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Orange County And Its Schools Work For Fiber In Virginia

August 8, 2017

With a growing need for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, an increasing number of schools are constructing fiber optic infrastructure to serve their facilities. In some cases, they partner with local government and a collaboration eventually leads to better options for an entire community. Schools in Orange County, Virginia, will be working with county government to build a $1.3 million network.

Quickly Growing Community

Orange County’s population of approximately 34,000 people is growing rapidly, having increased by 29 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nevertheless, it’s primarily rural with no large cities. Gordonsville (pop. 1,500) and Orange (pop. 4,800 and the county seat) are the only towns. Another community called Lake of the Woods is a census-designated place where about 7,200 people live. The rest of the county is filled with unincorporated communities. There are 343 square miles in Orange County of rolling hills with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.

Manufacturing and retail are large segments of the economy with 65 percent of all business having four or less employees as of 2013. Agriculture is also an important part of the community, including the growing local wine industry.

Working Together To Connect The County

The county and schools have teamed up to commence a multi-step project that begins by connecting the Orange County Public Schools’ facilities. A 33-mile wide area network (WAN) will connect all eight buildings. Federal E-rate funds will pay for approximately 80 percent of the deployment costs and Orange County and the school district will share the remaining costs from other funding. The partners plan to deploy extra capacity for future uses.

Once the first phase of the network is complete, the county hopes to use the excess capacity to improve public safety operations. Sheriff, Fire, and EMS services need better communications so the county intends to invest in additional towers, which will also create an opportunity for fixed wireless and cellular telephone providers.

The OCBbA wants to eventually use the new infrastructure to improve access for residents and businesses. The network will be made available to ISPs interested in offering services in the area.

“Orange is a very under-served area when it comes to Internet connectivity. This will allow them the backbone and the ability now to come off the backbone and get the internet to our citizens,” Darell Hatfield, Orange County Public Schools director of technology said.

Starting At The Beginning

The Orange County Broadband Authority (OCBbA) formed in the spring of 2016 and established the initiative to develop an open access network aimed at improving rural connectivity. While the first two phases of the network that will serve educational and public safety needs seem assured, the OCBbA’s plan to do more is not a certainty. They also want to expand the network across the northern section of the county, but do not have an implementation date or funding yet.

The county hopes high-speed Internet serves as the gateway to attract new businesses and create a better quality of life.

“We're pretty confident we're on the right path of getting the infrastructure in place, and then it's just whatever the mind can be creative about how to apply that technology,” Bryan David, Orange County administrator, said.

Check out the OCBbA presenation about Strategic Priorities here.

Tags: orange countyvirginiaschool districtschoolpartnershipe-rateopen accesspublic safetyrural

Community Broadband Media Roundup - August 7

August 7, 2017

California

LA's lack of high-speed Internet options hinders students, studies show by Jason McGahan, LA Weekly

 

Colorado

Atteberry: Reliable Internet necessary for Fort Collins' future by Darin Atteberry, The Coloradoan

In today’s digital economy, reliable, high-speed access is a necessity, not only for the tech industry, but also for our health care systems, educational institutions, and thousands of other companies and their employees who work here.

 

Maine

For Maine islands, Internet means opportunity by Fred Bever, National Public Radio

Belfast to develop a community technology plan by FreePress Online

 

North Carolina

Rural broadband: How long must Orange County wait? by Bonnie Hauser, Durham Herald Sun

 

General

Cable lobby claims US is totally overflowing in broadband competition by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Connecting across the digital divide by KBIA Editor

Broadband & healthcare - just what the doctor ordered by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

The digital divide between rural and urban America's access to Internet by CBS News Staff

Last year a federal court defined it as a basic utility like running water or electricity, but in rural areas across America, high-speed internet often ends at the county line.Just 3 percent of people in urban areas lack access to broadband, but in rural areas, 35 percent of people have no access.

That's about 22 million Americans.

Tags: media roundup

Two Publicly Owned Networks Move To Privatize

August 7, 2017

If you’re a regular reader at MuniNetworks.org, listen to our podcasts, or if you simply follow publicly owned network news, you know an increasing number of communities have decided to invest in local connectivity solutions in recent years. We’ve watched the number of “pins” on our community network map multiply steadily, but every now and then, a network drops off through privatization.

FastRoads Sold To N.H. Optical Systems

New Hampshire FastRoads received America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which combined with state funding, created the open access fiber optic network in the southwest section of the state. Over the next several years, the network expanded with private donations and local matching funds. Many of the premises that connected to the network had relied on dial-up before FastRoads came to town. But in part because state law makes bonding for network expansion difficult, Fast Roads will no longer be locally controlled.

The Monadnock Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is working to see like projects are completed that will improve economic development prospects in the region managed the project. MEDC contracted with another entity to maintain the network, which cost approximately $15,000 per month. Since they had achieved their core goal - the construction and launch of the network - MEDC had been looking for another entity to take over the network or to partner with them. They recently finalized a deal to sell the network to New Hampshire Optical Systems

Back in 2013, Christopher spoke with Carole Monroe, who was the FastRoads Project CEO but has since moved on to ECFiber in Vermont. She described how the introduction of the network inspired incumbents to lower prices - a win for everyone, whether they connected to FastRoads or not. She also told us how community anchor institutions (CAIs) were getting better pricing and the services they needed, which meant saving public dollars. Even though the network wasn’t finished yet, it was already providing local benefits.

When the network was complete in 2014, it was 250 miles long and serving some businesses and households in 19 rural towns and more than 230 CAIs. Approximately 1,300 homes obtain last mile service through providers that offer Internet access via FastRoads infrastructure in several communities and in other areas it serves as a middle mile network only.

The project encountered about 18 months of delay during construction due to difficulties that arose when other entities would not cooperate by moving their cables on utility poles. The State Public Utilities Commission and the NTIA had to step in to broker a deal so the project could move forward. The delay hurt the network’s ability to expand quickly, which put it at a financial disadvantage. These pole attachment problems are a standard way existing providers harass new network builders.

NHOS purchased FastRoads assets and name. Having built an ARRA funded middle mile network that spans the state, NHOS has significant experience and resources, 

Consolidation: Defeating A Purpose Of FastRoads?

One of the purposes behind FastRoads was to improve services for residents and businesses in the region who were grossly underserved, some with antiquated dial-up connections. Another reason for the infrastructure was to increase competition in an area where there was almost none. But consolidation as again come knocking.

186 Communications is the majority owner and operator of NHOS and, according to a July 12 press release, FirstLight is acquiring 186 Communications. Over the past several years, FirstLight has acquired assets from other local companies, including segTEL, TelJet, G4 Communications, Oxford Networks, and Sovernet Communications. It’s difficult to predict what will become of FastRoads and its subscribers once it is part of a large private entity, rather than the publicly owned community network developed for the people who live in the region.

We touched base with Carole Monroe once more to get her thoughts. She pointed out how challenging the process was for the MDEC, partly because rules in New Hampshire don’t favor public investment:

New Hampshire is a difficult place for municipal broadband of any kind. There is little support at the state level and no state financial support at all. Municipalities are prevented from bonding for broadband infrastructure. This situation makes it difficult for the municipalities connected to FastRoads to assist in a rural FTTH expansion.

The state legislature has taken up bills to change the bonding restriction, but legislation typically gets stalled in committee. Until financing to put better connectivity is put in place, New Hampshire's rural regions are severely limited in their options to improve connectivity.

Leesburg, Florida, Considering Selling Fiber Utility

The state of Florida also discourages municipal Internet infrastructure investment, but Leesburg invested in fiber before the law came into play. Leesburg’s communications utility offers connectivity to CAIs and businesses in Lake County over a 300-mile fiber optic network. The city also uses the network for municipal needs.

Leesburg has had the infrastructure in place since 1993; it invested in the infrastructure originally for smart grid purposes. Last year, city officials announced that they were interested in selling the communications utility but only received one offer for $1.5 million, which they deemed unacceptable. This year, they received an offer from Summit Communication for $8 million. Pending resolving all the details, the transaction may close as early as September. One of the important details that need to be worked out is how much of the infrastructure needs to be retained by the city to serve as its I-Net.

According to a recent Daily Commercial article, the budget for the fiber optic utility is $2.2 million and it contributes $100,000 to the general fund each year. City Manager Al Minner describes the utility as “not really a core business for us.” 

Residents and businesses should remember that if the network takes the path many others do - going from owner to owner, increasingly to owners well outside the community that raise prices and refuse to invest in needed upgrades. 

Tough Times In Tough States

Bristol, Virginia, has been coping with the impending loss of its celebrated BVU OptiNet, the municipal FTTH that served Bristol, saving the community millions while producing thousands of jobs. When several BVU Authority officials were indicted and found guilty of corruption, Sunset Digital Communications made an offer to purchase the network. While local officials may be looking forward to shedding the responsibility and the negative fallout from the past, BVU’s partner Cumberland Plateau Company (CPC) has expressed misgivings about privatization.

At one point, CPC considered litigation against BVU because they felt they had not been adequately consulted and they questioned the legality of the deal. The CPC is an entity established by the state legislature to improve economic development in the region and, according to their arrangement with BVU, they had a right of first refusal to the network assets.

After months of conversation and wrangling, the three entities seemed to come to an agreement, but recently local leaders are vocally speaking out against privatization. Ron Peters is a member of the Dickenson County Board of Supervisors, a past Chairman of the CPC, and a current member of the Virginia Coalfield Planning District Commission, which is the parent organization of the CPC. He feels that the public deserves better.

“What bothers me is that folks should really be alarmed that you’re throwing everything into one company,” he said.

The State of Virginia has crippled BVU by implementing state laws that limit expansion, serving big cable and telephone companies instead of the people of the state who need better connectivity. The ultimate goal should be expanding infrastructure, but legislators have been more concerned with keeping the big cable and telephone companies happy by restricting competitive investment.

Privatization Is More Than Just A Sale

Even though public investment is outpacing privatization of publicly owned assets, it’s important that potential harms be weighed against what a community gains if they choose to sell a community network to the private sector. If a community wishes to rid itself of debt by liquidating a valuable asset, they may be tempted to sell a fiber optic network and free themselves of the responsibility.

Once a network has been sold into the private sector, there is nothing to prevent one of the large ISPS, such as Comcast or AT&T, from buying it. Often local communities invest in Internet network infrastructure when these absentee corporate providers woldn't invest in a community. Privatizing a network removes accountability. Cooperatives and municipal networks look at a community holistically rather than as a simple profit center.

Each community must examine their unique situation and determine what is best for residents, businesses, and public facilities. If, however, local businesses and residents have come to depend on the quality of service and consistent rates that typically generate from publicly owned networks, they may be in for a rude awakening when once again dealing with absentee ownership of essential infrastructure.

Map of the New London service area courtesy of the FastRoads website.

Tags: fastroadsnew hampshireleesburgfloridapublic v privateconsolidationstate lawsbondinfrastructurenonprofitutilitysmart-grid

"Net Neutrality Has Rural Impact" : Mountain Talk And Mimi Pickering

August 4, 2017

As the new administration’s FCC re-examines Network Neutrality rules, rural communities are wondering how any changes may affect areas in the U.S. that already have difficulties obtaining fast, affordable, reliable Internet service. In a recent Mountain Talk podcast, Mimi Pickering tackles the question by talking to several knowledgeable guests.

In addition to Christopher, Mimi talks with other guests who offer insight into why Network Neutrality is critical to rural areas as we move forward. Rural areas tend to feel impacts harder than urban areas. The show includes audio from past interviews, news reports, and events.

Making Connections News describes the show:

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) move to repeal Net Neutrality and classification of Broadband Internet as a Title II Telecommunications Service could have significant impact on rural America, where the digital divide is already the largest. 

In this edition of Mountain Talk, host Mimi Pickering explores potential impacts with economist Roberto Gallardo from Mississippi State University Extension Services and Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. 

We also hear from a 2015 interview with Edyael Casaperalta, representing the Rural Broadband Working Group of the National Rural Assembly, on the 2015 reclassification of Broadband as a Title II Telecommunications Service and its potential to reduce the digital divide, increase competition, and protect consumers. 

Finally, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn talks about her work on the FCC to increase access and affordability for people of color, low income, and rural communities. Her term at the FCC will soon end but she promises to continue to speak for those who are not typically represented and calls on all folks to make their voices heard at the FCC at every opportunity.

Christopher joins the interview at around 30 minutes into the show.

Tags: christopher mitchellinterviewaudioruralappalachiansnetwork neutralityeconomic developmentpress center

The Broadband Market is Broken: Don't Fall for Lobbyist Lies

August 3, 2017

We’ve all been lied to, but when we’re lied to by those we rely on, it’s the worst. Right now, we are all subject to a lie about our Internet access. That lie is rooted in the idea that the best way to move forward is to allow the free market to dictate our access to the Internet, along with the quality of services, privacy protections, and competition.

The big ISPs try to tell us “it’s a competitive market,” then they tell their shareholders competition is scarce. They tell legislators they fear competing against relatively small municipal networks and cooperatives that only serve singular regions but they have subscribers in vast swaths across the country. Federal decision makers tout the benefits of competition, but approve consolidation efforts by a few powerful companies that are already behemoths. This reality is The Big Lie.

What can we do about it? First, understand the cause of the problem. Next, share that understanding. We’ve created this short video to explain The Big Lie; we encourage you to share it and to check out our other resources. Our fact sheets and reports are a great place to start if you’re looking for a way to improve connectivity in your community. Don't forget to check out our other videos, too. 

Tags: videocompetitionconsolidationcomcastverizonfccfederal governmentlocalfree marketregulationnetwork neutralityprivacy

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 264

August 2, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 264 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Mason Carroll and Preston Rhea join Christopher Mitchell on the show to talk about their work at Monkeybrains, an urban wireless Internet Service Provider. Listen to the audio here.

Mason Carroll: Every single person needs to have their own Internet connection. This is not just like, "Oh, I can sort of get the building-wide Wi-Fi as I stand near my front door." No. You should have your own Internet connection that you can plug in, and watch TV, or set up a computer, or to do your work. That's really what digital quality is.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 264 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Episode 264 takes us to San Francisco, home to the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, and Monkeybrains. Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll from the Internet service provider are here to tell us about the local company, the services they provide in the Bay Area, and the work they're doing to chip away at the digital divide. Learn more about the company at Monkeybrains.net. As a reminder, this conversation with Preston and Mason is commercial free, but our work at ILSR requires funding. Please take a moment to contribute at ILSR.org. If you have already contributed, thank you. Now, here's Christopher with Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll, from Monkeybrains.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Joining me today is Preston Rhea, Senior Field Engineer for Monkeybrains, an ISP in California. Welcome to the show.

Preston Rhea: Thanks Chris, a pleasure to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Mason Carroll, Lead Engineer for Monkeybrains. Welcome to the show as well.

Mason Carroll: Yeah, thanks a lot.

Christopher Mitchell: So, I think the first question is, monkey brains, I remember running into those in a Harrison Ford movie a long time ago. What is Monkeybrains in San Francisco?

Preston Rhea: Monkeybrains is a local Internet service provider. We're a wireless ISP, or WISP, and we're basically entirely within the city of San Francisco just providing Internet for everyone from residences to businesses to large buildings.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say wireless ISP, does that mean you're delivering things over Wi-Fi? Or, how exactly does it work, Preston?

Preston Rhea: Our primary mode of delivering the Internet is through wireless point-to-point, and point-to-multipoint rooftop antennas, so that's terrestrial point-to-point and we'll go up on a rooftop and set up a dish, and align it to a dish that's somewhere else, and then ultimately everything, of course, goes back to fiber and to the greater Internet, but those wireless links allow us to be really flexible and they do quite a bit of bandwidth as well.

Christopher Mitchell: We've previously interviewed people from netBlazr which is a similar effort in Boston, and Webpass, which is a competitor of yours in San Francisco. Is there anything really different about Monkeybrains, Mason, that other WISPs may not be doing?

Mason Carroll: I think traditionally, WISP is generally a solution for people in rural areas. In rural areas generally there has not been a lot of, maybe is not high-capacity infrastructure, so you can deploy a radio link over any distance and get connectivity. Monkeybrains is a little bit different where we're an urban WISP so we're only in the city of San Francisco. We actually have a few links in Oakland. The value that wireless provides in San Francisco, for example, is that it's quite challenging to add fiber in the streets due to permitting issues and just the fact that it's a dense city so you can't just dig up the street to add fiber. So you have an economy like San Francisco where the economy is booming, and if someone moves into a warehouse building, there's no high speed Internet available. Or maybe they have a DSL capability there but they need a full gigabit per second. So what's nice about the wireless technology of what Monkeybrains can do is in a matter of 48 hours if necessary we can come out, install a licensed radio link, in a point-to-point topology, and we can deliver full gigabit speed really, really quickly. It's a great solution if pulling fiber to the building isn't really feasible. Also, our customers tend to find that -- a lot of times we have customers who, say, "Oh, we're ordering fiber to our building, we're just going to get Monkeybrains for three months until the fiber comes in." We deliver the Internet and then three months later their fiber's not in. Six months later they're -- hit more delays, and then a year later, they're like, "Actually, this service that Monkeybrains has been providing is extremely reliable. This fiber contract is exorbitant and they've been missing deadlines, so we're actually just going to stick with Monkeybrains as our primary uplink."

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I've certainly heard a lot of good stories over the years about Monkeybrains, but the reason that we wanted to have you on now, finally, what pushed me over the edge, was seeing Preston, your name, as someone I'm familiar with from having been with the Open Technology Institute at New America, and seeing this really interesting project in Hunters Point with the low-income housing units. Preston, can you tell us what's going on there?

Preston Rhea: Sure, there has been a lot of redevelopment of public and affordable housing throughout the city and county of San Francisco, and a program called RAD, and this program has sort of opened up some possibilities for reassessing how services are provided at publicly supported housing. So, the Hunters Point East/West Apartments, which is spread across two sites in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco, came to our attention a little over a year ago in February of 2016 thanks to Kami Griffiths, the Community Technology Network who pointed out that the Housing Authority there, the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, was looking to use some grant money they got from the mayor's office to provide Internet, basically. They wanted Wi-Fi at these, at the housing that they were renovating. When we got wind of it we decided to do something really interesting and different, because just like a lot of providers, if the Internet is an afterthought because they think of the Internet of course as something that another provider will come in and provide, and oftentimes privately in some way, or they think that we'll just throw up some Wi-Fi access points and everyone's going to have service and it's going to be great, we decided to do something that utilizes our expertise and hooking up direct end customers and saying, well actually, if the infrastructure is right we could provide extremely high speed Internet directly to each unit of Hunters Point without managing access points you could actually provide just a plug in your own router and you could get a gigabit of Internet just like that. So we worked out what that would look like, and we've been doing that work for some time now. There's like phase redevelopment that's occurring across the 27 buildings at Hunters Point, so just the other week, finally after a lot of wrangling of the infrastructure and working with the folks who are doing the reconstruction there, we managed to light up the first several dozen units in Hunters Point, and that's really exciting to see those really fast Internet speeds coming out of their walls.

Christopher Mitchell: I saw in an article about it that you'll ultimately be doing 212 units, which is more than 300 people in just this kind of phase, but that in time you're going to be actually servicing more than 1000 units.

Preston Rhea: Yeah, that's right. So at Hunters Point East/West there's 212 units, but we also managed to get in on a grant series called the California Advanced Services Fund that the state Public Utilities Commission offered, in order to work with a couple other housing providers to provide very high speed Internet to a bunch of other properties in the city. So I think we've already completed a couple of those properties, a couple of women's shelters, and we've got a whole bunch coming online through the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, which has property throughout the Mission and through the Civic Center and Tenderloin area in San Francisco.

Mason Carroll: What's really different about those, Preston kind of hit on it but I wanted to just bring it home, is that a lot of times in these public housing projects, they want to set up wireless access points, but we really believe that in order to properly address digital right issues, every single person needs to have their own Internet connection. This is not just like, "Oh, I can sort of get Wi-Fi, the building-wide Wi-Fi, if I stand near my front door." No. You should have your own Internet connection that you can plug in and watch TV or set up a computer to do your work. That's really what digital quality is, especially in the low-income housing, there's building-wide Wi-Fi but some of -- no matter what kind of wireless solution you deploy, there's going to be dead areas. If you can deliver proper broadband you actually give people the ability to cancel their expensive cable TV packages and whatnot. If the people that live there, if they can save 100 dollars a month and not order a cable connection, that 100 dollars a month makes a really big impact on that communities.

Christopher Mitchell: To remind people, you're running very high-capacity links to the roof and then using the structured wiring to deliver individual circuits to each person so that if you had that shared campus Wi-Fi as you're discussing, a neighbor that may have three kids that are all streaming could really put a dent into that Wi-Fi capacity whereas the approach that you're discussing, you would not have that problem because the congestion would be occurring basically, if it did at all, on the highest capacity links where I'm guessing you'd want it to occur.

Mason Carroll: Yeah, and I think generally, when people are having problems with getting on the Internet, I think a lot of times they say, "Oh, my neighbor is using up all the bandwidth." Then in reality the issue is more likely to be just based on their location and their proximity to the wireless access point and other noise factors and whatnot. They just have a bad connection to the wireless access point and those kind of problems are just extremely hard to troubleshoot. I mean, everyone probably has had problems, just bizarre problems with Wi-Fi in their own homes or in their offices that they work at, and it's really as much an art as a science, setting up Wi-Fi and if you actually have your own ethernet connection, your own ethernet port, you actually have the ability to, if you're having connectivity issues, you actually have the ability to work on it yourself, and at the end of the day, if you could plug your computer directly into it.

Christopher Mitchell: How much is Monkeybrains charging the people in these units for service?

Mason Carroll: It's going to be zero dollars per month for all residents.

Christopher Mitchell: And, Mason, how long is that going to last? Is that kind of forever kind of thing? Or is this a trial basis, or what's the expectation?

Mason Carroll: Well, for the Hunters Point East/West, the property management company is committed to paying us ten dollars per month per unit for I think, a couple years, and then after that we may end up just donating bandwidth. I'm not really sure about the financial aspect of that. Maybe Preston remembers that better.

Preston Rhea: Yeah, to speak to that, that's right, and also because we got to upgrade the -- we were originally just going to do Hunters Point sort of on our own contract using that grant money from the mayor's office that SFHDC has, but thanks to getting a CAFS grant from the state, they're able to extend more of that money into paying for service for more years, but it will be charged at that rate to the housing provider for five years, which is the term that the CAFS grant requires. It has to be the same cost, basically, to residents, for five years, and then after that, a lot changes in five years but I think that we definitely have, as a company, a commitment to providing an affordable housing rate, and we're targeting that rate depending on the situation, at 10 dollars, or free, per unit per month.

Mason Carroll: Yeah, I mean, really, Monkeybrains is prepared to do it for free but we're hoping to continue to try to apply for some grant money to help fund it. Obviously we're not really making any money on this project be we really think it's important to be good citizens and also, we're hoping to, moving forward, just get a seat at the table in the discussion about broadband in the future of San Francisco and I think we're getting a lot of attention and good will.

Christopher Mitchell: I've never built or run a network like this, but I've been trying to get a better sense of the costs involved and my impression is, and I'd just like you to correct anything that I get wrong, but my impression is, is that when you do have this kind of one-time grant funding that 10 dollars a month is going to basically cover your costs, and so Monkeybrains would be able to do this at a loss, as you said, if you charge nothing, but if you're able to recover a reasonable fee per household, then this is something that could work and is not going to really be a drain on your business such that it would be unsustainable, and that's always my fear. I mean, I'd love it if we could do it for free, but my concern is always, can we make this work indefinitely, and at 10 dollars a month, if you can get some grant money to build the up-front infrastructure and perhaps some amounts to refresh it. I'm curious if that works out.

Mason Carroll: Well, also, yeah, and what's really important for the success of these projects is, we call it in the industry, uniformity of service. If we're managing 1000 Internet connections you want them all to be more or less the same. So, in order to do that, it's really important for these housing authorities to go ahead and install Cat5s in every single unit, so there's a cat, there's a RJ45, a little ethernet port in the unit, and that wire runs to a panel in the telecenter of the building where we can just install an ethernet switch. It's easy to understand, it's easy to troubleshoot. It's reliable. If the housing authorities invest in that infrastructure when they're renovating the building, it actually enables us to deliver the service for really cheaply, whereas we work at a lot of older buildings where for example, there's no modern wiring, so we have a lot of tricks up our sleeves to deliver Internet over old wiring but, I mean, to be honest, it's not as reliable and easy to manage and there's a lot more cost and hassle with supporting it, so, if they invest the money up-front to build the modern wiring, it allows us to provide a phenomenal gigabit Internet product for very low cost, regardless of who pays for it.

Christopher Mitchell: I think the Housing and Urban Development folks under the Obama administration in 2016, I think they just recently, toward the end of the administration, made that a requirement, and I think that still stands. Let's hope so 'cause the more we can make it easy for ISPs to solve this problem, the less we would need to do in terms of public funding. Now, I'm curious, Preston, have there been any surprises? When you talk about Hunters Point being an area that's being redeveloped, are these new units that are being built, or are they rehabbed, or has there been any issue in terms of any challenges that were unexpected?

Preston Rhea: They're rehab units, Chris. I think that originally the Hunters Point East/West Apartments were built as Navy housing because there was a big naval base in that area. They were turned into public housing afterwards, so what's happening is that basically folks that have lived there for a while, and then they are relocated while the renovation is done, which takes us to maybe less than six months, and then they're moved right back in. There's not like a new building's going up. The same buildings that have been there are being redone, which is also sort of gotten us to look at exactly these infrastructural nuances that Mason was talking about, like, what is the level of service, and what is the level of infrastructure that makes it feasible for an ISP to provide a regular level of service like that, at that sort of lower cost.

Christopher Mitchell: That is very interesting, and it's really great to hear that these decisions are being made, that we're giving really high quality service for people who we want to make sure have all the educational opportunities, abilities to apply for jobs, and access government services. I want to turn now, though, to what San Francisco is discussing openly, which is perhaps building a significant amount of fiber that would be ideally open to multiple ISPs such as yourself, around the city, and I'm curious if you have anything you'd like to share in terms of thoughts about that process.

Preston Rhea: Yeah, I know that there is sort of several efforts happening right now to discuss, once again, the question of publicly funded or publicly supported broadband network. Of course, San Francisco infamously had an effort through Earthlink back about 10 years ago that did not work out so well. But they're looking at it again, both the supervisors and the Department of Technology and I think that we don't know what final form their work is going to take, or their recommendations are going to take, but I believe that from our perspective it is good to have more infrastructure. It is good for the city to have more modern and well-managed infrastructure and fiber, of course, certainly closer to the core, is the right thing. I would personally think it's great for residents when there is more effective ways for them to get service, because it improves choice and can lower costs as we of course saw in Chattanooga when eventually incumbent providers after the city offered gigabit fiber, started saying, "Well, we'll, give us the fiber," and then that, that's kind of a virtuous thing. But I believe that ultimately what we would like to see for Monkeybrains as well as for residents, is an opportunity for existing providers like Monkeybrains to plug in with a publicly supported fiber network that will improve our ability to sort of do what we do best, which is the last mile, end-customer management, going directly to people, managing the relationship with them, providing them a hand-off right at their house or at their business, and using really well-supported public infrastructure in order to do ultimately the connection back to the Internet from some point in the neighborhood or on the block.

Christopher Mitchell: You want to add anything, Mason?

Mason Carroll: I think the city basically has a lot of fiber assets. They're not really utilized for the public use. So they basically have a decision. They're like, okay, are we going to go with option one, essentially just create an ISP and just sell Internet to individual customers and businesses and institutions, or, since they already have the fiber, they've already been managing it for public safety, do they just lease that fiber to local ISPs and then you maybe have only seven or eight customers all leasing fiber from the city of San Francisco. It might be a little bit easier for them to manage a project like that without having to deal with supporting thousands of individual customers. It's essentially a little business within the Department of Technology, so either way they go, I think it's great. If they build all the fiber and never do anything with it then it's money poorly spent. But if you can provide cheap service to residents either directly or by lowering the costs for ISPs and increasing competition for ISPs, I think that's only going to benefit residents in the long term. So, we support whatever effort, in whatever form they decide to go with on it.

Preston Rhea: I want to jump on something that Mason just said as well, like when he pointed out that all these fiber assets -- and of course we saw a letter from Supervisor Mark Farrell, that he requested sort of an analysis maybe about a year ago of what the city's fiber assets are, and of course, you've heard this story before across cities, across political entities that manage infrastructure like fiber. It turns out it's hundreds of miles that are spread across many difference departments own, in some way, or are responsible for that fiber, and all of them don't necessarily know at the moment exactly where it is, where it goes, because maybe even a lot of it was pulled decades ago, and where that fiber is, sits in some deep archival vault. It hasn't been digitized where it is, so I want to also emphasize that there's sort of a parallel issue here, like, who was the infrastructure for? This is at the crux of why I'm really excited about what Monkeybrains is doing at Hunters Point and trying to in, also at these other public housing projects, in trying to expand our work for residents who live in affordable housing. If there's an amount of money to be spent, especially in the public interest, when that money is being spent it's an investment in the way that that infrastructure's going to be used for a very long time. If that money is spent of fiber that will go nowhere, or that will go a lot of places but never gets lit up, never actually serves people, or maybe say, only serves businesses and certain city functions but doesn't serve the 15 percent of San Franciscans that don't have a regular access to an Internet connection, then that hardens the digital divide. There was an investment made in hardening the digital divide, and the same is true if the infrastructure that is being redeveloped at these public housing sites or really in any sort of place where people live and work and play, if the investment is made in such a way that the infrastructure is not modernized with an eye at enabling everybody, especially those who lack access now, to have a meaningful top of the line and affordable or free at the point of use access to a free and open Internet, than that has also hardened the digital divide. What we're trying to do here, and we are really lucky to be able to do this in the San Francisco broadband infrastructure market, we are trying to influence the development and the investment of these funds into making sure that modern infrastructure is built so that we think of the people that live in affordable housings at the same level, or even primarily above the people who have some means of getting fast Internet access right now. In businesses and in private homes.

Christopher Mitchell: It's really great to hear you saying that, because that's the kind of spirit we want to have in terms of being focused on solving the ultimate problems. I think for people who are listening from other areas, it is important to know San Francisco has more ISPs than almost any other city in terms of really credible ISPs that are making important investments. This discussion about San Francisco may not apply to all other cities, but I'm very glad to hear that you're in the mix and I certainly hope that the investments will be well-made and enable firms like yours to do well. Preston, I just wanted to ask a totally unrelated question, which is you -- I became aware of you when you were working with OTI, the Open Technology Institute. A program that I was fascinated by, because one of the things that I wondered if it was doing was basically giving an opportunity to people who wanted to figure out how to use their technical skills to really make the world a better place, and giving them a place to sort of meet other people and then expand. And I'm just curious if you can say, did OTI have an important role in terms of moving you into a place where you're able to do these kinds of investments and work for a company like Monkeybrains?

Preston Rhea: I'm really pleased you asked that question, Chris, because I've thought about that a lot as we've been doing this work at Monkeybrains, and I think the answer is absolutely. I feel like I gained through the work that we did at the Open Technology Institute, and we did a lot of work directly with communities who were eager to build their own infrastructure and Detroit, and in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and with a lot of BTOP grants in Philadelphia, to be present developing a pedagogical approach to understanding, building and controlling infrastructure, and recognizing what's important to people at those points, so the Internet is not thought of something that like, I'm going to pay somebody some money just like that and it's there, but like a deeper question of like what is my relationship to this infrastructure and what do I want to get out of it? I'm really thankful that I was able to take a route of gaining that perspective in education doing that organizing and then take that to a place where the infrastructure gets built every single day. Like, quite a bit of it gets built every single day. I really am just thankful that I'm able to be at a place like Monkeybrains where we can take those values and sort of apply them to the built environment. I hope that we continue to do that and at greater scale as time goes on.

Christopher Mitchell: Great, well, thank you both for taking the time and for this work. I think we'll hopefully see a lot of other ISPs seeing that you can make this work, and making it happen. Thank you both.

Preston Rhea: Thank you so much.

Mason Carroll: Thank you, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll from Monkeybrains, a San Francisco based Internet service provider. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. You can follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow MuniNetworks.org's stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power, and the Local Energy Rules podcast. Access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to Episode 264 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptWirelesspoint to pointWi-Filow-incomehousing authoritysan franciscowispcalifornia public utilities commissionfixed wirelessopen technology institutenew americagigabitgrant

Watch How Longmont, Colorado, Built the Community Network of the Year

August 2, 2017

Longmont, Colorado, shows off its award-winning fiber network through a series of short videos. On July 18th, Longmont’s NextLight network took home an award from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA). The network won 2017 Community Networks Project of the Year. 

A Network For the Whole City

The city of Longmont started actively building this Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network back in 2014. Now, nearly all of the 90,000 residents of Longmont can get gigabit (1,000 Mbps) service. These videos walk residents through construction, from putting fiber and conduit in the ground to installing it in the home. 

These short (2- to 3-minute) videos encourage folks to learn about the process so that they know exactly what to expect. Residents might not realize that some equipment has to be installed in the house or that the process involves putting fiber underground through the streets. Watch the playlist below:

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: longmontcoloradonatoaFTTHawardvideo

Connecting San Francisco Low-Income Housing with Monkey Brains - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 264

August 1, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 264 - Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll Explain Monkey Brains Low-Income Household Investments

After we saw April Glaser's article on a local San Francisco ISP connecting low-income housing to high-quality Internet access, we knew we wanted to learn more. Preston Rhea is the Senior Field Engineer for Monkey Brains and someone we knew from his work with the Open Technology Institute at New America. He joins us with Mason Carroll, Lead Engineer for Monkey Brains, to explain what they are doing in Hunters Point and more broadly across San Francisco.

Monkey Brains delivers Internet access primarily via high-capacity fixed-wireless links to buildings with multiple tenants. Working with the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, they are delivering gigabit access to low-income housing units at Hunters Point. 

Preston and Mason discuss the process, the challenges, the long-term plan, and more. In particular, they discuss why good wiring in each building is important for ensuring high-quality access to each household rather than just relying on common Wi-Fi access points around the buildings. 

Silicon Beat also covered this story.

Read the transcript of the 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: Wirelesspoint to pointWi-Filow-incomehousing authoritysan franciscowispcalifornia public utilities commissionfixed wirelessopen technology institutenew americaaudiopodcastbroadband bitsgigabitgrant

Vernon Communications Cooperative Connecting Rural Southwest Wisconsin

August 1, 2017

Vernon Communications Cooperative (VC Co-op), serving much of rural Vernon County, Wisconsin, was recently named a Certified Gig-Capable Provider by NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. VC Co-op joins a growing list of rural cooperatives that are offering gigabit connectivity to members in places where national Internet service providers don’t want to invest in infrastructure. The certification requires that "gigabit technology is currently commercially available within 95 percent of one or more exchanges within [the provider's] serving territory and that such service can be provided without new trenching or stringing new aerial facilities."

Why Do Co-ops Always Start? To Fill A Need

VC Co-op started as a telephone cooperative in 1951 when local farmers collaborated, obtained funding from the Rural Electrification Act, and formed the Vernon Telephone Cooperative. After partnering with other telephone companies in the region to establish Internet service in the early 1990s, VC Co-op also began offering long distance voice and television services in 2001.

VC Co-op has also made a name for themselves by offering twelve community television channels that broadcast various local events, including school sports and concerts, local weather, and even radio shows.

By 2008, VC Co-op had finished upgrading their network in the county seat of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), replacing copper lines with fiber. Viroqua has taken advantage of the fiber in ways that touch almost all aspects of daily life. In addition to public safety, healthcare, and education, local businesses using fiber connectivity have been able to grow beyond the limits of Viroqua. All the while, the VC Co-op has served the community with the same spirit we see from other cooperatives.

Organic Valley, a farmers cooperative with headquarters in Vernon County, suffered a catastrophic fire in 2013. Without missing a beat, VC Co-op connected 21 temporary locations to house Organic Valley employees and established a connection for the farmers cooperative in another building.

VC Co-op is in the process of expanding its network to members throughout the county and, according to its fiber construction map, it has almost reached its goal. In addition to voice, video, and Internet access, VC Co-op offers a home security and automation service.

In Vernon County, Wisconsin, about 30,000 people live on 816 square miles. Agriculture is one a key part of the economy in the rural southwestern part of the state. Vernon County’s western border is along the Mississippi River with Minnesota on the other side. It’s located on a ridge known as the “drift less” region because the glaciers didn’t reach the area, leaving it filled iwht bluffs, ridges, and hills.

Room For Improvement

Unlike many other cooperatives that offer fiber connectivity, VC Co-op's service isn't symmetrical. We were surprised and disappointed to see that they offer slow upload speeds of only 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) and that they charge extra to increase upload speeds. This type of business practice doesn't recognize members as participants in e-commerce who use the Internet to send data, but considers them to be consumers who only receive it. Limiting members to only 1 Mbps for upload speeds prevents members from telework unless they pay extra for increased capacity.

Check out the video below for more about Viroqua, VC Co-op, and the story on Organic Valley. The video also offers testimonials from others who swear by the network, including officials from local schools, public safety, and local business owners.

Tags: wisconsinruraltelephonecooperativegigabitvideo

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 31

July 31, 2017

Colorado

Longmont's success leads to dozens of followers: When is 'crazy fast' Internet coming to your town? by Jason Gruenauer, The Denver Channel WGBH-7

The city built an entire fiber grid network that now has the potential to connect every residence and business in the area to 1-gigabit internet speeds. 

For comparison, the FCC considers anything that is 25 megabits per second or faster to be "high speed." One gigabit per second is 40 times that.

 

Indiana

Broadband expansion vote for downtown Holland postponed until Aug. 2 by Sidney Smith, Holland Sentinel

 

Maryland

Atlantic Broadband extends fiber network to support emergency response in Maryland by Bevin Fletcher, CED Magazine

 

North Carolina

Fibrant in focus: Story of Wilson's, Salisbury's fiber optic networks a 'tale of two cities' by Josh Bergeron, The Salisbury Post

Connecting to what matters by Laura Mitchell, Wilkes Journal Patriot

Guests on the show included Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who weighed in on circumstances surrounding those 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lacking broadband access, compared with 4 percent of those living in cities, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The town that had free gigabit Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard Vice

 

Ohio

Country connection: Rural residents ask FCC to improve Internet by Benny Becker, Ohio Valley ReSource

Mitchell argued that too much of the federal money intended to expand rural internet access goes to large companies who’ve been building substandard networks. The problem with counting on large companies like Frontier to build rural broadband, Mitchell said, comes down to a question of money and incentives. Urban areas have more customers in a smaller area, which means they’re more appealing to companies that are publicly traded and profit-driven.

 

Tennessee

Chattanooga has its own broadband - why doesn't every city? by Jonathan Taplin, The Daily Beast

This city has its own broadband - why can't we? by Carrie Ann, Industry Leaders Magazine

 

Virginia

What's next for broadband Internet on Virginia's Eastern Shore? by Carol Vaughn, Delmarva Daily Times

Editorial: Minnesota offers Virginia a lesson on rural broadband by The Roanoke Times

 

General

Rural Internet can help shrink economic gap by Jon Talton, Seattle Times

Broadband and rural economies - maybe small is better by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

A people-owned Internet exists. Here's what it looks like by Nathan Schneider, The Guardian

In cities and towns, it’s probably through a municipal government, or even neighborhood mesh networks, which can swell across whole regions. Rural areas can piggyback on existing electric and telephone cooperatives, or start new co-ops from scratch.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is one of the best organizations tracking these options, and its Community Networks website is full of resources about who is doing what where, and why.

Image of the cow in the pasture courtesy of DominikSchraudolf via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 263

July 28, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 263 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Anne Fifield and Nick Nevins discuss how Eugene, Oregon, uses a dark fiber network to encourage economic development. Listen to this show here.

Anne Fifield: I think we're going to start running out of office space downtown that we've had firms grow. We've had firms come just to locate here. They're here because of the fiber.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 263 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, Chris talks with two folks from Eugene, Oregon where the community is working on a dark fiber project to improve connectivity to the downtown area. He's joined by Anne Fifield who works in economic development and Nick Nevins from the Eugene Water and Electric Board, also known as EWEB. In this conversation, we learn about the collaboration between the two entities, including how the infrastructure is already improving Eugene's downtown, how they're funding the project, and more about the decision to expand existing fiber in Eugene. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this commercial-free podcast isn't free to produce. Please take a moment to contribute at ILSR.org. If you're already contributing, thank you for playing a part and keeping our podcast going. Now, here's Christopher with Anne Fifield and Nick Nevins from Eugene.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, I'm talking with Anne Fifield, Economic Development Planner for the city of Eugene in Oregon. Welcome to the show.

Anne Fifield: Hi, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: We also have Nick Nevins on the line and he is the Engineering Technician for Eugene Water and Electric Board. Welcome to the show.

Nick Nevins: Thanks for having me, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited to learn more about what Eugene's doing and what the results have been. But let's start off with just a little bit of a background on what Eugene is for people who haven't been out there on the West Coast. Anne, can you tell us a little bit about the city?

Anne Fifield: So, Eugene is in Western Oregon about halfway between Portland to the north and the southern border of Oregon. We're about 160,000 people. One of the big notable things about our town is University of Oregon sits in Eugene and that drives a lot of our local economy.

Christopher Mitchell: It's a pretty progressive place, as I remember it.

Anne Fifield: Yes. Very politically liberal. Very much a blue part of Oregon.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I'm curious. You have an electric board there and I guess some people might just assume a really progressive city, you would have just gone out and started building fiber a while ago. But the approach is somewhat different. So, maybe you can just give us a very brief overview of what's going on with the electric board.

Nick Nevins: We did start to build fiber back in the early 2000s for our own use and leased out spare capacity, mainly to public agencies. Just in the last handful of years that we really reached out or branched out into the commercial market, leasing to ISPs, we just provide dark fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say, "We just provide dark fiber," I think we're going to be exploring that a bit because I think the impact has been somewhat greater than that might suggest. But I think it's worth just going back to this decision. Anne, I'm curious if you can give us a sense a little of the city's perspective in terms of the challenges Eugene is facing in terms of Internet access.

Anne Fifield: So, we're a midsize city. We're not a large city. We're never going to attract a lot of competition unless we initiate it ourselves. If we're going to do it, we have to bootstrap it ourselves. It's been a conversation for a very long time. There's been a lot of work. I'd say over 20 years that has slowly built up to this. But we decided that we had a technical and a political will locally to see if we could build a municipally owned fiber network. The idea was that EWEB, because they already owned this fiber that served themselves and they had a little bit of movement in that direction of leasing towards private ISPs, that we would build on that existing capacity to pilot a dark fiber network in the downtown of Eugene. One reason we focused on downtown is there's a lot of software companies that have existed in Eugene. We have a very surprising number of video game developers in Eugene. So, there was one company here and when the big company pulled out, a lot of folks who lived here stayed and there's a lot of startups here. We've got a lot of video game programmers. If you look at the product that those guys make, when I was young, you had to go to Pizza Hut to play video games. Then people started getting consoles at home and you would buy the game on a CD. You don't do that anymore. My kids buy their games over our Internet connection. It's not just the video games. There's a lot of other software here. They deliver their product over the Internet. One of the biggest barriers for those firms to grow was adequate Internet access. There's a lot of other markets that would be very happy to have those jobs. We've had companies leave for other markets and we've had a lot of those local companies really advocate for a better Internet connection. I think that's really where that political will came from was local companies who wanted to stay in this town, it's a great place to live. But this was this huge barrier for them to access the global market with their product.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who may not be familiar, you have a lot of software development, a lot of open source in particular, up north in Portland. So, it's not very surprising that you have a lot of this in Eugene as well. You mentioned, Anne, that you often get the games delivered over the Internet. I wonder if there's any games your children play that aren't involved with the Internet in terms of the actual gameplay as well.

Anne Fifield: Sometimes they play outside. But no. It may not have an active connection, but that's how the product's been delivered to the house is over the Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I'm curious in terms of the dark fiber leases. These kinds of big video game companies, they're ones that can use dark fiber. They have no compunction about hiring the kind of technicians, that probably not unlike the background you have, to be able to manage the dark fiber connections. I'm curious if there's any other businesses in Eugene that are also really taking advantage of dark fiber.

Nick Nevins: Historically, we've dealt more with the public sector, like Anne was saying, the city, the county, health, school district is a big user of our dark fiber. But getting more into the private sector, our projection or current path has actually been leasing to ISPs so that those smaller, more customer focused ISPs can reach out too and get that last mile connection to business and buildings that they wouldn't be able to build to otherwise. They just don't have the infrastructure around town, so they lease from us to get their product to various parts of town.

Christopher Mitchell: I think you were suggesting the smaller ISPs, more regional, local ISPs, I'm guessing.

Nick Nevins: Correct. Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: Right now, there's so much support. We saw a pew poll saying seven out of 10 Americans are supportive of municipal networks. We see a lot of places where people are just saying, "Look, we just need to build a municipal network." I'm curious if you can give us a sense from a utility point of view, what are some of the challenges of getting involved with what you've done with the dark fiber that might be a little different from your traditional mission?

Nick Nevins: That's the thing. As a primarily electric and water company, fiber is not our core business. So, we started out using basically our spare capacity and that's the mindset of what we have now. We dabbled or explored the option of actually becoming an ISP ourselves and realized there's people, they're better. That's their core business. So, they're just better suited for that. The people and the experience that we have is actually stringing the lines and putting in the infrastructure. That's the knowledge base that we have on hand. So, we decided to utilize that.

Christopher Mitchell: Critics of municipal networks will often suggest that the utility and the city and inseparable, that they're basically one entity. I'm curious, and I'm definitely open to hearing from both of you, how it actually is on the ground in terms of the challenges of making sure that you're on the same page.

Anne Fifield: We are not the same entity. We have two different elected boards and we're not always on the same page. But we're important partners, and ultimately, we're both serving the exact same community. There's always a political element to this and we at the city, the city's bringing a funding to the project while EWEB is actually implementing the project. So, it took a big political push to make sure that we had the political will within the city. But then as we worked with EWEB, we have an intergovernmental agreement between the two of us over this project. It was a lot of work to get to that agreement that satisfied both parties. It protects EWEB financially and ensures that the city's investment, it continues to be implemented by EWEB. It seems it's sort of simple, but I think with Nick, it came down to a three page intergovernmental agreement. But it took months to get there.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, any comments?

Nick Nevins: I agree with what Anne said. We're definitely two different agencies. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't. But I think both agencies realize that we're partners in the same community and ultimately, like Anne said, service the same people. We generally find ways to come to common grounds and work through any issues that arise.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I'm curious if you can tell us a little bit about other partners. Who else, what other agencies or people have to be involved to make this project a success?

Nick Nevins: The two other agencies that aren't really on this call right. The Lane Council of Governments and then the Technology Association of Oregon are the two other players that are helping make this project a success.

Christopher Mitchell: What is the Lane Council of Governments?

Anne Fifield: We lie in Lane County. So, Lane County's Council of Government. The COG, it's called. It's a quasi-public agency that provides service to the local communities all across Lane County. Lane County's a really big, geographically very large county. It extends all the way from the mountains in the Cascade range to the coast. So, what they do is they provide a lot of intergovernmental service and as well as they'll provide specialized services to the smaller governments who don't have the staff capacity to work on special projects. Everyone calls them LCOG. They've been a key player. They're one of the players for 20 years, slowly adding in infrastructure that has expanded the regional telecommunications network. They've implemented grants. They had a stimulus grant that built a dark fiber across much of Southwestern Oregon extending well beyond Lane County. So, they have a lot of that technical expertise that individual agencies lack because we tend to be smaller agencies because we're smaller communities.

Christopher Mitchell: I'll bet the coordination really helps for these kinds of networks. Let's dig into the financing. How does the financing work for this project?

Anne Fifield: This project is focused on Downtown Eugene. We had to identify what that was because the funding sources have geographic components to it. What we decided was our service area, about 50% of that is covered by two different urban renewal districts that are part of the city of Eugene that the City of Eugene city council are the officials of the urban renewal agencies. We had the Downtown Urban Renewal District, which is an old district, was set to sunset. Last year, there was a lot of political advocacy by the community to amend the plan and get the urban renewal district, keep it alive for another few years with four specific projects. One of those projects is to build the fiber network. So, the primary revenue source is that urban renewal district. All local funds is funding this. Also, we're asking as we build the network, individual property owners are asked to pay a small fee to connect to the network, a small fee of $2,000. That adds a little bit of money to the project. But from there, we still have a funding gap. We can't quite get 100% built. We had pursued state funds and were not successful. But last summer, we began the process to apply for a grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration. We found out just under two months ago that we have been awarded a grant and they're awarding us $1.9 million. So, that seals the gap on the project.

Christopher Mitchell: So, when property owners connect, is that something they have to pay in a lump sum, then?

Anne Fifield: Yeah. We're asking for a lump sum payment at the time they're connected.

Christopher Mitchell: Are there any individual homeowners in this area or is this entirely commercially focused?

Anne Fifield: It's downtown. The project is an economic development project. But it's a downtown. So, there's all kinds of different uses. There's a movie theater, there's a regular public theater, there's a few apartment buildings, there's some affordable housing, and then there's a lot of office buildings as well. It goes to anybody who's willing to pay the $2,000, really. So, your connection comes into your building and whatever the use is, it doesn't matter. There are no single family detached houses in the service area. So, it's all multi-floor apartment buildings that are in the area.

Nick Nevins: The service area that we determine, EWEB has a web of underground electric conduits in our downtown area. Electric system forms an electric network system down there. When all the duct banks were put in back '50s or '40s, '50s, something like that, they actually had the foresight at that time to reserve or identify a conduit as a communications conduit. Of course, what that means has changed over time. But we're actually installing this dark fiber network through existing infrastructure, pulling it through, pulling microduct through existing conduit and actually even getting into the buildings through the electric service conduit that actually enters the building. So, this entire project serving roughly 120 buildings, we're actually only going to disturb soil in just a few select areas. That's one of the main cost savings and benefits to this project.

Christopher Mitchell: It's a reminder how important policy can make many, many decades of difference when you do it correctly. Nick, can you tell me a little bit more about, I pay $2,000, I'm a business owner. What do I expect? What are my ongoing costs? How does it work?

Nick Nevins: So, basically, a typical building would sign up on our website. As we move through the project, the first step is I actually go out to the building, just make sure nothing visually looks like there would be any red flags, like that we couldn't pull the microduct through, as I mentioned with the electric service, to get it into the building. Once it gets into the building, we actually terminate the fiber, typically in the same room of wherever their electrics equipment is. From then, because it's an open access network, it's up to the individual ISPs that lease fiber from us to go around and basically sell their product or the tenant, the business owners, can go to these ISPs and basically have them compete for their product. Then once they sign up with one of those ISPs, they ISPs actually lease fiber from us. So, once the fiber's in the building, we really don't have a lot of interaction with the individual tenants.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there a maintenance fee?

Nick Nevins: Yeah. We charge a lease fee to the ISPs, then the ISPs charge whatever they charge to the individual businesses. But we actually don't have any lease fees or anything for the buildings.

Anne Fifield: Any kind of maintenance fee is incorporated into the lease rate that EWEB has.

Christopher Mitchell: There's an interesting question as to how technologies change. I'm presuming that most people, they use an active technology and you terminate the other fiber. I guess it goes wherever you want it to go. Different ISPs may take it to different places.

Nick Nevins: All of the fiber for this project all goes back to a centralized location to the Willamette Internet exchange. They're actually in LCOG. So, there's actually five or six ISPs that have a presence there in that data center. So, they can serve them from there. But to your point, we could patch across, jump across to one of our other cables that then serve any part of Eugene. So, yes. Any business downtown could get to a different part of the city or even to other cities on other fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I'm curious about how services may evolve in the future so you may have a business that wants to have multiple ISPs serving it over the same fiber and that would just be something you'd have to work out at that Willamette Internet exchange, I'm guessing.

Nick Nevins: Yeah. Typically, what we found is that the fiber going into a single building would have multiple ISPs leasing fiber to get into that building because maybe ISP number one is serving Tenant A and ISP number two is serving Tenant B. But there's nothing that says one tenant might reserve or get service from two different ISPs.

Christopher Mitchell: So, let's talk about the impacts as we wrap up. What's happened in Eugene as a result of having made these investments?

Anne Fifield: The project is still under construction. We've only just gotten, I think 16 buildings are fully connected right now and we're moving forward on getting the rest of the 120 buildings or so connected. You can see the impacts. There's one company where they own the whole building. So, it's a single tenant building. So, the fiber connection just serves one client. It's a big software developer. They develop games for both the private market as well as they work with the Department of Defense building games that train soldiers. They told us that if they got their fiber connection and they could take on a new project, that would require them to hire 40 people. On the promise of us getting it to them by a certain date, they started hiring those people. So, one business downtown increased a number of jobs by 40. Then in the other buildings, most of the buildings that are served are multi-tenant buildings. Those buildings that are served have some of the lowest vacancy rates in town. A lot of them have zero vacancy. I think we're going to start running out of office space downtown that we've had firms grow. We've had firms come just to locate here. Parking guy in the city came to talk to me to tell me that he's running out of parking spaces. I said, "That's a great problem to have that we're actually getting so busy that we're running out of space." So, yeah. It's busier downtown. There's more stuff happening, there's more business in those office buildings. They're here because of the fiber, which then has a positive feedback loop. There's more restaurants, there's more other activity. So, it just keeps growing and growing and growing. But it wouldn't be happening without the fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I'm curious if the utility is planning for decades ahead in terms of when you're doing other water projects or other electric projects. Are you putting in lots of extra conduit then as part of those investments?

Nick Nevins: Yes and no. It's not a standard practice across the utility, but there's definitely, I and other people definitely keep their eyes open for opportunities where we think there'll be good growth. We'll definitely look at investing. If nothing else, just throwing a stick of conduit in the ground.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there a reason that it's not a standard practice? Is it that you have so many different types of investments? I don't know really know. Sometimes I've heard that if you're trenching for a water main, you may have to make it a lot wider to incorporate fiber and that's going to be a challenge that you may not want to do. What's the real world scenario there?

Nick Nevins: I think the biggest reason that hasn't happened more or become a standard practice has just been a matter of it's not viewed as our core business right now. In the past, it's been a little forgotten about. We're trying to get that to change now.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the nice things about utilities that have been around for many decades to a hundred years is that they figured out how to succeed over a long period of time. But unfortunately, the short term, what that can often mean is resisting change and making sure that something's really important before just committing to it. So, there's a double edged sword there, I think, with these long lived utilities.

Nick Nevins: Yeah, definitely.

Anne Fifield: One of the reasons that I think it's a partnership is that the city's the one whole really wanted this to happen and we're the ones paying for it.

Christopher Mitchell: I would just assume that you're getting some phone calls at city hall because I have yet to talk to anyone at city hall that's not hearing from people on this.

Anne Fifield: I take the calls from people who want to know, "When's it coming to my neighborhood?" I get at least one a week. It's a pretty regular question. People are very excited about it. We'll see what happens after we're, finish out downtown, if we're able to extend it beyond. Right now, we're just focusing on getting the downtown done.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's one of those things that I feel like people can ask the question to city hall, but if they really want it in their neighborhood, they better be out there talking to their neighbors about it and making sure that it's a priority because city council's got a lot of problems to deal with and they need to input on how to prioritize.

Anne Fifield: Yeah. I think you're right. We've had a lot of political agitation for the downtown because it was economic development effort. The rest of it, I think it'll be more expensive. The financing will be really different because it's lower density, not downtown. So, you get fewer customers per mile.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. We have seen a few miles. Actually, oddly enough, many of them are in the Pacific Northwest where the homeowners are basically putting their money where their desire is and they are finding ways of self financing in local districts. So, who knows what the future will hold? But thank you very much both Anne and Nick for coming on to tell us more about what's going on in Eugene.

Anne Fifield: Thanks for having us, Chris.

Nick Nevins: Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Anne Fifield, Economic Development Planner from Eugene and Nick Nevins, Engineering Technician from EWEB. They were talking with Christopher about their downtown dark fiber network project. Check out our stories on Eugene at MuniNetworks.org. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter; his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and The Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you again to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle", licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to episode 263 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcripteugeneeconomic developmentdark fiberutilitycollaborationoregoncompetitionfinancingtax increment financinglocal improvement districtmunijobs

Anza Electric Cooperative: High-Speed Internet Service in Southern California

July 28, 2017

Just south of Mount San Jacinto in southern California, several small communities hope for better Internet access. The local cooperative has submitted a plan to build a next generation network fiber network further into Riverside County.

Anza Electric Cooperative wants to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network through another 200 square miles of its service territory. This $3.7 million project should connect another 1,200 residents to the growing network.

New Project Proposed by Anza Electric

Currently, Anza Electric is drumming up funding for the proposed project. The co-op already has about $1.5 million to put toward the venture and is now requesting a $2.2 million grant from the state.

This network, called Connect Anza, will bring high-speed Internet service to several small, rural communities in Riverside County: Pinyon Pines, Garner Valley, and Mountain Center. High-speed Internet service of 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) will be $49 per month; service is symmetrical so upload and download speeds are the same. Residents will also be able to get phone service from the co-op for another $20 per month. Local fire stations and the Ronald McDonald camp for children with cancer will receive free Internet access through this project. 

Anza Electric Built a Network

The deployment continues Anza Electric’s previous project to connect more than 3,000 underserved households around Anza, California. The previous project was pushed forward by the overwhelming support of the electric cooperative’s member-owners, residents who receive electric service from the co-op.

Anza Electric first started adding fiber optic lines for electricity management in July 2015. Later that year, at the annual cooperative meeting, more than 90% of members present voted to include fiber optics and high-speed Internet service in the cooperative’s bylaws. The vote encouraged the cooperative to continue to build fiber optic lines.

In December 2015, the state of California approved a grant of almost $2.7 million for Anza Electric to which the co-op matched with another $1.8 million to build the FTTH network. As Anza Electric finishes up the project, the co-op is preparing to start the next deployment in Pinyon Pines.

State Grant Programs Support Local Control

Although the California Advanced Services Fund does give some funding to AT&T, it is similar to many other states' programs, such as in Minnesota. The grant program requires participating providers to match about half of the grant amount. 

Many cooperatives have taken advantage of state grant programs to build FTTH networks. By connecting farms, small businesses, and homes in some of the hardest to reach areas, telephone and electric cooperatives are closing the digital divide. Anza Electric Cooperative is part of that growing movement of cooperatives building the infrastructure necessary to keep rural communities strong. Learn more about cooperatives on our resource page.

Tags: rural electric coopFTTHcaliforniacooperativeruralgrantsymmetryfundingvoice

The Many Networks of Williamstown, Kentucky

July 27, 2017

Among the rolling hills and mountains of Appalachia sits the small city of Williamstown, Kentucky, in central Grant County. Home to about 3,500 people, Williamstown is the center of connectivity for the county. The city’s fiber provides high-speed connectivity to local businesses, while its long-running cable network keeps folks connected in the town. Williamstown operates a small Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the southern half of the county and offers much of the rest of the county fixed wireless service.

Williamstown Cable Center of Connectivity

Roy Osborne, the Superintendent at Williamstown Cable told us how this small town had developed so many different projects throughout the county. Within the town itself, the network is a hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) system that supports speeds from 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 100 Mbps download for residents and businesses alike; upload speeds vary from 2 Mbps to 10 Mbps.

For large institutions, Williamstown Cable builds fiber lines to provide reliable, fast connectivity. It serves most county facilities, such as the courthouse and detention center. It even brought a fiber connection to the theme park just outside of town -- the Ark Encounter, based on the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Osborne recalled the high level of Internet service in the small town surprised the developers. 

The community was not going to let its rural neighbors remain without connectivity. In 2007, the town started a project to bring fixed wireless service to the surrounding county. Williamstown Cable found a way to bring some of the fastest, most reliable Internet service to a small community of Corinth in southern Grant County in 2010. They used federal funding to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to the 200 people in the town. 

How Williamstown Built So Many Networks

Like many communities, Williamstown started providing services because no one else would invest in their rural sparsely populated area. The department first built a cable system in 1984 to provide television service, connecting the small town residents to the news. Williamstown Cable paid its own way, reinvesting money earned from the television service back into the network. In the early 2000s, the city spent nearly $2 million on a major upgrade to the network - overbuilding the old cable with a hybrid fiber coaxial system that was state-of-the-art technology at the time. That system still supports Internet service within the town limits.

They launched Internet service in 2005 after patiently waiting for years for the telephone company to offer something faster than dial-up. In 2007, the community started offering fixed wireless service, building radio towers and using existing water towers to spread the signal throughout the county.

While expanding their network, they came across an abandoned cable system that had been deployed by a small company years earlier and then bought by Time Warner Cable, but the company was actively looking to sell the infrastructure. Williamstown Cable seized the opportunity. They purchased the system for a single dollar and started upgrading it. The head-end, where the electronics that make the network function, had been a portable shed. Williamstown Cable obtained grant money through the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) to revamp the abandoned system. 

The federal government gave Williamstown Cable about $500,000 for their project, and Williamstown Cable matched the grant with its own funding sources. They quickly built out an FTTH network around Corinth in 2010 for $1 million. Previously, Corinth didn't have any Internet service - not even DSL. Now Willaimstown was able to offer Corinth the best connectivity available.

The Federal Government's Role

While the ARRA projects were underway throughout the country, a shake-up started on the federal level. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which manages these connectivity programs, began to transform some older programs into the new Connect America Fund (CAF). This didn’t seem to affect Williamstown much until the Connect America Fund Annual Support program rolled out. 

The program gives $1.5 billion each year to ten large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the country. The ISPs submitted to the FCC which areas within their service area were unserved or underserved, and then the FCC subsidized new networks in those areas. In order for the program to work effectively, the FCC needs to know exactly where good, high-speed networks are in the U.S. Unfortunately, information on the location of underserved and unserved areas is often outdated or incorrect.

One of the large ISPs happened to submit areas in Grant County that were already served by Williamstown Cable’s projects – specifically, areas served by the FTTH project from the federal ARRA grant. The company assured Williamstown Cable that they would not overbuild the existing fiber network but instead would use the grants to improve Internet access nearby.

Looking Forward

The "little network that could" has grown by leaps and bounds since it started off in the 1980s. Grant County residents now have high-speed Internet access, and Williamstown Cable has spent less than $4 million out of its own pocket. Superintendent Osborne noted that they were responding to community needs and that the networks have been self-supported. Soon, they will offer phone service as well - many people like having a single bill for their phone, TV, and Internet service offered by a local provider who understands their needs. 

Picture of Williamstown by W.marsh (Own work) GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: kentuckyFTTHhfcfederal fundingfederal grantwilliamstown kymuniappalachiansfixed wireless

We're Hiring! ILSR Looking For Interns!

July 27, 2017

We’re looking for an Intern to join the Community Broadband Networks Initiative team. The position is flexible with regard to hours and is based in our Minneapolis office. If you’re interested in working with us on Internet policy, check out the position posting and let us know.

DESCRIPTION

Interested in Internet policy issues? Want to work in an exciting field to build more resilient economies and encourage more vibrant democracy? Want to have fun doing meaningful work?

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance seeks a part-time or full-time paid intern for its Community Broadband Networks program.

Our Ideal Intern

  • Is enthusiastic about technology policy and believes in balancing private interests with public interests
  • Writes compelling, well-researched and concise articles on a short deadline
  • Can juggle multiple tasks
  • Works independently
  • Is creative – graphics, videos, audio, whatever. Multimedia is wonderful.
  • Is confident calling people to interview them over the phone
  • Is self-directed
  • Has some background knowledge of economics and public policy


The Kinds of Things We Do

  • We run MuniNetworks.org – the hub of the community networks movement
  • Create fact sheets, reports, videos, podcasts, and the occasional comic. The White House relied on our research for its own report on broadband networks
  • Advise communities on how to improve Internet access for businesses and residents
  • Educate the media and policymakers on Internet policy

HOW TO APPLY

  • Send an email to broadband@muninetworks.org with Subject Line: ILSR INTERNet Application
  • Explain in 3 paragraphs why you are the ideal intern.
  • Attach a resume and writing sample (or relevant creative work)
  • Please do not call

BENEFITS

  • Flexible hours
  • Experience in the fast paced high tech public policy world
  • Pay based on qualifications and time commitment.

Get your responses in by August 18, 2017. If you are incredible, we may create another position. Never hurts to try.

Tags: jobsresearchinstitute for local self-reliance

Dark Fiber Brightens Downtown Business Climate in Eugene - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 263

July 26, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 263 - Eugene Economic Development Planner Anne Fifield, EWEB Engineering Technician Nick Nevins

Eugene is a good example of recent public-public partnerships developing to expand fiber optic Internet access. The city of 166,000 in Oregon helped finance a downtown dark fiber network by the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), which is publicly owned but has an independent governing board from the city. 

Eugene's Economic Development Planner Anne Fifield and EWEB Engineering Technician Nick Nevins joined us for episode 263 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss the project and early results.

We talk about what businesses have been the early adopters of the dark fiber availability, how it was financed, and how it has helped to fill downtown office locations with businesses. 

Read the transcript of the show.

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

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: dark fiberoregoneugeneeconomic developmentutilitymunijobscompetitionfinancingtax increment financinglocal improvement districtaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Times Editors: Rural Virginia Deserves Better Connectivity

July 24, 2017

People who live in rural America have known for a long time that urban areas have better access to Internet services. Recently, however, the issue has become a hot topic of conversation and analysis by policy experts, lawmakers, and the telecommunications industry. In a recent editorial by Virginia’s Roanoke Times, the outlet's leadership explained why “Third World standards” for Internet access won’t do for people who, by choice or circumstance, live in rural areas.

"Third World Connectivity"

The editors at the Times point to reporting done by the Wall Street Journal (reprinted here by MSN Money) that describes how rural America’s lack of high-quality Internet access puts it on the same economic footing as “the new inner city.” The Times quotes the WSJ:

Keep in mind the Journal is not some liberal organ typically associated with calling for more government intervention; editorially, this is the conservative voice of the nation’s business community. Its view (like ours) is purely an economic one: “Counties without modern Internet connections can’t attract new firms, and their isolation discourages the enterprises they have . . . Reliance on broadband includes any business that uses high-speed data transmission, spanning banks to insurance firms to factories.”

While the urban areas of the state average connectivity higher than the national average, much of the state - the rural areas - must contend with speeds that compare with countries like Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Nigeria.

The editors at the Times point out that, much like in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed to electrify every rural community, private firms don’t venture where lack of profit doesn’t justify an investment. "This points the way to one possible fix that even the Journal highlights: Government intervention," writes the Times editors.

But they understand the hurdles that exist today that weren't so high when Roosevelt was working his plan to light up the farms. Public efforts to connect rural America face hurdles from giant telecommunications companies who fear any competition today or in the future. Lobbying at the state level is powerful.

We saw an example of that in the most recent General Assembly, where Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, sponsored a bill that would have crippled existing municipal broadband authorities (such as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority) and made it difficult for new ones to form.

Byron was inexplicably working against her own constituents’ interests. Forest averages 8.4 mbps, slower than Sri Lanka. Bedford averages 6.3 mbps, just barely faster than Peru. Byron’s ideology may be pure, but when it comes to a key part of modern infrastructure, her constituents are living under Third World conditions.

That ideological purity is also simply wrong. If telecoms could make money in these rural areas, they would. They can’t. So should we just let them wither and die?

Economic Development: More Than Tax Breaks

People who live in rural areas of the state know that economic development is the only thing that will keep their communities from disappearing. They also know that today’s businesses rely on high-quality connectivity to function and stay competitive:

Ultimately, any talk of rural economic development is fruitless if there’s no infrastructure to support modern businesses. Some — such as Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem — hope that President Trump’s much-ballyhooed infrastructure bill will include money for rural broadband. It’s unclear, though, whether such a bill will ever really happen. Still, Griffith’s support shows that this isn’t a left vs. right issue.

Not Waiting For D.C.

Editors at the Times don’t suggest waiting for rescue from Washington, D.C., although they don’t suggest turning down any assistance that may come from the new administration. They do something better - call on current candidates for governor to let voters know whether or not better rural connectivity is a priority.

Read the full editorial here.

Image of the countryside courtesy of pixaby and is in the public domain.

Tags: editorialroanoke valleyvirginialobbyingeconomic development

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 24

July 24, 2017

California

The race is on for better Internet service in some areas of the High Desert by Rene Ray De La Cruz, VVDailyPress.com

 

Colorado

Could Fort Collins run with the big dogs of Internet service? by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Muni could pave way to high-speed fiber broadband by Tim Schoechle, Boulder Daily Camera

Longmont's NextLight Internet service wins national award by Karen Antonacci, Boulder Daily Camera

 

Connecticut

Editorial: Hartford's homework gap by Hartford Courant Staff

 

Georgia

EMC: HEMC's growing business model includes fiber optics, broadband by Northeast Georgian Staff 4-Traders

 

Michigan

Broadband expansion in downtown Holland to be approved by city council by Sentinel Staff, Holland Sentinel

 

Missouri

New fiber-optics Internet service coming to Callaway by Jenny Gray, Jefferson City News Tribune

 

North Carolina

Macon pushes forward with broadband expansion by Jessi Stone, Smoky Mountain News

 

Virginia

Logan Tele named gig-capable provider by News Democrat & Leader Staff

As a Certified Gig-Capable Provider, Logan Telephone joins a national campaign to build awareness and industry recognition of community-based telecom providers that have built communications networks capable of delivering Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which is 100 times faster than those currently available in many U.S. households.

 

General

Country Connection: Rural residents ask FCC to improve Internet access by Benny Becker, Ohio Valley ReSource

As good and capable as Frontier’s employees may be, Mitchell said, “in our economic system, they have a responsibility to get a good return on their investments for their shareholders. And if we’re trying to solve connectivity for rural America, trying to get them to do it is the wrong approach.”

Mitchell hopes that more money will go toward local governments and cooperatives, who have more incentive to build long-term solutions, including fiber optic networks that have the speed, capacity, and durability to meet communities’ needs for decades to come.

Summit hopes to bring broadband to appalachia by Susan Tebben, WOUB Digital

A keynote speaker at the event will be Chris Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell said the summit is important so that people across the country can know what an important element broadband access plays in the growth of communities.

“You can really make a region totally undesirable for people to move into or remain in if they do not have access to modern technology,” Mitchell told WOUB.

The Internet ripoff you're not protesting by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

Major tech firms pressure FCC to stay the net neutrality course by David Jones, E-Commerce Times

The backlash against the FCC likely will result in some form of compromise legislation, suggested Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for more competition in rural areas.

Tags: media roundup

Co-ops And Counties Improving Indiana Connectivity

July 24, 2017

Like other states with significant rural populations, local communities in Indiana have been working to come up with ways to improve connectivity for residents and businesses. Two more areas in Indiana can expect better connectivity as county government invests for economic development and a rural electric co-op decides its time to offer Internet access to members.

Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation

In the south central section of the state, Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC) serves members in ten counties. Their members don’t live in areas in and around the larger towns in the region because most of those premises already had electric service when REMC obtained a federal loan to electrify the area in 1937. Their service area covers about 1,400 square miles and they serve 24,200 members.

In June, the cooperative announced that it had approved a five-year plan to provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to every member in its service area. In their press release, REMC compared the project to rural electrification, which launched the cooperative, and wrote: 

Several factors were taken into consideration: enhancing the quality of life for members, agricultural and agribusiness needs, providing an enhanced path for education and healthcare opportunities, keeping our communities economically viable, and developing a plan where no REMC member is eft out. All of these facts fall under Cooperative Principle #7: Concern for Community.

A Big Project

REMC will invest approximately $5.43 million for the project’s first phase; the entire project will cost $20 million in Jackson County alone. The investment for REMC’s entire service area will be $60 million. Co-op officials estimate the project will be cash positive in three years and will be completely paid for in 16 years.

In June, Jackson County Council unanimously approved a tax abatement for the cost of phase 1, which establishes the backbone for the system and snakes through most of the counties in REMC’s service area. Phase 1 will also include an opportunity to test the network by connecting approximately 990 members in order to work out problems before offering services to members across the entire network.

According to the local Crothersville Times, local realtors have expressed concern about the county’s lack of high-quality connectivity, said Executive Director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corporation Jim Plump.

“I would point out that Jackson County REMC serves customers in 10 counties in southern Indiana and the total investment in this project over the next five years will top $60 million throughout the service territory,” Plump said.

“Less than 6% of Jackson county REMC members have access to what the FCC defines as minimum download speeds,” he noted.

REMC plans to start phase 1 construction August 1st with completion date expected about one year later.

This past session, the State Legislature passed SB 478, which will help streamline the process as REMC deploys a FTTH network to members. The bill, also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, allows electric cooperatives to rely on existing easements for electric lines to use those easements for fiber infrastructure.

Meanwhile, In Elkhart County…

At the other end of the state local government officials are constructing a fiber optic network to spur economic development. Along Indiana’s north central border, Elkhart County (pop. 198,000) is wooing advanced manufacturing companies and trying to stay competitive:

“Depending on the company, there are a lot of businesses who have maybe looked at moving into this area, locating here, or building new facilities in the past that have passed over this area because the bandwidth that they want is not available,” said [Ryan] Coates. 

Coates is from Maplenet Wireless, a local provider that is working with Elkhart County to install a stretch of fiber for connecting businesses along County Road 6 where they hope to draw commercial investment. About 83,000 people in Elkhart County live in the northern area near the cities of Goshen and Elkhart but the fiber optic project is located on the county's rural southern border. The county will own the infrastructure.

Co-ops And Local Government Forging The Rural Path

As we’ve noted before, rural cooperatives and local government, such as municipalities and counties, are tired of waiting for big national telecommunications companies who don't seem interested in serving low denity areas. They understand that high-quality connectivity is now an essential service for business, education, government, and the quality of life that keeps families in their communities. Rather than watch rural towns dry up and disappear, local leaders and cooperative members are taking the initiative and making investments in Internet network infrastructure.

For more on rural connectivity and rural cooperatives, catch Christopher's keynote address at the recent Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit.

Image of the Shieldstown Covered Bridge in Jackson County, Indiana, by Chris Light (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: indianarural electric coopelkhart county inFTTHregionalcooperativerural

Considering Connectivity On The Coast: Lewes, Delaware

July 21, 2017

The small seaside community of Lewes, Delaware, is considering investing in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet network for connectivity to its 3,000 inhabitants.

Consideration

According to the Lewes Board of Public Works (BPW) General Manager Darrin Gordon, the city electric utility has a plan to connect to Fibertech Networks infrastructure, which reaches Lewes. Fibertech obtained a $1 million state grant in 2015 to expand its infrastructure in rural areas of Delaware.

BPW has been investigating the possibility of bringing high-quality Internet access to households and businesses for a while now. The BPW plan envisions a publicly owned network that connects to the Fibertech network and extends throughout Lewes that will be deployed in four phases. "The rolling deployment will help recover costs and help with funding the next phases," Gordon said. 

"We want to take it slow to ensure that whoever does take the service that it's the very best and everything we promised it was going to be," Gordon said. "We know that word of mouth around here can be the saving grace or the death knell."

BPW anticipates that the first phase could be finished as soon as four to five months from commencement and the second phase two months later. The first two phases will be aerial deployment with later phases consisting of underground plant.

The city is working with a consultant to estimate a final cost to make the investment and to determine what residents and businesses would pay for the service. BPW will survey customers to obtain a better idea of the amount of interest before moving forward.

Lewes, Delaware

Lewes describes itself as “the first town in the first state,” having started as a trading post by Dutch settlers in 1631. The community changed names and hands several times between the English and the Dutch; William Penn and gave it the name “Lewes” in 1682 and it’s kept the name ever since.

The town is a popular vacation and resort town for Washington D.C. residents. In addition to its location along the Atlantic, the town’s historic character draws tourists. It has a Fisherman’s Wharf and multiple museums.

Most of the community has access to DSL service through Verizon, while Comcast is available in some areas.

Tags: lewes dedelawareelectricutilityruraltourismnew englandconsiderationFTTH

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 262

July 20, 2017

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 262. Harold Feld and Christopher Mitchell discuss Microsoft's announcement on TV White Spaces and what it means for rural areas. Listen to this episode here.

Harold Feld: It's the openest public airwaves, because we actually let the public use it.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 262 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. TV White Spaces and White Space Technology has been in the news lately. Microsoft recently announced a plan to use White Spaces to bring high-speed internet access to rural areas across the country. This week, Harold Feld, from Public Knowledge, takes some time to talk with Christopher about the announcement and White Space Spectrum. Microsoft has raised a stir with their proposal, and Harold explains why. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this is a commercial-free podcast, but it isn't free to produce. Please take a minute to contribute at ILSR.org. If you're already a contributor, thank you for playing a part in keeping our podcast going. Now, here's Christopher with Harold Feld from Public Knowledge.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and I'm talking today with Harold Feld, the senior vice president for Public Knowledge. Welcome back to the show, Harold.

Harold Feld: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you've been working on for a very long time is something called TV White Spaces. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what they are?

Harold Feld: Yeah, so this is always very confusing, because like a lot of things, the name doesn't actually make any sense if you're not immersed in this. In wireless spectrum talk, white spaces are frequency bands that haven't been assigned to anyone, because they appear -- Usually, if you have a chart of how spectrum is allocated, who's doing what in which frequency bands. Something that has not been assigned to anybody appears in white, so engineers call that a white space. So, television needs a lot of these because television's very old technology. It uses very powerful transmitters, and the way it was developed was that to prevent interference from television stations interfering with each other, or radio stations interfering with each other, you had to have spaces between the channels. So, in every market, there are these empty television channels. In a lot of markets there are a lot of empty television channels, but there just isn't enough -- There aren't financial reasons to have lots and lots of channels in the less crowded areas, but even in places like New York City or Los Angeles, you have a lot of these empty channels called white spaces, and for a long time now, people have been pointing out that the technology for wireless has advanced to a point that you can let people use low-power devices in these unassigned TV channels, these TV White Spaces, and use them to do things like Wi-Fi, or other kinds of internet access services like Bluetooth or these other things. And because these frequencies are what we call low band, their physical characteristics make them very valuable and very useful, even at low-power. So, if you've ever set up Wi-Fi in your house, you'll notice that sometimes there's a wall or something, and you can't get through it, and you need to put another router on the other side. With TV White Spaces, the way this works, those frequencies will go through solid objects a lot more easily, and they travel further. So, it lets you set up these devices, sometimes they call this super Wi-Fi, so that you can use fewer routers to provide coverage. They can work in places where standard Wi-Fi frequencies don't work, so this has been a really important FCC proceeding for a while now.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is something that we've talked about, it's been deployed. Certainly we've actually with Don Means before, and the work that they're doing with the gigabit libraries project. So, this isn't anything particularly new. What does the Microsoft announcement that they're going to be working with local groups to deploy more of these white spaces networks, what does that mean?

Harold Feld: Every technology goes through a bunch of different phases. It starts to come out in the first generation technology. People get very excited about it, then you have the real world developments. People have to go back to the drawing board, tweak things. But then for a lot of technologies, there's a second act that when the pieces, as Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith said in his presentation on this, there's a moment when things gel and it's ready to roll out, and companies are ready to make a commitment. So, we had white spaces rules were finalized in a way that was useful in 2010, so that was about seven years ago. The first generation technology came out around 2012, 2013 when you've seen some first generation deployments in this, Don Means a couple of others. Those real world experiences got taken back to the drawing board. Microsoft has been doing it not just here in the United States, but in a lot of places outside of the United States as well, and their announcement says, "Okay, this is now ready to go big. We're ready to invest in it, you'll get the economies of scale." Think about the difference in cellular coverage from the early 90s to late 90s. We first started cell phones out in the late 80s. Big, brick things that were basically toys for rich people, and everyone was like, "Oh, that's crazy. Why would I ever want that? It's super expensive." But then the technology changed. We went from 1G to 2G, the second generation wireless technology, and suddenly the technology was better, the phones were lighter, and they became a lot of affordable for people. A lot more companies started getting into it, started building towers, and in just a few years in the 1990s, we went from almost nobody having a cellular and very few wireless networks being deployed, to lots of people having wireless phones, and national coverage built virtually overnight. That was the moment when things came together. When we look back now, with our 4G stuff, that was just so super primitive, but at the time, it was amazing and revolutionary to people, just how quickly mobile phones came to be deployed in the years between 1994 and 2000, whereas the technology had been approved all the way back in the mid-1980s, and nothing much happened until we got to the '94, '95. So, we're seeing the same thing here, and Microsoft's announcement is really the seed that brings it all together.

Christopher Mitchell: One of our mutual friends, Matt Rentenden, has been also using the TV White Spaces, and he was noting that it's pretty expensive to deploy. It's on the order of 800 to $1,000 per unit, and one of the things you were telling me is that we would expect that price to be dropping now with Microsoft's commitment.

Harold Feld: Right, exactly, because it's all about the economies of scale. Brad Smith, again, in his speech, held up an Adaptrum unit and said, "Right now this costs $800. By next year it's going to cost $200." So, that's a big drop. That's because when you have a company like Microsoft that comes in and says, "We're now betting on this technology for a whole bunch of different things, not just for rural broadband, but for precision farming, a whole bunch of internet of things type platforms," we're going to buy enough of these units to start driving the price down, and that's something that can have a really quick, dramatic effect. I mean, again, we saw this with cell phones, where the prices came down very dramatically. We saw this with laptop computers, which used to be $5,000 devices, and then now you can get them cheap. We saw this with Wi-Fi. Unlicensed spectrum, where Wi-Fi takes place, was approved by the FCC in the 1980s. It took them til 1999 for the IEEE standards body to approve what is the kind of core Wi-Fi standard, and the first year or two it was -- Those were pretty expensive gadgets, but then people started putting them in every laptop, and that kind of economy of scale drove the price down to be very cheap, so people started trying to networks with them, and now we expect to find Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere we're going.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the interesting things that's been a reaction is the broadcasters seem not just opposed to this, but really over the top in terms of making really outlandish claims about Microsoft being a bad actor, and this and that. Why are they so upset?

Harold Feld: Well, I mean, there are a couple of things here. One is the broadcasters have always been junkyard dogs in terms of defending what they see as their spectrum. Now, of course, it's the public airwaves. You don't own this stuff, and broadcasters in particular, who got this for free, are treating it like, "Hey, this is our backyard. Even the stuff we're not using is our backyard, and everybody keep out of it." And unfortunately, that's very typical of the way the broadcasters behave. This goes back a long, long way when the FCC was actually looking at opening up the rules back in the 1980s, as I said, for unlicensed technologies. The broadcasters were able to keep the FCC from opening up any kind of underlay in their frequency bands because we're special and you shouldn't do this, even though you're putting it in a lot of other places. But we're special, and don't mess with us. So, there's just a history there of them being all like this, but additionally, there's a financial thing. Broadcasters are actually going to the FCC right now, asking for free spectrum. They're saying, "Hey, we want to upgrade the digital television standard from what it is now," which is something called ATSC 1.0. They want to upgrade this to something that's called ATSC 3.0, and that technology would let them offer much more easily the same services that people are talking about, offering using the TV White Spaces, except they would be able to charge people for them rather than have people just do them themselves. So, they are trying to keep competitors out, while they push the FCC to give them freebies. There's a delightful irony here of the head of the National Association of Broadcasters getting out there and saying, "It's true. We got our spectrum for free. We're right now asking the FCC to upgrade our spectrum access for free. We want to be able to use these white spaces ourselves for free, but Microsoft is bad because they could have bought stuff at auctions and didn't." And again, the thing that's most frustrating to me as somebody who doesn't have a product is TV White Spaces is unlicensed open spectrum. It's like Wi-Fi; nobody owns Wi-Fi. It's not like open this up, that was like a giveaway to Sysco or Broadcom, or anybody who makes the Wi-Fi routers and sells the equipment. No, it's anybody can use it. It's the openest public airwaves, because we actually let the public use it, and only in Washington DC could opening up the public airwaves to the public be called a giveaway by a lobbying organization.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to say, it strikes me as saying that public parks are a giveaway to the frisbee industry.

Harold Feld: Right, exactly. Or, in the copyright world, it's like saying public domain is a giveaway because it somehow doesn't let Disney own Mickey Mouse forever.

Christopher Mitchell: The last thing I wanted to make sure we covered was just what we can expect from this technology, because the term super Wi-Fi, I think, might lead people to believe that it's super in terms of being insanely fast, where I don't think it's as fast as Wi-Fi even is today. The super part is that it's much more capable of going through obstacles. So, what kind of speeds might we expect from this equipment?

Harold Feld: Yeah, I mean, look -- And again, it's important to recognize that TV White Space isn't so much a technology as a bunch of frequencies we're opening up so that people can develop new technologies. Right now, and again, it's important to keep in mind there's a difference between speeds you get in the laboratory, versus speeds that you can actually get in the real world. Right now, I think what they're talking about is putting out networks that would operate at 45 megabits per second, symmetrical both ways, which, in a lot of rural areas, is much better than what you now. Even for a lot of folks in urban areas, if you do it cheaply and affordably, that's better than the options that are available at much higher prices from the cable companies. The problem is wireless is very complicated, and we're talking about devices that are operating at comparatively very low power. Television stations operate at 50,000 watts. Your TV White Space device is operating at one watt for the fixed devices, even less than that in microwatts for the more mobile devices when those come out. So, the other thing that people have to keep in mind is your speed or your broadband network isn't just about the wireless part, it also then depends a lot on the back haul, what's available. If you're using wireless to bring it back to some place where it will land on fiber for back haul, then every hop cost to you moves from one tower to another, costs you more speed. So, we're probably talking initially things that are more in the range of 10 megabits per second down with potentially the same or slightly less up. So, initially, this is going to be good for people who don't really have anything, and it will give them stuff that's useful, but not up to where it needs to be. Now, again, the technology's going to keep getting better as it moves along, and the Microsoft folks have said, "We're depending on a bunch of other inputs; we're depending on the FCC doing things to make it possible to use the spectrum more effectively; we're depending on finding ways to do things like getting fiber out, not in the communities to serve the communities, at least close enough that we can use it as back haul for the networks that are set up with these TV White Space devices." So, everybody should keep in mind -- Listeners should keep in mind that we're at the beginning here. In rural areas, you have a lot of open TV White Spaces, because you have a lot of unused channels. That gives you a lot of capacity so you can get better speed on the wireless side, but that's offset by having, in a lot of places, still needing to use copper, or some kind of wireless for you back haul. So, that drops the parent speed. I would say look for this to be more like eight to ten megabits locally, at least in the first generation deployments.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you for that. I want to thank you for your -- All the information you've given us, the advocacy you've done, and also recommend that if people aren't reading your Tales From the Sausage Factory, it's both entertaining and informative, so thanks for that as well.

Harold Feld: Thank you very much. Always a pleasure.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Harold Feld from Public Knowledge, talking with Christopher about different white spaces and a recent commitment from Microsoft to work with ISPs in order to bring connectivity to rural areas using white space technology. Check out our stories on white spaces at MuniNetworks.org, including information on several library projects. Also, if you go to publicknowledge.org and investigate their information on spectrum reform, you'll find more. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power, and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to Episode 262 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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