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Arlington Dark Fiber Network at Crossroads, ARLnow Reports

February 28, 2019

When Arlington County, Virginia, decided to deploy dark fiber and make it available to businesses in 2015, officials dreamed of economic development, tech innovation, and competition in the broadband market. Four years and approximately $4 million later, the fiber network has fallen short of those lofty goals and instead lies in the ground mostly unused.

A recent investigation by the local news outlet ARLnow explores the reasons why Arlington’s network has failed to live up to expectations; ARLnow’s article takes a nuanced look into the project’s specific shortcomings. In particular, the article points to certain choices that Arlington made when designing the network and lease contract, presenting an opportunity to learn from the county’s mistakes and offering hope for the network’s future.

What Went Wrong

Arlington conceived of the 10-mile dark fiber network as an extension of the county’s existing network, ConnectArlington, which already serves schools, traffic lights, and other government buildings. County officials believed the dark fiber expansion, which businesses and Internet service providers (ISPs) could lease access to, would promote economic growth. “At the time,” ARLnow explains, “county leaders championed the construction of the ‘dark fiber’ network as a transformative step for Arlington.” One former official even described the dark fiber as a “competitive advantage over other jurisdictions.”

Unfortunately, county leaders’ “build it and they will come” attitude has not bred success, and the network is drastically underutilized at present. This failure was not inevitable, the article says, but rather “Arlington officials made a series of decisions in designing the program that scared off any businesses interested in leasing the fiber.” ARLnow quotes a member of the Broadband Advisory Committee assembled by the Arlington County Manager:

“‘They have this huge amount of fiber in the ground, and not a single strand of it has been leased,’ said Chris Rozycki, a member of the Broadband Advisory Committee that studied ConnectArlington [and CEO of Potomac Fiber]. ‘It’s like they’ve built an interstate, with no on-ramps or off-ramps.’”

Based off the work of the committee, the article identifies several reasons why ConnectArlington’s dark fiber expansion has failed to result in the economic development that officials were hoping for. One main reason is the design of middle-mile dark fiber network, which is unlit and doesn’t connect to individual buildings, making it difficult for Internet access providers and other companies to tap into the network.

Another factor is the county’s long and complicated leasing contract. ARLnow describes the document as “full of legal jargon and complex provisions — a copy of the agreement provided to ARLnow clocks in at 72 pages long — which worried some prospective customers.” Certain contract provisions also concerned potential lessees. ARLnow notes:

“The agreement also allows the county to boot ISPs off the network with just one year’s worth of notice, complicating any efforts by an ISP to sign customers to long-term deals. Rozycki said the terms of the agreement pushes so much risk on to his company that his investors threatened a revolt when he tried to sign a deal with Arlington.”

Arlington officials also identify Virginia state law, which places onerous restrictions on publicly-owned broadband networks, and other legal obligations that the county has as complicating factors, reports ARLnow.

Turning the Network Around

Although Arlington’s network has floundered since its construction four years ago, the many other publicly-owned dark fiber networks around the country prove that these kinds of projects can succeed if designed well. For example, the dark fiber network in Huntsville, Alabama, has attracted Google Fiber to the city, bringing better connectivity to residents and businesses. In California, the city of Pasadena leases dark fiber to large institutions, including local universities and a NASA laboratory, resulting in an annual revenue of nearly $500,000.

In a report, the Broadband Advisory Committee made recommendations to Arlington County on how to better use its dark fiber. ARLnow summarizes some of the suggestions:

“For its part, the committee urged the county in its report to remove the ‘poison pills’ and ‘contract traps’ in the agreement that scared away companies like Rozycki’s. The group also urged the county to rewrite the agreement ‘in plain English,’ offer longer lease terms and provide ‘adequate remedies other than contract termination’ should problems arise with the network . . . The group hopes to see the county build new laterals, offer grants to companies hoping to do the same and advertise incentives to ISPs looking to enter the market.”

The ARLnow article ends with a few quotes that point towards a potentially bright future for ConnectArlington:

“‘Getting rid of it at this point, I think, is a mistake,’ [Arlington County CIO Jack] Belcher said. ‘We have the opportunity to leverage it in so many ways as a county.’ For all their criticism, committee members agree. [Executive Director of Next Century Cities Deb] Socia says she applauds the county’s ‘willingness to look for ways to more fully utilize’ the network, instead of simply giving up . . . ‘They have the makings of something really interesting there,’ Rozycki said. ‘They just need the right people and partners to make it work.’”

Listen to Christopher and Jack Belcher discuss plans for Connect Arlington in 2014 in episode 97 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast:

Tags: arlingtonvirginadark fiber

Baby Step Toward Better Broadband in Arkansas

February 27, 2019

Earlier this month, we learned about a Senate bill in the Arkansas State Legislature that, in it’s original form, would have rescinded state restrictions preventing many municipalities from improving local connectivity. After amendments, SB 150 lost most of its effectiveness, but the bill that became law this week is still a small step in the right direction for a state where the rate of broadband connectivity is some of the lowest in the country.

Beginning Promise

For years, Arkansas has been one of the states that doesn’t allow government entities from providing broadband services to the public. The ban specifically disallowed “directly or indirectly, basic local exchange, voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunication service.” There has always been an exception to the ban for communities that have their own electric or cable utilities and want to offer telecommunications services. No municipality may offer basic exchange service, interpreted as telephone service.

Only a few communities have taken advantage of the legal exception, such as Paragould, Clarksville, and Conway. In recent years, electric cooperatives are deploying in rural areas, but many of the state’s rural residents rely on DSL, fixed wireless, and satellite. In the few more populous communities, there may also be scattered cable connections available. 

Even though large incumbent ISPs have collected federal grant funding in the past, deployment in Arkansas has been inadequate to connect all Arkansans. According to the FCC, connectivity to households is near the bottom of the list.

SB 150 is one of several bills introduced by the Republican Woman’s Legislative Caucus as part of their “Dream Big” initiative. Other bills in the initiative addressed issues such as juvenile justice and education. When we spoke with its primary sponsor, Senator Breanne Davis about SB 150, she said that one of the bill’s main purposes was to get the attention of those incumbents that have done little to bring high-quality Internet access to her constituents and the people of Arkansas despite accepting federal subsidies.

SB 150 as introduced did get everyone’s attention, including advocates for publicly owned broadband infrastructure. The bill’s direct language eliminated the ban on all the services that municipalities aren’t able to offer except local exchange services. SB 150 granted permission for government entities, without exception, to invest in broadband infrastructure and offer the previously banned services directly or through public-private partnerships. The presence of a municipal electric utility, according to the language of SB 150 as introduced, was no longer necessary.

Along with other broadband policy researchers and advocates, we immediately wondered if Arkansas was ready to take a giant step toward rural broadband deployment. As it turned out, they were more inclined to baby steps.

When the bill was introduced, Senator Davis discussed the importance of allowing communities to invest in broadband infrastructure on their own or with private sector partners when incumbents didn’t get the job done. The language of the original version of the bill supported a lift of the ban with no strings attached.

In this interview, she talks for a few minutes to summarize the bill:

The bill received favorable press and, with more than a dozen Republican women Senators, many from rural areas, supporting it, SB 150 picked up steam early in the legislative process. Senators quickly adopted amendments in committee that significantly diluted the potency of the bill. We asked Senator Davis about the amendments and she said "that there are some fights that we're not ready to take on."

The amended SB 150 reinstates the ban that would have been lifted to allow most municipalities and other local government entities to help deploy broadband across the state. Now, communities are only able to deploy in unserved areas and only if they apply for and received grant funding.

The amended language, added early in the process reads:

(5)(A) A government entity may enter into a public-private partnership with private providers to make voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunications services available to the public. 

(B) After reasonable notice to the public, a government entity may, on its own or in partnership with a private entity, apply for funding under a program for grants or loans to be used for the construction, acquisition, or leasing of facilities, land, or buildings used to deploy broadband service in unserved areas, as defined under the terms of the granting or lending program, and if the funding is awarded, then provide, directly or indirectly, voice, data, broadband, video, or wireless telecommunications services to the public in the unserved areas.

Attorney Jim Baller, who knows municipal telecom law better than anyone, provided more insight into the potential consequences of the bill. In addition to severely restricting the removal of the ban, the change in the bill also limits local governments to criteria in grants for which local communities apply. If a community had service in only a few locations that met the FCC's definition of broadband (25 Mbps / 3 Mbps), they likely would not be able to develop a gigabit, community-wide fiber network. The goals outlined in the bill's legislative intent are too lofty to be achieved with other technologies.

Many grants don't provide enough funding to cover the full cost of deployment, particularly in unserved areas. If the costs not covered by a grant cannot be supplemented with revenue from areas considered served, the promise of deployment in unserved areas dwindles.

The amended bill moved quickly through both Senate and House, passing unanimously in both chambers. Davis had added added an emergency clause in order to allow local communities to apply for state and federal grants that are available now. Such strong support from both parties reveals that the understanding that broadband deployment in rural areas is a critical issue crosses party lines.

Governor Asa Hutchinson received the bill on February 20th and it became law as Act 198 on February 26th.

Mixed Blessings

What began as a giant leap devolved into a baby step, but it’s still a move forward. In places such as Arkansas, where state legislatures have had restrictions or bans in place for several years, it’s bound to be a long process to reverse harmful laws to reinstate local telecommunications authority. Christopher told Craig Settles for a Daily Yonder article:

Despite the setback in the state Senate, we are excited to see this leadership from a state that increasingly recognizes the benefits of local networks rather than shipping their wealth to Dallas and the East Coast. For too many years, the big cable and telephone companies have limited local Internet choice but this bill is a first step to improving Internet access for everyone.

Baller has decades of experience working with municipalities on telecom issues. He was disappointed, but provided some advice for Arkansas lawmakers:

In its legislative findings, SB 150 notes that Arkansas ranks second from the bottom of the nation in access to advanced communications capabilities and to the many economic, educational, health care, and other benefits that such access would foster.  

The version of SB 150 that the Arkansas Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus introduced would have freed municipalities to do their part to overcome this problem, either through their own efforts or through public-private partnerships. The more modest version that [has now become law] is a step forward, but it is unlikely to be nearly as effective. If that turns out to be the case, the Republican Women’s version may point the way to a better solution.

Compare the original version of SB 150 with the final version as codified in law.

Image of the Arkansas State Senate by Cliffderivative work: Jack Cox at en.wikipedia [CC BY 2.0]

SB 150 Prior to Amendments SB 150 After Amendments and Passed by the State LegislatureTags: Arkansaslegislationsb 150 argrantsruralstate lawsbarrierjim ballermuni

D.C. Screening and Discussion Rescheduled: "Do Not Pass Go" on March 26th

February 26, 2019

Winter has not been kind this year. In addition to interrupting our kids’ learning with numerous snow days, stranding the Minnesota office in our homes due to dangerously cold weather, and interrupting our typically prolific workflow with day after day of shoveling, minor ice related traffic accidents, and sick kids, there’s one other unforgivable offense that rests square on the shoulders of Mother Nature: the cancellation of the D.C. screening of Do Not Pass Go. An impending winter storm forced the cancellation of the event, which was scheduled for February 20th. The organizers are ready to try again, however, and the new event date is March 26th, 2019, 5 - 7 p.m. The venue will be the same — the offices of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties at 660 North Capitol Street NW.

Register for the free screening and the discussion.

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), will lead the discussion about the film and the policies that influence the events of the film and the people living in Pinetops, North Carolina. 

Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback, tells the story of Pinetops, where the community finally obtained high-quality Internet access when their neighbor, Wilson, connected Pinetops to Greenlight. The Greenlight community fiber optic network later had to disconnect Pinetops, however, when the state chose to protect incumbents from competition. Hoback’s film tells the Pinetops story and examines how lack of competition has negatively impacted rural communities.

After the screening, the group will discuss regulatory and legislative barriers, and actions that local and federal government can adopt to help communities that consider municipal networks an option.

The panel will include:

  • Christopher Mitchell from ILSR
  • Terry Huval: Former Director, Lafayette Utilities System, Lafayette, LA
  • Suzanne Coker Craig: Managing Director, CuriosiTees of Pinetops LLC; former Commissioner, Pinetops, NC

After the panel discussion, stick around for the Networking Reception to continue the conversation and share experiences.

With any luck, we’ll have Mother Nature on our side and her calmest spring weather.

Register now for the free screening, panel discussion, and reception.

Watch the trailer:

Tags: pinetopswilsonnorth carolinanational league of citiescoalition for local internet choicenext century citiesinstitute for local self-reliancechristopher mitchellFTTHstate lawsevent

Small Town, Big Connections With Marshall FiberNet - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 345

February 26, 2019

This week, Marshall FiberNet’s Customer Service and Marketing Manager Jessica Slusarski talks to Christopher about the town’s investment in their community broadband network. Quiet and quaint Marshall, Michigan, didn’t expect to become one of the state’s communities with the best Internet access, but here we are. Like many other small towns where big incumbent providers didn’t want to make infrastructure investments, most of Marshall was stuck with DSL and some premises were still using dial-up connections. Their solution was clear — build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Jessica and Chris discuss how the idea became a reality and what were some of the services that the city decided they wanted to include for subscribers, based on the needs of residents and businesses. They also discuss how, even though Michigan requires local communities to reach out to the private sector first, a lack of responses allowed the town to move forward. Jessica describes the favorable response from users and how subscribers are taking advantage of better Internet access than they’ve ever experienced.

We also learn about nuts and bolts, including what it took to get the network deployed, how the city administrates the utility, and what’s next. You can learn more details by reading our coverage of Marshall’s FiberNet.

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

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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

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

Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitsmarshall mimichiganFTTHmuniruraldsldial-upgigabit

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 345

February 26, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 345 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher talks to Jessica Slusarski from Marshall FiberNet about the Michigan town's new Fiber-to-the-Premise network. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Jessica Slusarski: Nobody else wanted to build that. Nobody else wanted to be involved with something where there's no way to lock in the customers and make sure that it was a worthwhile investment. But we knew it would be, so we went through with it ourselves.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 345 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When large corporate incumbent Internet service providers weren't interested in providing the quality of services Marshall, Michigan, wanted and needed, community leaders decided to do something about it. The small town in the south central part of the state deployed their own gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home network. Now businesses and residents are signing up, and local government offices are saving money while also getting faster, more reliable connectivity. In this week's podcast, Christopher talks with Jessica Slusarski from Marshall FiberNet. They talk about the why, the when, and the how behind this project that has transformed Internet access in one small midwestern town. Learn more details about the deployment at muninetworks.org, where we dived deeper into the project, and at marshallfibernet.com, where you can see what services they offer. Let's get to the interview. Now here's Christopher and Jessica Slusarski from Michigan's Marshall FiberNet.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, today speaking to another Upper Midwest denizen, Jessica Slusarski with FiberNet in Marshall, Michigan. And Jessica, you are the customer service and marketing manager in case you forgot. Welcome to the show.

Jessica Slusarski: Well, thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about Marshall, Michigan, which I have to say, every time my fingers start to type "Marshall, Mi-" I immediately type "Marshall, Minnesota." So tell me about Marshall, Michigan.

Jessica Slusarski: Well, we're a small little community, about 7,088 — [as of the] last census — residents. We're a historic little community, and it's a nice, quiet little town.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I know you're not far from Battle Creek because, just through the randomness of the modern world, one of my colleagues here, her parents recently moved to Marshall and are customers of the fiber network.

Jessica Slusarski: Oh, excellent. Yes. Yeah, we are not far from Battle Creek at all. It's about a 12 minute drive.

Christopher Mitchell: Tell me a little bit about what connectivity was like in Marshall prior to you building the fiber optic network.

Jessica Slusarski: Oh, it's about the same as it was 10 years ago, probably about an average of 2-12 Megabits per second. In a couple cases we can get up to 100 Megabits per second, but those cases are few and far between and very expensive.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm presuming you have cable from a private company as well as DSL. Is that accurate?

Jessica Slusarski: WOW and AT&T, they provide cable.

Christopher Mitchell: A private citizen in your community does have choices, but you still don't have very high capacity speeds prior to your investment.

Jessica Slusarski: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: So you decided to do what about that?

Jessica Slusarski: We decided to build our own network.

Christopher Mitchell: So what went into that decision?

Jessica Slusarski: Well, we had a lot of complaints and a lot of vocalization about how slow the Internet was in town, so city council kind of went about making sure that we were able to make that a little bit better. The director of FiberNet, Ed Rice, he knew about fiber optics; he's pretty well versed in telecom and electric. And he heard that doing Fiber-to-the-Premise was an excellent idea, and he asked for it and we got it.

Christopher Mitchell: And now, when you decided to move forward, one of the interesting things is that you are a municipal electric provider already, but it sounds like you didn't structure this in the way that many municipalities have in terms of it being a municipal fiber division underneath the electric division.

Jessica Slusarski: No, nope. We are our own department.

Christopher Mitchell: So then you report directly to the city council then or your board basically?

Jessica Slusarski: Pretty much, yeah. We do have a director and he's the same. It's Ed Rice, the director of utilities as well.

Christopher Mitchell: So tell me about your goals. One of the things that I saw is that you aim to have simple pricing, and I'm curious what that means to you.

Jessica Slusarski: We basically want to remain cost neutral. We want to be a service for our community, not necessarily a for-profit entity, so all of our pricing is transparent. We have a $50 deposit instead of a monthly fee for the equipment, so if they ever want to cancel service, they can bring back their equipment and get their $50 back. And our residential rates are as is stated on the website, starting at $40 a month to $200 a month, depending on what they want.

Christopher Mitchell: So if I sign up for 150 Megabits — I'm assuming that's symmetrical —

Jessica Slusarski: Yes, absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: — at $60 a month, then each month I'm gonna pay you $60?

Jessica Slusarski: Yup.

Christopher Mitchell: That's revolutionary.

Jessica Slusarski: Yeah, $60 a month, that's it, 150 Megabits per second.

Christopher Mitchell: I was talking to a friend who runs a private network, who gets a kick every time I reference US Internet here in Minneapolis, and I think he said once something about how, you know, we've got these, like, calculators and things; we can figure out how to charge people the amount — you know, we know ahead of time what we're going to charge them and we can advertise that rate.

Jessica Slusarski: Yeah. We just want it to be as simple as possible, make it as easy and transparent as we could.

Christopher Mitchell: So how did you end up financing the network then? Because you know, you mentioned that you're not seeking a profit, but I'm assuming that the network is — you did say it was expected to break even. And so, you know, that's one of the challenges of running these networks of course. How did you end up financing it?

Jessica Slusarski: We started financing it through loans from the electric department and the local finance district. We got loans from both of those to finance the project and we expect to break even in about five years.

Christopher Mitchell: And so you have internal loans and then you're also basically doing what's a Michigan version of tax increment financing, it looks like, including some revenue bonds that will be paid back presumably by some of that. So when did you launch?

Jessica Slusarski: We officially launched February of last year.

Christopher Mitchell: Happy Birthday.

Jessica Slusarski: Why thank you. It is about that time, isn't it? Wow. Yeah, it is. It's been about a year. We've been officially for the most part done with construction and everything since October/November last year, so we whipped through construction pretty fast. And there's a little bit more to go and we had to halt on that because of the weather, which here in Michigan is a little buried right now.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I understand that you've been having alternate cycles — I mean, up in Minnesota we've just had snow, snow, snow, but I understand you've been melting, ice storm, snow storm, melting, ice storm, snow storm. It sounds like it's been challenging.

Jessica Slusarski: Yes. It's been very snowy, and then as soon as that snow melts, it is mud and it is muck. And we really had to kind of take a breather on some of the construction because we're doing most of the plowing by ourselves. We do have a little plow that we do some of the underground work with, at least for as far as installing homes, and if we use that now we will destroy everybody's lawns.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure, and at the same time, you already have more than 20% connectivity. In one year, 20% connectivity is terrific.

Jessica Slusarski: Yeah, we are actually about — I think as of today, we have 840 customers, and there's a total of 4,000 and some odd customers available, at least residences and businesses. Yeah, we are getting there.

Christopher Mitchell: And one of the things that I know that Lisa had reported on previously in her story was that you were looking at a 38% take rate, but you have expectations of exceeding that, not just breaking even, but you know, having many more customers than you would need just to break even.

Jessica Slusarski: Yeah, since we already have 840 odd customers, we expect break through that. Most of the businesses and residences that are not connected are either waiting for us to get there. We do have some construction to do for the apartment buildings still in town, so those are expected to be completed by summer, as long as we do get permission from the building owners to create an entirely new infrastructure within their walls. Probably our biggest setback there is waiting for permissions from the apartment buildings. That'll bring in a lot of new customers. And then, just the fact that the contracts that the other providers in the area offer are so expensive to get out of. We do understand that it might be more worthwhile for them to just wait it out, especially when it's $300-$400 to get out of a contract just for a resident.

Christopher Mitchell: Have you seen any competitive response since you've been moving forward? Any upgrades from the providers that were already offering service?

Jessica Slusarski: No upgrades. I'm pretty sure that they're running at full capacity. Their speeds are not going to get any better. They do have fiber out here, but it's not Fiber-to-the-Premise. They're not going to be able to offer the same kind of speeds that we offer. The problem is that they're doing a lot heavier advertising, and we're trying to keep our prices low and as community friendly as we can, so we don't exactly have a big budget for that. And then, they are also able to significantly lower their prices and offer the triple play with phone and television, but those are both going by the wayside, so we don't expect that to hold up for long.

Christopher Mitchell: Do you have a sense that, offering straight up data, do you have a sense that many of your customers are then using other products? Like, are you encouraging them, to say, if anyone comes to you and says, "How do I get TV service?" and you say you could use X service or something like that?

Jessica Slusarski: Absolutely. Pretty much everybody working in the fiber department is a millennial and we all love Netflix and Hulu. And those are what we use, so we have no problem offering our own personal advice, which is another thing not the residents really appreciate is that we're not out to sell extra services. We just kind of give our recommendations off of what we personally like, and we're able to talk to them about those with no real bias because we're not making anything off of it. We just like it.

Christopher Mitchell: What kind of a reaction have you had from the community? You know, people going from a few Megabits a second to some dramatically better speeds — is there anything memorable?

Jessica Slusarski: We have had a couple of YouTubers and a lot of gamers — a lot of gamers — who appreciate it so much. We had a couple photographers who mentioned that their upload times are insane now. Same with the YouTubers. Lisa did mention in the article Sam Rodriguez, who I went to school with. He was working with 48 hour upload times for his YouTube podcasts, Twitch streams and now he can do it in minutes. And he's loving it; I know that. And then we do have a couple other YouTubers in town that are for-profit YouTube creators, and they're really happy with the service.

Christopher Mitchell: And I have to assume that just outside of town, probably, there's also a lack of high quality access. Are you seeing people thinking about moving into town? Are they demanding that you figure out how to expand after you've finished connecting everyone in town?

Jessica Slusarski: Yes. We do get a lot of requests to come out into the townships. And when people find out that we're not in the townships who are moving out into the townships, they are crushed, but they have to go. Because I'm pretty sure that the fastest that you can get in the townships is 2 to 12 Megabits per second. I don't think WOW is out there. I think it's just AT&T and they're, ooh, not very fast out here.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, and we don't expect them to be making any investments either. I mean, they're really trying to focus on their mobile service. So have you thought at all — I mean, is that something that's under consideration? Are you just focused on the present and not worrying about what comes next until you get there?

Jessica Slusarski: Oh, no, we've definitely been thinking about expanding out into the townships for a long time, but due to the restrictions in Michigan for expansion, we've been having a little bit of difficulty in getting out there. In order to get us out there, it's kind of up to the townships and not necessarily up to us in being able to do that.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, before you could build of course you had to make a bid available, per Michigan law. When you made that bid available, did you have a sense of whether anyone would bid? Because just to reflect for people who aren't aware, you have to make a bid available and only if you don't have three competitive bids, are you allowed to move forward, if I remember correctly.

Jessica Slusarski: Yup, that's correct. We didn't have any bids actually, so we were allowed to make our own. We didn't know what to expect. We knew that it would probably be low because were pretty much demanding that there were no contracts, transparent fees, and nobody else wanted to build that. Nobody else wanted to be involved with something where there's no way to lock in the customers and make sure that it was a worthwhile investment, but we knew it would be so we went through with it ourselves.

Christopher Mitchell: There are further restrictions for you to be able to expand it where everywhere you go they also have to go through that kind of rigamarole.

Jessica Slusarski: Yes. Yup, so that includes the townships too. They would have to put out the same process. They would have to have the same meetings, put out their own CBA (cost benefit analysis). They would have to do the exact same process that we did, but then we'd be able to bid on that — same with the competitors, but I don't think they would want to put in that much effort for that for such small areas

Christopher Mitchell: Relating to customer service, my last question to you, which is your domain — you know, operating a small network, I got to think it's pretty challenging to figure out how to staff up when you're so rapidly growing the customer base. What are some of the tensions involved with creating a new ISP that's municipally owned and making sure you're able to handle the calls you get and things like that?

Jessica Slusarski: Woo. Yeah, we were down to just two people in the office for awhile and that was tough. We'd pretty much sit in the office all day and hammer out those phone calls, but we do have a call center now. It's actually through Coldwater, which is a town just south of us. They have their own — I think it's a DSL network and —

Christopher Mitchell: I thought it was municipal cable, but it's definitely —

Jessica Slusarski: Yes, they have their own cable, and they have a call center for that and for Internet. And they were able to take us on for after hours, so the three of us office personnel could go home and sleep at some point.

Christopher Mitchell: [laughs]

Jessica Slusarski: But it's actually been really great because we are Fiber-to-the-Premise. There's not a whole lot of outages. We have a lot of redundancy where we don't have a whole lot of technical calls, and a lot of them are just people wanting to know before they commit what it is and what they can do to get television and all that stuff. We do have a really high senior population, so changing from cable, which, you know, we've all been used to for the last 20-30 years into Netflix and streaming television has been a huge jump for a lot of people. But we are more than happy to explain, and we will even come out to your house and help you set it up. So we've been really happy with being able to go out there, and we feel like being a bigger part of the community is more important than, you know, anything. We want to be very customer service oriented no matter what your needs are, and we've been really focused on customer education as well. If anybody is having an issue with their Internet or connecting their printer or anything, we're able to help with that too. So we're not just going to hang up on you if we know it's not an issue on our end; we'll come out and make sure that our services are working for you as well.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's one of the biggest benefits that a network like yours can offer. And you know, even me as a very technical person, there are times when I'm just tired of learning the new thing, you know, so it's great knowing you can get some help.

Jessica Slusarski: Yeah, and it's pretty funny because I was having some issues at my house hooking up — it was actually my printer; it's always a printer. And I was looking up how to fix it, and it was like, contact your ISP. And I was like, oh, okay, let me just call myself real quick. But you know, it's usually an issue with the device and it's really easy just to go over. It's a lot easier to go and help somebody than it is to, you know, tell them no, we can't do anything about it, and it's a lot better. And a lot of customers have been really appreciative of that, and we love it.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I bet. How many of the people that are calling is their first question about TV, whether or not they'll be able to watch University of Michigan sporting events?

Jessica Slusarski: Probably about a third.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I thought it might even be higher.

Jessica Slusarski: Yeah. Yup, at least a third. A lot of people are really concerned about — you know, we have a lot of people working from home, so they want to be able to utilize their actual Internet service instead of getting cut off. There's a lot of outages with the other competitors, which was a huge problem and why we wanted to do Fiber-to-the-Premise. But yeah, a lot of people want to know how to watch the Big 10 Network, especially.

Christopher Mitchell: The other question I forgot to ask earlier was, how do you get out of Marshall? Was there a network you could just hook into and lease? How did you handle that problem to get to the wider internet?

Jessica Slusarski: Oh, we went through Merit, and we're looking into another outside connection for a fail over option, possibly even a third connection. There's a lot of different ways that you can get out there. I know Cogent is a huge ISP for ISPs. There's quite a few but we went through Merit Networks to start off with, and they supply basically from Detroit to Chicago a lot of institutions, a lot of colleges. So it's a really solid network and we've been really happy with them.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well thanks for taking the time. When we first learned about you, we were desperate to find out more because we try to track these things. You guys kind of flew under the radar until you popped up and were already connecting customers. So I'm really glad you made some time for us to talk, to get an update and look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

Jessica Slusarski: Yeah, thanks so much. It was great talking to you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Jessica Slusarski, from Marshall's FiberNet in Michigan, discussing the town's municipal gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home network. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on important research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Follow us on Instagram. We are ilsr74. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 345 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 25

February 25, 2019

California

The 4th utility: How Ventura County is working to increase broadband by Arlene Martinez, Ventura County Star

 

Iowa

Community-owned utilities provide reliable, affordable broadband service by Josh Byrnes, Des Moines Register

 

Kentucky

Google Fiber leaving Louisville by Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs

To stay competitive, Kentucky utility doubles Internet speed by Austin Ramsey, Messenger-Inquirer 

 

Massachusetts 

Northampton eyes municipal broadband network by Bera Dunau, Daily Hampshire

“We don’t want to be the last Western Mass town to have the benefits of a high-speed municipally controlled network,” said Feldscher.

 

Michigan

Making broadband work in Marshall, Michigan by Lisa Gonzalez, CitiesSpeak 

 

North Carolina

Let’s Connect’ seeks better broadband for rural NC by Katie Kienbaum, News & Observer  

Grant to help expand telehealth opportunities in WNC, The Dispatch 

 

General 

Digital distress: What is it and who does it affect? Part 2. by Roberto Gallardo and Cheyanne Geideman, Medium

FCC says gutting ISP oversight was great for broadband by Karl Bode, Motherboard

Ajit Pai says broadband access is soaring—and that he’s the one to thank by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

"I beg to differ," Rosenworcel wrote on Twitter. "Millions of households—in rural and urban communities—have no access to high-speed service. That's a fact."

Senate bill would create rural broadband office at FCC by Benjamin Freed, StateScoop

Broadband, bluegrass and beer: How rural communities are getting innovative with broadband applications by Drew Clark, Broadband Breakfast

“So we got together and decided to just do it ourselves,” Irvine said. “We didn’t want to wait.”  

Mayors or the FCC: Who understands the broadband needs of metropolitan residents? by Blair Levin, Brookings 

 

Tags: media roundup

Local Leaders Looking at Muni Possibilities in Northampton, Massachusetts

February 25, 2019

In May 2018, Mark Hamill and Lee Feldscher penned an opinion piece that ran in the Northampton Daily Hampshire Gazette. In their article, they laid out all the reasons why they believed their city needs a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Nine months later, city leaders have approved funding for the first of a two-part feasibility study.

Comcast, the City Council, and Community Input

As the Hampshire County seat and home to about 26,000 people, Northampton, Massachusetts, has attracted Comcast as an Internet service provider. The presence of a cable Internet ISP means better connectivity than in most rural areas, but it also has evolved into lack of competition. As is often the result, residents experience poor customer service and are hungry for local Internet choice.

At a February 21st City Council meeting, Hamill and Feldscher spoke in favor of the feasibility study. They also presented a petition created by their grassroots group, Northampton Community Network, filled with hundreds of signatures. 

Feldscher presented the signatures to the mayor at the meeting.

“The unanimous response we received from people was, “Sure, I hate Comcast, where can I sign?” Feldscher said.

At the February 21st meeting, City Council approved funding to survey residents in Northampton to learn more about the potential of a municipal network. The funding, estimated at around $30,000 will come from the city’s Capital Improvement Program. The city will survey the community in 2020 and complete the feasibility study in 2021. Completing the study will cost approximately $40,000.

Feldscher and Hamill weren’t the only Northampton residents to support the resolution to fund the feasibility study. With the repeal of federal network neutrality protections, a growing number of people are concerned that large ISPs, such as Comcast, will take advantage of the gap in protection. Networks owned by and accountable to local citizens can enforce the tenets that the federal government no longer require since they repealed network neutrality, including throttling, data protection, and paid prioritization.

Doing Their Homework

Hamill and Feldscher founded the Northampton High-Speed Community Network Coalition as a way to educate the community. They describe themselves as “advocates trying to convince the City Council to create this community network.”

The group has researched other communities in western Massachusetts and in other places where local governments have invested in publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure. In addition to the communities working with Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E), they’ve studied Leverett, Greenfield, and Chattanooga. Other communities in the state that are planning for, or investigating, the publicly owned option are also on their radar.

In addition to the most pressing issue of subscriber rates, the Northampton High-Speed Community Network Coalition has an eye toward future progress of the community. On their website, the Coalition has addressed FAQs, such as:

  • Network neutrality
  • Cost and financing
  • The Municipal Light Plant (MLP) process in Massachusetts
  • Benefits of local control
  • 5G
  • Competition and the status of Verizon FiOS in the region

The Coalition has also collected rates for similar speed tiers from Comcast and several municipal network Internet access providers so Northamptoners can compare. In order to allow folks from the community a voice, the Coalition has provided a link to their petition in support of a municipal network for the community.

Fiber in the Hood

According to a 2016 report from the city, Northampton already has municipal fiber connecting at least 26 buildings. Public schools, libraries, and municipal facilities use the fiber for services such as local area network connectivity and VoIP, but municipal facilities rely on private sector retail Internet access providers.

At the time of the report, Northampton decided that they would not pursue a FTTH network across the community. The city also has access to four strands of the Five College Network, a fiber optic network dedicated toward educational purposes that travels through several Massachusetts communities. The Five College Network fiber is intended only for non-commercial facilities. In 2016, the city was using only one of the four strands. Among other recommendations, the report suggested using the other three strands to connect municipal facilities to reduce the financial burden of connecting with private sector Internet access providers. 

The 2016 report concluded that, even though Northampton was not ready to begin serving businesses and residents, using city fiber assets for such activity in the future isn’t impossible. The report suggested that if the community wanted to move forward by investing in a publicly owned network, they should take a cautious and adopt an incremental approach, focusing on connecting businesses.

Three Years Later

Now that other communities in Massachusetts have developed their own municipal networks and subscribers are signing up, the market may look significantly different. Other towns in Massachusetts are proving that their residents want fast, affordable, reliable Internet access that’s accountable to subscribers who own the network. As communities around Northampton move forward with gigabit infrastructure, those in charge of the city’s future need to keep their eyes on the future because it’s important to stay competitive:

“We don’t want to be the last Western Mass town to have the benefits of a high-speed municipally controlled network,” said Feldscher.

Tags: massachusettsnorthampton mafeasibilitygrassroots

Central Ohio Community Investing in 100 Gig Fiber Network for City Connections, Economic Development

February 22, 2019

Hilliard, Ohio (pop. 36,000), is moving forward with plans to deploy a carrier neutral dark fiber network after city council approved funds for the project last month. The 25-mile fiber network will connect government buildings and businesses in the Columbus suburb and will be capable of speeds up to 100 Gigabits per second, reports Columbus Business First. Officials hope that improving Hilliard’s broadband infrastructure will help the community attract and retain businesses, encourage local economic development, and reduce municipal connectivity costs.

Deployment Details

During the first phase of the project, Hilliard will run fiber to municipal buildings and local businesses. The carrier neutral network will connect to the Metro Data Center in nearby Dublin, Ohio (home to DubLINK), giving the city government and businesses access to a wide selection of providers, who will have the ability to lease fiber from the city. In the future, the network could expand to serve other entities, such as local schools. The city does not plan to connect residents.

The total cost of the network’s initial phase is $3.17 million; to fund the fiber rollout, Hilliard City Council set aside $2.9 million in January as part of the city’s capital improvements budget. This included a $1.25 million loan from the Franklin County Infrastructure Bank, which has also invested in two similar projects, including Grove City. Hilliard Economic Development Director David Meadows said that the remainder of the funding comes from a conduit and traffic signal project that was approved in the city’s 2018 budget.

Economic Benefits for the City

Like many communities, the city of Hilliard is investing in a municipal fiber network to strengthen and grow the local economy. Currently, the community’s limited options for Internet access pose a concern to prospective companies. “We’ve had some businesses express issues with connectivity here,” Meadows explained to Columbus Business First.

Additionally, the new network will help Hilliard improve connectivity in municipal buildings while lowering the cost. In an email, Meadows said:

“With the connection into the data center, the city was able to competitively bid to other carriers that not only gives us 10 times the bandwidth, but at a fraction of our current cost.”

Tags: ohioopen accesscarrier neutralleasehilliard ohpublic savingstraffic lights

Broadband is Affordable Infrastructure Fact Sheet

February 21, 2019

Local governments spend billions on all sorts of infrastructure every year to advance the public good for their communities. Roads and bridges keep day-to-day activity moving. Investments such as water and sewer infrastructure keep cities clean and livable. Fiber infrastructure is used for a wide range of purposes, including economic development, education, and to keep a city’s administration connected. To get a look at how fiber network infrastructure compares to other public investments, we've developed the Broadband is Affordable Infrastructure fact sheet.

Download the fact sheet.

Side-by-Side Comparisons

The fact sheet looks at investments in both larger and smaller cities. Each of the projects that we compared to fiber optic networks required similar local investment and contributed to the well-being of the communities where they were developed. The fact sheet offers a snapshot of cost, how the projects were funded, and the results.

Some of the projects we compared are located in Wilson, North Carolina; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the networks have been in place long enough to bring economic benefit and other public benefits.

We found that:

Communities invest in a wide range of infrastructure projects. Fiber optic networks fit well within the historic role of municipal investment to improve the business climate and quality of life, and are often lower cost when compared with other essential infrastructure.

This fact sheet helps illustrate how high-speed networks are public infrastructure and it helps with a visual of how that infrastructure stacks up compared to traditional forms of municipal investment. Share this resource with city managers, city council members, mayors, and other elected officials. The fact sheet will also help when discussing municipal investment with other people interested in how to improve local connectivity.

Download the Broadband is Affordable Infrastructure fact sheet.

Tags: fact sheetinfrastructuremuniresourcefiber

OTO Fiber in Maine Releases RFP; Responses Due March 8th

February 20, 2019

The neighboring towns of Orono and Old Town in Maine are working with the University of Maine System in an effort to bring better connectivity to their region. The three launched the nonprofit OTO Fiber several years ago in an effort to join forces for better broadband. After battling for funds with the incumbent cable Internet access company, they’re finally in a position to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for fiber optic construction. Responses are due March 8th, 2019.

Read the full RFP.

Open Access for A University Community

OTO Fiber aims to deploy an open access network in order to spur economic development, to encourage innovation and local entrepreneurship, and to improve access to University resources. The project described in the RFP is considered a pilot and will cover a limited area in each of the three communities. OTO Fiber’s intention for the pilot is to determine take rate and the benefits in order to establish whether or not to expand the symmetrical gigabit network to businesses and residents in both towns. Network designers have strategically developed a plan for the six-mile backbone to facilitate later expansion.

Orono is the location of the University of Maine’s flagship campus, where symmetrical gigabit connectivity is a necessity. According to the RFP:

The University of Maine System provides networking to schools and libraries across the State of Maine and provides multiple paths into and out of the State for research and education. Furthermore, the University is the largest concentration of computational resources and data storage in the State. These connections and resources, both computational and human, are expected to help make the proposed project successful. 

Past Problems

In 2015, the OTO Fiber partners had been awarded ConnectME funds for the project, but cable ISP incumbent Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) successfully blocked the $125,000 grant. The partners had planned to work with Maine ISP GWI for a stretch of about four miles in which 320 potential subscribers would have access to a larger network.

The cable company argued that the state had no authority to grant the funds to OTO Fiber. The ConnectME grants were earmarked specifically for unserved and underserved premises and overbuilding could only occur in areas with less than 20 percent of the customers of an existing Internet access provider. OTO Fiber applied for and received a larger grant, however, from the Northern Border Regional Commission, which allowed them to get the project back on track.

With the open access model they seek, the Orono and Old Town communities will encourage competition via their publicly owned infrastructure. Typically, when competitors enter the marketplace, monopolistic corporate ISPs such as Spectrum improve services and rates.

Important Dates

Responses to Questions Posted on OTOFiber.com : Friday, February 22, 2019 

RFP Responses due by 5 PM EST: Friday, March 08, 2019 

Award Announced (Estimated): Friday, March 15, 2019 

Read the RFP and check out the OTO Fiber website to review the relevant attachments and exhibits.

OTO Fiber Request for Proposal - Fiber Optic Network ConstructionTags: maineold town meorono mainenonprofitrfp

Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative Steps Up, Offers FTTH in Missouri's Bootheel - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 344

February 19, 2019

Missouri is one of the states where electric cooperatives are taking the lead in bringing high-quality Internet access to rural areas. This week, we talk with Jack Davis, Vice President of IT and Special Projects at Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. The co-op is in the midst of deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to members in their service area, located in Missouri’s “Bootheel” region.

The mostly agricultural area consists of three counties that extend down from the southeast corner of Missouri and is surrounded by Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The co-op brought electric service to homes in the region in the 1930s and Jack and his colleagues are performing a similar service today by bringing broadband to a region where large corporate ISPs haven't invested much in infrastructure. In this interview, he describes what Internet access is like for people in the region before the cooperative decided on the project, and how strong support from residents and businesses has helped the cooperative determine the services to offer.

Jack and Christopher also discuss how the geography and environment influenced engineering and design plans, how locals are responding to the new service, and potential plans for growth in the region. In this conversation, you’ll also hear about some of the partnerships that Pemiscot-Dunklin has forged with other cooperatives in order to offer better services to cooperative members.

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

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this podcast is available here.

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

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

Tags: missouriPemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperativerural electric coopFTTHruralfiber-to-the-farmcooperativeco-mo cooperativesemo electric cooperativepodcastbroadband bitsaudio

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 344

February 19, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 344 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Jack Davis, vice president and CTO of Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative, about the co-op's Fiber-to-the-Home project in rural Missouri. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Jack Davis: The goal of our Fiber-to-the-Home project is to serve our rural membership, for the ones that have the desire. Now you know, obviously if we have some rural members way out in the middle of nowhere that aren't interested, we're not going to build it out there, but if the desire is there, we're going to serve 100 percent of our membership.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 344 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Jack Davis's grandfather also worked for the Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. While his grandpa worked to bring electricity to people in Missouri's Bootheel region, Jack is working on a project that will connect residents and businesses to high quality Internet access. The electric cooperative is deploying a Fiber-to-the-Home network, and people who have had poor connectivity for decades are signing up. In this interview. Jack and Christopher discuss the decision to invest in fiber versus other technologies. They also talk about the storm 10 years ago that influenced that decision, how the project is going, and how it's being received by rural residents. Now, here's Christopher and Jack Davis talking about the rural Fiber-to-the-Home project from the Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative in southeast Missouri.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with Jack Davis, the vice president and CTO of Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative. Welcome to the show, Jack.

Jack Davis: Thanks Chris. Great to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: So the first thing I should ask you is where you're located because I understand you're a bit sensitive if people accidentally type the "boot hill" of Missouri. [laughs]

Jack Davis: That's a common mistake with people that aren't from here . . . But we're in the little appendage at the southeast corner of Missouri that looks like it should be part of Arkansas, pretty much, and it's called the Bootheel just because it looks like the heel of a boot. That's where the name comes from. A lot of times people will think "boot hill," like "h-i-l-l," but it's actually a "bootheel," like "h-e-e-l."

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and you're one of the early electric cooperatives — one of the first ones formed after REA, it looks like.

Jack Davis: We were formed in 1937 — is when the co-op got its start. It's been a big part of the community here for years and years. My grandfather was a service foreman here. He worked here for 42 years and retired. I've been with the cooperative now for about five.

Christopher Mitchell: All right, and one of the things that you just mentioned to me is that if we look back in history, it's 10 years since a major ice storm. And so before we get into the broadband discussion, I'm curious if you could tell us a little bit about that and maybe how it changed the direction of the cooperative's thinking.

Jack Davis: Yea, whe had a storm in 2009 and this is right at the 10 year anniversary of that. There's a lot of information, pictures and things like that, out there on the Internet about it, but having lived through it, we were predicted to get a major ice storm. They were calling for it for days ahead of time, and I remember going to bed that night thinking, "Well, you know, we're in for it." This was before I was with the cooperative, but I was still a member. And the next morning, we woke up and we still had power, and I thought, "Boy, we made it," you know. At about 9 or 10 o'clock that more in the power went out and I thought, "Well, here we are." And you walk outside, and it was just creepy because there was about an inch and a half to two inches ice load on everything, on trees. You could hear branches just crashing and falling everywhere, ad it was kinda creepy because there were none of the ordinary sounds that you hear.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, it just sucks it all up.

Jack Davis: Yeah, and then night fell, and this whole area was just black. Anyway, that lasted for about three weeks — where I live, anyway. We had people out from anywhere from — I think we got the first ones back on in about two weeks, and a lot of people didn't have power for three to four weeks. It took out about 80% of our system at the time and our G&T was working hard to get the substations going again, so we were prioritizing on that, what they got going, we were able to go in and get customers back online. It was a major ordeal. We had thousands of linemen here from other cooperatives helping, and like I said, it took out about 80% of our entire system.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that much ice, you sort of — I was just thinking that maybe if you had everyone running as many appliances as they could all night long, you might have gotten enough heat to prevent it from forming. That seems like it would have been a potential experiment.

Jack Davis: Yeah, it was definitely an ordeal, hopefully a once in a lifetime ordeal, but since then we've replaced most of the damage in our system. We work, you know, every year or two to shore that up and make improvements to hopefully avoid this in the future.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. So let's talk about the way that you're getting into fiber. You're doing Fiber-to-the-Home. What's the goal of the Fiber-to-the-Home. Is it to serve everyone then?

Jack Davis: The goal of our Fiber-to-the-Home project is to serve our rural membership, for the ones that have the desire. Now, you know, obviously if we have some rural members way out in the middle of nowhere that aren't interested, we're not going to build that out there. But if the desire's there, we're going to serve 100 percent of our membership.

Christopher Mitchell: And what's the name of it?

Jack Davis: It's Pemiscot Dunklin Fiber. We looked at some different names, and we were trying catchy names and things like that when we started. And in the end we wanted people to realize that this was tied to the co-op because we're proud of our co-op and the majority of our membership are as well. And we wanted those two things closely associated, so we just went with Pemiscot-Dunklin Fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: When I was typing up some notes, I had a little mistyping error and I was thinking you could call it "DunkLink" if you wanted to — put a "k" on the end.

Jack Davis: We went through a lot of iterations in the planning stages and in the end we settled on Pemiscot-Dunklin Fiber and for short, a lot of times we'll just call it PD Fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: And so when you decided to do this, was there a demand from membership? Were they coming to meetings? Were they contacting the GM and the board? How did you . . . Or was this something that you decided to do, you know, as the management team?

Jack Davis: We had a lot of membership contact, and some of this was before my time, talking to our manager, to our CEO, to our board members, seeing what we could do as a cooperative to bring broadband to the rural membership. About the only other option here besides satellite is fixed wireless at the moment. And you know, you're seeing speeds on that system of 2 to 3 Meg, and people were just starving for broadband. One of the first things after the CEO hired me, we were walking down the hall the next day, and he said, "Okay, you're here. Now what can we do about Internet service?" At the time, I really didn't think fiber was an option. I just felt like it was probably too costly — which I come from a dial-up ISP background, back in the 90s. So we started checking into it and we thought, well, a wireless system's probably going to be the way to go, so we kind of started moving in that direction. I was not looking forward to it because I've operated wireless in the past, and I know the issues associated with that. Our CEO wanted to continue checking on the fiber route, so we worked with Conexon — which I think you've had Jonathan Chambers on before.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, many times.

Jack Davis: Yeah, he's a great guy. Conexon is a wonderful partner in this; they're our consultants. So they did a study for us to determine if it was feasible or not, a feasibility study, and the results of that study just blew me away. They showed that not only would it work, but you know, it should work well. So we deliberated for several months there. We had a presentation with the board. There was a lot of questions and answers provided there. And in the end, we decided that if we're going to move forward, that Fiber-to-the-Home is the way to go.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, let's talk a little bit about how you're doing it because not only are you doing it, but common wisdom is that it's easier for rural electric cooperatives such as yourself to do it in extremely rural areas because you have access to the poles. But from what I know, and as we talked about with the ice storm, you're not even using that advantage.

Jack Davis: That's correct. That's generally one of the reasons co-ops get into this because they can leverage existing infrastructure to build their network out. In our case, with that ice storm that we referred to, our engineering firm calculates an inch and a half of ice load on everything we do pretty much and have to account for that. And just by adding another fiber on our pole spans, we were going to have to go through and do so much make ready, that it was just going to be enormously — it was going to be very costly. So we started checking into the option of going underground. Luckily we have a local company that has done a lot of fiber work for various companies. I won't mention any names, but they're very experienced in the underground boring and plowing. And so, we went to them and, and they were really honestly interested in being home for a while. They'd been on the road for so many years —

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Jack Davis: — that they cut us kind of a sweetheart deal for the project because that way they could be home. So in the end, we decided that instead of going aerial that we were going to go underground. It added a little bit of cost to the overall cost of the project, but if you figured in, factored in the make ready we would have had to do on our poles, it's gonna wind up saving us some money. Plus, it's going to be a more robust system. And with that being said, we're using public right-of-way as well, so now we're not limited on where we go. We no longer have to have pole attachment agreements with other utilities. If we want to go into an area we don't serve, we use public right-of-way and go underground.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we're hearing from some of the rural electrics is a challenge with easements. Is that a concern in Missouri? Is that something you had to work through?

Jack Davis: There's been just a handful of times that we've had to get an easement signed from a landowner or something like that. In general, we stick to public right-of-way. We've met with counties; they've been very helpful. They want us in there, so they've been very good to work with. The state has been excellent to work with, Missouri DOT, on giving us the permits that we need. It really hasn't been an issue.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'm glad to hear that because too often we hear the opposite, so I'm glad that the system's working for you. What kind of services are you making available?

Jack Davis: So we're offering triple play services. We have broadband Internet, phone, and TV, as well. One of the decisions that we made in the beginning is that we didn't want to invest a lot of money in a headend for video, so we partnered with a Co-Mo Connect, which is another cooperative here in Missouri. They're one of the first ones to get into the broadband game here in Missouri, and they've already got an established headend and they're already partnering with other cooperatives to provide TV service. So we utilize them for our TV service and then we use another company for phone, and so we're providing all three to our membership.

Christopher Mitchell: And do you overlap with any telephone cooperatives?

Jack Davis: We do not. There are no cooperatives here. We've got just the standard — I believe AT&T is the only company that's had landline service here. We do overlap with a cable company in a few of the smaller communities that we serve, but that's really about it.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. What kind of Internet speeds are you offering? What do your tiers look like?

Jack Davis: We only have two tiers. We're offering 100 Meg for $50 a month and one Gig for $80.

Christopher Mitchell: Have you started turning people on yet?

Jack Davis: We have. We've got about — we're right at 600 active subscribers right now. We began turning people on about July of last year

Christopher Mitchell: And what's the mix in terms of what people are subscribing to?

Jack Davis: We're about probably 80/20 of 100 Meg versus Gig. We do have several Gig customers, and that's probably about the ratio as far as the speeds go. As far as TV goes, it's probably a 60/40 mix of Internet only versus Internet and TV customers. And then phone, we're probably having around 15 to 20 percent of our customers take landline phone.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm really curious coming from the Midwest as well — sometimes people talk about Tornado Alley or you know, where the most tornadoes are. It switches almost every year, but you're right there in the path obviously. So is th fiber that you're building going to help the electric system and its resilience?

Jack Davis: We believe it will. We haven't started yet, but we're going to utilize that network for SCADA and things like that on our electric side — outage management. Currently we use a power line carrier system to read our meters, but we are going to connect our electric controls and so forth to our network so that we'll have that real time data that quite honestly we just haven't had in the past.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the other things I was curious about regarding the ice storm is, I presume you had to replace a bunch of poles then. Was it the case then that you still had a lot of original poles? I'm just trying to get a sense of what the pole mix is like for an REC like you in the Midwest because we hear concerns from a lot of folks about poles and you know, putting the fiber up to load them up even further. I'm so in the dark about the kind of policies you have in terms of pole replacement. I mean, is the problem typically that the poles are old or is it just the size of them? I mean, what determines whether or not they are going to be reliable in the event of an ice storm?

Jack Davis: Well, it's a combination of factors. Pole age is definitely one of the factors — class of the pole, which is the sturdiness of it, how well it's built. The structure of the pole is another one of the factors. But when you've got an ice storm the way we had in 2009, there's almost — I mean, it's a act of God. There's almost nothing —

Christopher Mitchell: Right, that's game over at that point for that scale of store.

Jack Davis: Pretty much. About the only thing you could do is go with higher class poles and shorten your span length way down. You know, when you start getting a inch and a half to two ice load on your power lines at some point, you know, the more it builds up — and plus the wind is a factor as well, which you can do things like put devices on your lines to prevent the galloping that you get with wind. But at some point, you know, with that catastrophic ice storm we had, I think we were right in the bullseye of the worst area hit here. And you know, at some point, there's not a lot you can do except sit back and try to rebuild when it's over.

Christopher Mitchell: What kind of a mix of plowing are you looking at? Because, you know, you mentioned the boring and I haven't looked at the map. I'm okay at geography; I'm not great. I'm not sure how much mountainous area you're in there with the Ozarks

Jack Davis: We're several hours away from that. We're actually in a very flat, non-rocky soil here, so that's another reason that we were able to get a great rate as far as our underground installation. This whole area used to be kind of a swampy area back in the 1800s. The Corps of Engineers has done a lot of work putting in flood control here. It's a huge agriculture area now, and it's very flat. The soil, like I said, it's non rocky. The only place you're gonna find rocks are on the county roads, so it's very easy to plow and very easy to bore.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Okay, because that's where up here in Minnesota, in some of our farm country as well, we have that same benefit. But if you had received a sense of, from the feasibility study, that it would have been prohibitive to go underground, if the costs were so great, would that have pushed you back toward wireless or would you have been trying to figure out how to get some of the fiber on the poles?

Jack Davis: I believe we would have done more work towards shoring up our poles and shortening spans. It would have cost quite a bit, you know, more money, but I think in the end we were pretty much set on going with the fiber as long as long as we could make it work.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. The last question I wanted to ask you is the reaction, and first I think the reaction from some of your members that have had it but also I'm curious about the neighboring RECs — if your building it has made them more likely to consider something like that.

Jack Davis: We've only got one neighbor electric cooperative that's doing a Fiber-to-the-Home system at the moment and that is SEMO Cooperative, GoSEMO. They're just north of us, and we've actually partnered with them. We're under the same G&T, generation and transmission cooperative, that provides us our power, and so we're actually connected via a fiber network already. And we partnered with them on some transportation issues that we had, transportation routes. So basically, we purchased a route and they purchased a route, and then we bonded our networks together and provided paths for each other in and out and provided some redundancy for both of our networks. It's worked out really well.

Christopher Mitchell: How have your own members reacted?

Jack Davis: Our own members are elated. We've got one — and keep in mind, these are members that in the past have only had, you know, 2 or 3 Meg connections. But we've got one pretty well known photographer in the area that does a lot of photography work. He got his fiber connected and he bought the Gig package and after they installed it, they said, well, you know, try it out. So he sat down and he had a portfolio that he normally uploads. And that morning he called me and he was laughing so much that he couldn't hardly talk.

Christopher Mitchell: [laughs]

Jack Davis: But he said that normally when he uploads a portfolio package — which is, you know, I don't know how many raw pictures he uploads or whatever to the processor. He said normally he starts it, he types out his description and information, and then he just lets it run. And it usually takes six to eight hours to complete. And he said it was literally done uploading before he got the description typed out. So he was just beyond ecstatic. He was so happy that he almost couldn't talk. But that's just one example. You know, it's almost like thirsty people getting water around here. There's just a lot of excitement, lot of people wondering when they're going to get it — because this is a four year project that we're working on. We're just in the beginning of the second year right now. A lot of the members are seeing the excitement of our other members that have just received service, and they're wondering when they're going to get it, you know. And we've tried to tamper the expectation down. You know, we want people to realize that this is a longterm project and that we're going to get to them just as soon as we can, but it's just going to take time.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Have you seen any population change in terms of areas that might be adjacent to your electric territory, where they're probably served by maybe AT&T or not at all and they're moving over to your area?

Jack Davis: I think we're so early in the game right now that I think it's a little premature to judge anything like that. I haven't noticed anything in particular. I do know that we're getting a lot of inquiries from areas just around our territory wondering if we'll build service out as well as a lot of the communities here that we don't serve electrically. They're wondering if we'll come into town and serve them, and that's something we're going to take a look at, if they're within our electric footprint but we don't serve that little community or whatever. So that's definitely something that we're going to take a look here.

Christopher Mitchell: All right. How are you financing all of this? Is this something that you're able to do with loans or have you needed to find some subsidies? How does all that work?

Jack Davis: Everything that we've done so far, we're 100 percent self-financed. We were not able to get any of the CAF auction money. The FCC wound up taking off just about every census block in our area before the auction due to an incumbent wireless provider that's here, so we were not able to participate in the CAF auction and take advantage of that. So at this point we're 100 percent self-financed through loans. We did receive one $750,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority, which is a local organization here to us. We received $750,000 and SEMO received $250,000, but beyond that, we're 100 percent self-financed with loans.

Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned that the wireless providers most people are using in that area are not delivering anything even close to broadband, and so can I assume that you were pretty frustrated at some of the claims that might have been made or if in fact, it was just the anomaly that that a WISP could provide service to a few households and then therefore entire census blocks were removed [from the auction]?

Jack Davis: We were extremely frustrated. We worked with Jonathan and talked to the FCC a lot. In the end, there just wasn't anything we could do. A lot of it had to do with the way the 477 data is reported. This particular carrier also operates a copper network in a couple of towns here where they provide phone service as well as like DSL, and it wound up taking the whole area off the block, which was pretty disheartening. But we decided, hey, we started this without it and we're gonna finish it without it if we have to.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and what would the difference have been? I mean, obviously it would have been easier on your finances, but is this something that you could have done more rapidly if you had the support of the Connect America Fund?

Jack Davis: That was the idea. You know, we're very interested in building our entire area, not just our electric footprint — you know, everything that that lies within our electric footprint, even if we serve it electrically or not. And this would have allowed us to go into some of those more quickly than we'd be able to otherwise.

Christopher Mitchell: And just to clear up for people then, I'm assuming that you have electric footprint and then there's holes within it basically.

Jack Davis: That's correct. Yeah. There's some larger towns that a private utility has electric service in that we do not cover. We just cover pretty much the rural areas with the exception of a few small communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Thank you Jack for coming on. I appreciate it, and it's just so great to hear more stories of how — you know, frankly, in four years, everyone that you serve is going to have better access and I'll bet I can get in a major urban area in Minnesota. So it's a great investment you're making. Thanks for telling us about it.

Jack Davis: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Jack Davis from the Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative in southeast Missouri. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.orgs/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out our important research from all of our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 344 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 18

February 18, 2019

Alaska

Why the future of satellite Internet might be decided in rural Alaska by Erin Winick, MIT Technology Review

 

California

San Jose launches new fund to bring Internet to thousands of off-line homes by Emily Deruy, The Mercury News

The city estimates that, even today, around 95,000 residents have no Internet access at home.

San Jose, CA to bridge digital divide with new inclusion fund by Chris Teale, Smart Cities Dive

 

Georgia

Georgia House OKs electric co-ops to offer high-speed Internet by Mark Niesse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

“Families and children are being left behind because they don’t have access to Internet in our community,” said state Rep. Winfred Dukes, a Democrat from Albany.

 

Maine

Maine’s rural broadband may get a boost by J. Craig Anderson, Portland Press Herald 

Town of Oakland receives broadband grant from Maine Community Foundation by Elaine Theriault-Currier, Bangor Daily News 

Maine one of eight states chosen to update national broadband availability map by Kate Foye, Bangor Daily News 

 

Maryland

Rural Broadband Task Force releases final report by Alan Van Wormer, The Bay Net

 

North Carolina

Community initiatives share a vision for North Carolina at IEI Forum by Sarah Glova, WRAL TechWire

“A big challenge in our state, is rural residential connectivity,” said Davis. “The idea that elderly patients in their homes don’t have the connectivity to be able to access telehealth services to manage their diabetes or their heart diseases… the idea that our kids go home at night in these rural counties and don’t have a connection, so they’re not able to access all the digital resources that other kids are able to access.”

Broadband access fundamental right by Bunny Sanders, Reflector

 

Virginia

Botetourt County moving ahead with broadband by Craig Settles, Roanoke Times 

 

General 

Rural electric cooperatives have an important role in our broadband future by Alyson Moore, Telecompetitor

Here's what you need to know about the T-Mobile, Sprint CEO testimony to Congress, CNBC

 

 

Tags: media roundup

Broadband in the Bootheel: Missouri Electric Co-op Delivers

February 18, 2019

Missouri’s Bootheel is the ultimate southeast corner of the state, extending south and surrounded on three sides by lands in Arkansas, Tennessee, and a smattering of Kentucky. The area’s known for having fertile soil and vibrant agriculture but now that Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative  is deploying Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), it's also becoming known for high-quality Internet access.

The Region and Lack of Connectivity

Jack Davis has worked in several fields. His tech career started when most people in the area reached the Internet via dial-up connections; at the time he worked as a network administrator for a local dial-up ISP in the 1990s. His second career was in agriculture and now he’s back in the tech field. Davis’s multiple work experiences have given him insight into the increasing broadband needs of rural residents who either farm or work in some other aspect of the agriculture industry.

When Davis went back into tech, he joined Pemiscot-Dunklin because the electric cooperative, which had never had IT staff before, needed to fill a long-existing personnel gap. With approximately 8,800 connected meters, the cooperative is a modest-sized organization. Approximately 20 percent of their load goes toward irrigation, revealing the important role agriculture plays in the region. Internet access in rural areas is limited to fixed wireless. Cooperative members who used to subscribe to the wireless service typically found top speeds were around 3 - 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and much slower upload speeds.

Time for an Upgrade

Discussion about the project began in 2014 soon after Davis started at Pemiscot-Dunklin. The way Davis tells it, his boss said “Now that I’ve got you hired, what can we do about Internet service?” The cooperative researched for about two years, examining a variety of options because they anticipated FTTH would be too expensive to deploy. In 2016, they worked with Conexon, the consulting firm that works with electric cooperatives interested in broadband deployment. Conexon's Jonathan Chambers was on Community Broadband Bits, episode 229, to discuss electric cooperatives and rural broadband access:

After a feasibility study determined that FTTH would work well for Pemiscot-Dunklin’s service area, the cooperative decided that they would abandon other technologies in April 2017 shifted their focus to exclusively FTTH. Construction started in October of the same year.

One of the reasons for the Bootheel’s agricultural success is its flat, soft soil with no rock; underground deployment is less challenging than in other regions. Damaging ice storms, however, can damage aerial infrastructure. In 2009, a massive ice storm took out approximately 80 percent of the Pemiscot-Dunklin system and the cooperative had to rebuild. When adding to existing infrastructure, engineers from the cooperative must always consider the ice load, which increase the cost of aerial deployment.

The favorable geology, the added expense to cover ice load, and a local contractor that offered an affordable price on underground deployment, convinced Pemiscot-Dunklin to bury 99 percent of their fiber. Access to the public right-of-way and the ability to deploy without the need to negotiate pole agreements with other utility companies weighed in favor of underground deployment. It was a common sense decision that reduced deployment costs and resulted in infrastructure that will endure the elements tucked safely underground. They began connecting members to the network in July 2018.

Making Progress

The co-op is already offering high-quality Internet access in much of their service area, but once they’re finished deploying infrastructure, the fiber will run approximately 1,200 miles in total. They recently finished phase one — the majority of Dunklin County — of a four phase deployment plan. Phase one begins at the southern edge of Campbell in the northern area of the county and expands south to midway between Kennett and Senath. With the exception of some rural areas in the southern half of the county, even the most rural areas have FTTH. Pemiscot-Dunklin intends to also deploy in these areas. 

The cooperative hopes to obtain a 37 percent take rate, or approximately 1,000 subscribers, in the regions where they’re installing fiber. At this point about 750 have committed with contract, and the cooperative is connecting them one at a time. Approximately 1,700 potential subscribers across the deployment area are pre-registered. About 600 subscribers are connected and active. Davis estimates 3,000 members will subscribe by the time deployment is complete.

Creating Competition

When planning deployment strategy for phase one, co-op engineers worked from population density. Their approach makes the service available to as many subscribers as possible, which in turn helps grow the network. If more people can connect in the earlier stages, word quickly spreads and it’s easier to connect those who are interested in switching. Connecting more addresses sooner also allows the co-op to maximize the revenue earlier. As the cooperative connects premises in the remaining phases where population density isn’t as intense, they’ll consider demand foremost.

Phase two will take the cooperative’s network into central Pemiscot County. Davis says that there are at least three small rural areas that don’t take electric service from the cooperative where they will deploy broadband. As word gets out about the deployment, more communities that obtain electricity elsewhere have contacted Pemiscot-Dunklin and asked the co-op to build within their community. They’re considering each request on a case-by-case basis.

Pemiscot-Dunklin provides electricity in the rural areas around towns in the deployment area, but doesn’t serve within town limits of several of the towns. They're considering overbuilding to compete with incumbent providers within town limits of several towns. The advantages that led them to deploy underground in rural areas and the ability to construct in a neighborhood without the need to negotiate for pole attachments is encouraging.

Funding

The co-op estimates that the entire project will cost around $28 million. The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) recently awarded the co-op a $750,000 grant toward the project, but the cooperative will be funding the remainder of the project.

The FCC eliminated a large number of census blocks in the Pemiscot-Dunklin service area region as possible candidates for the Connect American Funding Phase II Auction (CAF II). The co-op wasn’t able to bid for grants to serve large areas in the region because census blocks were removed from eligibility. The local fixed wireless ISP began years ago as a local telephone company and, een though they only offer telephone service in three small towns in the area, reporting to the FCC reflects that they offer service to a much larger area. Pemiscot-Dunklin or any other entity could not bid for CAF II funding for broadband infrastructure to serve those census blocks. 

What Do Subscribers Get From Pemiscot-Dunklin?

Unlike many new entrants into the broadband market in recent years, the co-op has decided to offer triple play services. After talking to members to determine what services were in demand and available in the region, and partnering with neighboring co-ops, Pemiscot-Dunklin has been able to find affordable methods to bring Internet access, voice, and video to members.

Davis says that voice service has been a surprise. They’re working with a telephone provider that’s using the co-op’s infrastructure for VoIP. For example, the old phone service at the cooperative offices often suffered from buzzing and static and when it rained, it was almost unusable. With the new service, connections are clear and reliable. Even though take rate for voice services isn’t high, says Davis, the subscribers who have it, love it. 

Cooperative leadership decided to offer video in part because many members are elderly people more inclined to use a video service than switch to streaming video services. Pemiscot-Dunkin is partnering with Co-Mo Electric Cooperative and reselling the video services that Co-Mo offers their own members. SEMO Electric Cooperative also borders Pemiscot-Dunklin’s service area and the two have forged an additional partnership for video services much like the Co-Mo collaboration. The partners include local video channels in their lineups, which are favorites among members.

Upon Reflection

Looking back, Davis is surprised at the ease of the phase one process and he attributes much of that for the strong demand for high-quality Internet access. In the Bootheel region, there’s a high percentage of lower-income households and large corporate ISPs haven't been interested in deploying in the sparsely populated area. People in the region have been “starved” for good Internet access; when word spread that the cooperative was planning to deploy gigabit connectivity to members, locals did whatever they could to support the project.

The co-op board talked to members at annual meetings to get their thoughts and opinions on whether or not to pursue the project and what services to offer. Board members also approached farmers and other constituents to hear their thoughts. To meet the needs of their members, the cooperative is working with several farmers interested in using the network for automation, including climate monitoring, rain gauges and well controls, and they anticipate more demand for similar services.

PDFiber offers several options for residential subscribers, all are symmetrical with no data caps:

  • 100 Mbps for $49.95 per month
  • 1,000 Mbps (1 gig) for $79.95 per month

VoIP service is available for $29.95 per month and subscribers can choose from several TV packages. The cooperative has additional add-ons, bundles, and business options. Installation is free if subscribers sign up to be connected during construction in their area.

Outstanding Feedback

So far, subscribers have been thrilled. A professional photographer in the small rural town of Hornersville subscribes to gigabit service called the office about his new service. When he uploaded his work to an online portfolios for clients, the process on his prior connection took six to eight hours due to the large size of the image files. With his new gigabit connection, the uploads finished “before he could finish typing the description.” The photographer posted about his experience and a screenshot of his upload speeds on Facebook, prompting an uptick in calls from potential subscribers.

When he called the office to let the co-op know how it was going and thank them for the service, "he was so giggly he almost couldn't talk" says Davis.

Image of Senath, Missouri, by formulanone from Huntsville, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0].

Tags: missourirural electric coopPemiscot-Dunklin Electric CooperativeruralFTTHgigabitcooperativefiber-to-the-farmvoicevoipvideo

Georgia's Pineland Telephone Cooperative Reaching Across Counties With Commercial Fiber Connectivity

February 14, 2019

Pineland Telephone Cooperative is known for providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services in southeast Georgia’s rural areas between Savannah, Augusta, and Macon. Now the co-op’s subsidiary Pineland Communications is expanding south and west into Americus, where they plan to provide fiber connectivity to local businesses.

Partnering for Pineland

In January, Pineland began deploying fiber to the delight of potential commercial subscribers. The project should start offering gigabit Internet access, voice, security, and computer services to local businesses this fall. Pineland is considering expanding to residential connections in Americas and Sumter County the future. Pineland invested $2 million toward the project and local donors also contributed.

The project was spearheaded by the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation and began with a feasibility study three years ago. In August 2018, when the Foundation and Pineland announced the project, Rene Smith from the Foundation told WGXA:

"For our businesses, it means an opportunity to access high speed data -- which we see as vital for business success as well as education for our young people in this community. We feel like it's vital for our future."

 In addition to the feasibility study from the Foundation, the local hospital authority also contributed by selling property for the central office to Pineland at market value. Sumter Electric Membership Corporation, Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, Georgia System Operations Corporation, and Georgia Transmission Corporation all assisted with the project. As a result of the efforts of all the entities involved, Americus can market itself to potential new employers as Gig-Certified.

Coming to Americus 

The small city is home to businesses that need high-speed options and reliability that only fiber can provide. Americus is somewhat geographically removed, however, from larger cities where big corporate providers are more inclined to offer it. As Executive Director of One Sumter Mary Beth Bass described in an interview with WRBL, larger employers were finding ways to get the connectivity they needed, but the cost was high. 

Pineland’s entrance into the community will provide much needed competition to lower prices. With an office in town, it’s also likely that potential service calls will be resolved quicker. Customer service may also reflect the improvements that accompany Internet access from local providers. 

The co-operative offers additional services that commercial subscribers may want. While Internet access, voice, and data are standard fare, Pineland also maintains security services and computer support. Local businesses that may not keep IT people on staff or who want fire and theft monitoring at their businesses will be able to contract with Pineland.

Future Co-Op FTTH in Americus?

Pineland serves an area of more than 1,300 square miles, encompassing nine counties in the southeast area of the state. Their headquarters located in Metter are about 150 miles and approximately six counties east of Americus, but the project will give the co-op an opportunity to chart new territory.

While current plans are for commercial subscribers only, Americus community leaders hope the project will lead to residential service. Mediacom and AT&T offer cable and DSL Internet access in the community, but rates are high compared to more urban locations. Last August, State Senator Greg Kirk told WRBL:

"You've got to get that Internet to the last mile in all of Georgia, so that kids can study when they are at home…there's so much that's happening today on the Internet, if you're not able to connect or have a good connection, it really hinders you."

Tags: georgiacooperativepineland telephone cooperativebusinessfiber-to-the-business

ILSR Joins 4Competition Coalition to Oppose Sprint and T-Mobile Merger

February 13, 2019

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we believe that competition for goods and services helps communities, consumers, and the economy. This belief carries over into the mobile Internet access market, which is one of the reasons we oppose a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. We’re not alone and we’ve now joined with other organizations as part of the 4Competition Coalition.

As the prospect of 5G wireless connectivity becomes more probable, these two companies claim that they need to merge in order to remain competitive with the other two mobile Internet access providers. In reality, reducing mobile subscriber options from four to three, creates no benefit for anyone except the companies with less competition.

In a press release announcing ILSR’s decision to join the Coalition, Christopher stated:

“Market competition between Sprint and T-Mobile has made mobile Internet access available to millions of low-income households. We are deeply concerned that this merger will harm those households and leave them without any affordable Internet access.”

Along with ILSR, trade group INCOMPAS joined the 4Competition Coalition. INCOMPAS also strongly advocates ample choice in the broadband arena and recognized Sprint and T-Mobile’s past work to keep competition alive.

So Much to Lose

Losing a mobile Internet access provider as an option is bad, but it isn’t the only consequence that we face if the merger goes through. The Coalition recognizes that results will likely be job losses, higher rates, locking out new entrants to the market, broken promises regarding 5G, and harm especially to people in rural areas. At least 11 states are also not convinced that a Sprint/T-Mobile merger is in the interest of their citizens and are reviewing the proposal.

In order to help spread the word and share information, the 4Competition Coalition is making resources available online. In addition to Petitions to stop the merger that have already been filed, anyone can access and read relevant research on expected impacts of the merger. There’s also a list of Legislators who aren’t convinced; is your elected official on the list? If not, perhaps you should contact them and get their opinion about the harmful proposal.

You can see a list of the entities that have joined the Coalition and follow the news at 4competition.org.

You can also follow them on Twitter @4CompCoalition.

Tags: mergercompetitionruralmobilet-mobile5Gilsrsprint

State of Maine and Dakota County, Minnesota, Looking to Fill Key Broadband Positions

February 13, 2019

 

Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development is currently seeking a Director of their Broadband Office. The closing date to apply for the position is February 22, 2019.

Learn more about the position at the State of Maine’s online posting

According to the announcement on the search, the position will: 

[P]rovide leadership and guidance for Statewide broadband deployment in Maine. This position provides direction to the ConnectME Authority Board, manages staff, provides oversight and coordination of grant funding programs, interacts with public and private sector leaders and management, engineers, attorneys, accountants, construction and financial experts, and the public relating to the mission and implementation of ConnectME initiatives.

Some of the Director’s tasks will be:

  • Monitor emerging technologies on national and industry initiatives and trends in broadband; prepare recommendations and position papers; conduct research and analysis to identify best practices toward broadband adoption and improvements.
  • Research new and existing technologies to ensure that all areas of the State have access to optimum service.
  • Through dedicated website and social media channels, explore all opportunities to engage service providers and existing and potential subscribers on the benefits of broadband.
  • Provide guidance and direction to the Office of Broadband Staff and ConnectME Authority Board.

Read more about the role of the Director of Broadband Office and the qualifications for the position on the state posting.

Work in Minnesota

The Dakota Broadband Board is also seeking to fill a leadership role as they look for an Executive Director. The Board asks that interested individuals submit their application materials by 4 p.m. CST on February 28th.

Read the job announcement.

As part of their position:

Duties include Board administration, budgeting & financial administration, marketing of commercial dark fiber, legal & compliance oversight, contracting and contractor management. The position reports to the Chair of the DBB and takes direction from the Chair of the DBB Executive Committee.

For a more thorough list of the Executive Director’s duties and responsibilities, along with more about the qualifications, knowledge, skills, and abilities that Dakota County seeks to fill the position, check out this more thorough job description.

Dakota County has been developing its publicly owned broadband network since the 1990s and was an early adopter of smart conduit policies, saving significant public dollars. Learn more about Dakota County's network by reviewing our coverage and listening to episode 117 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, an interview with David Asp, who works for the county as a Network Collaboration Engineer.

The folks at Dakota County have also asked us to circulate the following to help them reach the most qualified people as possible:

Applicants can submit their signed materials by February 28th:

  • Via US Mail to—City of Mendota Heights, Attention: Cheryl Jacobson, Assistant City Administrator, 1101 Victoria Curve, Mendota Heights, MN 55118; or
  • Via email in PDF format to--cherylj(at)mendota-heights.com; or
  • In person at-- City of Mendota Heights, 1101 Victoria Curve, Mendota Heights, MN 55118
Dakota Broadband Board Executive Director Job Announcement Dakota Broadband Board Executive Director Application Dakota Broadband Board Executive Director Application Supplement Tags: dakota countyminnesotamaine

Conversing with Crawford: Community Broadband Bits Podcast 343

February 12, 2019

Harvard Professor, author, and broadband champion Susan Crawford has been incredibly busy ever since she released her latest book Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — And Why America Might Miss It. Fortunately for us and our listeners, she hasn’t been too busy to take some time for Community Broadband Bits listeners. She’s here this week to talk about the book, her experiences researching it, and discussing policy recommendations aimed at bringing better connectivity to rural and urban areas.

The conversation between Christopher and Susan is one of our best podcasts. They touch on technology, competition, and how we’ve come to the point when local communities are leading the charge to bring high-quality Internet access to their residents and businesses. Susan shares some of the stories she encountered — both favorable and not so favorable — of places where local leaders are either working to hard to put broadband infrastructure in place or barely moving the dial on getting their communities better connected. 

She’s travelled all across the world to learn about how other countries approach fiber connectivity and how they’re reaping the benefits. Now, she wants to share some of those policies and ideas to help Americans realize that if we don’t adjust our mindset, we could miss out on fiber’s potential.

Order Susan's book online at Indiebound.org. Learn more about the book by reading Christopher's review.

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

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this episode is available here.

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

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

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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 343

February 12, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 343 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode Christopher speaks with Susan Crawford, Harvard law professor and author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — and Why America Might Miss It, about the book, broadband policy, and so much more. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Susan Crawford: The first step is getting everybody together, having a real consensus that this is important, and then taking the necessary block and tackle steps to figure out what needs to be done, what the gaps are, where the capital will come from, and what the plan is.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 343 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. If you haven't picked up a copy of Susan Crawford's most recent book, hit pause, head over to your neighborhood bookstore, get your copy, and then come back and continue listening to this week's podcast. The Harvard law professor and author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — and Why America Might Miss It took some time out of her schedule to talk to Christopher about broadband policy and about her book. Susan shares her thoughts on the differences between rural and urban issues and solutions to overcome them both. She talks about the lack of competition in the U.S. She and Christopher talk about some of the communities she visited, and Susan shares some policy recommendations. It's a great interview to get you ready to read a great book. Now, here's Christopher and Susan.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, and I have one of my favorite guests back today: Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law and more recently the author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — and Why America Might Miss It. Welcome back to the show, Susan.

Susan Crawford: Well, it's an honor to be here, Chris. This is really your movement; all I'm doing is writing it down.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, you have supercharged it and I am eternally grateful for you doing that. You know, one of the fun things about this interview is that I don't have to ask you the first question you get from almost every other interview that you give because we can assume the audience is mostly on board with not only what fiber is, but the importance of it. And so therefore, my first question to you is actually just sort of a general question of: do you differentiate between rural and urban Internet access problems?

Susan Crawford: Well problems, yes, but solutions, no. I don't see any reason why people living in rural areas should have second class access, and it's just a policy decision. We did that as a country for telephone systems and for electricity, and it should be the same for the basic communications network. So when we get to the end of this policy road, everybody should have ubiquitous, mostly fiber if not exclusively fiber, cheap, persistent, reliable connectivity in their homes and businesses — wherever you are in America.

Christopher Mitchell: I entirely agree with you, and one of the things that I like about your analysis is the focus on fiber and I think that's important for several reasons that you and I agree on. But, since the last time we've talked, the cable companies are on a path to do DOCSIS symmetrical, where it looks like they'll be able to offer very high quality, symmetrical, very fast speeds. And so I'm curious then if you would think that the urban problem is kind of solved.

Susan Crawford: Absolutely not. First, at what price is really important. How much are people having to pay for this service? Because it looks to me as if the entire country is paying rent to about four or five companies that are doing extremely well. So that's one issue that remains for urban areas — at what cost, and how many people are left out of that great network connectivity because they simply can't afford it? And the second point is that yes, that looks good as an upgrade to their existing capacity, but unlike hybrid fiber coaxial lines, glass fiber really is, as far as we can tell, infinitely upgradable. There is a top limit to what you can do with that cable capacity that will not approach what's possible with fiber. So the two technologies are just not the same, and the idea of making sure that we're matching the rest of the world with our basic wire makes a ton of sense to me and it does to most people in these other countries that I keep visiting. So, long story short, that is not a solution if it's too expensive and not upgradable without extraordinary effort.

Christopher Mitchell: And so then, I feel like we're actually left in a situation in which, as you say, rural areas have second class service — they should not into the future. But given your analysis of the cable monopoly, it strikes me that we're moving into an era in which over time, more rural areas will actually have the first class service and people like me in a cable monopoly area in an urban region will have second class service, in some ways.

Susan Crawford: I think that's right, and I think that sets up some terrific incentives for people in the urban areas to be even more interested in the idea of a public option or a wholesale network or dark air conduit available to lots of competing fiber providers in every city or dark fiber available for lease — something that is a wholesale version of a public option that is available to everybody at a reasonable price, so the retail market emerges in those urban areas. Look, nobody wants to see cable not competing except for the cable companies. So I'm happy for them to be successful businesses, but they have to be subject to competition like everybody else.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think the final step of this, walking through this analysis, is that in some areas — you know, and I would be very clear — in some parts of some neighborhoods in urban areas are seeing fiber investment from AT&T, from CenturyLink, from some other of the telephone companies. And so where we see that — you know, you just mentioned creating an open market. Why isn't that competition between, like, AT&T and CenturyLink fiber good enough for a first class city or . . . in this case, a first class city.

Susan Crawford: Again, because of the switching costs. There's a huge lock in effect when you sign up with any one of these operators — very difficult to move to a competitor, and that's a problem because over time, the company that has you locked in can just steadily raise prices and you'll feel sort of helpless to do anything about it. So as a matter of public policy and just respect for human ingenuity, we should make sure that that competition is real, not just temporary and fake.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So now that we've gotten there, what is the argument that you've made in the book in terms of what cities should be doing? Because, you know, I think it's clear. We celebrate Chattanooga and Lafayette and Wilson, and they're champions in the book. You tell great stories about them. And yet, if you're advising a city, you're not advising them to go down that particular path.

Susan Crawford: Right, and so many of these cities that are heroes now have depended on their existing municipal electric utilities as a first step towards breeding fiber, and that can't be necessary, right? Because, you know, there are only a few thousand cities in the United States that have a municipal electric facility available, so there has to be a broader plan. So what I'm — what we're all advocating for, Christopher, and I think you more effectively than anybody else in the country, is taking stock of local realities with a broad cross section of the community, making sure that civic officials and the business community and residents and local government all understand the opportunity that they're missing by not figuring out what to do about their fiber situation, and then getting in help to do a feasibility study about what might be possible there, and then moving ahead with political leadership at the political level. It's all about lowering the cost of capital ultimately because it's not rocket science to build these networks, but it is about lowering the cost of capital and getting sterling leadership in place and supporting that leadership to move forward. Increasingly, I'm excited about regional opportunities, not just municipal ones. Watching what's going on in the South Bay, just south of Los Angeles, where a whole bunch of communities are talking about getting together and issuing a joint RFP for dark fiber services — that makes a lot of sense to me. There are ongoing economies of scale that operate at the public level, just the same way they do at the private one. But the first step is getting everybody together, having a real consensus that this is important, and then taking the necessary block and tackle steps to figure out what needs to be done, what the gaps are, where the capital will come from, and what the plan is.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious. What gives you hope that we're going to see more of these approaches and more of these regional collaborations, as opposed to this just being a kind of a footnote over a period in which, you know, we'll muddle along for many more years?

Susan Crawford: Well, MuniNetworks.org gives me hope because every day you're putting out stories of different places working on this and learning from each other. It's such a terrific community of people learning from past mistakes, making things work better, becoming increasingly professional in their approach to these networks. And Americans at their best are never cynical. And what also gives me hope is that this is such a thoroughly bipartisan movement across the country. So many of these areas working on fiber are Republican, or labeled that way, as well as Democratic. And that everybody, once they understand this issue deeply enough, is moved to do something about it. So far, every conversation I've had, let's say, with my dry cleaner or the local music store or anybody on the street, once you take the time to explain it, they just say, "Well, of course. Of course that's the way things should be. Why aren't they?" And Americans don't like to be behind and we are so behind the rest of the world, so I'm optimistic because of the American character. I'm very proud of being American, and I know that we will want to get this right and we won't be frustrated by a few companies that didn't do anything.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I really appreciate that. I know that Lisa will, too. My son is now three years old, so I know that Lisa has done almost all of the work on MuniNetworks.org for the past three years because that's when I kind of handed it off. And since then, I still get the credit, but she does all the work.

Susan Crawford: Yay, Lisa! Yay!

Christopher Mitchell: You know, one of the things that you just said actually reminded me of a conversation I just had in North Carolina with a small business owner who has CenturyLink fiber, and we were commiserating because I also have CenturyLink fiber in our office now. And in my experience, 100 Megabit symmetrical service is amazing. He has not had as good of a result, and we both agreed that the Voice over IP that CenturyLink uses is just awful. I mean, I frequently can't complete calls. I have all kinds of problems with it. And that's just a reminder of something we were talking about earlier in terms of just one fiber line is not enough.

Susan Crawford: Right, quality of service will only come from competition. And the only way that telco or communications competition has ever emerged is requiring structural separation between the wholesale operator or, you know, the dark fiber or dark air part of this and the retail services. As soon as people are allowed to choose hats or wear multiple hats, they start carving up markets and discriminating against others and making sure that they don't have to invest any more capital than they need to. So I think what we're driving at with this idea of dark fiber, dark air wholesale networks is encouraging investment in a tremendously useful facility for all Americans. And that will mean great persistent Voice over IP as well as very high capacity data services that I hope someday we will simply take for granted.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious who you aimed the book at when you were writing it. In part, I have to say, the timing is almost miraculous in that it came out in January and here we are at the beginning of February, and I think we're starting to see the media finally catching on to the fact that a lot of the 5G hype was bait and switch. And you lay that out in the book. And so when I was reading it, I was thinking it might go over the heads of a number of people, but increasingly I think, you know, it was just right for certain kinds of people. But I'm curious who you are aiming at.

Susan Crawford: I was aiming it at anybody who is curious and reads the newspaper. It's very approachable as a book. It really tries to tell the story in very human terms and get everybody all excited about the capacity of fiber. And so, I was writing for any small business owner, householder, trying to make this a — it should be a pedestrian subject frankly. And it has seemed sort of technical and far away, but that's because that's the way it's been framed by the incumbents. Actually, it's very sensible. So that was my audience. Everybody's my audience.

Christopher Mitchell: Your first book, Captured, came out and the cable companies had a plan to try and ruin you, they attacked you relentlessly. You know, one of the things I remember is they had, on the day it was published, multiple one star reviews on Amazon. Now, I think they're just desperately trying to ignore you and hoping that no one notices you. Is that your impression?

Susan Crawford: I think that's true. I'm still seeing a little bit. I have a particular detractor funded by Comcast who is always putting comments on Facebook and Amazon, so he's still out there. But I think their goal right now is just to make sure this goes away, and what I'm hoping is that it won't. I'm doing my best to get into mainstream news outlets, whatever I can do to keep pushing the story along.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I went to what for an employee of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is great extremes: I wrote a review on Amazon.

Susan Crawford: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: And I really hope that other people will too, even if they are also scared of Amazon because Amazon remains one of the key places people turn to to look for reviews. And so I hope people that have read the book or who are about to read the book, will do a review on Amazon even though I hope you buy the book somewhere else.

Susan Crawford: Oh, I appreciate that. And yes, I support independent bookstores and I want people to buy it there. I should do a better job of urging people to write reviews on Amazon. I just don't. And in part, I sort of feel my role is just to write the book and then everybody else will do what they want to with it. Other authors are more active in promotion, and this is just a failing of mine. Not to get an army writing about it, but I appreciate the plug and I hope that does happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I did notice that you don't start off every answer to a question with "As I say in my book."

Susan Crawford: No, I don't do that. And I really should.

Christopher Mitchell: So I am totally on board, as anyone knows who's listening to us, with our arguments that local leaders are the ones that have to step up. You make that case very compellingly, but I'm curious because you have worked in the executive branch for President Obama. You know, when you think about this, my impression is that the Obama administration in the last two years tried to figure out any way the executive branch could encourage these types of networks and more or less came to the conclusion that they just don't have much authority or power to do so. So if we had, you know, a president right now that was both competent and willing to take action on this, do you think there's anything that the executive branch can do today?

Susan Crawford: Oh, absolutely. In fact, in the last chapter of my book, I make a lot of these recommendations. Setting a standard for what constitutes the basic telephone service in the United States, that's the role of the executive branch, and having a lot of tax and loan guarantee and subsidization programs depend from that definition would be extremely helpful. For example, operators still running copper lines across the country could be essentially forced through tax policy to abandon those lines and replace them with fiber — and with wholesale fiber, by the way. Operators in particular regions could be given loan guarantees by the Fed, which operates regionally, to lower the cost of capital there and increase and incentivize the deployment of wholesale networks. Gosh, we could just make another kind of Tennessee Valley Authority operation exist in rural areas that would be a wholesale provider of transmission services with connections only to publicly operated or publicly supervised last mile networks. There are all kinds of things the federal government could do, but setting the standard and declaring that this is a priority of the United States would be a very first step. And that the Obama administration did not do.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a very good answer. I did not see that coming. Even though I read the last chapter, I think I was, as I noted, so euphoric for some of the stuff that came right before then in the stories. But I want to note something, that some of the people who listen to this show are more of a fan of cooperatives and that sort of approach than municipal networks. There is some animosity between them. And when you say the kind of authority that might do the wholesale access, I assume you're including the cooperatives as a major component of that.

Susan Crawford: Oh, absolutely, and I'm also harking back to what happened at the time of the formation of the TVA, that it's policy was to make business arrangements only with cooperatives and municipals. So you know, a definite bias in favor of these alternative modes of getting basic network connectivity out to people in rural areas.

Christopher Mitchell: You know, there's a line that I read from a 1950s political science paper about the meeting where that decision was made. Harold Ickes, who was a person — I actually have like, I don't know, it's like 2,500 pages of diary for him that was published that I want to read that I haven't gotten around to yet. But apparently, in one of the early meetings about rural electrification, they were trying to figure out how to make it work, and one of his people on the committee said, "Well, we're going to have to work with the electric trusts." And Harold Ickes said something along the lines of, "I won't have it. We're not going to talk to those sons of " — we have a clean tag so I'm not going to finish that off — and he said, "We're going to find another way." And as you said, they focused on the cooperatives and the munis, and I think we've saved probably trillions of dollars in rents because of that.

Susan Crawford: I think that's right. And it takes character to do that because in the current American context that sounds like heresy. What?! Not have the private sector do absolutely everything? And I'm not saying that public-private partnerships couldn't work, but they would be the public in charge and the private operator as a vendor, essentially, helping with construction or operation of networks but at the behest and under the control of the public entity or the cooperative.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I want to talk about Greensboro, North Carolina, because I think Greensboro makes this book work so much better than if you had excluded it. In this book, you talk so much about the great things that Wilson has done, RS Fiber with Mark Erickson and the many people that made that possible. You talk about MINET and we actually just interviewed Don Patten recently using some of the material from the book. You talk about Chattanooga. You talk about so many where there's great things happening. Greensboro, you actually mentioned that you'd read it just after reading George Packer's The Unwinding, which is a fantastic book. So why is Greensboro important for your argument?

Susan Crawford: Greensboro is important because I went to Greensboro expecting to find this kind of scrappy, spunky North Carolinian we-can-do-anything attitude about fiber, as well as everything else, and what I found was not that. What I found was that Greensboro's sort of sinking into a genteel irrelevance in a state that is booming really. Greensboro hasn't really gotten over it's a past of excluding poor and black people from civic life, that was my finding, and can't really see it's way past its current Internet access situation too. Then these things are really of a piece. So the reason why Greensboro is so important narrative, is that the overall story here is that places that can think about fiber as part of a decent respectable life, just a basic affordance, can also think about treating everybody with respect and making sure that the entire community is thriving. That's true and more and more true in places like Wilson, but it is not yet true in Greensboro. They haven't made that turn. It's still suffering from the past and kind of convinced that it's important just because it's Greensboro. And what I found was that although there's some champions in Greensboro, they're not gaining any traction because local government isn't really interested in fixing the Internet access situation, which is dominated utterly by Spectrum, and there doesn't seem to be much will for overcoming the somnolence, really the sleepiness, of the city's business approach. So that's why it's important. It was in contrast to these other places.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. For me, it was such a reminder of the importance of true local leadership, not just someone who's willing to say, "Yeah, that's nice."

Susan Crawford: Right. Exactly. Yeah, they would sort of wave their hands at it and then not do anything. And there are great people there, and I hope they see that I respected what they were up to when I wrote the book but that I could also see that nothing was gonna happen — that it was sort of a plan towards a procedure towards a process without any real leadership behind it.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, one of the things that I felt a little bit shown up on is the story you tell about Tiffany Cooper because it's so great and it just so illustrates why Wilson's municipal broadband network in North Carolina, in the eastern part of North Carolina, which we've talked about many times on the show because they're so pathbreaking — but her story is just a reminder that talking about low income households, you know, isn't just sort of a policy issue; it's real people's lives. And so I'm curious if you want to tell us a little bit about her.

Susan Crawford: Oh, I'd be delighted to. And I also hope people will buy the book — I know I need to start plugging — but I'm delighted to tell the story because it's an important centerpiece here. It was so moving. I just about burst into tears when she said it. So I went to visit Tiffany Cooper, who is a young mom of three sons living in public housing in Wilson. And she told me that being able to add $10 to her rent bill in public housing and have that result in a terrific fiber connection from the city of Wilson was the best thing that had ever happened to her and that she hoped it would happen to everybody else in this country. She said a funny thing. She said, "Whoever came up with this idea, this was genius," essentially. And what she was really excited about was that her sons' grades were improving because they could do their homework from home. She can't get them to the library. She has no ability to drive anywhere, and public transit in Wilson isn't great. And she knows that they are doing better and really focusing on grades because of the network's presence in her home. And she's also getting new training, medical certification for new sorts of jobs by having this fiber connection right there. And whenever I tell this story across the country, people just gasp. You know, of course you should be able to just treat this like a utility and pay an affordable amount and have it present wherever you are: in public housing, expensive houses, wherever. But Wilson really thought this through and they said, "Look, we've got this sunk network cost going into public housing. We're going to make this available to people in multidwelling units and public housing across the city, and we're very proud of it." And so it's one of my proudest moments in this book was being able to report that and then have other people from other cities just gasp when they hear the story.

Christopher Mitchell: It's a great story, and I will note that there are many similar moments like that in the book. I wrote two case studies with Todd O'Boyle, who is a Wilson native, about how Wilson built their network and then how Time Warner Cable fought back in the legislature. As I entered those parts of the book, I was thinking, well, I'm going to know all this, and there was details in there I wasn't aware of. And so, you know, if you found things that surprise me, anyone who picks this book up is going to find interesting things they did not know.

Susan Crawford: Yeah. And what's particularly — thank you for that nice compliment. What's particularly great about the Wilson part of the story is that they were willing to talk about the shenanigans with Time Warner Cable in getting the state law passed and talk about them in detail. And I don't think that's been on the record before. We all sort of know it, but it's great to have it written down and important for us as we attack this issue across the country.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's right. I mean, I know that's right. I was trying to get into this point which is that, you know, I think one of the challenges is as many of us are bitter about the way, in particular, Republican state legislators but sometimes Democrats have accepted the arguments from the industry, and I think whenever we talk about that, we use language that is guaranteed to antagonize half of the people thinking about politics in the U.S. And so, when I'm trying to talk to people in North Carolina, in particular legislators, I have to remember that I think a number of those Republicans who voted for those bills are now angry at Time Warner Cable. And they may not say so publicly and I think we might think they should have known better at the time, but they did think that the private sector would do better than it has.

Susan Crawford: That's right. We should always assume positive intent on everybody's part, even on the part of the companies because good Lord, we haven't restrained them. We haven't given them any reason to act differently coming from the rule of law, right? So, everybody's acting according to their best interests, and what we need to do is help people understand that the best interests of the country and of our place on the global stage and our ability to act coherently and with respect towards everybody depends on reframing this entire issue — that this is not a luxury, that it's not something that only rich people should have, that it's basic to every form of business in every policy we care about. And that reframing is just beginning to come into view, and whatever we can do to push that along is our job, I think, on earth right now.

Christopher Mitchell: So as we wrap up, I want to ask you about a phrase that you used on the Diane Rehm show, which is one of my favorite phrases. It has a deep history behind it, but I wasn't sure that everyone would have caught it. And that is ruinous competition, and I'm sure you use that for a specific reason. Tell me about that phrase.

Susan Crawford: All of these businesses that seem to us today like ATMs with lawyers on top, like oil or communications, and sometimes banking —

Christopher Mitchell: Electric companies.

Susan Crawford: — electric companies, they have very high upfront costs to set up these initial networks. And so it is in the interest of the companies eventually to divide up markets, to say you take Minneapolis, I'll take Sacramento, because if they start actually competing with each other, they'll just run each other out of business. And that's what's known as ruinous competition. There's a long history of the use of that phrase in the railroad industry around the turn of last century and in oil. It's only rational to have pricing power, to have control over entire markets, and that's what's happened with telecommunications. We can't allow that to happen. This is essentially a natural monopoly service. It only makes sense to have one wire connection going to homes and businesses and that wire should be fiber. And the way to create competition, we've known for a hundred years, is to make sure that that facility is shared and shared according to really clear rules that keep the operator, the wholesale facility, from having any incentive to pick and choose retail providers. That's where we need to get. And the problem is that absent any restraint from law or oversight, these companies and legislators, everybody, will act in their own self-interest to keep the status quo in place.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me add onto that just briefly, and you can tell me that you think that I'm wrong. My way of thinking has shifted over the past 10 years, in part because of where we are and also in part because of economic theory. And that's if I could wave a magic wand and have a publicly owned or cooperatively owned fiber to everyone's home and ban all other forms of of access that would compete with that, I would not do that. And that's because I think it is important, even though I think it might be inefficient in some economic analyses. I think it is good to have a little bit of infrastructure competition to keep the owner honest. My thought is the local ownership and accountability provides the best opportunity for that in itself, but also having a competing provider, I think, creates the right incentives, if at least one of those pipes has to be open in the way that you envision to multiple providers

Susan Crawford: Yeah, and I do disagree because we've seen this over and over again. If we believe in intermodal competition, which is what we did when we deregulated the telecom world, that we thought these wires would fight it out with themselves and that would protect consumers, inevitably there's consolidation and they buy each other out. And then you're left with a monopoly and no oversight, so you get the worst of both worlds. So actually, I think the competition comes from benchmarking wholesale providers against each other. This is the way Japan does it, so there's NTT East and NTT West. And you have to keep prices down coming from that wholesale provider. But then a genuine retail marketplace does emerge on top of that wire, and that is the way it should work because otherwise you just have private equity buying out competing networks and consolidating markets.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think this has been one of the best interviews we've had. I love all the different topics we got into, and I really hope that people appreciate it and they go out and buy your book.

Susan Crawford: And I hope everybody reads MuniNetworks.org everyday.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you. Thank you so much, Susan.

Susan Crawford: Thank you, Christopher. Talk to you later.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Susan Crawford, author, Harvard law professor, and broadband champion. Find her book at your local bookseller, indiebound.org, or from Yale University Press at yalebooks.yale.edu. We have a transcript for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 343 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 11

February 11, 2019

Arkansas

Senate committee approves rural broadband bill, KARK 

 

Colorado

Fort Collins municipal broadband will offer first service in August, Reporter-Herald

 

Iowa

VMEU holds last meeting before the final vote concerning broadband by Valerie Close, Vinton Today

 

Indiana

Foundation partners fund study by Bill Rethlake, Daily News

 

Mississippi

Why rural broadband could take years to implement by William Moore, Daily Journal

 

Nebraska

Midlands Voices: Broadband is a basic service for all Nebraskans by Johnathan Hladik, Omaha World-Herald 

We are often contacted by families who lack broadband access but live in a Census block that the state marks as served. For these forgotten households, there is little hope for change. Providers lack incentive to extend service their way. Limited state resources are spent elsewhere.

Lack of broadband in rural Nebraska creating a 'digital divide' by Chris Dunker, Lincoln Journal Star

 

North Carolina

Trainees see the light: Greenlight and Wilson Community College partner in fiber optics class by Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Times

"This is just a huge moment for the city of Wilson,” Rice said. “They have the state’s first fiber-to-the-home, community-owned gigabit network. They are all about fiber, so what a great opportunity to start establishing Wilson as the fiber experts for the state and maybe beyond the state."

 

General 

 

USDA ReConnect rural broadband deadlines extended by Phil Britt, Telecompetitor

We need a national rural broadband plan by Christopher Ali, New York Times

USDA launches rural broadband toolkit to boost expansion by Stephen Huba, The Tribune-Review 

Google Fiber's secret weapon in its gigabit comeback has failed by Jason Hiner, CNET

5G can’t fix America’s broadband problems by Karl Bode, The Verge 

“Absolutely no way is wireless service ever going to be competitive with high-speed wireline services,” Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the EFF, told The Verge. “The fastest speeds the industry is boasting about for the future of wireless has already been surpassed by fiber to the home years ago.”

Rural download speeds are worse than reported, Microsoft study says by Roberto Gallardo, The Daily Yonder

Rural electric cooperatives: The digital divide’s salvation by Alyson Moore, GovTech

FCC struggles to convince judge that broadband isn’t “telecommunications” by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

 

Tags: media roundup