative mainly educational in nature.

Chris Mitchell: Is that how it would stay? or what's the future of the cooperative look like?

Ben Fineman: Thus far, it's really been educational and research oriented and well community-activism oriented in terms of our group of volunteers has been figuring out the path forward in terms of ‘how do we actually take the tangible steps toward building the infrastructure? And what's the best way to do that?’ And we've found that even within our small area there are differences for different cities and the best way to address the problems. So to date it's been it's been those kinds of activities, but moving forward we definitely are open to the possibility of being our own Internet Service Provider. Some of the research that we've done has indicated that one of the most advantageous models for our municipalities would be to engage with a nonprofit service provider especially a cooperative service provider. And so, that's the reason we formed the organization like we did. Now, that said, that's not set in stone, and, if we find that there's another service provider out there that's already existing that we could engage to get just as much benefit for our communities, we're happy to go that direction too.

Chris Mitchell: So, moving on to Gary. In your introduction, I mentioned that you are leading the broadband initiative ballot campaign. What was the ballot campaign? And I mean, really what's the reason that we're talking about this now after this incredible moment of August?

Gary Munce: I've got a lot of help so I may have been one of the two people out at the point of the sphere, but I got a lot of help from my friends here on the call today when we approached this idea. Ben and I, and others, were trying to figure out ‘how do we solve this problem?’ And then the township really didn't realize that there would be a whole lot of work that needed to be done beyond just the engineering and the technical pieces of installing a fiber network, and so that brings us to talk about things like ballot language referendums, having the public vote on this. We are pioneers for ourselves in that respect, meaning we've never done this before, so we've sort of had to feel our way along. But I've got to tell you that it's very important for us to mention I think that we had an overarching principle or concern about the way that we approach this. Certainly, we understand it has to be this issue we wanted it to be and it has to be decided by the residents of Lyndon Township. But the approach that we took in our campaign was one of the principle of being completely informational and educational in our campaign approach. We didn't try to persuade people or to convince to vote in a particular fashion. I think our mission was to bring accurate and clear information to the residents so that when it came time to make this decision that they would they would have the information to make an informed decision. I think we're very proud of that and I think that's very good for the township. The thing about this referendum that's another unique characteristic of it is that we had a voter turnout of 43 percent of the Township residents. That is by far and away the largest turnout for any August election in the history of voting in Lyndon township. So that's another thing that's very important to us is that we had people who were informed and people who came out in numbers to make this decision so those are two really key points in the campaign that were important. The third thing I'd like to mention is that we are very rural as Marc has described typical urban kinds of election campaigning and canvassing really don't apply here because we can't go door to door and we don't have it downtown. We can't post flyers about, so and anything that we could think of that would help us to reach out to the residents of Lyndon township so there was also a challenge for us in the campaign

Chris Mitchell: Or, maybe coming back to Marc, can you just go back and remind us what this vote was? What has been established with the successful ballot?

Marc Keezer: The ballot language basically read that the voters would approve a two point nine Merrell taxation on their taxable value of the property to support a $7 billion broadband project that would be paid over the course of 20 years that's pretty much the nuts and bolts of what they would get for it would be fiber to the home to every house in the township with milliamp being excluded from every I guess household is a big asset. The downside of that and I kind of feel for I do feel for is the people that won't use it and the farmers with large properties they're going to be taxed just as everybody else but more because of their property values now so goes with higher higher taxable value of homes in the township they will be taxed more than the lower valued house in the township. So it's not quite a real fair way to do it. But there was no other way. We've fostered this along to the people, and this was our only avenue at this time and the only way to do it.

Chris Mitchell: When you saw I mean if this is something that might have squeaked out at 51 percent of the votes I can imagine that there might be some concern but you hadtwo out of every three people supporting it, which is quite remarkable.

Marc Keezer: I mean that's a lot for the sentiment of the people in our township. I've had so many people talk to me call me stop me on the street and ask me, you know ‘When is it going to the ballot?’ This was prior to our course. I had probably six to one people, you know, ask questions of ‘When is it going to ballot? We want it -- can't wait till it comes to everyone.’ It was not a bit negative.

Chris Mitchell: Sure. And what you've done is quite unique, not entirely unique, I mean, there's -- I can name two other communities that have done something like this. But, I think we're going to see a lot more coming forward. Then, I wonder if you'll maybe take us back a little bit to what you went through to have the ballot. You know, just in general, just take us back a little bit to how this started and you know what maybe some of the thoughts that were running through your head at that time were.

Ben Fineman: So, I think it’d probably be useful for me to go through the process that that got us to the ballot. We spent almost four years on this project and there were some times during that period where the thoughts were, ‘Man, is this ever going to actually go anywhere?’ There were some tough days in terms of some challenges we had to overcome, things like that, but you really have to start out by identifying the need within the community, and not only the need, but the sentiment within the community, whether the people in the community actually want the government entity to do something about it. And so we did a lot of surveying and are surveying was pretty decisive in terms of people don't have broadband and people want broadband but perhaps more importantly they wanted the township government to engage, to try to do something about it.

Chris Mitchell: So when you say that you did surveying there's multiple ways of doing that -- one is to go door to door or another would be to like stand on the street corner with a T-shirt trying to get people to answer your questions. How did you go about it?

Ben Fineman: So the most effective method that we used was enclosing a paper survey with the tax bill,, and so property tax bills are mailed out to every property owner two times a year. So we took one of those opportunities to basically stuff another piece of paper in the envelope that had a bunch of questions about broadband for our biggest survey in that regard. We had I think something like 291 responses and we asked specifically one of the things we asked was would you be in favor of. I think at the time we were looking at $3.7 million over 20 years to get broadband in the community and to our surprise, I guess, that at the time about 68 percent of people said yes. So that was, you know, indicative to us that that we should move forward and take the vote to the people on whether they would really want to do this.

Chris Mitchell: So people understand the mils language -- I mean what we're talking about $2.9 which passed are you talking about a little over three which was proposed. Are you talking about a few hundred dollars for the average person per year? So this is you know it's a significant amount of money thought it's not $5 a month it's like almost $20 a month or more even?

Ben Fineman: It is and to give you some specific numbers for it for the average Linden township property owner that $2.9 million comes out to about $22 a month. So it's not an insignificant thing. And then to be clear we're also we're going to have service charges on top of that for the actual Internet service, and we're talking about $35 to $45 a month for that projecting 100 Mbps service, no data caps, fiber-to-the-home all that good stuff. So for the average property owner that comes out to what's that $58 to $60 a month which is pretty good even if you're in a in urban area taking our rural area yet we get that a lot from even from people in Ann Arbor. But so, for people in a rural area that's far and away better than anything they can get today whether that's you know cellular or satellite or from one of the fixed wireless carriers.

Chris Mitchell: Right. So I took you off task. So what was the next phase after the surveying?

Ben Fineman: Yes, so after we knew we had resident support to proceed the Lyndon township board funded a feasibility study. So we brought in a consulting firm to take a look at the situation in the township and different options for how we might get broadband to everybody. And more importantly what the financial model is for those options would look like. So you know we we've looked at things like wireless. Probably, wireless versus fiber was one of the one of the big conversations. We ended up not going with wireless based on a few reasons. In our nice rural area, we have a lot of trees in forested parts of our community and there's a problem with penetration of wireless signals there, and then some rolling terrain and hills and things like that. The net result would be that it wouldn't be able to get service to everybody using wireless and the service that we would be able to get to people would be better than what they have right now. But it would really just be a Band-Aid in terms of it wouldn't really be able to scale into the future. So for solving the problem and the long-term fiber optic was what we ended up choosing, but so that was one of the results of the feasibility study. The other result was that, you know, that the project is financially feasible. If people were willing to make that investment in the infrastructure and so that that's what led us to take the next step and take the vote.

Chris Mitchell: So that brings us back to -- I mean I could ask any one of you this -- I realize it's -- but I'll bring back to Gary. You know it's one thing to check a box to say I'm willing in theory to pay more money and my property taxes to build the network. It's about having to secure the votes. So I'm curious how you went about making sure people were well-informed as you said but also you know maybe countering any opposition that you may have seen? Phrasing it more elegantly would be to say you know responding to opposition

Gary Munce: Of course, most of the heavy lifting about getting out the vote happened in the last probably six to eight months. But you know over the last two years. Ben mentioned the survey that one on the tax bill. We collected some email addresses from that. So we had you know a few a few like 200 or 300 email addresses that we started with and we sort of leaned on those people to help us along the way in terms of getting the word out getting help and doing things. But in the last six to eight months I think one of the things that we did was once again to get to try to get as many people as possible so we were able to get the addresses a registered voters in the township. And so the first thing we did right after the ballot language was approved which was in May. The first thing we did was a direct mailing to every registered voter in Lyndon townships with two messages. First, the first message in big bold letters is vote on August the 8th. The second message was to town hall meetings that we were going to have to open town hall meetings for residents to come and to receive information about the project and ask questions about it. So we had two of those. They were well tended there was probably 75 people in each one of those. And we did encounter people who had differing opinions that say that about whether or not the broadband was something that we should even have. And there were opinions about it. We're going to have it is this the way to do it. We really didn't go one to one to try to knock down all of those ideas. We basically informed people when they would come and there would be a question about things like 5G or about the next wireless or white space or things like that. We would then try to produce a epicure or an answer to that question without taking in a position or anything on it but merely stating what the facts were about the use of that technology the cost of that technology and the long range forecast of that technology. The other thing we had which I thought was pretty effective and quite useful was we had a social network that we used where people would get on line and it functions as basically a classified. You know people have things they want to do or they make announcements but of course it didn't take long for the broadband question to get on that social network. Needless to say in the comments there were much like we saw at the town hall people who had been working on the committee. So we tended to let the audience sort of monitor themselves if you would. Meaning if there was a strong negative comment we would often see someone responding in a different way with information that was perhaps more correct to the point. So it was sort of a self trolling kind of interaction between the residents themselves which I think was extraordinarily powerful because our thrust was to be educational informative and not to be twisting someone's arm for taking a position and doing so. So we had that opportunity for people to sort of exchange ideas themselves so that worked extraordinarily well. You know over the course of a couple of years you know we had a few touch points here and there. The aggregate of all of those came to roost in the last six to eight months. We conducted one final mailing just shortly before the election which is more of a flyer type epic view based approach to the residents. Again merely informing him of the day of the vote and how important it was for them to vote. I want to go back and echo something you said earlier. I think that you know I do think that Linden township although we are in the minority in terms of who has done this and we're early adopters I think that that it has reached point now where this is something that definitely is on people's radar and there's a great deal of interest to it and it is coming more to the front and I'm hoping that the rate at which we can solve these problems will be accelerated as well as they will become a more consolidated way to do this rather than approaching it 36 square miles all the time.

Chris Mitchell: Yes I certainly hope so. And I have no doubt that you're all working with others or at least sharing your lessons with others around you. A question I want to ask you in a second. But first Gary I'm just curious and I would certainly welcome anyone else jumping in when you are talking about these differences of opinion. I think you know a lot of us think Michigan it's pretty well red-blue split state. I'm curious the sort of politics come into your discussions over the years. Or is it more pragmatic discussions of just how to get it done.

Gary Munce: I would say that I don't believe that it became a political discussion. It may have followed some party lines in terms of conservatism and liberalism. I think any time that you put a question on the ballot that deals with an increase in people's taxes, people automatically have a gut reaction to that. I'm happy about this I think it turned out to be more a decision about the facts than dividing itself along any political line.

Chris Mitchell: Marc, I'm curious is that similar to when people raised objections with you. Was it more of more of what I would say a political or nonpolitical nature?

Marc Keezer: Oh definitely nonpolitical. I tried my best to stay neutral on the subject because I knew that once it went to the vote the people would decide. And that's how that's true democracy in action is there. And what we did as a board is we just fostered it along the path that it had to take to get it to the people. I want to commend the Michigan broadband co-operative. I attended their town hall meeting and it was very professional. Yes there was some negativity there but they handled it in a very professional manner. And I think at the end of the night everybody was pretty much happy and satisfied with the information they got. They tried to stay pretty much to the facts and it really showed. So it was a good push to get to the people and let them decide.

Chris Mitchell: Well Marc, I'm curious what comes next. I mean, I have an In-Law who's on a township board and I sort of get the impression that there's always many more things to do than there is time or willingness from people to help. But on the plans that you're hoping to have the network have people signed up by the end of next year which means I'm sure your plate just got a lot more full with that successful referendum. So what comes next?

Marc Keezer: Kind of probably a little bit of an understatement. What we're doing now we just had a meeting last night. One of the steps that we did is we sense we had a lot of talented knowledgeable and educated residents in the township. We decided to tap into them and let them help us along the way. So we created an ad hoc committee at the board level from the township board level and then we ask for residents to send in their resume if they wish to volunteer their services to be put on a committee. And what that committee is going to do. So it's good it's going to research. We broke it down into several different areas and each area has a group leader. We had 15 applicants all of them very knowledgeable and it was hard to choose just to break it down to five but we wanted to break it down to five just to make sure that it moved forward and didn't get bottled up with any kind of decisiveness. So there are going to be cast with that objective and it's going to come back to the board will come back to that committee if we call it the implementation committee the implementation committee will make a decision on whatever that area is and then we'll take it to the board as a recommendation because as you may know Chris township boards are elected people were all different skill set. You know we have farmers we have teachers we have all different types of people on our board and he is not really their forte. So we're going to let the residents help us with that on a bigger level. One of the tasks is hire a consultant. So one of the committees has that task to interview the consultants bring it back to them to that committee will look at it as a committee and then make a recommendation to the board. So it's really engaging all of our residents with this project. We're sticking with that grass roots kind of feel of this project.

Chris Mitchell: Excellent So the question I wanted to throw out there was I guess Ben what's happening in surrounding areas. I'm guessing Linden is not the only one looking at this.

Ben Fineman: One of the things that we said after the vote was successful is that you know at this moment for Linden township is it. It's bigger than just London township. And when we started this journey four years ago it was a number of Linden Township residents but also a number of residents from surrounding townships and communities who have been working together on this over the years. So we have three other townships that have already completed feasibility studies. There's one other township that already has their vote scheduled for May of next year and they're voting on basically the exact same thing with whether or not to use a property tax to pay for fiber to the home to all of their households and township to had not yet previously done anything. Are are now looking at if there's an opportunity for them to address this problem that a lot of people have been talking about for years. But nobody nobody knows what to do about it. So we're hoping to be able to provide at least one model of a way to actually take action and solve the problem.

Chris Mitchell: Actually let me throw it open if there or any other comments before we end the interview. Gary, Ben, Marc do you have any concluding thoughts Chris.

Gary Munce: I'd like to just say one thing about this.

Chris Mitchell: Sure, go ahead, Gary.

Gary Munce: I mentioned that you know 36 square miles in the time. I know there are other people out there has been so described just locally within arm's reach There's a half a dozen or more they're considering the same thing. I'm just hopeful that out of things like this and other efforts that we can we can find a way that's more organized and more coordinated and makes more sense and moving forward to accomplish this. We started out using the words of underserved population. We thought Lyndon was underserved and that's sort of the you know the broadband wording and echoing a broadband concepts but really, Chris, under-privileged is the right word because I have children and they're in school and it makes a huge difference that we don't have this opportunity in Lyndon Township for broadband. I really do not like the fact that we're going to possibly have to repeat this effort over and over again. It takes time it takes effort it takes a lot of involvement by people. Not saying anything is easy, but I think there must be a better way.

Chris Mitchell: I certainly hope that there will be. Sometimes it takes you know one community starting off with something to get those others, so others won't necessarily have to follow in the same path. You know you've done a lot of the hard work, and others will be able to find ways of working together maybe now that they see that there is another life that's possible. I want to I want to just say that I really, really appreciate the kind of leadership that, Marc, I'm sure that this involves some of you going above and beyond because of the incredible increase of your responsibilities but Gary and Ben, particularly as volunteers, over four years, you guys are smart guys you could have been doing a lot of different things with your spare time and to be putting this into bettering the community is something that's just really terrific and should be celebrated.

Ben Fineman: Well thank you Chris we appreciate that. I might regret saying this later but I do want to say that we're we're open to having conversations with with other communities that are on a similar path and hopefully we can share our successes as well as our challenges and our failures and how we overcame them so that that everybody can be more successful.

Chris Mitchell: Great. I'll be really excited to send people your way in coming months and years. So thank you Marc, Gary, and Ben, for your time. Much appreciated.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Marc Keezer. Gary Munce, and Ben Fineman from Lyndon Township, Michigan, talking about the community's recent vote to fund a municipal fiber network. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcast available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Follow Chris on Twitter his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. Its handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them on Stitcher, Apple podcasts, or wherever ever else you get your podcasts. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song “Warm Duck Shuffle” licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptlyndon township mimichigantownshipreferendumstartupgrassrootsruralFTTHtaxesfinancingproperty taxmichigan broadband cooperative

Community Broadband Media Roundup- October 2

October 2, 2017

Idaho

City of Ammon Announces Launch Date for Fiber Utility Services by East Idaho News Staff, East Idaho News

The City’s fiber network is the first of its kind, and puts the small Idaho town on the front lines of infrastructure and economic development. While the city paid for the installation of the fiber infrastructure, the network is “open access”, which allows multiple private internet service providers to compete for customers on the same dedicated fiber line to the home or business.

 

Massachusetts

Effort To Close Broadband Connectivity Gap Is On-Going In Western Mass. by JD Allen, WAMC Northeast Public Radio

“We will build a stronger commonwealth of Massachusetts when we build stronger communities,” Polito says.

Polito says communities in western Massachusetts lacking broadband internet share challenges. She says without high-speed internet, businesses, schools, and government services can fall short.

 

Missouri

Rural broadband roundtable calls for federal intervention to increase access by Andrew Sheeley, The Salem News Online

McCaskill pushed Verizon to Change Course on Dropping Nearly 8,500 Customers by Jasmine Adams, KFVS

 

Virginia

County Broadband Project Progresses by Amber Galaviz, Orange County Review

Increasing access to broadband internet a goal for candidate in 7th District by Wanda Combs, SWVA Today

 

General

AT&T hit with second complaint of discrimination against low-income neighborhoods by Harper Neidig, The Hill

Video: Why 23 million Americans don't have fast internet, Vox

Electric Cooperatives Stepping in to Fill the Rural Broadband Gap, Cellular News

It’s Time for Congress to fire the FCC Chairman by Gigi Sohn, The Verge

FCC chairman Ajit Pai is genuinely one of the nicest people in Washington. He’s smart, personable, and the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with. But nice guys don’t always make good policy (I’ve been bipartisan on this), and Pai’s record means real danger for American consumers and the internet itself. If you believe communications networks should be fast, fair, open, and affordable, you need ask your senator to vote against Pai’s reconfirmation. Now.

Why the FCC’s proposed Internet Rules May Spell Trouble Ahead by David Choffnes, Northeastern University, San Francisco Chronicle

Democrats are pushing a $40 billion plan to bring the best Internet access to rural America by Brian Fung, The Washington Post

Tags: media roundup

Fort Collins, Colorado, Ballot Language Lives Through Legal Challenge

October 2, 2017

The Fort Collins’ ballot measure that could amend the City Charter allowing high-speed Internet to become a municipal utility moves forward after a short legal scuffle. The question will be decided at the November 7th special election.

Failed Legal Petition

After the language of the ballot question was released following approval by City Hall, local activist Eric Sutherland filed a petition with Larimer County. Sutherland — well known for his numerous petitions wagered against the city, county and school district— claimed that the language “failed to consider the public confusion that might be caused by misleading language”. Sutherland also insisted the proposed City Charter Amendment isn’t legal under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment to the State Constitution. TABOR requires local governments to get voter approval to raise tax rates or spend revenue collected under existing tax rates. 

Attorneys representing the city of Fort Collins rejected Sutherland’s claims and maintained that the amendment isn’t covered by TABOR. A utility does not require voter approval to issue debt because it is legally defined as an enterprise, a government-owned business. Moreover, Fort Collins Chief Financial Officer Mike Beckstead testified that the bonds would be backed by utility ratepayers, not tax revenue. City Council explained in a statement that they included the $150 million-dollar figure in the ballot language in an effort to maintain transparency and show the level of commitment a broadband utility could require from the municipality. By including the dollar amount in the ballot language, the Charter would also establish a limit on any debt.

District Court Judge Thomas French issued his ruling on Sept. 4th, dismissing Sutherland's arguments regarding TABOR and explained that “there are no legal grounds to cause the submission clause to be rewritten” and finally that “the intention behind the charter amendment is not to create debt but to authorize the council to approve a new utility.” The proposed amendment will proceed as planned, narrowly making the county’s Sept. 8th deadline for certifying the November ballot. 

Ballot Question 2B, to be decided at the November 7th special election, asks:

City-Initiated Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1

Shall Article XII of the City of Fort Collins Charter be amended to allow, but not require, City Council to authorize, by ordinance and without a vote of the electors, the City's electric utility or a separate telecommunications utility to provide telecommunication facilities and services, including the transmission of voice, data, graphics and video using broadband Internet facilities, to customers within and outside Fort Collins, whether directly or in whole or part through one or more third-party providers, and in exercising this authority, to: (1) issue securities and other debt, but in a total amount not to exceed $150,000,000; (2) set the customer charges for these facilities and services subject to the limitations in the Charter required for setting the customer charges of other City utilities; (3) go into executive session to consider matters pertaining to issues of competition in providing these facilities and services; (4) establish and delegate to a Council-appointed board or commission some or all of the Council's governing authority and powers granted in this Charter amendment, but not the power to issue securities and other debt; and (5) delegate to the City Manager some or all of Council's authority to set customer charges for telecommunication facilities and services?

Options for the Community 

Almost two years ago, Fort Collins and 46 other cities and counties voted to repeal SB 152, a 2005 law that barred local authorities from offering Internet service themselves or with a private sector partner. Fort Collins is a thriving tech town, home to approximately 160,000 residents and the University of Colorado, but like so many towns, they’ve been relegated to a couple mediocre options for cable and DSL service. 

With this proposed amendment to the City Charter, Fort Collins is considering different connectivity models. A public-private partnership isn’t off the table but they’ve been gleaning insights from their neighbor Longmont, who’s begun offering gigabit connectivity through their NextLight community-owned network

Over the past few years, support from the community for reclaiming local telecommunications authority has grown in Fort Collins and all over the state. Voters in approximately 100 towns and counties have chosen to opt out of SB 152; more communities will raise the issue this fall. Some communities have taken steps to improve local connectivity but many appear to be satisfied to have preserved the option. Loveland issued an RFP for a gigabit network earlier this month and Estes Park is in the engineering phase of their project.

Fort Collins had a tentative public-private partnership in its sight a few years back, but the project never moved past early discussions. This vote will give the city the option to implement its own municipal telecommunications utility. The local debate over the high-speed Internet initiative is ongoing. 

Further Deliberation 

Last Thursday Colorado State University hosted a panel discussion where both sides of the debate voiced their opinions regarding the nuances of the proposed plans. Following a presentation by Tim Tillson from the Fort Collins Citizen Broadband Committee, Vice President of IT at CSU, Patrick Burns, gave a poignant firsthand perspective as to why the innovation is needed: 

“I think there’s a real need for this, for us and our residents and our homes. And there’s a real need for our businesses. I have businesses coming and knocking on my door, and they do this every year, and they say we’ve got these giant data sets and we can’t get enough Internet capacity bought from anybody to upload these giant data sets. ‘You're connected to Internet, too, aren’t you CSU? Let us just put them on your servers and then we can upload them.’ But we can’t do that because we’re not allowed to compete with the private sector.”

Tags: fort collinscoloradosb 152electionballotcourtutility feefunding

Saturday Funnies: "Don't Hit Save" Considers Broadband Speeds

September 30, 2017

 

We can use words to explain the debate around broadband speeds in the hallowed halls of the FCC, or we can let Jeff Lofvers do it with this awesome webcomic. Lofvers, a software developer, artist, and the creative force behind the Don’t Hit Save webcomic recently released this gem.

We know you'll appreciate it, so please take a moment to check out Don’t Hit Save and consider supporting his work.

 

 

Tags: funnycomicspeedfcc

California Lawmakers Pass 6/1 Mbps Smackdown For Rural Constituents

September 29, 2017

California Legislators have turned on their constituents living in rural areas who want to participate in the 21st century online economy. What began as a move in the right direction - allocating substantial resources to funding high-speed Internet infrastructure - has become another opportunity to protect big incumbents. It’s twice as nice for Frontier and AT&T, because they will be paid big bucks to meet a low Internet access bar.

Discretionary Fund

Democrat Eduardo Garcia, the main author on Assembly Bill 1665, represents the Coachella Valley, a rural area in the southern area of the state near Palm Springs. Democrat Jim Wood coauthored with eight others. Wood represents coastal areas in the northern part of the state, which was passed during the eleventh hour of the 2017 legislative session. Wood’s district and region has obtained several grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that have helped to improve local connectivity. 

The CASF is much like CAF; both programs are funded through a surcharge on revenue collected by telecommunications carriers from subscribers. Since 2007, when California authorized the CASF, the legislature has amended the rules and requirements several times. Early on, CASF awards went primarily to smaller, local companies because large corporations such as AT&T and Frontier did not pursue the grants. Now that those behemoths have their eyes on CASF grants, they’ve found a way to push out the companies who need the funds and have shown that they want to provide better services to rural Californians.

AB 1665 allocates $300 million to Internet infrastructure investment and an additional $30 million to adoption and related local programs. Policy experts have criticized the legislation on several fronts. Consultant Steve Blum told CVIndependent:

The incumbents (large corporate ISPs) including AT&T, Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association jumped in and said, ‘We want the bill to be X, Y and Z.’ … Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia took it and started adding language that reflected the desires of these cable and telephone company incumbents.

“The bill went through three revisions, and each time, more perks were added for the incumbents. So as it’s written now, AB 1665 is going to put $300 million into a CASF infrastructure grant account and make it virtually impossible for independent projects to be funded. Essentially, then, it becomes a fund for AT&T and Frontier to use at their discretion.”

Sean McLaughlin from Access Humboldt said that AT&T and Frontier “‘perverted’ a simple funding bill ‘into a thoughtless gift to private interests’”.

De Facto Right Of First Refusal

If Governor Jerry Brown does not veto AB 1665, smaller ISPs will find themselves in a holding pattern, which will result in stalled investment in high-quality Internet access in rural California. Census blocks where AT&T and Frontier have accepted CAF II funding for deployment are not eligible for CASF grants under a provision in AB 1665. There is an exception: if AT&T or Frontier voluntarily informs the state before July 1, 2020, that they have completed deployment in those census blocks. 

Connie Stewart from Redwood Coast Connect and executive director of the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University describes the situation:

Stewart said those companies have no incentive to do so. AT&T, she said, has 300,000 customers eligible for upgrades, but the company only needs to improve broadband for about half of them (151,000) to meet its obligations under the CAF II grant. And it doesn’t have to tell the state which half it plans to help. “So unless they voluntarily tell us they’re not going in” somewhere, she said, “no one can compete with them” — at least not until 2020 or later.

Slowing It Down

With another slap in the face, California lawmakers decided that rural premises don’t need the same speeds available to residents and businesses in urban areas. The FCC raised the definition of broadband to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload in 2015. When it came time to dispense CAF II funding, however, they allowed companies to deploy 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload capacity infrastructure. The FCC compromised in response to lobbying from AT&T, Frontier, and other national companies who would only accept funding if they could deploy slow DSL. 

AB 1665 repeats that mistake with an even darker twist. In census blocks that are now considered "unserved," the minimum broadband speed will be 6 Mbps/1 Mbps. Such slow speeds don’t consider future needs and defeat the point of the legislation. Stewart told Lost Coast Outpost:

“With 10/1 [speeds] you’re not doing economic development. You’re not an architect; you’re not running a website business or a doctor’s office; your kids are not taking the competency test; your hotel is not offering open wireless to guests … .” 

Economic development requires robust upload speeds. In addition to better job opportunities, rural areas need better upload speeds for telehealth when clinics are far away, distance learning when schools are too for daily travel, and K-12 education for homework assignments now completed online. Rural areas plagued by poor connectivity have struggled to maintain populations as residents and businesses have relocated for better Internet access. Precious CASF dollars would be better spent on connections that rural residents, businesses, and municipalities want and need to compete.

On To The Governor

AB 1665 passed with bipartisan support in both chambers with only eight nays in the Assembly and two nays in the Senate. It's possible lawmakers didn't understand the long-term consequences for rural constituents. Often policy makers are under extreme pressure from the typical army of corporate lobbyists, face tight deadlines, and pass legislation that has not been appropriately vetted. Now it’s up to Governor Brown. Experts hope he stops the state from adopting this poor policy that will send it in the wrong direction for many years to come.

Along with Stewart’s organization, other groups have expressed their opposition to AB 1665, some reaching out to the Governor asking him for a veto. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium wrote to Governor Brown:

The $300 million that AB 1665 puts into the California Advanced Services Fund would be effectively reserved for AT&T and Frontier Communications, to subsidize minimal upgrades that don’t meet California’s current broadband standard, that they would otherwise be obligated to finance themselves. 

The North Bay/North Coast Broadband Consortium, originally funded by the California Public Utilities Commission, put in their letter:

Unfortunately, when the incumbents saw that they could not stop this bill, they were able to insert damaging amendments that skewed the original intent of the bill. As a result, if this bill is signed by you, our state broadband program will become a give-away to the large incumbent carriers. It will become virtually impossible for the independent providers to get funded through the state. And under this bill, 17 counties in northern California alone will be ineligible for CASF funding altogether. The loss of competition that will result from this bill will be extremely damaging to California’s future. [Emphasis their’s]

Letter from the Central Coast Broadband Consortium to Governor Brown re AB 1665 Letter from the North Bay/North Coast Broadband Consortium to Governor Brown re AB 1665Tags: californialegislationca ab 1665state lawsconnect america fundgrantsincumbentfrontierrurallobbyingaccess humboldtstate policyfundingcalifornia public utilities commission

Fiber Launch Event In Ammon Oct. 5th

September 28, 2017

The City of Ammon, Idaho, in partnership with Next Century Cities will host an event titled “The Launch of the Ammon Fiber Utility” to bring together representatives from Ammon and the region, policy and broadband experts, and key stakeholders to show off Ammon’s open access fiber network. 

The City’s open access fiber network, named 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), is delivering gigabit connectivity to a community of 14,500 people.

The Launch of the Ammon Fiber Utility

The event will offer attendees the opportunity to hear more about the Ammon Model, learn how a conservative, rural town secured a high take rate, its software defined networking technologies (SDN), as well as a tour of its cutting edge facilities.

The full day event will take place Thursday, October 5, 2017, at the Ammon Operations Center and will include presenters from local government, nonprofit, and the private sector. In addition to Christopher, you can expect to see:

  • Glenn Ricart, Founder and CTO of US Ignite (Keynote)
  • Dana Kirkham, Mayor of Ammon
  • Bruce Patterson, Ammon CTO
  • Tom Wheeler, former FCC Chairman (video address)
  • Michael Curri, Founder and President, Strategic Network Group, Inc
  • Shawn Irvine, Economic Development Director, City of Independence, Oregon
  • Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities

A Learning Experience

If you attend the conference, the morning program will start with keynote speakers and a series of panels:

Smart Cities Panel; researchers, developers, legal and policy experts will discuss current and future challenges.

Policy Discussion with Christopher Mitchell; on the role of government to solve the broadband challenges faced by communities utilizing historical experience inform future policy.

Economic Feasibility with Michael Curri; on community broadband feasibility studies.

Infrastructure as a Platform Panel; open access models and the need for innovation and competition illustrated through the Ammon Model.


The afternoon program will consist of dividing attendees into two groups. The first will take physical tour of the Ammon Central Office and a virtual tour of the network nodes. The second will participate in a series of roundtable discussions hosted by numerous experts. The groups will rotate after completion of each iteration. The day will conclude with an evening reception to give attendees the opportunity to network and ask any additional questions of panelists and Ammon representatives.

Check out the preliminary agenda, and register online now while there is still space.

Be sure to check out our conversations with Bruce Patterson and Michael Curri in episodes 86, 173, 207, and 259 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: ammonidahoeventFTTHmunisoftware defined networksopen accesschristopher mitchellnext century citiesnatoagigabitsymmetrydeb socia

Erie, Colorado, Funds Feasibility Study

September 28, 2017

The town of Erie, Colorado Board of Trustees has commissioned a consulting firm to conduct a $65,000 Municipal Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study. The vote allocated funds to explore options for the town’s growing connectivity needs of residents, local businesses, and municipal services. 

Planning For The Future

According to the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Municipal Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study, the consulting firm will conduct a survey to measure local support for the town to invest in a community owned fiber optic network. In 2012, Erie conducted a similar residential survey, which reported that “63% of residents supported or somewhat supported efforts” for telecommunications projects.

Erie is situated in both Weld and Boulder County and is just 20 minutes northwest of Denver. According to the Town of Erie’s 2017 Community Profile, the current population is approximately 25,000 residents with over 7,000 homes but local officials expect both to grow over the next five years. By 2020, community leaders expect the population to increase by 10,000 and the number of homes to increase by more than 50 percent.

Opting Out Comes First

Before Erie can make investments in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, voters must pass a referendum to opt-out of Colorado Senate Bill 152, which prohibits local governments from either supporting directly or indirectly any advancement of telecommunication services to subscribers. Eagle County and the city of Alamosa are both putting forth an SB 152 opt-out question to a vote this fall.

During a July 12, 2017 meeting, the Erie Board of Trustees determined they would need to conduct another Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study before putting forth a referendum to opt out of SB 152 on the ballot as early as April of 2018.

Other Colorado communities are either in the midst of similar studies, or have released RFPs to find firms to conduct them. Larimer County recently received funds from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Broadband Program to fund a similar study.

If the residents of Erie vote to opt out in the future, they would join nearly 100 local communities that have passed similar SB 152 opt out provisions and reclaimed their local telecommunications authority. In 2011, the city of Longmont passed a opt-out referendum and has now built an award-winning NextLight fiber optic network. The network is currently delivering symmetrical upload and download gigabit connectivity to residents, businesses and municipal facilities.

Tags: erie cocoloradosb 152rfpfeasibilitysurveyrural

Verizon Will Cut Off Rural Subscribers In Thirteen States

September 27, 2017

A recent proposal being considered by the FCC that has raised the loudest outcry has been the status of mobile broadband in rural areas. Now that Verizon is discontinuing rural subscriber accounts, the FCC will be able to see those concerns come to life.

Dear John...

The company has decided to cut service to scores of customers in 13 states because those subscribers have used so many roaming charges, Verizon says it isn’t profitable for the company. Service will end for affected subscribers after October 17th.

Verizon claims customers who use data while roaming via other providers’ networks create roaming costs that are higher than what the customers pay for services. In rural communities, often mobile wireless is the best (albeit poor) or only option for Internet access, so subscribers use their phones to go online.

Subscribers are from rural areas in Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin.

In a letter sent to customers scheduled to be cut off, Verizon offered no option, such as paying more for more data or switching to a higher cost plan. Many of the people affected were enrolled in unlimited data plans:

“During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network. While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17th, 2017, we will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area.”

Affecting Customers And Local Carriers

Apparently, Verizon’s LTE in Rural America (LRA) program, which creates partnerships with 21 other carriers, is the culprit. The agreements it has with the other carriers through the program allows Verizon subscribers to use those networks when they use roaming data, but Verizon must pay the carriers’ fees. Verizon has confirmed that they will disconnect 8,500 rural customers who already have little options for connectivity.

Philip Dampier at Stop The Cap! writes:

Verizon has leased out LTE spectrum covering 225,000 square miles in 169 rural counties in 15 different states. The company said more than 1,000 LTE cell sites have been built and switched on through the program, covering 2.7 million people.

But Verizon does not have the capacity to throttle or deprioritize traffic on third-party networks, meaning customers enrolled in an unlimited data plan can use as much data as they want on partner networks. There is a strong likelihood Verizon has to compensate those providers at premium rates for network traffic generated by their customers.

That means customers are at the highest risk of being disconnected if they are on an unlimited data plan and use their Verizon devices in areas served by these providers — all participants in the LRA program.

Earlier this summer, the company pulled a similar stunt, claiming that they were only disconnecting a small group of customers who used “vast amounts of data” outside the Verizon service area. According to Ars Technica, however, “one customer, who contacted Ars this week about being disconnected, said her family never used more than 50GB of data across four lines despite having an ‘unlimited’ data plan.”

Wireless carriers working with Verizon intend to pursue Verizon and hold them accountable for any damages they may suffer as a result of the policy change. Some of the local carriers that are working with Verizon to bring connectivity to rural areas are left with investments they made for the LRA program. The State Public Advocate Barry Hobbins told the Bangor Daily News:

“It appears that Verizon induced these companies to build out in the rural areas around the country and then significantly promoted it by saying that they’re covering the rural areas, when it fact now, after putting those ads out, they’re now not covering the rural areas — in fact, they’re cutting it back,”

Wireless Partners serves areas in Maine and New Hampshire and participates in Verizon’s program to provide mobile wireless service. In order to provide better coverage, the Wireless Partners built 13 new towers in Washington County and, according to company spokesman Jason Sulham, Verizon’s decision “caught them completely by surprise and totally blindsided them.” In Washington County, approximately 2,000 customers have received the Dear John letters.

Sulham points out that Verizon’s decision negatively impacts public safety and economic development in the region. He says that Wireless Partners will take steps to push Verizon to reverse course. 

Are You Paying Attention, FCC?

Recently, the FCC requested comments from the public regarding the timely and reasonable deployment of broadband to all Americans. There were several proposals the agency asked the public to consider, but one of the most concerning was the possibility that the FCC may decide to equate mobile broadband with wireline connectivity.

It’s difficult and expensive to use mobile broadband as one’s primary source of connectivity and those who do it often do so as a last resort. Rural residents and businesses already have few choices because national ISPs can’t find the profitability they seek in low-density areas. If mobile broadband is considered good enough for people in rural areas, they will forever be at the mercy of service disconnections due to low profits, like subscribers in these 13 states.

Lowering the bar by redefining rural connectivity will harm those who live and work there. Rural America needs high-quality wireline connections in their homes that are fast, affordable, and reliable. Mobile broadband is a complement. Verizon and similar companies wield too much power over these rural areas. The FCC’s proposal to equate mobile broadband and wireline connectivity will only make the problem worse.

As Hobbins said:

“[I]t’s not cost effective for them, now they’re going to pull the plug — and basically pull the plug on 2,000 customers — then that becomes an issue.”

You still have time to share you thoughts on mobile broadband in rural areas with the FCC. Reply comments are due October 5th.

Tags: verizon wirelessruralfccalaskaidahoindianaiowakentuckymainemichiganmissourimontananorth carolinaoklahomautahwisconsinstop the capdata

Referendum Lights Up Lyndon Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 272

September 26, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 272 - Ben Fineman, Marc Keezer, and Gary Munce of Lyndon Township, Michigan

Michigan's Lyndon Township set a local election turnout record in August when voters supported a measure to build a municipal fiber network by 2:1 margin. The initiative was largely organized and supported by the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, a local effort to improve Internet access in the community. 

To better understand their approach, organizing, and future plans, we have three guests on episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Ben Fineman volunteers as the president of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, Marc Keezer is the Lyndon Township Supervisor, and Gary Munce led the ballot campaign and is also a board member of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative.

We discuss a variety of issues around their approach, including how the increased property tax to pay for the network will work. We also discuss the education campaign, next steps, and their hopes for helping other communities avoid at least some of the hard work they went through. 

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

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

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

Tags: lyndon township mimichigantownshipreferendumstartupgrassrootsruralFTTHtaxesfinancingproperty taxmichigan broadband cooperativefeasibilityaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Grassroots Broadband Groups Grow Across the U.S.

September 26, 2017

Community networks are hyper-local movements. As we have researched these networks, we have often uncovered the work of grassroots activists trying to make a difference in their cities. Today, we've gathered together a collection to show how small groups of local people can make a big difference.

Virginia Friends of Municipal Broadband -- This statewide organization of citizens and activists quickly formed in opposition to the proposed Broadband Deployment Act of 2017 in Virginia. They collected statements  on why the proposed law would be sour for community networks and published a press kit to help people talk about the issue.

Yellow Springs Community Fiber -- This group formed in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to have the city consider building a community network. They hosted a public forum and created a survey to gauge residents' interest in such a project. They even published a white paper about their proposal, and the city issued an RFP to explore the option.

Upgrade Seattle -- This campaign for equitable Internet access encourages folks to support a municipal network in Washington state's largest city. The Upgrade Seattle group hosts neighborhood study sessions and encourages residents to learn more and attend city council meetings.

Holland Fiber -- Holland, Michigan, has been incrementally building a fiber network, and much of the impetus came from the Holland Fiber group. Local entrepreneurs, business owners, and residents realized that high-speed connectivity would be an asset to this lakeside tourist town. 

West Canal Community Network -- This  group of dedicated people focused their attention on bringing high-speed Internet access to the small community of West Canal in Washington. They held a series of public forums on the issue. As the final pieces of their plan to bring DIY wireless service came together, a private provider swooped in, finally recognizing the community's persistence and began to offer service. The area now has Internet service, thanks in no small part to the pressure from this community group.

Archived Lafayette ProFiber Blog -- The late community activist John St. Julien ran this website for years, bringing attention to the community support for the Lafayette fiber network. Peruse the archived blog in order to learn how Lafayette came to build a citywide, Fiber-to-the-Home network

Grassroots activists in cities across the nation have built up small groups and nonprofits in order to organize for better, more affordable Internet service. They have used websites, social media, public forums, and neighborhood meetings to get their message out. Take a moment to explore what's happening in your community or check out our grassroots tag to read more stories about local changemakers.

Image of the grass courtesy of mounsey via pixaby.

Tags: grassrootslocalvirginiayellow springs ohohioseattleholland miwashingtonlafayettelouisiana

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 271

September 25, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 271 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Research Associate Hannah Trostle takes over as host in order to quiz Christopher Mitchell on the latest developments in community networks. Listen to this episode here.

 

Christopher Mitchell: I can't believe we're freek'n talking about satellite again!

Lisa Gonzalez:This is Episode 271 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. What do the FCC satellite internet access mobile broadband. Madison, Wisconsin, and utility poles in Louisville, Kentucky, have in common. They're all in the recent community broadband news and they're all in this week's podcast. In this episode, Research Associate Hannah Trostle boots Christopher from the host chair to interview him about some significant recent developments. For more details on these and other topics check out the appropriate tags at MuniNetworks.org. Now, here's Hannah and Christopher.

Hannah Trostle: Welcome to the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is your host this week Hannah Trostle. Joining me is the normal host Christopher Mitchell.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't know how normal I am but thank you for having me on my show.

Hannah Trostle: Now we're going to kick you off, and I'm only going to do the podcast from now on.

Christopher Mitchell: I can't say I don't deserve it.

Hannah Trostle: Well you've been gone quite a bit. Where have you been?

Christopher Mitchell: I've been traveling around. Most recently, I was just out in Seattle for the NATOA conference, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, which is a group that does a lot of great work in this area. But I was just in town very briefly I didn't get this -- I didn't get to enjoy the whole experience. And then I was off to Western Massachusetts where the Berkshire Eagle which really does some of the best local reporting on broadband anywhere in the country. they had an event in western Massachusetts in the Berkshire's in Pittsfield in particular and had an evening event with me and several other people from the area that are making important investments and talking about broadband. So it was pretty great.

Hannah Trostle: What kind of investments?

Christopher Mitchell: Well in this case they're trying to figure out how to bring fiber to everyone and that kind of brings up the point that I wanted to make. Before we move on to some other pressing matters that we'll talk about depending on the host discretion. But we talked a lot about fiber and in a setting like that western Massachusetts is quite rural something that Hana I know you're familiar with and there is an expectation that in these areas that that fiber is nice to be nice to have. It's like a luxury but that you cannot afford to build it. And one of the questions that we got from the audience was whether or not compression of data would be enough that we wouldn't have to need fiber to have high quality connections if just applications could be smarter we wouldn't have to build fiber in rural America and I really went on a tangent a couple of times about how the reason that I support building fiber in rural America is not just for the high bandwidth applications which certainly it can handle better than any other technology but because I desperately hope that rural America is still around and actually is doing much better in three four decades. And if you want to bring Internet access to any place really but rural America especially then and you want to figure out have the lowest cost way to do that over many decades it actually turns out that fiber is that way. And you know I'm not able to do the accounting I'm not able to dig into the technology and the way that many of many others are but I can talk to many people from the public private who are building wireless and wired networks and every one of them tells me that yes over 30 years that fiber is almost always way less expensive than wireless because it's very costly up front but then there's all the operational savings that you get and the lack of upgrades that you need. There's several pieces in the network that you do have to upgrade over the years. But what it comes down to it wireless is very expensive over many many years because you have to replace the whole network many times. And when things go wrong you often have to send a crew out to fix it. So anyway I just went on this tear about why, you know, if you're just worried about being financially responsible and you know that you're going to need a network for many decades, then fiber is the smartest choice not the luxury choice.

Hannah Trostle: Well that's certainly one way to bring broadband to everyone. I think the FCC has a different way of doing that.

Christopher Mitchell: They do. But if you'll let me let me hang out there for a second. Let me just ask you something ;ole just just dropped the focus on telecom right now.

Hannah Trostle: OK. And think about computers in general what is one of the biggest problems that people have with their computers today.

Hannah Trostle: It's just so slow--

Christopher Mitchell: just ignoring the broadband. I've certainly like you know --

Hannah Trostle: Oh I just meant the computer software itself.

Christopher Mitchell: OK so so what are the issues with that is sometimes spyware or or the or trojan horses or anything malware malware in general Russian hackers taking over a computer. All of those things including the speed of the software that you're noting I think could be dealt with in the near future. And this is something that someone else brought up which was it was someone who was saying a select board member from a nearby community was saying Oh well a higher upload speeds would be nice but you know most people don't really do much with that. And I would respond I don't have a chance. Then we were talking about so many different things but I would say well most people don't have the opportunity to. But if you want to deal with security challenges with people slow computers and things like that when you have a high quality low latency network we're going to go back and I fully believe that we'll be doing this.

Christopher Mitchell: We'll be going back to the client mainframe kind of approach like we had back in the 80s where people have very basic computers on their desktop very fast connections so that as they type they won't know that there are signals traveling you know 10 - 20 miles to the local cloud. But that's where the application will be. It'll be more secure where professionals can secure it. And in general our computers will be easier to use. I'm certainly not making a prediction that this will be cheaper because these things often tend to end up being a little bit more costly for anyone who used to buy Photoshop but now buys Adobe like monthly plans is well aware. But I think it will be more secure and generally easier to use because our computers will be less complex we have less things on them.

Christopher Mitchell:What more things in that cloud. But we need low latency high quality symmetrical networks to get there. And so there's another reason that people talk about bandwidth and speeds. But but I really think the future is low latency. And one of the ways that we'll see that is in applications not being local but they'll run faster because they're on much bigger computers in the cloud.

Hannah Trostle: Well that hold true for my myself as well my terrible 8 gigabyte cell phone when we're paying twelve hundred dollars for a cell phone I certainly hope that it will be.

Christopher Mitchell: frankly horrified. Like I think you are about the escalating costs of these little devices.

Hannah Trostle: Yes most certainly which somewhat leads us to our next discussion the FCC this version of getting broadband to everyone it's possibly just changing the definition.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I would say largely I mean I don't think you know if you if you ask Chairman pie he'll tell you that his number one issue. The thing that he cares more about than anything that leaves him unable to sleep at night is how to get broadband out to rural America. It turns out he actually means really worse broadband out to rural America fortunately. Yeah well you're talking about is something that I did not think the FCC would actually do.

Christopher Mitchell: I mean I I think like you I think we both expected that they would contemplate it but we didn't think that they would actually have you know the chutzpah to go out there and say no broadband is really not as good as it's been. Actually it's better if we have a much slower broadband. But they don't have the courage to just say that outright but it looks like we're going to be commenting on that this week. The FCC has an open proceeding to discuss this but it is claiming that for areas rural areas that do not have 25 megabits down and three megabits up it might be OK if you at least you have 10 megabits down and one megabit up of mobile broadband access.

Christopher Mitchell: That's by my cellphone on your cell phone. Let me ask you Hannah you have a much longer history in rural America than I do than probably most of our listeners do. How is that mobile coverage out there in terms of relying on that as your internet source.

Hannah Trostle: Well, it definitely varies by phone as my friend's phone kept picking up LTE and mine was no service or sometimes 3G. We also had quite a bit of fun trying to tell them my phone so that I could answer Chris's emails while I was on vacation.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's just be clear about this. I did not ask you to do that. I greatly appreciate it. I encourage you not to do that but I cannot deny your dedication to getting the job done.

Hannah Trostle: It was mostly hilarious.

Christopher Mitchell: So. So what are some of the challenges for using your your phone as your dedicated broadband source?

Hannah Trostle: If I hadn't had my computer there. Typing on it is not very fun. I have written papers on it before. I do not recommend it. They're very very short like 200 word pieces and there are a lot of typos because it's a cell phone but you can't really see.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure but if you turn it into a hotspot does that make it all the problems go away.

Hannah Trostle: No, it makes different problems. I somehow in about half an hour ended up using about 200 Megabytes doing nothing but typing on my computer and answering Facebook.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah it's that's one of the things that I think people don't realize is how much when you're on a fixed connection not really paying attention. People don't notice how much goes by. I mean my wife and I we don't even watch and since we had Jackson we don't even have that many many hours streaming video but we're still using 400 Gigabytes per month. And I think a lot of that is just like heck or even just scrolling through Instagram on my phone. I mean you're looking loading image after image if people are on Facebook scrolling down the feed you're pulling in so much more content than you realize and that's all that's all going somewhere. And if you're on a data cap you're in a lot of trouble.

Hannah Trostle: Yeah and if you're paying by the Gigabyte like I am, it is not super fun.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about this in terms of the coverage because if we look at where you grew up in in either Northern or central Minnesota depending on whose definition.

Hannah Trostle: North central

Christopher Mitchell: Minnesota what does the mobile coverage like. I mean you know is this the kind of thing where everyone in this census blocks is likely to have a similar level of service.

Hannah Trostle: No, it also varies. If for a while if you had a tin roof you could not get any cell service in your house. That was a rather fun when visiting friends the cell service is mostly Verizon. There was a drama in my town where apparently T-Mobile and AT&T had a fight over a cell tower. And then neither T-Mobile nor AT&T customers had service for two months.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, it seems like you know it's one of those things where it's like hey it's pretty cool if you have cell service in that situation but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that you should be relying on if you are say the regulator of the most advanced economy in the world.

Christopher Mitchell: It is not a reliable way to get internet service and you know this is something that we talked about with Jon Chambers just recently on this show is these are this is carrier of last resort that we're often talking about and it's not a game. You know I don't feel like like it's not like pi should be thinking this is like oh I have this great achievement by redefining broadband and therefore claiming that I brought service to rural America. I don't think people are going to be super excited just because the FCC tells them that suddenly they have broadband no people won't be.

Hannah Trostle: I mean I was just outside the Bay Area a few weeks ago and I lost cell service right before I was supposed to have dinner with my sister. And we ran around on top of basically a small hillside looking for cell service before we got in the car and started driving where I only found cell service right before a tunnel.

Christopher Mitchell: It's amazing what the cell companies have done what the engineers have done and everything else. But the idea that we should just blithely just go about saying oh well. Because many people have access to phones that seem to work most of the time let's just find that as good enough and move on or even worse frankly. You know for the FCC to think about spending a lot of money on exploring and expanding that technology rather than technologies that would serve as a carrier of last resort where everyone could have access where your service would not depend on the weather or the activities of those around you. I mean up near where my wife's parents live a little bit north and west of your family I believe they have this thing called Moondance.

Hannah Trostle: Oh yes Moondance jam.

Christopher Mitchell: Moondance jam, and I really wonder how the cell service changes for some of those local folks when you get that one weekend or you know then you also have the Moondance with the country music so you've got a few weekends or weeks during the year where you just saturate those cells. And again those technologies aren't made for that. I don't know if they roll in an extra antenna or two for the Moondance. I don't believe they do. So it's really disconcerting that the regular would do this and I am shocked that we don't see more outrage from Republicans who are representing these areas. I mean this is a Republican FCC that seems intent on basically saying only Democratic strongholds the major cities should have high quality broadband and the areas of the country that vote most Republican most reliably should just be left behind with either satellite or mobile broadband or whatever but we don't really care about them. It's -- it's shocking that Republicans in the Senate with the the Federal Communications Commission get away with even thinking about that little love getting to the point where we're we're submitting comments on it we haven't really picked on satellite yet. No. No I don't think we have. To some extent I have to wonder if anyone listening to this show needs us to. I mean you and I have been working on this a lot lately because all of a sudden I think you know we had a similar realization which was oh my god we have to talk about how satellite is not good enough again. I thought we left this behind?

Hannah Trostle: But haven't you heard about that really new satellite that provides 25 by three over all of Iowa.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes and this was one of the things that had you found that it was just amazing is that according to the FCC maps everyone in Iowa has broadband access now. So what's the problem with that happening?

Hannah Trostle: The main problem with that is there are a lot of places in Iowa that do not have decent internet service. And if you say that everyone has access it becomes a lot harder to prove that there are areas of need. It makes it a lot harder to actually build infrastructure to the right areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes I just I so second and the way you phrased it is exactly right because what inevitably happens is that people who actually live in Iowa are like wow this is really frustrating we can't get good service and then maybe a newspaper reporter looks into it and they say the FCC has ever won Iowa has awesome service but these people say that they don't and then it comes almost like this argument whereas we should all agree there are many people in Iowa that do not have high quality service and simply saying that satellite is good enough is ludicrous. It's just I mean it's so incredibly frustrating and part of it is something that you know very well as the person who is almost all of our mapping work I mean really all of it. This idea of using census blocks ignores the fact that in many of those subsets blocks possibly all of them there are people who do not have a view of the satellite it so you're leaving hundreds of thousands of people behind.

Christopher Mitchell: I would guess but because their neighbors could get satellite service they're included as well. So it's unprofessional. It's a real problem for living in the kind of country we want to live in where everyone has access to these technologies. I just I can't believe we're talking about satellite again.

Hannah Trostle: I can't believe that if Iowa does have amazing internet service like this FCC map says that I would be driving through it and every rest stop would advertise that they have wireless Internet service at every single one. They're very excited about that in Iowa apparently.

Christopher Mitchell: And I mean I'll just I'll just stick up for Iowa for a second. Definitely some of the best rest stops in the entire country.

Hannah Trostle: I am from Minnesota.

Christopher Mitchell: So you won't say anything nice about Iowa?

Hannah Trostle: Iowa is a nice place. So let's start with our final topic today. We're going to change gears a little bit. I want to know your opinion on some more local issues Chris. So Madison, Wisconsin, recently issued an RFP? Have you had a chance to look at it?

Christopher Mitchell: Just very briefly but I've actually spent more time talking about it because I mean the general idea of it is that the city is looking to do an approach similar to Huntsville where the city would build a network out through the neighborhoods but not do the drops it sounds like. So just to refresh people. Huntsville has a municipal electric utility. They built a fiber network out just like Chattanooga had but they didn't connect anyone to it. And that's that's a cost that could range from you know$500 to twelve hundred forty hundred dollars depending on the premise and the cost of connecting to it. The ISP is that least the network from the city. They do that final connection and that means that is it's easier for them in this case largely Googles the the major ISP that is using it because they don't have to build this network to the city but they also like it because then they kind of own that customer so he can think of it as it's like an open access highway system with private on and off ramps. And some people are really angry at that. You know some people who really believe in open access and lowering the barrier for multiple ISP to compete are frustrated because they think Huntsville still has too much of a barrier to competition. And then others would look at that and say well that's what Hartsville utility wanted to do and they still get a lot of other benefits out of it. They have this big network that they could use and they could always do drops later if they wanted to. There might be more costs of that having including them in the original project. But that's what they wanted to do.

Christopher Mitchell: Westminster took the other approach will be at Westminster actually owns the drops as well. And so there the city is less reliant on the other ISP and has a little bit more control in this case the City of Westminster which is in Maryland is working with towing company that's active in three markets soon to be five markets around the country. And I think I prefer that model from a sense of I'd like to see the city owning all the way to the customer to make sure that the customer isn't stuck with limited choices.

Hannah Trostle: What happens if the customer wants to switch in the Huntsville model?

Christopher Mitchell: There's a couple of different things that could happen. One is that the first ISP like Google is generally can be the first ISP could sell the drop to the new company. They could work that out behind the scenes. The new company could run a second drop at their costs and and that could be part of their business model and in that first probably just be sitting there. You know that's I think this is part of the inefficiency or the frustration that some people have where they want to see lower switching costs for those customers. Now I think a city like Huntsville looks at it and says look we put together a deal that would allow us to work with Google and can have an ISP we brought another ISP to the market. It's led to more investment from our incumbents. It's doing everything that we want it to do and we're pretty happy with it.

Christopher Mitchell: So I would take that away from them and see where it comes in the Madison is different people are taking different lessons away from these examples and some people so people that I respect say one thing and people I respect totally disagree with them. So you know from my point of view I do think if I lived there I would like to see the city building the drops and having that extra layer of control costs. It costs more upfront although I think it may end up being more cost effective over the life of a network but being at the do for local self-reliance the thing that I respect more than anything else is the right for people to make their own decisions. And you and I both read a lot about the history of the co-ops and I do think we see that there is a lot of compromise and it still led to Electric Cooperatives bringing electricity to the entire country.

Christopher Mitchell: And perhaps there would have been better ways of doing it but they got the job done and there were some compromises along the way. And we live in a country of 330 million people. I don't always get what I want. So I'm I'm more willing for cities to take what I think might be a suboptimal approach in part because I'm not it's not always right but also in part because I just respect the right for them to do things that I might not do myself.

Hannah Trostle: And speaking of cities doing things that are right for them. Did you hear about Louisville, Kentucky, its one touch make ready, the decision made there?

Christopher Mitchell: Yes yes I did and it gets exciting that Louisville has the right to do the one touch make ready which will lower the costs for a new network to get all the polls. One touch make ready is just briefly -- it's the -- it really simplifies the process of putting a new wire on a pole because previously basically everyone that was on the pole would have a chance to delay and sort of sandbag which is to say stretch out the time period so it might take six months eight months or a year for a new entity to get all the polls they want. Now it'll be a much faster process with much more certainty for the timing because of this policy that will allow a single crew to go from pole to pole switching it rather than everyone who's on the pole sending their own crew.

Christopher Mitchell: It's also a big victory for the ability of cities to make common sense policies and and not to have to wait for the state to do it although I'll say that there was some state representatives of Massachusetts and when I talked about what Dortch make ready and how important this would be in some of the people the audience that have experience trying to solve these problems in rural Massachusetts were like nodding along and you know there was they were interested. So I think there's a lot more interest in this one to make ready and I'm I'm excited because frankly it doesn't really do a lot to further our municipal ownership agenda or the co-op agenda but it is a a common sense approach to trying to knock down the power of the incumbents to stymie new competition.

Hannah Trostle: Yes. And it allows the city to make its own decisions about what goes on right.

Christopher Mitchell: Exactly anytime we see we have the principle that is upheld there. It's it's wonderful because our poll attachments work. The FCC has a set of rules. The states are allowed to opt out of them and establish their own rules. And that's the way the framework works it's not really clear that cities have any authority this or that although cities do have the authority to maintain their own rights of way. The question has been how far does that stretch. And we have a precedent here that cities have pretty broad authority to manage the rights of way in the interests of the community. But I think that's a big victory.

Hannah Trostle: Yeah it's very exciting. OK. I think it's about time to wrap this up Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: No I don't want to go.

Hannah Trostle: So if you have any stories about satellite and mobile internet access please send them along to podcast@muninetworks.org.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes we would love to collect any stories you have about why those just aren't good enough and we need to do better why we need to expect more for connecting all of rural America.

Hannah Trostle: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Thanks, Hannah, for sliding into the host chair and and not punching me as I talk too much.

Hannah Trostle: Yes. You'll never get this chair back.

Christopher Mitchell: Thanks, Hannah.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and our research associate, Hannah Trostle, talking about rural internet access via mobile broadband and satellite the recently released Madison, Wisconsin, RFP and the court decision that allows Louisville Kentucky to enforce their one touch make ready ordinance. We have transcripts for this and other community broadband bits podcast available. MuniNetwork.org slash broadband bits. Email us that Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter his handle is at community nets. Follow me on the network's dot org stories on Twitter where the handle is at MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other

ILSR podcasts: Building Local power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts ditcher or else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thanks again to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative commons and thanks for listening to Episode 271 the community broadband bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptFTTHfibercompetitionfccpolicyregulationbroadbandone touch make readypolesmake-readyruraluniversal servicesatellitemobilemadisonhuntsvillemassachusettswired westnatoalouisville

Community Broadband Media Roundup- September 25

September 25, 2017

California

Santa Clarita Begins Broadband Internet Feasibility Study by SCV News

Riverside County Lays Out Case For Countywide Affordable Broadband Project by News Desk, Banning Patch

Riverside County Chief Data Officer Tom Mullen announced the release of three new resource pages explaining the value of affordable, gigabit, high-speed, broadband internet service for businesses, residents and those who lack reliable internet access in the tenth most populous county in the U.S.

Rural Broadband Bill on Governor's Desk by Special to the Enterprise, Davis Enterprise

Bill to devote $330 million to rural broadband heads to governor’s desk by Lake County News

 

Colorado

The Wait for Broadband Service Could Get Even Longer by Niki Turner, Herald Times

Is Broadband Access Around the Corner? By Regan Tuttle, Telluride News

 

Ohio

Johnson speaks about Broadband Expansion by Janell Hunter, The Times Leader

 

Texas

Dallas Fed: A Robust Fiber-Optic Network is Possible for RGV by Steve Taylor, Rio Grande Guardian

“I was talking to them about basic infrastructure, and they were talking to me about not having broadband coverage, of their kids not being able to do their homework at home, of having to get a tia to take the kids back to school at night so they could be outside using the Wi-Fi,” Barton said.

 

Virginia

Editorial: Broadband is Key to Henry County’s Future by Bulletin Editorial Board, Martinsville Bulletin

 

General

Verizon Abandoning 8500 Rural Customers is Proof the Wireless is not Broadband by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

Over the past few weeks, Verizon has been breaking up with thousands of customers in rural America. It's a move that's left many people without any options for cell phone and internet use, and one that highlights the fact that wireless is not a substitute for wired broadband—despite what the Federal Communications Commission wants you to believe.

Verizon is booting 8500 Rural Customers Over Data Use, Including Come ‘Unlimited’ Plans by Tom McKay, Gizmodo

ISP Cuts off Rural Customers in 13 States by Mark Jones, Komando.com

A Key Barrier for Amazon Suitors: Broadband Availability by Jon Talton, The Seattle Times

Time to get all of Rural America up to Speed with Broadband by Zippy Duvall, Farm Bureau News

We depend on safe and reliable infrastructure to get our products to market. But in today’s fast-paced global economy, high-speed internet has become just as critical a pathway to customers near and far. That’s why Farm Bureau is urging the administration to address rural America’s broadband needs as it develops its infrastructure improvement plan.

Rural broadband seen as a necessity to rural economic growth by Carol Spaeth-Bauer, The Wisconsin State Farmer

4 Recommendations for Closing Broadband Equity Gap by Joshua Bolkan, The Journal

Electric Cooperatives stepping in to fill the Rural Broadband Gap by Co Bank, Cision

Broadband telecommunications and internet access have become essential infrastructure for any community's future prosperity. However, today, people living in rural communities are four times more likely to lack access to broadband than those in urban communities.

While many remain without access to broadband today, rural electric cooperatives, some of which were formed nearly 80 years ago to bring electricity to rural America, are increasingly making the move into broadband to fill the supply gap.

Your Internet isn’t getting any Faster but the Government Might Soon Call it High Speed Anyway by Brian Fung, The Washington Post

Tags: media roundup

Shape the Rules for Rural Broadband Subsidies Fact Sheet - Reply Comments: October 18th, 2017

September 25, 2017

Another addition to our Community Networks Initiative resources! This fact sheet details the most important aspects of the Connect America Fund (CAF) Auction. What is it? What should it do? Who does it affect? And how can you make a difference?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages the CAF program, which provides billions of dollars in subsidies to Internet service providers for areas where the cost of building networks is prohibitive. Some large providers decided not to accept some of the subsidies during Phase I - about $198 million annually for 10 years. Now, the FCC plans to host an auction so that providers can submit competing proposals on how best to serve these often rural, high-cost areas. (Check out the map of preliminary areas on the FCC website.)

Before the FCC can hold an auction though, the commission needs advice on how best to conduct it and what criteria they should consider. Jon Chambers, former head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, outlined his concerns about the current proposed rules in his article, The Risk of Fraudulent Bidding in the FCC Connect America Fund Auction. Listen to his analysis on Episode 268 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

The first round of public comments has passed, but reply comments are due October 18th, 2017. Read the fact sheet and then submit your own comments at FCC.Gov/ecfs/filings for "Proceedings" Docket 17-182 and Docket 10-90.

CAF_II_Auction_Fact_Sheet.pdfTags: subsidiesruralfccconnect america fundcompetitionfundingfederal funding

Oxnard Releases RFP For Fiber Master Plan, Responses Due Oct. 31

September 22, 2017

Oxnard, California, has already decided that they want fiber. Now community leaders just need a consultant to help them create a Fiber Master Plan. They city recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP); responses are due October 31st.

Broad Goals

Community leaders address their decision to develop a Fiber Master Plan in the RFP. They want infrastructure that is future-proof, can offer gigabit connectivity, and can expand beyond initial purposes. They’ve done their homework and see that future applications demand higher capacity infrastructure. Oxnard intends to stay competitive.

The city has existing fiber as a result of a previous deployment to update transportation with California’s Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) in 2013. Three years later, they added more traffic signals, three municipal buildings, CCTV cameras, and a field gigabit hub.

The Fiber Master Plan will build off existing assets to improve economic development and pursue other “social benefits.” Oxnard wants to install public Wi-Fi, adopt Smart City applications, and explore ways to bridge the digital divide. They know that they can reduce telecommunications costs by eliminating leased lines with their own fiber network.

The Fiber Master Plan Project Goal:

The City’s goal in developing a Fiber Master Plan is to document a detailed, actionable plan to build a carrier-class, highly-available redundant fiber network that provides Oxnard anchor institutions, businesses and eventually key residential areas with high-speed Internet access, data and Smart City services, thereby improving the quality of life of our constituents, boosting economic development and enhancing the infrastructure of our City.

Open Minds In Oxnard

Community leaders aren’t limiting themselves to any particular model and want to hear what consultants suggest for their community. They have created a list of what they consider most appropriate models for their vision:

Public-Owned: Publicly (City) owned “middle mile” infrastructure with potential partnership opportunities for “last mile” connections 


Open Access: Proceed with the intent to lease or otherwise make available, fiber infrastructure (conduit, dark or lit fiber, vertical and other assets) to other municipal entities, telecommunications carriers, other service providers or businesses

Demand-Driven: Deploying the network and associated services where areas of demand (both social an economic) will be strongest 

Incremental Build: Deploy the network in stages based on strategic target areas to serve municipal facilities, economic development zones, or other areas of special interest.


The Community Of Oxnard

Situated along the coast, the city is 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Approximately 204,000 people live in the city, known as the home of many famous musicians and sports figures. As a result, it’s considered one of the wealthiest areas in the U.S.

Defense, international trade, agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism create the backbone of Oxnard’s economy. The Port of Hueneme is a busy deep-harbor commercial port that serves the west coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There is also and Air Force Base in Oxnard. Some of the city’s largest employers include St. John’s Regional Medical Center, Oxnard High Union, and Waterway Plastics. The city is the largest strawberry producer in California.

More than 53,000 K-12 students attend school on 54 public school campuses in Oxnard. In addition to Oxnard College, there are several other campuses, including California State University Channel Islands and UC Santa Barbara.

Important Dates:

October 2, 2017: Pre-proposal conference call for questions regarding RFP 

October 9, 2017: Written questions or requests for clarification is due 

October 16, 2017: Posting of City responses to requests for clarification and questions

October 31, 2017: Submission of the Proposal is due to the City of Oxnard Purchasing Division by 4:00 p.m.

Read the entire RFP here.

City of Oxnard RFP Fiber Master PlanTags: oxnardcaliforniarfpmaster plantraffic lights

Three To Get Ready; Burlington Shares Bid Details

September 21, 2017

And then there were three. After months of review and vetting, the field of bidders to purchase Burlington, Vermont’s, treasured municipal network is now a manageable number. On September 20th, city officials announced which entities were still in the running and released details of their proposals.

Ting

Toronto company Ting, which is owned by Tucows, submitted a bid to purchase the network. The company is already providing services in Charlottesville, Virginia; Holly Springs, North Carolina; and in Westminster, Maryland, where the public-private partnership has received several awards. The company is also planning construction in Sandpoint, Idaho, and Centennial, Colorado, where they will also be partnering with the municipalities to use publicly owned fiber.

They describe the key points of their offer as $27.5 million in cash and they will pay the city an additional $500,000 if BT earns $4.25 million earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) during the 2018 fiscal year. Ting is offering the city a minority interest in the network that they can later divest if they choose.

Ting will also relocate BT’s equipment, currently housed in the city’s Memorial Auditorium. The move is estimated to cost $800,000. As part of the deal, the company will also donate $250,000 toward the city’s Burlington Ignite and other programs to encourage entrepreneurship and closing the digital divide.

In their offer, Ting guarantees expansion within the city and beyond the city limits. Like the other bidders, Ting plans to keep the current operational team in place. They also guarantee customer rates for 30 months.

Review the details of the Ting/Tucows offer here.

Schurz

Schurz Communications is a family owned company headquartered in Indiana, operating for more than 144 years. The company began with the South Bend Tribune in 1872 and family members still hold editor and publisher positions. The establishment also holds assets in radio and television and began acquiring cable networks in the 1950s. They own networks in Hagerstown, Maryland; Maricopa, Arizona; and Sergeant Bluff, Iowa.

Schulz has offered $30.8 million in cash to Burlington and, while they have not established an additional figure, they will consider adding more to the price if BT surpasses EBITDA goals. The company is also offering the community a chance to retain a percentage of the operation of up to 33 percent, if the city contributes investment.

The Schurz offer also stresses the importance of local involvement as the bidders plan to leave current teams in place. They guarantee broadband rates for five years. The company plans to expand the network in keeping with BT’s current schedule, which established 2019 as a deadline. Schurz states that they are committed to spending between $6.2 million and $8.84 million on capital projects for BT’s 2019 - 2021 capital plan.

The offer doesn’t commit a specific dollar amount, but Schurz expresses support for the BT Ignite program and vows to continue the low-income program in place. They also promise to seek out other opportunities to bring connectivity to the Burlington community.

Read the details of the Schurz offer here.

Keep BT Local

When the settlement with Citibank included a provision forcing the city to sell BT, Burlington residents mobilized. After searching for ways to keep their network, they determined that forming a broadband cooperative was their best option. In Burlington, they have experience with the process, having established a similar entity to take over the City Market.

The Keep BT Local offer requires the city to retain 12.5 percent ownership in the network, while subscribers/members own shares in the remaining 87.5 percent. Because the city uses the network, it will also be a member and all subscribers will automatically receive membership interest. 

The price Keep BT Local plans to pay is $12 million in total with $10.5 million in cash loaned to the cooperative from Maine Fiber Company, $1 million the co-op has obtained through commitments from members, and the $1.5 million non-cash equity that is the value of the city’s 12.5 percent ownership.

Keep BT Local’s offer includes infusing $500,000 of the cash into the network as working capital. They intend to fulfill the planned buildout as scheduled. There are 120 premises that the other two offers will not commit to serving due to the projected expense of reaching them, but Keep BT Local’s offer includes language that suggests they will explore options to serve 100 percent of the community.

As expected, they will keep operating and management crews in place. Keep BT Local has established a relationship with Maine Fiber Company as a resource to help them with management or operational issues associated with running the network.

Read details of the Keep BT Local offer here.

Anti-Monopoly Provisions

Ting and Schurz have committed to restrict any future sale of the network to purchasers that would not result in a monopoly in the market. Keep BT Local doesn't anticipate any sale and has stressed the value of the cooperative model beyond how much cash the asset is worth:

It is understood by members of the Burlington community that there is a long-term value to BT that City Council and its advisors must understand goes beyond simply the financial returns from the acquisition. As such, KBTL’s bid is formulated on the idea that the value of BT should not be based on what private enterprise can pay, but what the community will receive in return. 

Burlington Telecom was built on the belief that an advanced fiber to home/business network will have long term returns for the community, which must be protected carefully by Burlington’s city leaders, even if the city cannot retain full ownership. KBTL believes that community equity – that is, the meaningful claim of residents of Burlington to maintain their right to have a return on their original investment in Burlington Telecom and representation in the governance of this public utility after it is sold – must be the primary consideration in determining how this asset should be managed. KBTL, as a subscriber/member owned cooperative, can genuinely reflect the wishes of Burlingtonians and subscribers of BT now and in the future. 

The Process From Here

The public had expected four finalists, but one dropped out at the last minute, raising concerns once again about the transparency of the process. Mayor Weinberger, who has stated that he doesn’t support the Keep BT Local bid, was accused of encouraging the fourth bidder to withdraw without input from the City Council. The tension between the council and the Mayor complicate an already difficult and drawn out process.

Members in the community have expressed their support for a cooperative model in the local media and by committing financially so the cooperative can make its offer. BT has done well in recent months, surpassing goals and taking steps to implement a low-cost Internet access program for the community.

Now, it’s up to locals to review the proposals and let city officials know which they consider best for Burlington. The city is accepting feedback via email at btfeedback@burlingtonvt.gov.

The bids go to an accountant and a telecommunications firm that will provide analysis to the City Council who hope to eliminate one of the bidders by October 2nd. The city will then choose a buyer on October 16th and present the potential deal to the Public Utility Commission, which must issue a certificate of public good before the sale can be finalized.

Keep BT Local Bid Schurz Communications Bid Ting/Tucows BidTags: BurlingtonBurlington TelecomVermontpublic v privatemuniFTTHcooperativetransparency

Deploying In A Reasonable And Timely Fashion? Comment To The FCC

September 20, 2017

September 21st is the last day individuals and organizations have to submit initial comments on the FCC’s “Inquiry Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion,” Docket 17-199. As of this writing, more than 1,400 filers have submitted comments but the gravity of the policies the FCC is reviewing should have more input from all over the country. So far, people and organizations that have commented are not happy with the ideas of dumbing down the definition of "broadband" and letting mobile and satellite Internet access satisfy connectivity needs in rural America. What do you think? Let the FCC know.

Time and Speeds

The FCC released the Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on August 7th, asking for comments from the public on a broad range of issues. Many experts and organizations quickly zeroed in on a few topics that many thought would never become matters that would ever need to be argued again. Due to the magnitude of the issues to be decided, 13 organizations that work on telecommunications and digital divide policy requested that the agency extend the comment period, originally set for September 7th. Thirty days was just not enough time to address the numerous issues in the NOI.

The agency proposed reversing a policy established by the Obama administration’s FCC which raised the definition of “broadband” to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. The 2015 change better reflected our forward direction in technology. Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership has questioned that move and is considering reversing course to a 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload definition, which reflects speeds more in line with DSL connections. The 10/1 benchmark is already considered obsolete by policy experts who see DSL connections already overly stressed by multi-device households.

Many commenters express disdain with the idea of accepting slower speeds as “broadband,” especially those who live and work in rural areas. Mark Tatum from West Kill, New York, wrote about his company’s options:

To lower the standards that define broadband would immediately and directly affect our ability to function effectively and efficiently as a business that depends on the Internet. As a graphics intensive business that is involved with the day to day transfer of large amounts of data (I.e. graphics files etc.) that average 25 Mbps and more, the only viable way to conduct our type of B2B commerce is via high speed connectivity. Especially in the rural area where we are located. The alternative would be to go backwards to the pre WWW analog business model. To compete with a lower standard and definition of broadband would be an impossibility and would force marketing/design firms like ours to close shop. This cannot be defined as a step forward in a world that is ever more dependent on the WWW. Please consider the consequences for those outside of the well served metropolitan areas of our country before making any wholesale changes to the definition of what constitutes Broadband.

Others describe the idea of lowering speeds “absurd,” “disastrous for rural, poor, and underserved communities,” and asks the FCC, “Please don't make 'broadband' a sham term by lowering the definition.”

The State of Colorado’s Broadband Office opposes lowering the benchmark and suggests that the FCC clearly require 25 Mbps/3 Mbps as a minimum speed. They base their statement on the fact that subscribers often reach the threshold “only occasionally or during non-peak times.” Colorado’s SBO suggests the FCC tighten the requirements for what measurements qualify as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps connections, suggesting only connections that maintain that capacity 80 percent of the time or during peak traffic hours be considered broadband. 

Is 25 Mbps/3 Mbps too slow? The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) thinks it is and suggests the FCC raise the definition of “fixed broadband” to 100 Mbps/50 Mbps for all Americans. We applaud their suggestion that upload speeds be raised to at least half the speed of download to emphasize that subscribers are economic participants, not only consumers. 

Mobile and Satellite?

Two of the most concerning proposals in the NOI are the possibility that mobile and satellite Internet access will be deemed acceptable forms of Internet access. In addition to the obvious problem of interference caused by weather and structures, filers complain of data caps that drive up the cost of poor Internet access.

Like other filers, NEMA considers mobile broadband a complement, not a substitute, and suggests separate benchmarks for each form of connectivity. They call attention to the fact that fixed and mobile connections serve different purposes:

For example, many connected home technologies use fixed residential connections to control home comfort, monitor smoke and carbon monoxide levels, and even higher bandwidth uses like streaming video. Other products, especially smart grid products, rely on mobile network access to relay information to utilities about the status of the electric grid and can help restore power quickly after an outage. Hospitals require high-bandwidth fixed connections to process medical images with large file sizes. The FCC should not allow access to either fixed or mobile broadband be a substitute for access to both fixed and mobile broadband.” [emphasis theirs]

A letter from a dozen United States Senators, including Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Udall described the lawmakers’ concern with the potential of stepping backward in rural America with this approach:

The FCC’s current policy provides that Americans need access to both mobile and fixed broadband services, with speeds of at least 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. While we recognize and welcome the possibility that technology may one day evolve to a point where mobile broadband options could be deemed equivalent to fixed broadband services, that is not the case today. At this time, such a striking change in policy would significantly and disproportionately disadvantage Americans in rural, tribal, and low income communities across the nation, whose livelihoods depend on a reliable and affordable broadband connection.

In reading this notice of inquiry, it appears that the FCC, by declaring mobile service of 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds sufficient, could conclude that Americans' broadband needs are being met—when in fact they are not. By redefining what it means to have access, the FCC could abandon further efforts to connect Americans, as under this definition, its statutory requirement would be fulfilled.

The lawmakers go on to point out that, in addition to broadening the digital divide, such a policy would prove disastrous for business owners who set up shop in regions beyond urban centers.

Officials in the community of Leverett, Massachusetts, felt compelled to share their experiences with poor connectivity prior to and after investing in their publicly owned infrastructure. In Leverett, upload capacity was a critical component of high-quality connectivity:

In our experience, the emphasis on "originate and receive" has special importance for businesses—home-based and telecommuting—that work with large data, graphics, and video transmissions. Mobile access—especially as subject to throttling of download speed, limited upload speed, and data caps—cannot provide sufficient Internet access to sustain information entrepreneurs.

Locals depended on slow DSL and satellite Internet access before they decided the community needed something better. In their comments, officials write how their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, LeverettNet, has improved the local economy; new businesses have cropped up, including home-based businesses, and existing establishments have grown. Their real estate market has turned around and locals are saving money with better services.

Consider the Schuettes, who live outside of the city and work from home; they shared their experiences with the FCC:

We live in rural Minnesota, in the county of Douglas, just outside a city with a population of over 13,000. We are located just a few miles from town. The only option we have for Internet is cell phone or satellite dish. If there is a cloud in the sky, our reception is either completely gone or slowed dramatically. I have a home-based business (two of them) that requires reliable Internet. There are times I cannot conduct business because weather conditions won't allow, or data caps are reached. I have contacted local companies that offer broadband, and none of them have any inclination to come our direction.

The Schuttes raise another issue - if we allow mobile and satellite to be considered "good enough" when it isn't, entities that wish to pursue funding for infrastructure to improve local connectivity will lose opportunities. As our readers know, many grants and loans are only available for unserved and underserved areas. Because the FCC's form 477 data uses the census block method of reporting, mapping typically overstates which areas have broadband connectivity; the problem will increase under the proposed benchmarks. With less financial incentives to invest in areas like the Schuttes's, residents and businesses face reduced prospects of better Internet access. The FCC also asks for comments on data collection as part of this NOI.

Listen to Christopher and Hannah talk about the issue of satellite and mobile connectivity in a recent Community Broadband Bits podcast. They get into why changing this policy will take us backwards and what is at risk.

The Easy Way Out Is Not The Answer

Certainly, the FCC sees the challenge of deploying advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans as formidable. Nevertheless, changing the parameters to lower the goal will further harm communities of color, lower-income, rural, or those who must otherwise contend with substandard connectivity. Individuals and organizations that have taken a few moments to comment on the NOI so far have overwhelmingly expressed their disfavor with the ideas of lowering the bar for connectivity in America through policy changes. 

The policy changes in the NOI contradict the current administration’s mantra, as pointed out by Brandon Slywka, who took time from his vacation in Mexico to file a comment:

I am currently posting this from a resort while on vacation in Mexico and the internet is faster, more reliable and is broadband (fiber connection) than my internet connection in Upstate NY which is satellite because cable modem, FTTH is NOT an option. This is just completely unacceptable. [I live] just 2.5 hours from NYC and my only option for internet is satellite which means the ping/latency is over 600ms on a good day and 1000ms+ plus on a bad day. I cannot work remotely with this and many people do not come to the area and purchase real estate for a second home/vacation home because of this. The town is literally dying because they cannot provide it's residents and prospective residents with reliable and fast internet which is absolutely required to succeeded in today's technology enabled world. I believe in putting "America first" and this also means with technology….[M]obile broadband and satellite is just NOT a realistic and viable solution.

It Just Takes A Minute

What are your thoughts on these proposed changes? If you live in a rural area, or if you are forced to rely on satellite or mobile Internet access regardless of where you live, we encourage you to submit comments. Share your experiences and your thoughts as you consider the future of connectivity in the U.S. Are we deploying advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion? The FCC wants to hear from you.

Read the full NOI here and submit your comments here. Reply comments will be due on October 5th.

Photo of No Service courtesy of David Becher, via Pixaby.

Tags: fccsection 706ruralsatellitemobileWirelessfixed wirelessbroadbandpublic comment

Fiber For All and More - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 271

September 19, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 271 - Hannah Trostle interviews Christopher Mitchell about recent events and news in broadband

After a friendly coup in the offices of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Hannah has taken the podcast host chair from Christopher for episode 271 of the Community Broadband Bits. Hannah grills Christopher on where he has recently traveled, interesting lessons, and recent news around community broadband. (Christopher mentions a great event in Pittsfield - video available here.)

The conversation starts with a discussion of why recent travels strengthened our belief that full fiber-optic networks are the best approach for the vast majority of America in the long term. Christopher and Hannah discuss the future of low-latency networks and what is more cost-effective over decades rather than just over the first few years.

They go on to discuss their fears of the FCC legitimizing satellite and mobile wireless connectivity as good enough for carrier of last resort in rural regions. The show wraps up with a discussion about One Touch Make Ready in Louisville and Madison's RFP for a fiber network partner. 

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: FTTHfibercompetitionfccpolicyregulationbroadbandaudiopodcastbroadband bitsone touch make readypolesmake-readyruraluniversal servicesatellitemobilemadisonhuntsvillemassachusettswired westnatoalouisville

Ohio Broadband Co-op Releases Feasibility Study RFP

September 19, 2017

In southwest Ohio, a new broadband cooperative is taking shape and taking steps to bring better connectivity to residents, schools, and businesses in their region. The Greene County Broadband Cooperative recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to conduct a broadband feasibility study. Responses are due October 27.

A Regional Effort

The organization wants to bring gigabit (1,000 Megabit per second) connections to the communities of Cedarville Township, Clifton Village, and surrounding areas. They are especially concerned about bringing fast, affordable, reliable Internet access to the Cedarcliff School District and students in the area. The cooperative also notes that they hope to expand access to other townships in the eastern areas of the county in the future.

Spectrum Cable, AT&T, and satellite providers offer Internet access to premises within the 39 square miles to be studied. There is a small amount of commercial fiber, but not enough to support the needs of the region. The RFP describes the situation as:

Service speeds provided in the villages and in limited rural areas are 12-50 mega-bits per-second. Much of the service area has either a single DSL provider or satellite Internet service, both of which fail to meet the FCC’s standard of broadband speed. Combined with the data usage caps of wireless and satellite Internet providers, most rural residents have an Internet access that is functionally useless. 

Cedarville and Clifton

The residential population of the area too be studied is approximately 9,700 which does not include an additional 3,700 students who attend Cedarville University. Because the University has its own fiber optic infrastructure, students attending the college don’t have the same connectivity problems as local residents. Of the students attending the local public schools, 64 percent use DSL at home that hampers they ability to complete online homework assignments.

The broadband cooperative recognizes that the area’s economic development prospects depend on better local connectivity. According to the RFP, businesses have left the area or chosen not to expand in Cedarville due to poor Internet access options.

Residents and businesses in Sibley and Renville Counties in rural south central Minnesota faced similar issues so they also formed a cooperative. Local farmers were some of the businesses hit especially hard by poor connectivity. The cooperative began with a fiber deplyment in the town centers and used fixed wireless to complement the reach of the network. The have since started to expand the fiber buildout. The cooperative serves subscribers in ten cities, 14 townships, and two counties. Read more about the cooperative in our 2016 report “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.”

What Will The Study Entail?

The RFP calls for a consultant who will handle:

  • Mapping and Needs Assessment (Customer market research)
  • Business and Financial Modeling
  • Governance and Ownership Strategy
  • Funding and Financial Analysis
  • Public/Private Partnership Development
  • Infrastructure Recommendations
  • Business Development Possibilities

Important Dates:

October 13: Questions from prospective applicants are due no later than 4:00 p.m. 

October 27: Proposals due no later than 4:00 p.m.

Read the full RFP here

Greene County Broadband Cooperative Feasibility Study RFPTags: ohiogreene county broadband co-opcooperativerfpruralrs fiber coopfeasibility