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Arkansas Senate Considers Bill to Lift Restriction on Muni Broadband

February 11, 2019

*Update: After amending the bill significantly, SB 150 passed through the Arkansas Senate to the House. We were initially excited because the original version of the bill reinstated local authority to develop publicly owned broadband networks. The amendment adopted in Committee, however, changed the bill to only allow communities that apply for and receive grants and loans to invest in community networks and only to specific areas and at the speeds defined in those grants and loans. We still consider it a step in the right direction, but the move forward is miniscule. Read the amended bill here.*

 

This session, a new force in the Arkansas State Legislature — the Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus — has decided that they’ll take on the issue of poor connectivity. As part of their “Dream Big” initiative, they’ve introduced SB 150, a bill to restore local telecommunications authority.

"Dreaming Big" Means Bigger Broadband

The bill was introduced on January 23rd along with a suite of four other bills aimed at a variety of issues, including juvenile justice and education. Senator Breanne Davis of Russellville is the lead sponsor of SB 150, which would repeal restrictions preventing communities from developing broadband networks. Current law has an exception for communities that have a municipal electric utility but if SB 150 is adopted, any government entity will be able to offer high-quality connectivity.  

Legislators are focusing on opportunities for local communities to partner with private sector ISPs as a way to solve some of the poorest access to broadband in the country. They're also emphasizing that, if no partner wants to work with a government entity, this bill will allow a city, town, or county to invest on their own.

In a recent conversation with Talk Business & Politics, Davis described the impetus and goal of the bill: 

“About 40% of Arkansans don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC, so we decided to change that,” she said. “Our bill simply lifts the ban on cities and counties being able to either partner in a public-private partnership or go out on their own when no one will partner with them and apply for some of these grants that are available through the federal government.”

Sailing Through the Senate?

SB 150 unanimously passed its first committee stop on February 7th in the Insurance and Commerce Committee. It was amended from its original language to allow it to take effect immediately so local communities to can apply for federal USDA funding to be made available in Arkansas for broadband infrastructure. The committee sent the bill back to the Senate for full consideration. 

 

Correcting A Bad Situation

Last fall, Legal Aid of Arkansas determined that high numbers of people depending on Medicaid had lost the benefit due to their inability to adhere to a new state reporting requirement. Arkansans on Medicaid who were required to work or volunteer had to report their hours but the only way to do so was online. In a state where Internet access is hard to come by, thousands lost their healthcare. 

If Arkansas insists on using an online-only reporting method, Internet access in Arkansas needs to be widely available. SB 150 can allow local communities to fill in the gaps created in places where large ISPs aren’t interested in developing broadband networks.

Share Your Thoughts

If you live in Arkansas and suffer from poor Internet access or have no access to FCC defined broadband speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, contact your Senator and your Representative and let them know you support this bill.

Read the bill here.

Thanks to podcast listener Kevin Butler for bringing SB 150 to our attention!

Image of the Arkansas Capitol Building by Daniel Schwen [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

 

SB 150 as Introduced SB 150 as AmendedTags: Arkansaslegislationsb 150 arsenatemuni

Plan Now for Broadband Communities 2019 Summit in April

February 8, 2019

April will be here before you know it, and with the spring comes the 2019 Broadband Communities Summit. This year’s event will be held in Austin, Texas, April 8th - 11th at the Renaissance Hotel. The theme is “Fiber: Putting Your Gigs To Work.”

Register online for the event and check out the agenda.

Special CLIC Program

As in prior years, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) will host a special program during the afternoon of the first day of the summit. “An Action Plan for Local Internet Choice in 2019 and Beyond” will focus on the policies, the politics, and the people that can lead to better connectivity for local communities.

CLIC will host three panel discussions that address federal developments, the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), and nonpartisan approaches to managing the politics of local broadband initiatives. Christopher will speak on this last panel that aims to address lessons learned and recommend strategies that have worked to bring better connectivity to local communities.

Read more about the CLIC program.

Christopher will also appear on panels addressing economic development, including “Broadband at the Crossroads: Our Experts Weigh In.” He’ll also moderate “Lessons Learned From Turn-Around Communities,” a panel that will host Dan Patten from MINET and David Post from Salisbury, North Carolina.

Susan Crawford Keynote

If you haven’t yet read Susan’s latest book, you still have plenty of time before April’s summit. On April 11th, she will deliver the Keynote Address to discuss her findings as she researched for Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution — And Why America Might Miss It:

That’s the title of fiber broadband champion and Harvard Law School professor Susan Crawford’s new book – and what you’ll hear her address at Thursday’s working lunch. The great promise of cheap, ultra-fast fiber-optic connectivity is limitless communications capacity that will radically transform everything from business, education and medical care to urban and rural problem-solving. Why might America miss out? Crawford notes that 84 percent of homes here are still connected to the Internet through far more limited copper wire. China, on the other hand, is installing some 20,000 FTTH connections daily. Crawford has lots to say about the whys of America’s sluggish and haphazard efforts to switch to fiber and about the ways we can fix it. She’ll share them and follow up with a Q&A and book signing.

So Many Tracks, So Little Time

In addition to the economic development track, organizers have created a multifamily track and rural broadband track, each loaded with speakers and panel discussions that focus on unique aspects related to the broader topics. Considering that so many of these issues overlap, you may have a difficult time deciding which discussions to attend.

You’ll have several opportunities to network and follow up with one-on-one discussions during the Opening Night and Cocktail Receptions.

Take a look at the event agenda and start planning your time at the Summit.

You can also book your room at the Renaissance Hotel online.

Tags: broadband communities magazineeventconferencesusan crawfordchristopher mitchellfibereconomic developmentcoalition for local internet choice

Michigan Lame Duck Legislature: Lip Service on Rural Broadband Investment

February 7, 2019

Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December's bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state's most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most. There’s still time for Michiganders to express displeasure and the result and possibly influence change. You can file a public comment online through February 15th.

The Problems

When we reported on Michigan’s HB 5670 in December, it was set to appear before the House Communications and Technology Committee. Prior to the hearing, however, Chair Michele Hoitenga removed it from the agenda. Regular readers will remember Hoitenga, whose support from cable and telecom companies has inspired her to introduce anti-muni legislation in the past.

The bill, dubbed the “Broadband Investment Act,” established a fund to provide grants for infrastructure deployment, but specifically locked out municipalities and other government entities from eligibility. Consequentially, local ISPs that might want to provide services via publicly owned fiber were also stifled from projects because this provision essentially ended the possibility of public-private partnerships or any competition with large incumbents.

According to the language of HB 5670, “broadband” was defined as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. While we have seen state broadband legislation from several years ago falling back upon this outdated definition of “broadband,” Michigan condemns rural residents to slow, unreliable, last-century technology. It indicates a thinly veiled attempt to hand over state funds to telecom companies with no interest in providing anything better than what they already offer in rural Michigan — DSL or satellite Internet access.

Language in the bill also goes to extreme lengths to ensure that funds will only go to projects that have not received funding from any other source. What will prevent many projects from ever receiving funds, unless those projects are being developed by big corporate incumbents, is the fact that funds can’t be awarded to projects in places where other ISPs are planning to develop infrastructure.

President of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) Ben Fineman also points out that the legislation only allows the funding to be used for infrastructure. Due to the fact that only $20 million has been allocated for the fund, the Cooperative believes that the funds would be better used as grants for planning.

The Dance of Legislation

When the bill was set to be heard in committee, Fineman and MBC, along with other state groups interested in community broadband, encouraged constituents to contact their elected officials to express concerns about HB 5670. As a result, the bill was pulled from the agenda. At the time it appeared to be finished, but this wallflower found its way on to the dance floor by being folded into a huge appropriations bill, SB 601. The bill was approved by the Governor on December 31, 2018.

Read the specifics in the bill on pages 34 - 36.

Constituents Can Cause Change

Now, Fineman and MBC request that folks in Michigan who may be dismayed by the result in the bill or annoyed by the legislative process in this case file a comment by February 15th to the Connecting Michigan Communities (CMIC) Grant Program. Perhaps, by educating the folks at the agency that manages the fund and sharing your concerns, they will be better to advocate for changes to how the funds are distributed.

For the best results, keep it brief, polite, and personal.

You can email your comments directly to: DTMB-CMICGrant(at)michigan.gov

Tags: michiganstate lawslegislationfundingmichigan broadband cooperativerural

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 340

February 7, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 340 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Don Patten, general manager of MINET in Oregon, about some of the challenges that MINET had to overcome and the new expansion into the nearby community of Dallas. Listen to the episode here.

 

 

Don Patten: You know, I stress to my people, if they never fail at something, they're not working hard enough, and that holds true with those ventures that we look at for growing our business.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 340 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher has been out on the road again. This time he was in D.C., at a launch event for Next Century Cities' new toolkit on broadband readiness for local communities. While he was there, he spoke with Don Patten from Oregon's Monmouth Independence Network, a regional Fiber-to-the-Home network that serves the two cities of Independence and Monmouth. In the past, the network has faced some challenges, but in recent years the situation has changed, and now they've turned it around with a take rate higher than 80 percent. Don and Christopher discuss some of the problems that MINET has endured and the choices that led to those problems. Don describes the changes that they implemented to overcome those challenges, including a shift in their approach from utility to competitiveness. Don also talks about the need to push the envelope to keep up improvements in rural connectivity and gets into the details of their current expansion into Dallas. Now, here's Christopher with Don Patten from the Monmouth Independence Network.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, sitting across from a chuckling general manager of MINET in Oregon, Don Patten. Welcome to the show.

Don Patten: Well, thank you very much Chris. And I was not chuckling at you; I was chuckling with you because of your enthusiasm. I appreciate that.

Christopher Mitchell: There's actually — one of the people who has listened to every episode, Travis Carter, who runs US Internet in Minneapolis, his wife is supremely annoyed by hearing that every Wednesday morning. So I ham it up a little bit for her, for both of them.

Don Patten: [laughs] Just for her.

Christopher Mitchell: That's right. So let's get started, and let me ask you, what is MINET?

Don Patten: MINET is actually an acronym for Monmouth Independence Networks. Monmouth and Independence are two adjoining communities in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Christopher Mitchell: Which I have to admit, the first time I saw that and pronounced it, I got laughed at for "Williamette."

Don Patten: Or "Willaminette" or something like that. Actually, you know, the hint that we give non-Oregonians is "It's Willamette, dammit." [laughs] It's one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We're about 45 minutes from the coast, we're about 15 minutes from the state capital of Salem, and we're about 45 minutes from the grand city of Portland.

Christopher Mitchell: And MINET was one of the early networks. I'm sure you know the history. I know you haven't been there since the beginning of it, but how did it come to be that the twin cities worked together on this?

Don Patten: Well, you know, it's actually amazing that these two cities were able to pull together on a joint project because it's like many cities. Minneapolis and St Paul have a similar kind of a Hatfields and McCoy feud going on, on just about everything.

Christopher Mitchell: And that one is clearly better than the other.

Don Patten: Oh, absolutely. Very competitive and at least in the political arena, not always in a real nice fashion either. But in this particular instance, they saw joint need, they both had the same need, and it's the traditional reason why they got started. They realized that they were going to be overlooked for broadband. Western Oregon University sits in Monmouth, and they realized that they were going to be on the have nots side of the formula and said that's not acceptable. The communities did reach out to the incumbents and said, "What can we do jointly with you to bring broadband into our communities?" And they got the traditional answer: "We'll tell you when broadband's available. We'll tell you when you need it." And they said that's not going to fly here and chose to go ahead and build their own network.

Christopher Mitchell: And that was — was it 2005?

Don Patten: That was almost 12 years ago now. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, so it's been quite a ways. Now what I find interesting and what I want to talk about — there's several interesting things to talk about with you, but the thing that I really want to get out of you is the secret sauce of how you came into a network that, from what I could tell from afar, was succeeding but barely. It was not a pretty picture in terms of repaying the debt over time, there were some struggles to get the take rate up, and after you had been there for awhile, all of a sudden, it seemed like things were going very well. And so I'm curious if you can just walk us through how it was when you got there and what you did.

Don Patten: Well, yeah, I'll try to. And there is no secret sauce, first of all. It's merely rolling up your sleeves and not — if you had become what you tried to replace, to unwind that and definitely no longer become what you're replacing. And that was certainly the case with MINET. MINET had some significant debt issues because the cities chose to borrow money to pay for the original borrowing to build the network, which was a very poor business decision on the city's part and they're very open to admitting that, but that's what they did.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm sorry. So just to understand what that means. So, borrowing money to build the network?

Don Patten: They initially borrowed money to build the network, and then they borrowed money to operate the network, from which they were making the debt payments to the original bonds from. And that's just not a good business model in any stretch or sense of that.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about why for a second. One of my understandings is that if you need to borrow money, typically it's hard to borrow money, so probably it's coming with a higher interest rate. I mean, is that one of the issues or is it just that there's less pressure on you to make those operating expenses pay for themselves?

Don Patten: The latter.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Don Patten: Because cities do enjoy the ability to borrow money at very attractive rates.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So that's the issue then, is that they didn't have the right incentives to really dig into their business model to make sure it could stand on its own two feet.

Don Patten: Well, you know, I think the very original business model probably applied, but the operation was poorly managed quite frankly from the get go. As with so many municipal projects, there [were] too many political hands in the kitchen. There were too many government employees attempting to operate a business that government certainly has and should invest in doing it, in some form of partnership, but they got absolutely no business operating it. One of the very first things that I had to do is wrestle away the operating influences from the cities and from the political aspects of the cities.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, one of the things that we often see is a marketing challenge in particular cities. I mean, cities do a fine job operating electric utilities, water utilities, and things like that, but one of the things that sets them apart is marketing. And so I'm curious if that was one of the issues or if you can elaborate just a little bit more on where the challenge was. I mean, procurement and personnel issues can be challenging . . .

Don Patten: I would say this: that there was the mentality that if we build it they will come. And that has never worked anywhere ever, and that was the case with this operation as well. Plus there was the expectation that it could be operated like a municipal utility, and quite frankly we can't because we compete with Charter, we compete with CenturyLink, we compete with both the dish networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I remember that from one of the talks you gave. You don't like calling this a utility. This is one of sort of the downfalls of the English language I think. The term utility means something different to everybody, and so a lot of the arguments sort of go past each other. But for your point of view, you really have to understand that you're in a competitive environment.

Don Patten: Absolutely. It has to be operated exactly like a competitive environment because in fact it is.

Christopher Mitchell: And so what does that mean? Does that mean having fewer staff than might be convenient? You know, what's one of the differences?

Don Patten: Well, utility is merely a monopoly. If you want that service, you have to go to that monopoly source to get it. In our instance, we're not the only source to get the products that we vend.

Christopher Mitchell: So the difference between operating as a utility, certainly that's the experience from the consumer's point of view, but if you're running the operation, how do you run it differently? Is it that you just can't afford — because this is one of the things I'm curious about. Municipal networks that have struggled in my experience, one of the things is they have too many people, which drives their operating costs too high relative their revenues.

Don Patten: Well I think there's a natural tendency to have built in inefficiencies in a utility. And that has to do with government process and until that process has changed, it's almost required law. But the difference between a for-profit business and a utility — a utility has the ability to set their pricing based upon their expenses, and a for profit business has to earn the money, earn the margin that they can obtain and do so against their competitors' pricing. But quite frankly, one of the things — and you're correct — one of the things that I had to correct when I got out there was a bloated staff, an inefficient staff, and make the operation as absolutely as efficient as we could possibly make it and do it very, very quickly because MINET was on the slippery slope.

Christopher Mitchell: This actually reminds me a lot of the Chattanooga story. It's something that they did before they got into the telecom business. They significantly reduced their FTE staff, and they improved on every single metric that they were tracking. And so it's this same sort of culture shift away from the idea of a utility and into a more nimble, you know, competitive enterprise.

Don Patten: Exactly. And until our most recent expansion endeavor, we have been operating with roughly about — we've been able to bring the customer count up. I'm very proud to say we've been able to bring the customer penetration rate up to in excess of 85 percent.

Christopher Mitchell: And that puts you in like the top five percent of municipal broadband, from what I understand, take rates.

Don Patten: Indeed it does, but far more importantly, we're able to hang onto it. We didn't just reach it by lowering prices or throwing some shiny special out on the marketplace. We just earned it the hard way with good old customer service and making sure that we were talking to everybody that could possibly be our customer. But the point I wanted to make was, as far as efficiencies, we support somewhere between 5,600 and 5,800 customers in our legacy markets of Monmouth and Independence. For the longest time, we did that with 14 FTEs, full time employee equivalents. In our industry, that is tremendously low. You know, there's companies even in Oregon with municipal ruts that have that customer count that are needing 50 to 60 employees to do that same.

Christopher Mitchell: So the secret sauce, you haven't said it officially, is you kidnapped all of the children in the town and told their parents they had to sign up for your network before they can see them again, right?

Don Patten: Well, yes we did do that. [laughs] No. The secret sauce is this: we applied business acumen in everything that we did.

Christopher Mitchell: So I mean, I can see that getting to 70 - 75 percent. An excess of 85 percent — is this a matter of hometown pride that then emerged to put you over the top?

Don Patten: Well, we certainly tried to take advantage of it, if in fact we could take advantage of it, if in fact people felt guilty not supporting their hometown entity.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Don Patten: But you know, that's very, very difficult to quantify. Even [with] as many questions as we ask every customer as to why they're there to become our customer or why they're there to leave us as a customer, some things are just impossible to quantify and that's very hard to do. But if we were able to do it, we were certainly trying. Actually, I think we closed out December at 87.3 percent penetration rate. And we have absolutely current counts on available passings, so we know that our penetration rate is extremely accurate. But one thing to remember is that with the other 12 or 13 percent that we don't have available to us, by and large, we really don't want them. I mean, we'll continue to try to get them, but most of them have been our customers at one time and in fact, they're probably still in our system. They just happen to be in our accounts receivable system because they forgot to pay their bill, and that's why we don't really want them back.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. That's a hard case.

Don Patten: And, you know, there's also another 4, 5, 6, 7 percent of the available customers [that] are always going to be changing, chasing that next shiny object. They'll be our customers sometimes; sometimes they won't be.

Christopher Mitchell: I interviewed Doug Dawson last year and he had said that you guys were — one of the things you were doing was recruiting farmers to the area. Now you're in an area that's outside the state capital, but it's still fairly rural.

Don Patten: It is.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, one of the things you're trying to do is to use your system to see what you can do on the farm, from what I understand.

Don Patten: One of the things that we are trying to do is to not — and you know, at today's meetings, today's symposium, we were talking a lot about thinking outside of the box to make rural broadband more successful. And quite frankly, thinking out of the box isn't going to get it done. You got to blow the box up.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Don Patten: There can be no boundaries, even in your rear view mirrors. We're looking at doing anything and everything that we can possibly do to not only attract new potential customers into our system or to attract businesses into the communities as well. If that includes putting mobile devices on hops and wine grape trucks and bringing them through the community so we can have them ping through our system to report the quality and condition of those crops, we're trying it. You know, one of the things that — I hail originally from South Dakota, and we had a governor that was notorious for saying, "Just do — even if it's wrong, go do something." And we at MINET have that attitude in spades. You know, I stress to my people if they never fail at something, they're not working hard enough. And that holds true with those ventures that we look at for growing our business.

Christopher Mitchell: So, speaking of growing your business, we'll talk a little bit about what you're doing in Dallas. And that's Dallas, Oregon, not Dallas, home to the worst team in the NFC East by my opinion as an Eagles fan. So you're in Dallas. It's a unique approach and for people — we'll talk about it but also Doug Dawson wrote about in his blog, POTs and PANs, so there's a little more detail there. But what's the broad sketch of what's happening?

Don Patten: Basically, you know, Doug Dawson and I have been kind of partners in crime for a lot of years, and so we knew each other in a lot of past lives. And I was stressing to Doug that, you know, our efficiencies and our abilities should afford the attention of investors, and Doug at the same time was talking with some institutional investors that were looking for new growth opportunities. Investors that were traditionally building prisons and schools and leasing them back to states and counties were looking for new investments because quite frankly we as a nation aren't building more prisons and all the schools were built 10 or 12 years ago that are ever going to be built because brick and mortar schools are going by the wayside as a result of data, right — broadband. Because of our effectiveness and our efficiencies, Doug agreed with me that we'd be a strong candidate to expand our network if there was a private investor group interested in doing so. We've talked about a number of expansions, but Dallas is the closest community to our existing footprint. It's really about 10 miles away. We already have a path, a backbone path, going through the area, which makes it a lot easier to serve. We don't have to do much headend expansion to serve that community. And being that close, we knew that there was a great deal of interest in Dallas in MINET coming there simply because literally on a daily basis we would get calls from Dallas customers wanting to know when we were coming to their community. And we started tracking the volume of that and it was very substantial. And that's when we started doing some surveys into the community in conjunction with CCG, Doug Dawson's group, and found out that this might be a very viable partnership to pull together. So much so that the investor groups took a look at the data that we'd pulled together for them and they actually drove it to fruition. They wanted to do this. They wanted to do more communities with us, larger communities, more and larger communities off the bat, but together we decided we're writing a new book. We're going to see how Dallas goes, and if it goes as expected, I suspect we'll be doing some more expansion. Because really we have unlimited capability as long as we can reach them with fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: So the question that I like to wrestle with is the unpopular one, which is kind of what happens if things don't work out as expected? So, who's taken on the risk of this project?

Don Patten: First of all, the cities have absolutely no risk. MINET has a risk in that its name would be dragged through the mud as a result of a failure in that marketplace, but we don't have any financial risk that could potentially fall on the cities if that were the case. But that is not the case. It's purely the investors. It's no different than investing in Google or investing in General Motors.

Christopher Mitchell: So who owns the network, in that, if I came along and I said, "I really like what's going on here. I want to buy it from someone," who do I talk to?

Don Patten: Our services or the network?

Christopher Mitchell: The network.

Don Patten: Well the network is actually owned and being built by American Fiber Optics, the company that is marketing it is Willamette Valley Fiber, and MINET is hired to manage that network and to sell our services as Willamette Valley Fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Don Patten: Eventually, and without getting into details which I'm not at liberty to share, part of our agreement is that eventually MINET will own that network that's being built.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. So this is a . . . I mean, I think of it as similar to a capital lease kind of arrangement then.

Don Patten: Very similar.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. And so then the cities of Monmouth and Independence will own the fiber and the services and everything at the end of the term basically.

Don Patten: Yes. Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. Are you serving rural areas outside of Monmouth and Independence?

Don Patten: We've been approached by a number of nearby communities, mostly populations of, I would say, 10,000 or less — maybe 5,000 or less. In one case, a couple of thousand individuals. Because we are government, other governments, other communities are reaching out to us to get advice, direction, guidance, whatever you want to call it, on how do they get broadband into their communities. And we've been working very closely with a number of very small communities. I think we're coming getting closer to a solution for them, but we've got a number of political hurdles to cross here in Washington, D.C., to make that happen for those small communities. The formula is very similar to what we're doing in Dallas, only with the city either getting grants or borrowing money to build a network and then hiring someone — perhaps us, perhaps someone like us — that would operate it for the city because again, a city has no business being in the business we're in. They have every reason [to] and should be investing with those who can operate it successfully, but they themselves should not be the operator.

Christopher Mitchell: The question I guess I want to wrap up with is, how is MINET different than if Verizon had made a priority to build Fiber-to-the-Home to everyone in Monmouth and Independence? What do you do differently that helps the community in ways that go beyond just the technology that's available?

Don Patten: There's the obvious ones. Our customer service is local. Our employees live in the towns. We see each other in the grocery store. When you call with a technical issue, chances are our technician's going to be in driveway in about 20 minutes and you're probably going to know that individual. But the other is, is that we are a partner with the city in creating economic development opportunities for the cities. And I don't know that a Verizon's business plan or a Charter's business plan or Comcast's business plan, would ever afford them to actually go hand in hand with the city after seeking economic development opportunities that does not play out or does not feed Verizon directly, does not feed Comcast directly, etc.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've been hearing for years is that partnerships are a major way forward, and I'm curious what you're thinking about in the way of partnership,

Don Patten: Chris, they really are as far as I'm concerned, and they give us a lot more opportunity to increase our margins. You know, traditionally every operator would only use network that they built or they owned. They would not lease it to anybody, and they wouldn't lease any network from anybody. If they couldn't build it and own it themselves, they didn't have any interest in it. We've taken the position over the years that we do a lot of fiber sharing with other entities, and it's proven very valuable to us to be able to reach out using someone else's network and having a profitability tool that wouldn't have been at our disposal if we would have had to build it.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, when you say sharing, I've heard of swaps and I've heard of leases. Is this something different, or is it along those lines?

Don Patten: Same thing, different terminology. But as an example, you know, I have a significant number of unused fibers going to one of our POPs, one of our colocation points where we reach out to the Internet as a whole, and one very large — very large — commercial entity was looking to get access to a number of those fibers. And I was interested in giving them access to a number of those fibers as long as I could get access to a number of fibers that they had that, quite frankly, were headed over to Dallas. And we've determined the value of "by mile" like you always do, and we found the right agreement by which they could use our network, we could use theirs, and we support one another.

Christopher Mitchell: And so —

Don Patten: And that really does open up a lot of opportunities to do business that we couldn't have done on our own.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. One of the things that I wanted to make sure to ask you about came up in Susan Crawford's new book, which is called Fiber and is terrific — just came out. She talks about a program that I think sort of gets to the root of what we want broadband to do for us, which is to give people more opportunities and improve quality of life. And it's teledentistry in your schools. Can you tell us what's going on there?

Don Patten: Where we live, we have a very diverse population. In fact, we have probably I think somewhere between a 38 and 42 percent hispanic population because of the amount of migrant workers that we have working in the valley. But unfortunately, the income level of that demographic is not very high. And we've worked very closely with Central School District — one of the largest school districts in the state of Oregon by the way, individual school districts in the state of Oregon — to bring telehealth into reality so that the children would have access to healthcare. At that time, we weren't able to get an interest from our regional health traditional health partners. We were able to get an interest from dental providers, and we actually have a teledental clinic setup for Central School District, which to give you an understanding of Central School District, they have near 68 percent free or reduced lunch participation. And these children are able to come in and actually receive dental services via telemed, no charge.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is remarkable. I mean they both have, you know, information about whether they have a cavity or not, but they also use a procedure that allows them to have the cavity filled. And it's very little pain, no drilling, by people that are able to — you know, I don't know exactly what their title is, but they're not full dentists, so there's a lower cost for them to work for the school or work for this program.

Don Patten: That's exactly right. And this is another thing that a small town, a small entity such as ourselves, when we're engaged with the community, we actually sat down with the school district and determine what would be needed in conjunction with the teledentistry program as far as bandwidth, and we decided to build fiber directly into the building that was providing that so that we would have no latency, no bogged down, because it is a high bandwidth pig operation. And for, you know, the other providers, the traditional providers in the community which would be Charter or CenturyLink, getting them to build to that entIty probably isn't ever going to happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well then the final part of it, which I know you're not an expert in but I'm guessing you may have a sense of the impact on the community, is that a lot of these children would have been trying to go to local dentists with Medicaid dollars. A lot of dentists either have a long waiting list or struggle to deal with Medicaid patients because of the reimbursement rate. And now, those dentists can use their time to work with patients that have more significant problems, and the kids that just need a routine exam or basic cavity filling, they're not sort of in line at the dentist when other people may need to get that spot.

Don Patten: That's exactly right. And quite frankly, what drove my decision to participate in and to absorb some of the economic costs of building it correctly for the school district was that while yeah, they may be doing it with state subsidized dollars, more likely than not, they would just avoid dental services altogether.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Right.

Don Patten: And that just breaks my heart that children would have to go through life like that.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It leads to all kinds of problems. And so these are the kinds of outcomes that I love to see. I mean, it's easy to talk about, oh, we have lower prices and we have good local customer service, but here you're giving these kids much more opportunities, and they're going to do better at school not having a tooth ache every day, if they're having a problem.

Don Patten: That's exactly right.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Well thank you so much for taking the time while we're here in D.C. for the Next Century Cities bipartisan tech event. It's been a good day, and tomorrow, which will have been in the past by the time people listen to this, but you're going to help launch the toolkit for Next Century Cities.

Don Patten: Yeah. I'm looking forward to it. And Chris, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me.

Christopher Mitchell: All right, thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Don Patten from the Monmouth Independence Network in Oregon. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts avaIlable at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us 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. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 340 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Promo Video Focuses on Fiber Benefits in Rio Blanco County

February 6, 2019

The Rio Blanco County Economic Development Department recently published their promotional video to share information about their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The video highlights some of the benefits the infrastructure is now bringing to the communities of Rangely and Meeker by offering interviews with people from different segments of the population. In addition to county administrators, people in the fields of education, real estate, and business leaders discussed how the open access network is positively impacting their fields.

Check out the video, that runs just under five minutes:

Rio Blanco County Broadband Initiative from Align Multimedia on Vimeo.

 

Getting Out the News

The video is an excellent tool to help Rio Blanco County spread the word about their publicly owned infrastructure that will help them stay competitive. One of the recurring themes in the video and from other rural communities throughout Colorado and elsewhere, remains the ability to live and work in an environment unspoiled by urbanization while still having access to connectivity that rivals or surpasses that in urban areas. As Rangely Town Manager Lisa Pierling states:

"You can have the best of both worlds. You can have all of the modernization you need to run your business, but you can still take a step back and just enjoy a little slower paced life than rush to work, rush home."

Learn more about the Rio Blanco County FTTH project by reviewing our coverage.

Tags: rio blanco countycoloradovideoruralFTTHgigabitopen accesspromotional

RiverStreet Networks Reaching Across Rural North Carolina - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 342

February 5, 2019

While in North Carolina at the recent Let’s Connect! speaking tour, Christopher sat down with Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development of RiverStreet Networks. Greg participated in panel discussions in all three communities where the community meetings occurred: Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville.

RiverStreet Networks is the product of evolution of what began as Wilkes Communications. They’ve acquired several local providers in different areas across the state and are set on bringing high-quality Internet access to rural North Carolinians. In this interview, Greg shares some of the cooperative’s history, including information on how they’ve funded their deployments.

Greg also discusses his experience on the practical side of cooperative life, such as comparative operating costs between fiber and copper, working with electric cooperatives, and the ins and outs of leasing assets from public entities. Christopher and Greg also talk about future plans that RiverStreet has to partner with North Carolina’s electric cooperatives across the state to bring connectivity to more people in rural areas.

Learn more about Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks from our conversation with Eric Cramer from 2016 for episode 188 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

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

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this episode is available here.

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

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

Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitscooperativewilkes communicationsriverstreet networksrural electric coopnorth carolinaexpansion

Film Screening and Discussion in D.C.: "Do Not Pass Go" on Feb. 20th

February 5, 2019

The story of tiny Pinetops, North Carolina, and how large corporations blocked their ability to obtain high-quality Internet access from a nearby municipal network comes to life in Do Not Pass Go, a documentary by Cullen Hoback. On February 20th, you can attend a screening of the film and stay for the discussion after. The event will be in Washington, D.C., at the office of the National League of Cities/National Association of Counties from 5 - 7 p.m.

Register for the free screening and discussion.

Join the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), Next Century Cities, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), and the National League of Cities (NLC), who will be guiding the discussion about the film and the policies that come into play. 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.

After the screening, a panel discussion will include:

  • Christopher Mitchell from ILSR
  • Terry Huval: Former Director, Lafayette Utilities System, Lafayette, LA
  • Joanne Hovis: Co-Founder and CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice; President, CTC Technology & Energy
  • Dr. Christopher Ali: Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia; Faculty Fellow, Benton Foundation; Fellow, World Economic Forum
  • Suzanne Coker Craig:Managing Director, CuriosiTees of Pinetops LLC; former Commissioner, Pinetops, NC

Following the panel discussion, the Networking Reception will allow participants to continue the conversation and share their individual experiences.

Register online for the free D.C. screening.

Pinetops, Wilson, and Greenlight

Greenlight, Wilson’s municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network has created benefits for folks in Wilson since 2008. Pinetops and other neighbors have asked Wilson to expand in order to take advantage of the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access but state law prevented Wilson from serving beyond county borders.

In 2015, Chattanooga and Wilson decided to challenge their states’ laws that had similar effects. The FCC struck down both laws and Wilson took the opportunity to expand service to Pinetops, a small mountain town of about 1,400 people. Pinetops businesses and residents immediately noticed an improvement with FTTH. The town enjoyed economic development opportunities, better Internet access for residents, and municipal facilities functioned more efficiently.

In the summer of 2016, however, an appellate court reversed the FCC decision and Pinetops was scheduled to be cut off from the FTTH service. Wilson provided free connectivity for a time to avoid breaking the law, but eventually, the state legislature passed a bill that will allow Greenlight to serve the tiny town temporarily. The law included a provision that Greenlight must exit from Pinetops if a private sector provider entered the town with similar service. In 2018, Suddenlink blustered into town, which meant that Wilson had to disconnect Pinetops. Residents of the small town are unsure what the future holds and wondering if the cable provider will actually bring FTTH to the entire community or only focus on low-hanging fruit in order to get Greenlight out of town.

 

Watch the trailer:

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

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 342

February 5, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 342 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher chats with Greg Coltrain, Vice President of Business Development at RiverStreet networks, about how the cooperative is bringing high quality Internet access to rural communities in North Carolina and Virginia. Listen to the full episode here.

 

 

 

Greg Coltrain: We're co-ops at the core. RiverStreet Networks is doing business as a name — it's a brand — but our culture has been the co-op world.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 342 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Last week, Christopher and our research associate Katie Kienbaum were in North Carolina on a speaking tour to meet with people in the communities of Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville. You can read about the community meetings and even watch video from the Jacksonville event at muninetworks.org. While they were there, Christopher had the chance to sit down and talk with Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks. RiverStreet Networks began as an extension of Wilkes Communications. Over the past few years, the cooperative began acquiring smaller companies all over the state as they began to implement their vision of bringing high quality Internet access to rural communities across North Carolina. This past fall, the cooperative merged with TriCounty Telephone Membership, another cooperative, greatly expanding the reach of RiverStreet. Greg and Christopher talk about RiverStreet's plans to bring Fiber-to-the-Home connectivity to as much of rural North Carolina as possible. They also get into some of the practicalities, such as working with local electric cooperatives and with local governments to help expedite progress and lower costs. Learn more about the cooperative at myriverstreet.net. Now, here's Christopher with Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, doing another live interview in North Carolina today from Jacksonville, North Carolina, on the coast by the Marine base with Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks. I'm just slowly parsing through that to remind myself — you are the VP of business development?

Greg Coltrain: Yes, that's correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, because you have a couple of different titles, or you have, and I know that you were very involved with a cooperative that has since joined RiverStreet networks. But let's start there with the past and talk a little bit about TriCounty Broadband.

Greg Coltrain: Yes, that's correct. Yeah, TriCounty Broadband was formed 67 years ago. We were formed out of Tideland EMC, which was actually called Woodstock Electric at the time. They used USDA funds to build a telephone company in an area that the incumbents didn't serve.

Christopher Mitchell: And just to jump in for a quick sec, EMC is . . . ?

Greg Coltrain: Electric membership cooperative.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. That's what they're called in the Carolinas, from what I can tell.

Greg Coltrain: That's right. Yeah. So that's kinda where we got started. From the beginning, we put in phone service. Over several years, we invested in some TV and video product to serve rural parts of Beaufort, Hyde, and Washington counties in eastern North Carolina. And then, you know, over the last few years, we've morphed into really a broadband company. So a few years ago, I was having some conversations with a friend in the industry who was running a phone company and a broadband company in the western part of North Carolina called Wilkes Communications, and that was Eric Cramer.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. A former guest of our show, and we'll link to that in the show page so people could go back if they haven't heard that. But it's an exciting interview. I really enjoyed talking with him about that.

Greg Coltrain: He's really good at telling stories

Christopher Mitchell: He is, and we look forward to having him on again too.

Greg Coltrain: For sure. But we just started having some candid conversations about the industry, where things were going. We always navigated to each other when we would go to meetings. e tended to have some of the same visions, and that just naturally took us to discussing partnerships, which later turned into a full blown merger. So in August of this past year, we merged TriCounty Broadband into Wilkes Communications.

Christopher Mitchell: And before the merger, TriCounty Broadband, about how many — you know, what was your service territory like in terms of square miles, number of customers, that sort of thing?

Greg Coltrain: Well, I mean, to give you some perspective, when we started over building the entire network with fiber, that was about 355 miles of fiber that we laid in the ground. We served roughly 2,900 to close to 3,000 customers at the time, and we've passed all of these customers now, so they all have Fiber-to-the-Home.

Christopher Mitchell: And how were you able to do that? I mean, how did the financing work?

Greg Coltrain: Well, we've traditionally always borrowed money through the United States Department of Agriculture. They have a group called the Rural Utility Service division of the Agriculture Department. And most of the TMCs across the country when they looked at getting started in the beginning, borrowed and the interest rates were great, so we just continued to do so. But when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was coming around, there was monies placed in there for broadband infrastructure growth across the country. And we decided to bid in that grant loan process and we were awarded a 75/25 grant loan combination. So we had to pay back 25 percent of it, but it was really helpful for our membership and for our community. Something of this nature wouldn't have ever happened without that.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, when you were getting the straight loans before the stimulus dollars were around, were you having to go into the more dense areas then? Is that how you had to structure it?

Greg Coltrain: Prior to the broadband line, you know, we were trying to get closer to customers with electronics because we were working on old copper networks, and the only way that you could get faster broadband to them was to get closer to them. And so we would build a five year plan, do a five year proforma, and we would forecast that into really an engineering model. And we would sit down and decide what we were going to do for the next five years, and in turn we would borrow the money from RUS and we would draw down funds as needed to pay for the project. And then of course, we paid that back at a low interest rate over many years.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, are your operating costs much lower in areas where you're operating on the fiber now as opposed to when you were operating on the copper?

Greg Coltrain: Yes, actually they are. Some statistics show that fiber uses 60 percent less electricity to manage the customers. We also have a whole lot less repeat trouble calls for Fiber-to-the-Home customers. It's really just a resilient service. It's remarkable; it's almost a magical how it works.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's one of the things I feel like people don't always appreciate when they're talking about how fiber costs so much, we can't get it to all the rural areas, is that by not using fiber, we may be fooling ourselves because the higher operating costs that may be involved even as we're delivering an inferior product.

Greg Coltrain: That's true. The problem is, is that you've got this capital outlay that you put out here in this network, and even though it makes sense to take it and trade it in for something new, the cost associated with putting that fiber in is still real cost. And so, you upgrade customers to a superior network that's by far superior to what they've had which is really kind of laying the ground floor for years to come, but you're not increasing any revenue stream. And so, it's a bit of a juggernaut, if you will, because you go and you spend anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 a mile — depending on the municipalities that you're having to work around or whether you're going through rough terrain like mountains or rock, stuff like that — to serve only a few customers, six or seven customers per mile. So it makes it really complicated, and then you're not making any additional revenue when you switch them over to this product.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. When you're working in areas where the electric membership corporation, where they have the electricity, are you going on the poles? Are you burying? Is there a combination?

Greg Coltrain: Well, in certain parts of our network where the earth is just not very penetrable, we will utilize poles and hang on the poles. For the most part, we like to put it in the ground because it's a little safer there. We just have to worry about backhoes and stuff like that.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, this is an area of the country where hurricanes, when they hit, they hit you pretty much head on. They don't slow down a whole lot.

Greg Coltrain: Correct. On the eastern part of the state, we've taken a beating over the years with that. But we've had a lot of collaboration with EMCs. For many years, if they were going out to do locates or stuff like that before we had the state 811 locating program, we would really help each other by locating things to prevent from hitting each other's stuff. And sometimes when they would open a trench, they would let us lay in there with them. We've just always had a real amicable relationship with them.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'm glad to hear that. The reason I was asking that is — and we're going to pivot to RiverStreet networks in a second, which is very exciting, the latest news, but one of the things we sometimes hear from electric cooperatives around the nation is, well, we'd like to do broadband, but our poles just can't support it. They're worried about ice load and things like that. Is that something that you've run into? Is that why you prefer to be underground? Or is that — I have to tell you sometimes I think it's just an excuse because they really don't want to go into it and they're looking for a reason not to.

Greg Coltrain: Well, I mean obviously if you have ice on lines, that's going to tear them down and it's going to be a lot more trouble if somebody else's facilities are in your way, and you know, that could be kind of thrown the other way towards us. We could be trying to repair stuff and they could be in our way, but we've not really noticed that. Most of the co-ops that we've had to deal with where we've had pole attachments have been fairly easy to work with, and so I can't say that we've had any huge complaints there.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. That's good to hear because every region has its own peculiarities.

Greg Coltrain: It is. And if you go out there and get on the Internet and start reading, you'll notice that not all co-ops play well together. They've got different politics going on. But we've been really blessed; we've been thankful to have the relationships in North Carolina and they seem to be getting even better.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, in Virginia too, which leads us to our next announcement, which is that you combining in August was part of a much larger kind of unveiling in connection with the Connect America Fund auction — which again, I would say if people are interested in that, I did a podcast on that back in September with Jon Chambers. it's just a very exciting auction. You were a tremendous winner of it. If you want to outline the plan of what's going on with RiverStreet networks first and then we'll dig into some of the specifics.

Greg Coltrain: Sure. You know, the merger between Wilkes Communications and TriCounty was kind of a strategic plan that fell hand in hand with some of the other acquisitions that we've made across the state. And so we were able to combine the two co-ops, but we also purchased Ellerbe Telephone Company in Ellerbe, North Carolina. We purchased three TDS properties in 2014: Barnardsville Telephone, Saluda Mountain Telephone, and Fair Bluff — or Service Telephone in the Fair Bluff area.

Christopher Mitchell: And these are telephone companies that did not have fiber?

Greg Coltrain: These are telephone companies that were really kind of left out there to not have any opportunity for fiber. We acquired them with the hope and the desire to receive some grant funds or utilize CAF funding and a lot of our own capital to go in there and rebuild those networks. And so, some of those things have already started, are underway. We've ran into some hiccups in a few areas. You know, it can be a slow go, and we find that the more that we can get local groups to have some skin in the game, if we can have partners that come to the table that actually help facilitate the process — even if it's something as simple as working with DOT to make sure that we don't have a lot of hurdles to jump through and cost —

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Department of Transportation.

Greg Coltrain: Yes. Those things are helpful. And so, we acquired these companies. We also reached out to a telephone company in Virginia in Pittsylvania County, Peoples Mutual Telephone Company, and we were able to acquire that through Consolidated, which was the owning company for that. And so we've added that to the family of RiverStreet Networks. There's a company in Danville, in Pittsylvania County as well.

Christopher Mitchell: We've actually talked with Jason Gray many times over the years [and] followed Danville, an early open access pioneer, and Gamewood, the company that had operated on their network really doing tremendous service for local businesses. They're now RiverStreet networks, right?

Greg Coltrain: Yeah. That open access network in Danville is really a cool thing, and our, our property Gamewood Technologies has been selling broadband service on that to customers for quite a while now. We also have the means to do security and home surveillance. We do hosted voice telephone systems, and that's basically phone systems that work over the Internet. And it's a lot easier than the old school way of doing hosted phone systems in business offices.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Many more features.

Greg Coltrain: Many more features and flexibility. But, we've been doing that for some time and we also have a relationship with King and Queen County, which is in kind of the northern part of Virginia as you're heading towards DC. Very unique model there. So they basically have an open wireless network there that they're selling, that the county is selling. We're managing it for them. We helped them construct and build the towers and facilitate the APs, the access points, on the towers, and we do the maintenance and manage and bill for that. And it's just a great partnership. It works well with them. But all of these were strategic acquisitions to give us expertise and experience and a lot of different things, so that we can basically funnel that back through our machine and our processes and come up with a good conceptual idea of how we can reach these rural areas that nobody else wants to go to. And so if you've got all these ideas and you've got all these people that are doing these things, it makes it a lot easier to bring everybody to the table and say, hey look. We've got a real complicated area. It's very rural. We've got the following vertical assets. We've got the following fiber assets. Now let's figure out how we can get connected to them and then we can serve those areas. Which takes us to our next step of our exciting process, which is a partnership with the North Carolina Electric Membership Cooperatives.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and so there's about 26 of them and they cover the majority of territory of North Carolina. So, there's a lot of reach there.

Greg Coltrain: They do and they're rural and they also are co-ops. And we're co-ops at the core. RiverStreet Networks is doing business as a name, as a brand, but our culture has been the co-op world. And if I could explain that to your listeners a little bit better. If you're a co-op, you're owned by your membership. So if you make money at the end of the year, you pay it back in dividends to your members or you spend it in capital expenditures to grow the network even more.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure.

Greg Coltrain: And so, you know, one of the things that we've tried to do is to take the efforts that we've had and spread them out and share that in a way to reach more people that are underserved. And it's worked well for us. That's the same thing that the EMCs done from a power standpoint, and so we had kind of a symbiotic relationship with them. So as we started talking further with them, it made too much sense for us not to talk further about how we could share assets, share resources, share knowledge. We have a lot of experience. We have about 140 employees, and so we can bring resources to the table to have a network operations center, to have technical support, to have full blown engineering. We have a production studio; we have the ability to tell the story.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. In fact, you brought your production studio to us in a limited extent in Albemarle two nights ago, as we're recording this.

Greg Coltrain: Absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: That video is going to be up thanks to you.

Greg Coltrain: And Adam.

Christopher Mitchell: Adam, right. And Adam says that he travels all over the place, you know, doing productions like that.

Greg Coltrain: Yeah, they're excellent. The team at at Wilkes and RiverStreet is by far the best. I've never had such enjoyment as getting to know these people and seeing the passion that runs throughout the company. It's great.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk a little bit about North Carolina then. So one of the things that I know that you've talked about is that the cities and counties are a bit limited in how they can work with you. And so, you know, I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about what you'd like to see in terms of the cities and counties having authority to partner.

Greg Coltrain: Yeah. There's a bit of a scare tactic out there that munis and counties are wanting to get into the broadband business. And, you know, I guess that's rightfully so. Some have been more progressive than others. In our conversations with most of the municipalities and counties in North Carolina, we have found they just want to be a facilitator in trying to help make it happen. So there's room for some change in the law. There's room for us to reexamine what's available. And if there are assets that can be utilized for a company to come in and lease those assets so that they can reach further out into the community, it really kind of helps cut down on the substantial cost. I mean, it's a heavy lift to come into these communities and replow and reconstruct fiber throughout very small rural areas, and so if you can use the assets that are already in place to connect to, to get closer to those customers, it really cuts the cost down substantially.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about that briefly. If you could, you know — I was just thinking of the ants with the fungus that takes over their brains. Like, if you could take over the county and the county had full authority to do whatever it wanted, would you prefer dark fiber leases or would you prefer just conduit where you can do whatever you wanted with it.

Greg Coltrain: Obviously if the fiber's there, a dark fiber lease would be better because you wouldn't have that additional cost to put the fiber in. You could set up an agreement where you lease per mile of fiber through that town or through that county. That would be the best, but I mean, if there's conduit there, that's also huge savings.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, the reason I ask is because sometimes I've heard that ISPs think, "Oh, I'd like to lease dark fiber, but if there's 10 strands available," or something. I mean, what kind of strands — do you need a lot of strands available for the way you build them, or do you just adapt to whatever you have available?

Greg Coltrain: I mean, we try to be very nimble and adapt to whatever's available. However, we can do pretty much what we need to do with two strands of fiber, especially if there's some kind of a ring architecture. That's not always a real world scheduled approach because there's not always rings out there so that you've got redundant protection in a ring. You know, we make the best with whatever's available.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure.

Greg Coltrain: It just takes a bunch of people to kind of look outside the box and say, hey, I like the way you think. We've got these assets here. We've got a quadrant of our community over here that's completely unreached and unserved and we've got these assets here. It seems wrong to say, from a political standpoint, no, they can't be allowed to use that when it would offer relief in a hurry.

Christopher Mitchell: So you've been — these companies that RiverStreet has bought, they're spread all over the state. I feel like you've had a sense of all the different areas in North Carolina. Are we going to be able to get fiber out to everyone eventually?

Greg Coltrain: I think with the smart folks in North Carolina, we can do that. I mean, but it takes our politicians making some changes. It takes people thinking outside the box. It takes everybody coming together in the room. One of the talking points I used in one of our sessions was creating broadband subcommittees within counties. You're getting that grassroots approach, having the county commissioners establish a lead person and saying, "Hey, go out in the community, find some anchor people, and let's get the conversation rolling, and y'all start having meetings and start making recommendations to the commissioners and we'll listen." That's a great first step, and we've had the opportunity to work with some counties where we come in and they have a broadband subcommittee. Warren County in North Carolina had a great broadband subcommittee. Really, really cool people, great people thinking outside of the box. We were able to engage with them as a provider and find out what the desire of the community was, and then put together a plan and bring it before the county commissioners. And so, that's what we're finding seems to be a very good avenue to work through the counties.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I love that you've brought that up at each of our meetings because that's one of the things I wanted to happen and I didn't fit it into my remarks, but it felt like you were just cleaning up for me.

Greg Coltrain: No problem at all. No problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you Greg for coming on the show. And I've been wanting to get you on here since I met you in Durham last year, and it's a pleasure to spend three nights with you.

Greg Coltrain: Absolutely.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks talking at the recent Let's Connect meetings in North Carolina. 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 anywhere 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, 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 342 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 4

February 4, 2019

Colorado 

Annual State of the City address: Fort Collins' success depends on everyone, leaders emphasize by Nick Coltrain, Fort Collins Coloradoan

 

Indiana

Tipmont REMC promises economic growth in rural Indiana through broadband Internet by Lindsay Moore, Lafayette Journal & Courier

 

Massachusetts 

Lowell City Council eyes creating municipal broadband network by Rick Sobey, Lowell Sun 

Now everyone relies on internet access -- for work, for contacting people, for your TV, for everything.

Petersham inks broadband agreement with state by Greg Vine, Athol Daily News

Windsor asked to back broadband hookup plan, add to legal expenses by Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle 

 

Minnesota

'Moonshot' for rural broadband, local gov aid on Walz's to-do list by Dana Ferguson, Duluth News-Tribune

Congress should work together to expand rural broadband by Brian Krambeer and Jim Matheson, Post-Bulletin 

 

Mississippi

A bipartisan bill in Mississippi could bring high-speed broadband to the Delta by Debby Warren, Nonprofit Quarterly 

Digital divide blamed partly on faulty maps, Herald-Whig View

 

North Carolina

Officals working to bring Internet to more of Onslow County by Greg Payne and Jason O. Boyd, News Channel 12

National, local experts talk about improving Internet access by Chris Miller, Stanly News & Press 

The problem (and the solution) with mapping broadband in North Carolina by Jeffrey Sural, WRAL TechWire

Statewide tour stops in Jacksonville to expand broadband by Camila Barco, WNCT

 

Tennessee

The City of Memphis has the slowest Internet speed in the United States by Sabrina Davis, Daily Helmsman

 

Vermont

Broadband Internet service in Brattleboro takes slow pace by Chris Mays, Brattleboro Reformer

 

General 

Broadband: The fourth utility, Corning 

CenturyLink and Frontier miss FCC Connect America Fund broadband deployment milestones by Kevin Taglang, Benton Foundation 

Broadband providers are quietly taking advantage of an Internet without net neutrality protections by Lindsay Stern, Public Knowledge

Net neutrality court case preview: Did FCC mess up by redefining broadband? By Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica 

“As a legal matter, broadband should be classified as a telecommunications service under the Communications Act," Free Press Policy Director (and attorney) Matt Wood said at the press conference. "ISPs send our speech to each other. They don't step in and dictate what we can say or change it in any way."

State of the States 2019: Getting America connected, GovTech 

The Internet: Public or private?, Ford Foundation 

How America’s Internet connectivity issues are holding the country back by Zachary Mack, The Verge

 

Tags: media roundup

Sparking Broadband Conversations in North Carolina with Let’s Connect!

February 4, 2019

Last week, community leaders, local ISPs, residents, and policy experts gathered in three North Carolina communities — Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville — for a conversation about improving local connectivity. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM), and NC Hearts Gigabit organized this series of broadband meetings, called Let’s Connect, which aimed to spark conversations about the need for better broadband access and potential solutions for the region.

Each meeting opened with a welcome from local municipal leaders, followed by a presentation from Chris Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, and a panel discussion between local leaders and innovative ISPs. Panelists talked about the need for better broadband to support everything from economic development to agriculture to health care, and why it’s necessary to bring all voices to the table in order to solve this issue. Mitchell noted:

“We electrified the country with private investment, municipal investment, and cooperative investment. That's what we'll need to bring Internet access to everyone." 

One of the biggest takeaways was the need for the North Carolina state government to more explicitly authorize public-private partnerships, which would allow municipalities to invest in broadband infrastructure and then lease it to private companies that provide service. 

At the end of each night, attendees were invited to ask questions and share their stories about the need for better connectivity. One local resident shared his frustration that his family’s only option for Internet access is satellite while his neighbor has broadband, illustrating the inconsistency of broadband access in the state. All North Carolinians deserve affordable, reliable, high-quality Internet access, and it’s our hope that the conversations that began at these meetings will result in meaningful progress toward that goal.

Read more about Let’s Connect in News Channel 12, the Stanly News & Press, and the Jacksonville Daily News

Watch an archived video of the Jacksonville event:

Here's the event in Fuquay-Varina:


 

We also had a chance to visit with two of our Let's Connect! panelists and have them on the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher spoke with Greg Coltrain from RiverStreet Networks:

 And Alan Fitzpatrick of Open Broadband also joined Christopher for some one-on-one conversation:

 

If you are interested in hosting a similar event in your community, let us know at broadband@muninetworks.org!  

 

Thank you to our sponsor Ting who helped make Let’s Connect possible!

Photos by Katie Kienbaum

Tags: north carolinanorth carolina league of municipalitiescommunity broadbandevent

Portland Is In: City to Contribute to Regional Feasibility Study

February 4, 2019

In a February Facebook post, the good folks at Municipal Broadband PDX out of Portland, Oregon, shared the news that the city will be contributing to the cost of a broadband feasibility study. The $25,000 city pledge, pooled with the funds the group has raised so far, brings the total funds for a feasibility study to $225,000. The group learned of the city’s intention to contribute on February 2nd and shared the news immediately.

In order to keep the momentum high, leadership at Municipal Broadband PDX are encouraging people to attend a Multnomah County Board meeting on Thursday, February 7th. Multnomah County has already committed $150,000 for the study and the communities of Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, and Wood Village were also early to express their support.

Grassroots and Growing

In November, Portland was chosen as one of 35 communities as part of the Neighborly Community Broadband Accelerator Program. The program provides access to experts, mapping, and financial tools to help local communities get their projects off the ground.

The grassroots organization launched in the summer of 2018 with the intention of guiding local residents and businesses toward motivating Portland and Multnomah County leaders. They believe that high-quality Internet access is a public utility and should be provided to every member of society in the same way every one has access to electricity. Municipal Broadband PDX also strongly supports network neutrality and believes that lower-income households should have the same access to the Internet as higher-income folks. Their goal is “Internet for the People.”

Comcast and CenturyLink control Internet access in Portland and the community’s attempt to offer citywide Wi-Fi several years ago didn’t end in enhanced competition. Portland contracted for a feasibility study about 10 years ago and the high estimated cost at providing Internet access through community broadband was too daunting for community leaders. With a regional approach, local communities can combine their assets.

Portland already has IRNE, the Integrated Regional Network Enterprise, a fiber network which serves public entities. Officials from IRNE have been involved in the conversation on how to bring the same benefits to Portland’s residents and businesses that municipal facilities now enjoy.

Getting the Community to Show Up

During the past seven months, Municipal Broadband PDX has been determined and successful at inspiring people to attend local government meetings in order to describe the importance of connectivity to daily life. Christopher joined them as they kicked off their campaign with a clever video that showed the frustrations locals feel:

In a recent email, Municipal Broadband PDX wrote:

We invite you to the Multnomah County board meeting next week to testify before the Board about why municipal broadband is important to you. We want to let the county know they have enormous support from a broad, diverse coalition. The Board is very excited about this project and would absolutely love to hear from you. 

Details on the meeting:

Multnomah County Board Meeting

Thursday, February 7, 2019

9:30AM to 10:00AM

Board Room

Multnomah County Building

501 SE Hawthorne Blvd

Portland, OR 97214

If you can attend, please RSVP and learn more about the meeting here.

Tags: portlandoregonmultnomah county orfeasibilitygrassrootspublic meeting

New Salem's New Hut Means New FTTH On The Way

February 1, 2019

Expect to see more Massachusetts communities connected to their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks during 2019. Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) has been working with the rural towns on the western side of the state, and an increasing number of the projects are nearing completion. With the arrival of their broadband hut in December, the folks in New Salem embraced their Broadband Committee’s adopted motto, “This Is Really Happening!”

Summer of Speed

Broadband Committee members estimate their publicly owned community network will launch in July as they bring better Internet access to the town of about 1,000 people. After more than three years of seeking a way to high-quality Internet access, delivery of the hut was a physical manifestation of the hard work needed to make this goal happen. Committee member Sue Dunbar told the Greenfield Recorder, “It’s a huge, big brick visual reminder to the town residents, who have been waiting for so long, that this is a reality.”

There's Always Ups and Downs

The project has not been without snags. Underestimates of make ready costs, partly due to long driveways for some potential subscribers, drove up deployment costs, which are still not finalized at around $3 million. A few property owners had opposed new utility poles on or near their property, which hampered a smooth deployment. The fact that the state’s Department of Conservation & Recreation owns swaths of New Salem also interfered with the process by adding an additional level of approval to pole installation.

According to Dunbar, however, New Salem is collaborating with nearby Shutesbury and Wendell, and that collaboration is helping to improve the deployment process. All three communities have contracted with WG+E to build their publicly owned networks. Wendell expects to begin connecting premises in the fall, while Shutesbury is aiming for a May launch. 

Readers may remember that Shutesbury was one of the communities that sent Charter packing when the corporate ISP proposed to serve fewer than all the homes in the community. When pressed for a price to expand to 100 percent of the town, Charter refused to offer a price, so Shutesbury declined and chose to build their own FTTH network with WG+E.

Photo of the new hut courtesy of the New Salem Broadband Committee.

Tags: new salem mamassachusettsFTTHwestfield marural

Fort Collins Full Steam Ahead, FTTH Taking Shape

January 31, 2019

It was one of telecom’s famous David and Goliath stories, and when it was over, the people in Fort Collins, Colorado, were ready to press on to invest in better connectivity for their community. That’s what they’re doing now and community leaders anticipate rolling out service as early as this summer.

Deep Pockets vs. Self-Determination

We shared the 2017 story about massive spending by large corporate ISPs in the Colorado town to prevent voters from approving a city charter amendment. Big incumbents wanted to prevent competition that might arise from public investment in high-quality Internet access and were willing to spend almost a million dollars to stop it.

Fortunately, people heading up grassroots efforts in Fort Collins had educated the public about the benefits of fiber, public ownership, and the risks of doing nothing. Voters supported the charter change and later Fort Collins residents and businesses went on to support the city’s efforts to develop a business plan for a municipal Internet access utility.

Connexion

Fort Collins started construction of the estimated $80 million project, dubbed Connexion, and they are hoping to connect the first subscribers in August 2019. They anticipate completing the network in 2021. The city’s light and power department is working with the contractor hired to deploy the network; construction began in November.

In May, the city issued approximately $142.2 million in revenue bonds in order to fund construction, cover the needed capital costs, and get the service on its feet. Bonds sold out in two days.

The city released a promotional video to introduce the service to the Fort Collins public:

According to their 2017 model business plan, Connexion will likely offer symmetrical 50 Megabit per second (Mbps) for $50 per month and 1,000 Mbps (1 gigabit) for $70 per month to residents. Citywide service will connect approximately 62,000 households and 8,000 commercial premises. Potential subscriber interest looks promising for both business and residential premises, based on the many pins on the Connexion online map

Like other municipalities that invest in their own network infrastructure, Fort Collins has expressed a commitment to network neutrality. In addition to promising personal privacy, the city has vowed to avoid paid prioritization and restrictions on access to any kind of content.

Read the Fort Collins Business Plan Executive Summary to learn more.

Working Together as One

In the recent State of the City Address, the theme was all about making strides by working in tandem to reach goals. A series of community leaders participated, including Colin Garfield, who was instrumental in driving the broadband project forward. Fort Collins celebrated their accomplishments and also recognized where they need to make improvements, noting that community-wide efforts are the most effective. 

As part of the Address, people from all over the community gathered in different locations to view the official 2019 Fort Collins - State of the City video. Check out the segment that focuses on their broadband project:

"The mark of Fort Collins, which makes me optimistic, is that we can make an impact," said Mayor Wade Troxell.

The History

Learn more about Fort Collins's grassroots organizing and fight to pursue a municipal network. Check out our coverage and listen to Community Broadband Bits Podcast episode 282, an interview with Colin Garfield and Glen Akins.

Photo credit VisitFortCollins.com

Fort Collins Business Plan Executive SummaryTags: fort collinscoloradoFTTHmunigigabit

Update on Let's Connect! In Jacksonville - Venue Change

January 30, 2019

Gentlefolk of the Jacksonville, North Carolina, region — there has been a change of venue for the Let’s Connect! Speaking Tour and Community Meeting scheduled for tonight 6 p.m.

Fortunately, the gathering has only been moved across the street. This from event organizers:

Due to logistic issues, the Broadband event – Let’s Connect NC meeting -- has been moved to the Jacksonville City Council Chambers in the Jacksonville City Hall at 815 New Bridge Street, right across the street from the JYC Youth Center, where the event was previously scheduled. Parking is available from the Johnson Boulevard side and along the street on New Bridge Street.

Organizers also hope to have signs posted to prevent confusion.

As a reminder, seating for the event is available on a first come, first served basis.

If you’re not able to attend, you can stream the live event at 6 p.m. on G10TV, Jacksonville - Onslow Government Television.

Tags: eventnorth carolinarural

Ralls County Electric Cooperative Bringing Fiber to Perry, Missouri

January 30, 2019

In Missouri, rural electric cooperatives are bringing high-quality connectivity to an increasing number of small towns where large corporate Internet access companies don't consider population density high enough to justify investment. A few years ago, we reported that Ralls County Electric Cooperative (RCEC) was connecting New London, their hometown. Now, RCEC is expanding their network into nearby Perry.

It Took A While, But It's Coming

In the small town of Perry (pop. 700) in northeastern Missouri, many businesses currently lack the Internet speeds they need to operate successfully. With the current speeds available, as Senior Vice President of HNB Bank Jeff Albus explained, customers at the bank often have to wait while the employees stare “at a spinning wheel on [their] screen.” In order to secure Internet speeds necessary for a future in the digital age, HNB Bank decided to take initiative and work with the town to approach RCEC about expanding their fiber network into Perry.

Efforts began in 2016. At the time, RCEC was deployng their $19 million project aimed at serving rural areas around the town of Perry but not in the city limits. HNB and community leaders floated a petition and the Mayor had signed a letter of support on behalf of the City Council. With only CenturyLink DSL and satellite coverage to choose from, businesses and residents needed more options.

The community is considered the Southern Gateway to the Mark Twain Lake, where more than 2 million tourists come to enjoy summer recreation. As we've learned from places such as Cook County, Minnesota, and Colorado ski communities, such as Estes Park, high-quality Internet access is an expectation that an increasing number of tourists expect no matter where they go to relax.

From Electricity to Fiber

RCEC got its start in 1936 providing inexpensive electricity to unserved rural residents of northeastern Missouri. Over the years, RCEC expanded into Internet and digital phone service and in 2014, RCEC completed a fiber optic network reaching all of its members. Currently, over 70 percent of RCEC members subscribe to the fiber Internet services offered through the coop’s subsidiary, Ralls Technologies, LLC. After recently covering Saverton and New London, RCEC will continue the expansion of its fiber network into Perry starting in February 2019 with customer service set to begin in late March.

Closing A Digital Divide

RCEC’s Perry expansion will bring northeastern Missouri one step closer to ending its urban-rural digital divide. Despite the fact that high-speed Internet access is just as essential for farmers in rural communities as it is for people in urban areas, rural areas still lack broadband providers and competition. Lynn Hodges, the manager at RCEC, believes that the new high-speed Internet in Perry will not only be important for businesses trying to compete in an increasingly world economy, like HNB Bank, but will also greatly improve the town’s quality of life. With many rural areas currently experiencing population decline, Hodges hopes that the “ability to access the world of the Internet goes a long way toward helping retain those folks and keep them in a rural setting." 

As Internet access becomes more essential to daily life, municipal governments and co-ops are making strides to bring access to places that need it most. People and businesses in Perry will soon see the results of their persistence in pursuing better connectivity from the local rural electric co-op. As Albus stated:

“So many people are so dependent on those services just for their own farm, or small business, or personally, it’s a big deal here in the state of Missouri and it’s something that makes a difference here in the town of Perry for ourselves and our citizens.”

Tags: missourirural electric coopralls county electric co-opruralexpansion

Stream Let's Connect! Speaking Tour from Jacksonville, North Carolina on Jan. 30th

January 29, 2019

Our Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum are participating in Let’s Connect! speaking tours at several communities in North Carolina. The events, organized with NC Broadband Matters, NC Hearts Gigabit, and the North Carolina League of Municipalities, has been a chance for local residents in Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville to gather together and discuss rural broadband. While each community’s needs are unique, there are some common themes and the conversation can be valuable to anyone interested in learning more about ways to improve connectivity in their community.

Can't Make It? No Prob

In order to reach folks in different regions, organizers set up the events in towns across the state and schedule the meetings during evening hours. Nevertheless, there may be people who would like to attend, but aren’t able to due to work, transportation challenges, or other issues.

In order to make at least one event accessible to as many people as possible, folks in Jacksonville have set up a livestream, which will be presented via Jacksonville - Onslow Government Television. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. local time on January 30th.

View the event here January 30th at 6 p.m. EST

This Line-Up

In addition to Christopher, confirmed speakers include:

  • Greg Coltrain, Wilkes Communications/River Street
  • Erin Wynia, NC League of Municipalities
  • Beth Bucksot, Pamlico County
  • Jonathan Bullock, Hotwire Communications

If you’d like to attend the free event, you don’t need to RSVP, but seating is available on a first come, first served basis. The Jacksonville event will be held at the Jacksonville Youth Council Youth Center at 804 Bridge St. in Jacksonville.

 

Tags: eventnorth carolinanorth carolina league of municipalitiesstreamingvideochristopher mitchell

Open Broadband Opening Up Rural Possibilities - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 341

January 29, 2019

It’s cold in our Minneapolis office this week, but two of our staff — Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum — are off enjoying mild January weather in North Carolina. They’re conversing with the good folks in three different communities, where they also met up with this week’s podcast interviewee, Alan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Open Broadband

Alan and Christopher have a practical conversation about what it’s like to be in the fixed wireless Internet access business these days. As they discuss, the model for today’s WISPs isn’t like it was in the past, which is one of the reasons fixed wireless companies such as Open Broadband are able to provide service so much more advanced. In addition to talking about technology, Alan touches on the birth of the company, some of their hardest challenges and how they overcome them, and he gets a little nostalgic remembering their first gigabit customer.

Learn more about Open Broadband at https://openbb.net/

Remember that Christopher, Katie, and the good people at NC Hearts Gigabit and the North Carolina League of Municipalities still have two more Let’s Connect! meetings set in the towns of Fuquay-Varina on January 29th and Jacksonville on January 30th. You can still make it as the meetings are in the evening.

Learn more about the Let’s Connect! meetings here.

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

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

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

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

Tags: fixed wirelesswispnorth carolinagigabitopen broadbandaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Net Inclusion 2019, April 1 - 3, Set for Charlotte, North Carolina

January 29, 2019

Spring seems like a lifetime away as we hunker down in our frozen Minneapolis office, but we know it will be here sooner than we expect and with it will come Net Inclusion 2019. The event will take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, this year April 1st - 3rd and if you haven’t already started making plans to be there…why haven’t you started making plans to be there?

Putting Digital Inclusion on Everyone's Mind

Each year the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) puts on the event to bring together a broad range of people and organizations involved in digital equity. In addition to policy experts and community practitioners, representatives from Internet access providers attend, along with advocates and folks interested in sparking grassroots movements in their local communities. Some of the issues they discuss include:

  • Policy at the federal, state, and local level that affect digital equity
  • Support — including financial— aimed at digital inclusion programs
  • Digital inclusion best practices from around the U.S.

This year, the event will be held in Charlotte at the Harris Conference Center. Day One — April 1st — will include a series of pre-conference events. By the second day of the conference, the itinerary will be filled with interactive sessions and the final day will end at 3 p.m. on April 3rd. If you register by February 14th, you can receive a discount on your tickets and on hotel bookings at the Omni hotel.

There will be a lot going on, so check out the schedule to plan your participation. You can also see a list of speakers (Christopher will be there).

Learn more at the NDIA registration page.

Are You An Affiliate? Ligtning Round!

NDIA is also accepting special applications from digital inclusion initiatives for 25 - 30 Lightning Round presentations. Each organization accepted will have four minutes to present their initiative and a maximum of five slides. If you’re interested, learn more at the NDIA website; the deadline to apply is February 15th, 2019.

Tags: north carolinadigital dividenational digital inclusion allianceconferencecharlotte

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 28

January 28, 2019

Maryland

Master plan will look at developing a municipal broadband network in Baltimore by Stephen Babcock, Technical.ly

“We are particularly focused on dual goals of economic opportunity and inclusion, and what digital infrastructure means for those goals,” said Hovis. 

 

Massachusetts

How smart strategy and rigorous analysis enable Boston to save while effectuating city and public broadband needs by Andrew Afflerbach, CTC Technology & Energy

 

Minnesota

Closer to a connection: Broadband expansion continues for rural areas in Region Five, Wadena Pioneer Journal 

 

New Hampshire

Chesterfield eyes plan to beat the broadband blues — with no tax money by Meg McIntyre, The Keene Sentinel

 

North Carolina

North Carolina, nation’s first gigabit state? That’s the goal, say state officials by Chantal Allam, WRAL Tech Wire

Guest blog: Wilson Greenlight trains the next generation in fiber optic basics by Catharine Rice, Next Century Cities

Our region needs a broadband boost by Katie Kienbaum, Jacksonville Daily News

 

Washington

The push to expand broadband by TJ Martinell, The Lens

As Inslee proposes broadband access across state, Allen notes much needed opportunity for tribes, Tribal Tribune

“The Colville Tribes have invested several millions of dollars to begin to meet this need, but we require assistance from the state and federal agencies to complete this work… The lack of broadband service creates not just an inconvenience, but poses real safety concerns throughout the reservation.”

Broadband effort critical in Columbia County by Kathryn Witherington, The Union-Bulletin

 

General 

Terabyte-using cable customers double, increasing risk of data cap fees by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Putting skin in the game for broadband by Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs

Sorry, Ajit: Comcast lowered cable investment despite net neutrality repeal by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

It's now clear none of the supposed benefits of killing net neutrality are real by Karl Bode, Motherboard 

Schools, libraries are obvious setting for telehealth by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

In rural America where libraries are the best game in town for getting broadband, conference rooms could become temporary stations for traveling nurses implementing these and other telehealth programs. Additionally, supplying these nurses with mobile hotspots could increase their versatility and effectiveness within the community. 

 

Tags: media roundup

Talking to Wilson, North Carolina: Will Aycock from Greenlight on TechWire Q&A

January 28, 2019

People in the North Carolina towns of Albemarle, Fuquay-Varina, and Jacksonville, are gathering together this week to discuss rural broadband. Our own Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum are meeting with residents along with representatives from the North Carolina League of Municipalities and NC Hearts Gigabit in the three towns across the state. Recently, in WRAL TechWire, reporter Chantal Allam shared an interview with Will Aycock, who heads up Wilson’s publicly owned broadband network.

Aycock described how Wilson’s Greenight Community Broadband had been developed to support the economic vitality of the community, while also providing other benefits. He also stressed that Wilson’s decision was significant for them and that each community needs to decide what’s best for their own needs.

In Wilson, he adds, the network has helped to spur a long list of economic development investments, including downtown revitalization and investment in the community’s corporate park. New jobs continue to spring up, while other nearby rural areas contend with losses. The local college has taken advantage of new technological training and programs that require gigabit connectivity. Additionally, the city’s other utility systems benefit from the advanced connectivity. “None of these accomplishments are because of Greenlight specifically, but rather Greenlight is part of a team both within the City and across the broader community that all work together to build our future,” says Aycock.

He and Allam also talk about plans that Wilson and Greenlight have to use the broadband network and fiber infrastructure to continue to advance. Smart city applications, innovative options for entrepreneurs, and more collaboration are all in the future for Wilson. Aycock described Wilson's future vision:

We see Wilson being a focal point for micropolitan smart city efforts that is not secondary to Raleigh-Durham, but rather a part of the North Carolina technology and innovation ecosystem. To make progress, we must think of each region of our state as part of a whole that works to move us all forward.

Wilson, Example

North Carolina is one of the states with some of the greatest urban and rural broadband availability disparities. Wilson is an example that others have looked to as a possible solution. Recently, state-level leaders have expressed a goal to make it the first “giga-state.” At a forum earlier this month, Jeffrey R. Saul from the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) said:

“When I talk to my counterparts in other states or with the federal government they seek our counsel and remark on our progress. We have a lot of work to do to make sure everyone benefits and is included, but we are on the right track and making good progress.”

As long as the state maintains its law preventing municipal broadband utilities from serving neighboring communities, however, the state will stunt its own progress. Folks in the small community of Pinetops, who were receiving service from Wilson until the state stepped in, understand the situation firsthand.

Wilson and Greelight Are So Much More

To learn more about Wilson and Greenlight, check out our extensive coverage over the years, including our 2012 report, Carolina's Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. We’ve interviewed Aycock several times on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, but most recently, in order to learn more about their efforts to shrink the digital divide. Listen to the conversation here:

Bring Your Community Together

We also encourage you to look into the possibility of setting up a screening of the short film, Do Not Pass Go, which explores the possibilities of publicly owned broadband networks and looks at the situation in Wilson and Pinetops. We've created a screening packet that can help get the conversation started on rural broadband.

 

Tags: north carolinanorth carolina league of municipalitieswilsongreenlightinterviewrural