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Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 18

September 18, 2017

 

Georgia

Cagle joins Ferguson in Pushing Broadband by Winston Skinner, The Newnan Times-Herald

The lieutenant governor, who is a candidate for governor, recently announced his plan for speeding the deployment of high-speed broadband to underserved areas in rural Georgia.

“Strong infrastructure represents a bedrock component of any strategy to create access to good paying jobs,” Cagle said.

  

Kentucky

Tenn.-based Cable Provider to Bring Service to Warren County by Don Sergent, Bowling Green Daily News

 

Maine

EPA and USDA to Help Two Maine Communities with Economic Development Goals, United States Environmental Protection Agency

 

North Carolina

Internet still Problematic by Josh Bowles, Montgomery Herald

 

Ohio

Limited high-speed internet access in rural Ohio counties causes a digital divide by Bennett Leckrone, The Post

Johnson said it’s difficult to get large companies to provide internet to rural counties with fewer people when there are other markets available. Thus, the responsibility of installing equipment and providing better internet access often falls to small companies.

“This is the only community that (smaller companies) serve, and the only way to make more money from that community is to give them more opportunity to consume,” Johnson said, explaining why smaller companies have more incentive to provide internet access in rural areas. “They can invest more easily, and they don't have as many options. Consequently you have (smaller companies) putting fiber into the home in many rural areas.”

 

Oregon

Letters to the editor: Spectrum now has another reluctant customer, Press Herald

Following the transition to Spectrum, I was particularly dismayed to find new and unexplained additional charges on my bill. But trying to bargain with a monopoly is a fool’s errand. I have no choice but to use them as my internet service provider. Now they are selling the information they glean from the use of their monopoly system without my (or your) permission.

  

Virginia

King George Again Exploring Broadband Needs by Cathy Dyson, The Free Lance-Star

King George has received a $30,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to work on solving its broadband shortages. It’s also partnering with the Center for Innovative Technology, a nonprofit corporation in Herndon that will help King George assess its needs and come up with a plan to provide for them.

The Community Development Block Grant and the broadband initiatives the CIT has in place pair up perfectly, said Caroline Stolle, CIT’s broadband program administrator.

“We were waiting for the right locality to come along,” she told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “Why not demonstrate how Virginia can spend its broadband money?”

Editorial: Which Candidate is Best on Rural Broadband? The Roanoke Times

 

General

Senators Blast The FCC For Weakening The Definition Of Broadband To Try And Hide The Industry's Lack Of Real Competition by Karl Bode, Techdirt

Major City Tech Leaders Fight for Net Neutrality, Other Issues in Washington, D.C. by Zack Quaintance, Government Technology

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 270

September 18, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 270 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Professor Barbara Cherry goes into detail on the history of common carriage and telecommunications law. Listen to this episode here.

Barbara Cherry: It's been a mess. And part of the problem is restoring a more accurate understanding of our history.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 270 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez this week Christopher talks with attorney and legal scholar Barb Cherry about common carriage. We often talk about common carriage as it relates to telecommunications. And this week Christopher and Barb get into the policy. But most of us aren't aware of the legal history behind common carriage. Barb describes how its origins relate to the way it's applied today and how we need to consider the past as we move toward the future. Now here's Christopher and Barb Cherry.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with Barb Cherry a lawyer and a Ph.D. in communications who worked for the FCC for five years has 15 years in industry but is now a professor at the media school at Indiana University. Welcome to the show.

Barbara Cherry: Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Barb, one of the things I've warned you about. I'll tell the audience that you have an incredible amount of knowledge and you're very passionate. And so if this seems like it's getting a little bit too you know, friendly I might poke you a little bit to get some of that passion up on the surface.

Barbara Cherry: No problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about common carriage which is something that I've never heard anyone explain as well as you have and and maybe you can just start with giving us a sense of the historical origins of common carriage in general.

Barbara Cherry: Yes common carriage is a special legal status that evolved over centuries literally to reflect that certain kinds of businesses engage in certain kinds of services that are considered essential. Common carriage comes from a body of law that we call tort law. I think it's helped explain to people that when our Constitution was formed in the late 18th century that wasn't the beginning of all the law was incorporated by Constitution or are these all these bodies of common law that we inherited from England and these guys in court include what we called Contract law property law and tort law and tort law is that the general body of law that has to do with if somebody engages in conduct or behavior that causes you damage the fact that the law will recognize that you have the right to some compensation for the damage done to you. Tort Law covers for example and it's different from contract in that let's say you trespass on somebody's property you cause damage under top tort law that's why you can sue someone to recover damages. What if somebody burns down your house. What if you're walking down the street and you tripped somebody. Well tort law is also the origins of some special obligations in commerce. And one of them is called common carriage and the basic idea is that if somebody holds themselves out to serve you by essentially moving things for you taking something that you already own or have and moving it from one place to another some form of transport That's called common carriage. And the fact that you pay them to do that. Common carriage in the beginning were physical things that we moved in the early form of communication that was coming just now what we call the postal system. They carry and transport information for you. And in a physical form well in the 19th century when we had new industrial revolution technologies new forms of common cures recreate created that were of the electronic form but they moved information on behalf of people like telegraph and telephone so common carriers just simply are in the business of transporting things for people from one place to the other without altering what it is that you're moving for them. Christopher Mitchell And when you when you say that you mentioned that this goes back to before the the Constitution so this is I mean people were moving things for a very long time. I often think about fairies presumably a thousand years ago.

Barbara Cherry: Yes. And this was a firm body of law already by the middle ages of England and it's part of what we inherited from them. So when the Constitution was formed we already had bodies of law that our courts recognized as a place where you could receive compensation for being injured. Now what it means under tort law is the fact that it's a inherent duty that you have in how you conduct your business. And so it's more fundamental and it's not even more fundamental than contract law. So the fact that a common cure has these obligations is not because you have a contract with them but it just comes with it's part of their duties of providing this kind of service. So what are the duties of a common carrier a common carrier has the duty to serve upon reasonable request which means they can't arbitrarily refuse to serve people. They have to provide service with without unreasonable discrimination. What that means is they have to treat similarly situated customers. Similarly there has to be generally some difference in the cost to the company or carrier of moving something for someone or to charge a different rate. They must provide services just in reasonable rates. They can't just charge whatever they want and they must provide their service with reasonable care. In other words, don't be negligent. The reason these duties are there is that was considered an inherent form of fairness in commercial transactions. So this is our fundamental notions of fairness and commerce that themselves have origins in Aristotle's body of ethics. So it's very deep seated very fundamental sense of fairness in commercial transactions. This legal status as I said had its origins or was well-formulated in England by the Middle Ages and continue to apply even as with the rise of capitalism and so with the rise of capitalism as more and more businesses were done by contract there were still certain entities or types of businesses that retained the tort obligation that it was considered so fundamentally important to what they did. Common carriers one of them.

Christopher Mitchell: And so one of the things that I've learned from you is that the coming carriage regime this body of practices is a little different from industry to industry and so I'm curious if there's anything unique about how we apply this to Telecom that works.

Barbara Cherry: Common carriers, there can be different types of common carriage as you mention older forms included ferries people moving things like a horse back in the 19th and 20th century as we develop new forms of common care. They included like railroads airplanes buses and then electronic forms with telegraph and telephone are examples. And with each technology there's been some challenges about how the business is conducted now over time. As I mentioned this was initially under the common law. And what's important about that is to enforce it requires you to go to court. So a person who was harmed by a common care of violating one of the duties duties explained the only way you could enforce is you had to go to court. What happened during the 19th century with the rise of new forms of common carriage the amount of investment that was required to provide these forms of common carriage in a particularly some of them they had to provide the equivalent of their own infrastructure to provide common carriage over railroads had to build their own railroad tracks for example they just couldn't use existing roads and telephone and telegraph had to create new infrastructures in terms of wires and poles and things like that. The corporate form was the best way to amass the kind of capital needed to build these networks. And so we started having the rise of corporations in terms of number as well as their size their amount of capitalization and economic power and the relevance of all of that is it turned out over time expecting people to be able to enforce their common law rights against these companies in court became more and more impractical. By the end of the night towards the end the 19th century both the states and Congress deemed the common law remedies are no longer adequate. It was just too hard to enforce them. These big corporations had so much advantage in litigating in the courts. That's what led to the rise of enforcing common carriage through commissions on the commissions were the ones that in other words government now stepped in to help enforce these obligations of the curious because it's no longer reasonable to expect the judicial system through complaints through cases filed by individual plaintiffs to be able to push back on the power of these big corporations.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I think back to the the incredible work that Ida Tarbell did in uncovering the Rockefeller deals with the railroads and it seems to me that that when there's all these secret deals the courts don't know about them. And so how could one expect the courts to the tune to stop kickbacks that no one even knows about are happening.

Barbara Cherry: Well it turned out in the 19th century with the rise of corporations. There were two different strategies. The states and Congress used to deal with them. One strategy was to develop industry specific regulation. These commissions that had specific jurisdiction only in certain industries. That's one strategy. Another strategy was to develop another other bodies of law that apply to businesses generally like antitrust law. The first antitrust statute by Congress was the Sherman Act in 1890 and that was passed three years after Congress passed its first law the interstate commerce act to regulate railroads. So it was a two two step or two part strategy passed laws to deal with very specific industries because of how important they are. To the economy and the kind of expertise that would be needed to keep pace with these corporations in their and their behavior and the other was just to prevent certain kinds of behavior under and I trust to prevent certain types of conspiracies in restraint of trade or to deal with certain forms of monopolization. So it was a two part strategy. What was interesting however is that even those companies under industry specific regulation were also subject to antitrust. So both types of laws apply to them. But these industries that had specific regulation also had such unique and in-depth problems. That's why it took an agency to have constant oversight because Congress couldn't possibly keep up with it. So to understand or regulation is to understand how over time we've developed a two pronged strategy. Some industries require very special attention YBM industries specific regulation and then in addition we have more general business laws like and I trust and eventually consumer protection statutes which are still more general in nature and those those helped pick up the slack with the rest of the economy. When you asked me earlier about the different industries specific it turned out the real breakthrough at the federal level was the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 that created the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate railroads. Well not that long afterwards in 1910 that law was amended by the man Elkins act and applied now to telegraph and telephone. So the first federal regulator of Telephone and Telegraph was the Interstate Commerce Commission that precedes even the FCC the FCC the Federal Communications Commission wasn't a crate until 1934. The reason for it was to have a commission now that dealt with all the communications because we had rise of further technologies like radio. So what they did was they copied the law that already existed pretty much in interstate commerce for railroads that had been applied telephone telegraph and just recreate it and the FCC and now mood regulation of telegraph and telephone to the FCC. In the meantime the 1920s there were some radio acts to deal with the rise of radio and then that was all put in one place right. The reason I mention as people think regulation of telephone telegraph started on the federal level 34 act and that's wrong. It goes back further.

Christopher Mitchell: Well in one of the things that we found and I want to just say we're going to turn this back to net neutrality in a second. But but one of the things I found interesting is working at the state level I've often found the big telephone companies in my case CenturyLink here in Minnesota will say oh we should just go back and clean out the old statutes because we should get rid of all this telegraphs stuff and in the end that 100 years ago telephone regulation. And because it's just unneeded it's just cluttering up the books. But then you find out that if you do that the authority of the Department of Commerce of the Public Utilities Commission it starts to disappear because everything was built on those original regulations. And so I think it's important to understand all that stuff that was done back then has been modified and is still kind of where this is necessary to have authority today.

Barbara Cherry: Yes, the fundamental legal principles that are embedded in common carriage law have been codified into statutes and then modify the method of regulation. Basically the principles have always stayed the same is just the means of enforcing them. That's had to adjust over time. So instead of having the primary form of an enforcement be in the courts we've provided it the first round of enforcement and with these agencies to deal with the reality of the rise of corporate power and how much market power they have with regard to individual customers. So. So the means of a force meant from time to time have been modified to improve it. But the danger is to think that you don't need the core principles of common care. That's where eliminating the body of law entirely is very dangerous because the same reasons why those principles are there still exist today common carriage function is still a critical function in our economy and the notions of fairness in commercial transactions underlie it's still irrelevant and the rise of corporate power or the the reality of the market power these corporations still exists. So we still need the body of law given that this body of law it's principles that go back centuries. Other bodies of law that are newer that evolved afterwards were all based on knowing that this other body of law come it already existed. So a lot of the issues that we've treated for centuries under common carriage are not picked up by other bodies of law. In other words they're adjunct to they're complimentary too. And if all of a sudden you eliminated the common character that based regulation all the existing already have will not fill in the gap.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think that's a sticky point. But I want to move on to what I think is is a hot button issue. And let me just describe how I think something that gets your blood boiling would be the way the media has shortened a discussion of Chairman Wheeler of the FCC decision to put telecommunications under Title 2 in order to enforce common carriage. A lot of times the media just shorten that to saying the FCC has decided internet is a public utility what's confusing and wrong about that statement.

Barbara Cherry: Yeah you're right. That really does get my blood boiling because it's just legally, factually false. First of all public utility is a separate body of law. It's a separate body of law that developed in the 19th century by the states. And what's at the heart of being a public utility is that the government gives you a franchise which is of like a contract and says you have the right to serve this area but then we're going to attach these obligations and examples of public utilities include getting franchises to water companies gas companies electric companies. Well it turns out in order to build infrastructures telephone and telegraph companies were also public utilities under became public utilities under state law because of the need to build these infrastructures. So what it means is in reality common carrier certain common carriers like telephone and telegraph were both common carriers and public utilities. But the reason for them being one or the other was for different legal reasons. Now why am I wasn't really get my blood boiling. The two were confused. Well it's not only that the origins of this other body of law is public utility which is separate from common carriage but it's because historically many public utilities have been monopolies. They don't have to be to be a public utility you don't have to be a monopoly because your franchise doesn't have to be exclusive. But if you happen to have a franchise that's exclusive means you're the only one that can do it in that area where you where you've been authorized to serve because many public utilities have been historically monopolies. People automatically assume then oh you're a big public utility only because you're a monopoly and then if people start confusing common carriage with monopoly then they start carrying the same confusion further. Oh you're a common carrier only because you're a monopoly and that's historically factually false. It makes you a common carrier it's got nothing to do with monopoly or not. It's the kind of service that you provide. Are you transporting moving things on behalf of a customer for up for compensation. And so the press is doing us a disservice. But so are some proponents of Chaldee because they say the same thing. So I find people all over the place using the wrong terminology. The press some supporters Chailly many supporters are opponents and try to keep confusing commentaries with public utility and it distorts our understanding of the importance of common carriage law.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I think one of the things I find really interesting and we can jump back in the history for this I think is there is an idea that common carriage would not be necessary if you have competition because you could just choose the better carrier.So maybe you can clear up why common carriage is still important even when you may have competition and choice.

Barbara Cherry: And this goes back to understanding why you had common carriers as a legal status back in the middle ages because the same thing happened. Competition doesn't solve certain problems and it's the reasons for that for that is this what a common carrier does is they move something that belongs to the customer and supposed to drop it off at the other end. It could be a tangible physical thing like railroads. We think it could be people themselves it could be car go with electronic it's important and certain information the content of which originates with the parties at the end. And what happens is it doesn't matter if there's competition because once you pick the carrier that carrier whichever one you pick now takes possession of what it is they're moving for you. And that's the beginning of a unique form of vulnerability. You have no idea once you give up possession to that carrier what they're going to do with it. How do you know for example particularly in cures interconnect with each other. If your message is lost or garbled you don't know well which company is responsible for that. Early on would have been common carriers and sometimes they would hold court cases or say it's collude with thieves. In other words they get somebody carrying your computer. And let's say a carrier wink wink tell somebody why don't you quote unquote steal it from me. Then I'll tell the customer Oh I'm sorry it was stolen I couldn't deliver it. And then you agree with the robber to the robber to go and sell it and then you split the proceeds. That carries the proceeds. There's so many ways in which a carrier could collude or misbehave, if you will, in their common carriage duty and how they perform their service that's not solved by competition. Once you give up possession it doesn't do any good to say what could have gone to somebody else they already given it up. And so it's a repeat game problem. And that's why under the law that's where the duties attach with the function. What makes you common carrier is the functionality of the service. What is it you're doing. And also another problem we have the rise of corporations. Another reason why competition doesn't help you is because the rise of these big corporations with these big mass market, retail mass market, offerings is that these companies will give you what are called contract of adhesion.

Barbara Cherry: It's a standardized contract you must adhere to the terms of your customer hence adhesion you must adhere to the terms if you want to get service. You can't really negotiate anything different in your contract. You either take it or leave it. What's happened today is that these companies give you these take it or leave it provisions in their contracts which include mandatory arbitration clauses and class action waivers. It means that it gets serviced you have to agree to these contracts that tell you you have no right to go to court even if you wanted to. You must go through arbitration. You may not organize with other people who have been similarly harmed to bring a class action lawsuit. And what's happening over time is all these companies are all putting the same provisions in your contracts. So even if the market you know appears top competitive in terms of going the one provider usually you can't find a provider that won't have those same terms so you're stuck.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, so there's no remedy if they misbehave which is why we have this body of law to protect us beforehand.

Barbara Cherry:Yes, this is why you need commissions because the court litigation. First of all the odds were stacked against you already because they can withstand litigation claims that -- The column report, There's an old report of the Senate in 1886 that studied this whole problem of railroads and found that it was impossible even back then for the individual shippers will stand up against these big corporations. And then in more modern times with these mandatory arbitration clauses and class action waivers you can even go to court if you want. And when you add all those up together your only remedies are going to be if you could have a commission with jurisdiction who then has the power the power to stand up against these big corporations on behalf of the public.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and this is this is something that the Gigi Sohn is very concerned about and working on because there's a fear that that many including some in the FCC perhaps maybe like going to offload their jurisdiction increasingly to the Federal Trade Commission in which it would be harder there's less specialized knowledge for the commission to protect people that are working in independent communications services.

Barbara Cherry: Yeah it's really interesting you mentioned that because here's something else to understand. The Federal Trade Commission was created early 20th century and when it was created it was created to help enforce certain aspects of antitrust law to help protect customers. Well in that act that created the FTC. The FTC specifically does not have jurisdiction over common carriers because at the time it was already known you already had another commission that has the authority to look at that specific industry and how to deal with it. That exclusion of FTC jurisdiction over common care still exists today. Unless Congress changed the law if you got rid of common Kurd's status for these companies today there'd be no agency to fill in the breach even if you tried to get the FTC the jurisdiction one they don't have the history of knowledge how to do it. And number two, the FTC does not have the same powers as the FCC FCC has rulemaking authority within its statute that Congress given they have authority create rules when they discover more problems in the industry. The FTC does not have rulemaking authority not like the FCC. So the Free Trade Commission doesn't have the same kind of powers to deal with a lot of these industry specific problems.

Christopher Mitchell: Right now I think you know one of the problems that we continually face is an ignorance of these sorts of issues and so we're condemned to hear misinformation confusion from people over these problems that have been with us for more than 1000 years.

Barbara Cherry: I don't think as just a lawyer I would have understood all this. It turns out when I went back as a little a little older student when I went back to get my Ph.D. in communication studies at Northwestern University -- I'm being trained now as a social scientist. The subject of my dissertation had to do with the liability of these carriers under certain circumstances. And I had to go back and study a lot of the origins of these by the law. That's when I learned the true origins and I found that a lot of what scholars call the secondary literature, a lot of things that have been written by other people, about telecommunications' history. I found a lot of them were actually wrong. They were wrong. And so part of my research in a book I've already published on the subject was trying to help people understand that a lot of what we've been taught is wrong. So we either forgotten it or some of what we've been taught is actually wrong. And part of the reason is that some of the people who wrote books about telecom history were not lawyers and they mis understood and mis read the cases was inaccurate. So it's been kind of a mess

Christopher Mitchell: But that's that's how it feels frankly.

Barbara Cherry: Yes it's been a mess. And part of the problem is restoring a more accurate understanding of our history. I've appeared on behalf of the Public Interest Advocacy Center up in Canada. Proceedings before their commission the CRTC which plays a similar role to our FCC. The reason I mention that here is Canada inherited the same common law body of law that we did from England. And what I found in working up in Canada is that there has been some similar misunderstanding about some of these bodies of law. But one advantage Canada has had over the United States is that they didn't have the same public relations campaign of regulated monopoly. And this has to do with the fact that the bell patents were invalidated much earlier and competition started earlier. But here's the importance of that this legacy keep Association monopoly with the telephone system that quite U.S. centric idea that we had this been reinforced by an early 20th century corporate campaign of AT&T to convince the states and the federal government to go to a monopoly framework rather than rely on competition. It's the opposite because what happened up in Canada is that a lot of the with the rise of competition sooner up there is that some of these provinces like her state actually took over the telephone systems and the meek became publicly owned systems. AT&T didn't want it in the United States. So instead they developed this PR campaign of regulated monopoly and they were agreeing to regulation in exchange for being protected from competition. Why is this matter will that old PR campaign with PR specialists say is probably the greatest corporate campaign ever done. Now AT&T is trying to turn that PR PR campaign on its head to say that people see we we're only regulate because we are a monopoly. Right. So now that we're not monopolies we don't need regulation anymore and it's a total misrepresentation of history.

Christopher Mitchell: But Americans because of the legacy of this PR campaign they could be more easily lead right well I really appreciate you taking the time to come on here and help us to spread the good word of the history and to give people a better sense of why this is so important.

Barbara Cherry: Yes it's so foundational to these these systems these infrastructures are so critical to our economy and also with communication systems that are so critical to our political governance how we run elections how we become informed citizens. That's why we need extra care to make sure that we understand what's going on and not shoot ourselves in the foot so to speak by getting rid of a body of law they're actually very foundational and are very necessary.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you for your hard work on this. Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with attorney and professor Barb Cherry talking about common carriage and telecommunications. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. E-mail us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. You can follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons. And we want to thank you for listening to episode 270 and the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptcommon carriagecommon carrierhistoryeconomicsregulationantitrustmonopolynetwork neutralitycapturecompetitionfccftcutility

Border To Border Blandin Conference Oct. 25 - 26

September 18, 2017

The Blandin Foundation will be holding its Border to Border Broadband Conference this October at Madden’s on Gull Lake. This year, the title of the event is “Bridging the Gaps - Expanding the Impact.”

Up North In The Fall

The folks at Blandin looked around the state to find rural communities where local decisions are having a positive effect by improving connectivity. The event will be October 25th - 26th and will include presenters from local government, cooperatives, and the private sector:

  • Rural Alvarado, BEAMCO & Wikstrom Telephone
  • Westbrook & Woodstock Telephone Company
  • Rock County Broadband Alliance
  • Renville County – RSFiber & HBC
  • Palmer Wireless – Big Lake Industrial Park
  • Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative & CTC
  • Fayal & Harris Townships - Mediacom

If you attend the conference, you’ll start the event by choosing between the Broadband 101 or Digital Inclusion preconference sessions. Later, there will be presentations on public-private partnerships, real life benefits to better rural connectivity, and methods for grassroots outreach.

Attendees can also experience the popular Broadband Learning Stations, described as:

…[F]eature stories of partnerships and perseverance that define the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program participants. All sessions highlight what it takes for community success -- the partnerships, the strong community spirit and perseverance, the long-haul financial commitment, and the positive economic and social impact these investments have and will have on local businesses, households, and community institutions. Come for the community camaraderie and advice; leave better informed and inspired as you seek to reach your own community broadband goals.

Eyes On Minnesota

In recent months, legislators from the states of Ohio and Virginia have looked to Minnesota’s approach to expanding connectivity in rural areas. Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program, which allows the state legislature to allocate funding to rural projects, has been hailed as a good start to bringing high-quality connectivity to residents, businesses, and other entities that live beyond urban centers.

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

Tags: blandin foundationminnesotaruraleventconferencecooperativepartnership

Rural Connectivity Campaign Issue In Virginia

September 15, 2017

For years we’ve encouraged voters to make improving connectivity a campaign issue in local, state, and federal elections by pursuing answers from candidates. In this year's Virginia Gubernatorial race, it has now become a topic that both candidates are addressing as a key issue. The Roanoke Times Editors, no strangers to the state's struggles with rural Internet access, recently published an editorial to inform voters that broadband is finally getting some long overdue attention.

Surprised And Pleased

The Times has spent significant resources on broadband reporting in recent years, so it’s no surprise that the editors are savvy to the fact that broadband as a campaign issue is a novel development.

The most important news here is that both candidates say they see a state role in extending broadband to rural Virginia. The times really are a-changing: This is the first governor’s race where broadband has been a big enough issue for candidates to issue policy papers on the subject.

During the last legislative session, the Times covered Delegate Kathy Byron’s bad broadband bill closely. Over the past few years, they’ve pointed out the many disadvantages local communities face when folks suffer from poor connectivity. They've also shined a light on why the state’s economy will deteriorate if Virginia does nothing to improve Internet access in rural areas.

Comparisons

In this editorial, the Times briefly lays out a few differences that the candidates have expressed in their proposals. Both candidates want to expand the state’s fledging Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, modeled on Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has also recently inspired Ohio legislators.

Virginia's election is November 7th, which gives voters time to review both plans, contact the candidates with questions, and decide which candidate's approach they favor. You can review Northam's plan on his campaign website and Gillespie's plan here.

Northam's ideas for broadband expansion are part of his plan for rural Virginia, while Gillespie has published a policy paper focused only on improving connectivity. Both laud the possibilities of public-private partnerships and while Gillespie writes that he wants to "lessen regulatory burdens" he doesn't mention repealing the state barriers that discourage public investment. Northam writes that he'd like to expand projects like the one between the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Company and Microsoft.

Editors at the Times are glad to see that both candidates are seriously talking about how to improve rural Virginia’s Internet access problems, no matter how they do it:

Do those differences [between candidates] matter on rural broadband? Maybe to somebody, but they also seem statistically insignificant. Whether it’s Gillespie’s plan or Northam’s, whether it’s a walk or a hit, we’ll be happy to cheer rural Virginia getting on base with broadband.

Ed Gillespie's Plan to Expand Access to High-Speed InternetTags: virginiaelectiongovernoreditorialruraleconomic developmentstate policystate lawsminnesota

BT Brings Low Cost Service, Breaks Through Goals, Basks In Support

September 14, 2017

As fall sets in, the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board (BTAB) is still working on choosing a buyer for the Vermont city’s municipal network. The review of the four semi-finalists continues, concerned people express their opinions and BT’s work benefits the community.

High-Speed For Low-Income

In August, BT officials announced that they would be the first ISP in the state of Vermont to offer high-speed Internet to low-income residents through the federal Lifeline program. Lifeline provides a $9.25 monthly credit for qualifying households; BT will be offering symmetrical 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) service for $9.95 per month, leaving the balance for subscribers.

According to BT General Manager Stephen Barraclough, BT is able to participate in the program due to previous upgrades to the infrastructure:

“Because we have a gigabit network, because over the past three, four, five years we’ve essentially swapped out the majority of equipment that’ll allow a thousand meg to go to every home we have lots and lots of equipment that we’ve actually taken off the side of homes that is more than capable of delivering more than 25 meg symmetrical.  We have lots and lots of routers that can still be used. So if you look at it from a marginal cost perspective, how can we afford to do this, really there’s very little incremental out-of-pocket cost over and above what we already have.”  

Surpassing Goals

August was also an exceptional month for subscriber numbers at BT. In addition to reaching a new height for the number of subscribers added in one month, BT eclipsed their original goal of 7,000 total subscribers. As of the end of August, the network served 7,136 members of the Burlington community.

On their website, BT celebrated with this message for the community:

This amazing level of growth is a historical achievement for Burlington Telecom. We owe special thanks and gratitude to those who make this all possible, our customers – those who stood by us in BT’s darkest days, those who left but then came back, and those growing numbers who have been willing to give BT a chance. Without the loyalty and ongoing support of so many in this community none of this would be possible. Burlington truly is an Unmatchable City.

Cooperative Support

Under the terms of a 2014 settlement with Citibank, Burlington must sell their beloved municipal network either in whole or in part. A previous Mayoral administration hid major cost overruns from the public for years, which led to city debt to Citibank for approximately $33 million. The BTAB faces the daunting task of finding the right entity to take over ownership of the network.

As the BTAB reviews proposals from four bidders that have not been eliminated, members of the public have stepped forward to express their support for the Keep BT Local cooperative. Much like the original spirit that led to the community’s investment in the Internet infrastructure, people in Burlington see the advantages of keeping control of the asset local. 

The letters to local news outlets and lawn signs for Keep BT Local echo the results of a 2016 BTAB report based on community input. That report recommended the city try to find a local owner because community members wanted dollars circulated within the community and valued local accountability. People in Burlington are savvy to the possibilities and fear that a distantly located owner might sell the network to one of the large, disinterested ISPs like Comcast.

Recently, the BTAB publicly expressed concerns about the Keep BT Local plan, which includes crowd funding from the community and a loan from Maine Fiber Company. BTAB stated that, in addition to the debt financing, they were concerned with the group’s lack of experience, however, they plan to keep the current management team in place at BT. The group knows the network, the community, and understands BT subscribers.

A recent letter to VT Digger asks:

Can the same be said for the other BT bidders? The identities and proposal structures of the three remaining bidders have been kept secret, as well as their bid amounts. Some details were provided by David Provost, chairman of the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board, in a recent Burlington Free Press article. According to Provost, two are cash offers from “mature, financially stable companies.” The other, he says, “comes from a private equity investor with valuable local relationships and extensive telecom experience and a vision for aggressive BT regional growth.”

Author of the letter, Janice Shade, notes that the cooperative has collected $396,000 from 41 investors as of the end of August but they need $500,000 by January 1, 2018, to support their bid. She also reports that pledges have momentum and they expect to obtain the necessary funding.

Burlington Likes Public Ownership

This won’t be the community’s first experience with a member owned cooperative. Residents Don Schramm and Jan Schultz each wrote to the Burlington Free Press to support the Keep BT Local bid and each drew a parallel to the local City Market Co-op, started almost 20 years ago.

Schultz, who is a former member of the BTAB, pointed out that the debt Keep BT Local plans to take on will not handicap the organization:

The Burlington Telecom Co-op’s bid is not debt-free, but let me explain why this is not a problem. BT currently has over 7,000 members and is on track to have over $3 million in cash flow after expenses. Paying back a $10 million loan is very doable.

She also notes that public ownership of the Burlington Electric Department (BED) keeps the rates in check and within the local economy:

BED’s rates have not gone up in over eight years, and in 2015, an average BED residential customer paid $371 less per year than the statewide average-an aggregate savings of $6.2 million. That’s a lot of money to keep in the local economy.

Over time, similar savings and refunds would occur with the BT Co-op, and that’s why choosing a not-for-profit BT Co-op-owned by the people-is the best decision for Burlington.

Don Schramm is a past President of the cooperative that created the City Market and now a member of the Keep BT Local Cooperative. He describes how the membership of the co-op that owns City Market has grown six-fold since 2002 and has seen the value of community ownership. He writes:

We would be choosing the cooperative model versus the corporate model… Essentially it boils down to this: there will be no third party, whether local or out of state, making decisions that impact us, setting subscriber rates and collecting the profits from our purchases.

Imagine it, next year, after the Public Service Board approves the conversion of Burlington Telecom, our new Telecom Utility Cooperative will instantly have 7,000 member/owners. 7,000 citizen sales agents for the improvement and growth of our telecom services. With a utility coop, every new customer is a new member/owner.

Tags: BurlingtonBurlington TelecomVermontmuniFTTHcooperativepublic v privategigabitlow-incomelifeline

Tennessee Co-op Expands In Kentucky

September 13, 2017

A Tennessee communications cooperative will soon bring fiber connectivity to Kentucky’s Warren County. North Central Telephone Cooperative (NCTC) will offer high-quality Internet access via gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity via its North Central Communications, Inc., subsidiary.

Starting With New Construction

NCTC will start in a new subdivision and has already installed fiber prior to new home construction. The cooperative will also offer services in a nearby apartment complex. NCTC will make Internet access along with video service available to the new homes that are not yet built. They intend to expand to other multi-dwelling units and subdivisions in the area and hope to develop a larger regional footprint.

In order to accomplish their goal, NCTC is enlisting the help of other local entities:

“We’re talking to Warren Rural Electric Cooperative and Bowling Green Municipal Utilities, trying to implement your vision that everyone in Warren County is served by broadband eventually,” said [Nancy White, NCTC CEO]. “We all have the same vision to provide broadband to as many people as want it.”

Not A Stranger To Kentucky

Approximately 120,000 people live in Warren County with a little more than half making their homes in the county seat of Bowling Green. The population has increased steadily by double digits since 2000. It’s located in the south central area of the state and also home to Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College and Western Kentucky University.

On September 8th, the Warren County Fiscal Court approved a non-exclusive franchise agreement to allow NCTC to serve people in the county. NCTC is already serving subscribers in Allen County as part of the Kentucky Wired project. Warren County adjacent on the northwest border of Allen County. 

“They’ve been in Allen County for quite some time, and I have nothing but good things to say about them,” Allen County Judge-Executive Johnny Hobdy said. “They have continued to upgrade and bring service to parts of our county that hadn’t been served. I think Warren County will be satisfied with their service.”

The Kentucky Wired project paid NCTC to deploy fiber from Allen County into Warren County and NCTC will fund the build out within Warren County. 

“We had always wanted to come to Bowling Green, but it was expensive,” White said. “When the opportunity came along to work with Kentucky Wired, we built it for them.”

Finally Another Choice

Locals can welcome the announcement that incumbent Spectrum will face competition in Warren County. According to the Bowling Green Daily News, customers have become increasingly unhappy with the cable provider. This past spring, subscribers attended a city commission meeting to complain about Spectrum’s new policy of encrypting channels. The only way subscribers could view those channels was with a special device connected to each television.

With NCTC in the area, Spectrum may realize that they need to work harder to please customers. Along with the encryption issue, people have complained to elected officials about Spectrum price increases.

Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said NCTC’s entry into Warren County is welcome news. He told the magistrates during the meeting: “This could be part of the answer to some of the calls you get every day.”

Rates for service in Warren County aren’t established yet, but NCTC advertises five tiers of symmetrical Internet access on their website. The rates vary from $49.95 per month for 30 Mbps to $89.95 for gigabit connectivity.

For more on how rural cooperatives are bringing high-quality connectivity to areas with poor or no services from the incumbents, check out our Cooperatives Build Community Networks resource page.

Tags: cooperativekentuckycompetitiongigabitnctcFTTH

Uncommon Knowledge of Common Carriage - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 270

September 12, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 270 - Barbara Cherry on Common Carriage

The modern fight over network neutrality isn't a few years old. It is well over 1,000 years old across a variety of infrastructures and is totally wrapped up in a legal concept known as common carriage that has governed many kinds of "carriers" over the years. Few, if any, are as conversant in this subject as Barbara Cherry - a lawyer and PH.D in communications. She has worked in industry for 15 years, at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for five years, and is currently a professor in the Media School at Indiana University.

One of the key points of our conversation is regarding the problems with media shortening the Network Neutrality policy fights as turning the Internet into a "public utility."  Barbara helps us to understand how common carriage is distinct from public utility regulation and why common carriage regulation is necessary even in markets that may have adequate competition and choices.

We also talk about the history of common carriage and the importance of what might seem like outdated law from the days of the telegraph. 

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

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

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

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

Tags: common carriagecommon carrierhistoryeconomicsregulationfccftcutilityantitrustmonopolynetwork neutralitycapturecompetitionaudiopodcastbroadband bitsinfrastructure

RVBA Announces First Residential Internet Access From New ISP

September 12, 2017

Folks living in the Boxley Building in downtown Roanoke will soon have the choice of the community’s first Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access delivered by publicly owned infrastructure. The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) recently announced that one of the ISPs using the fiber has decided to expand its services to residential premises in the building.

Fulfilling The Purpose

“This goes back to the core, as far as why this was formed,” broadband authority President and CEO Frank Smith said. “To create a network that other players can come in and use. We’re doing what we set out to do.”

ABS Technology is based in Virginia Beach and has an office in Roanoke. The company is starting with the single apartment building but told the Roanoke Times they may offer last mile services to more Roanoke residential subscribers in future. ABS regional sales manager Greg Henderson said that the RVBA infrastructure enabled ABS to develop the project. Without it, he said “there is no way” the company would have been able to pursue a residential build out.

Better Connectivity, Better Community

RVBA provides several options for local businesses, including dark fiber, data transport, and Internet access. ISPs such as ABS lease fiber to serve local businesses and large institutions with the expertise to manage their own networks. The resource is helping to reinvigorate Roanoke and the surrounding community.

Earlier this year, RVBA connected a business accelerator downtown aimed at attracting and keeping talent at home. The project is a collaboration between the city, the Virginia Western Community College, and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. The city renovated an old historic building, the college will be offering business courses there, and the council will develop mentoring and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs who fill spaces at the incubator.

The Roanoke Valley has faced some tough times and the RVBA network is helping to stimulate economic development. The area had a reputation as a funding and connectivity donut hole - too large to qualify for many sources of funding but too sparsely populated to attract national providers. Community leaders were searching for strategies to diversify their textile and manufacturing economies, which were increasingly dependent on better connectivity.

After overcoming resistance from incumbents and funding challenges, the RVBA was able to begin construction of its fiber plant in April 2015. One year later, they finished construction and lit the system. This past March, the Authority began a 25-mile expansion to reach farther into Roanoke County’s rural area, which will pass about 650 additional commercial premises.

The Start Of Something Bigger?

While the RVBA is focusing on business connectivity, their open access infrastructure is an invitation to last mile ISPs like ABS, which may want to tap the residential market. Smith said that he anticipates more will follow:

“It’s a milestone,” Smith said. “The whole purpose of the network is to have other providers ride the network, and we want to make sure we’re providing that backbone infrastructure for them.”

Take a few minutes to listen to Christopher's September 2016 interview with Smith for the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 221.

Tags: roanoke valleyvirginiadark fiberleaseopen accessFTTHtransport serviceseconomic developmentexpansionmdu

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 11

September 11, 2017

 

California

Senate Bill 649 is a power grab: Letters by Letters to the Editor, Press-Enterprise

One man’s DIY Internet service connects isolated Marin County hamlet by Benny Evangelista, San Francisco Chronicle

Brandt Kuykendall’s daughter needed fast Internet access to help her excel at school. But he couldn’t find cheap, reliable service that would connect their scenic yet secluded coastal Marin County home.

So Kuykendall taught himself how to create a high-speed wireless Internet service. In about a year and a half, Dillon Beach Internet Service has grown to connect about 145 homes, charging a flat $50 per month, with no equipment rental fees, taxes or installation charges.

 

Colorado 

Fort Collins broadband issue clears legal hurdle by Kevin Duggan, Coloradoan

Lenard Larkin wants to bring new voice to Loveland City Council by Craig Young, Reporter-Herald

On the issue of municipal broadband service, Larkin believes the city of Loveland should offer high-speed internet directly to its residents. 

"I favor the most efficient, economical option for the people, which is the municipal, also called the retail, model," he said. "It has been found that public-private partnerships are inefficient."

Broadband internet: Greenly wants your vote to offer internet service by Tyler Silvy, The Tribune

 

Michigan

Keweenaw County asked to consider broadband planning by Graham Jaehnig, The Daily Mining Gazette

 

New Hampshire

Internet connectivity a challenge in increasingly tech-heavy school curriculums by Ashley Saari, Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Peterborough State Representative Peter Leishman has previously sponsored bills attempting to give town’s more options when it comes to internet service, namely by giving them the power to issue a bond for public works or improvements of a permanent nature, including broadband infrastructure.

The bill had been before the state house and senate multiple times in the last ten years, but it’s never passed. Internet service providers object to the bill, which would allow towns to pay for installation of infrastructure in areas where a provider is already present but is offering a service that’s not sufficiently high speed.

Leishman, who was a sponsor of the bill in the last session of the house, said that a new committee is being formed in the house to discuss broadband, and to hopefully propose new legislation that can help municipalities to fill the gaps, particularly in areas where service providers aren’t interested in building up that infrastructure because of low population volume.

If that solution is still found to be allowing towns to bond to build their own internet infrastructure, that bill cannot be reintroduced until next session, said Leishman. But there may be other solutions that are found that could ultimately solve the problem.

 

New Mexico

Webinar series extends economic development outreach statewide by Sandy Nelson, Las Cruces Sun-News

 

New York

Kudos to Cohoes for broadband plan by Albany Times-Union Editorial Board

Dig Just Once to Tackle Noise Pollution and Get More Done by Vanessa Aronson, Gotham Gazette

 

Tennessee

State now accepting applications for new state Broadband Accessibility Grant program by Staff Report, Times Free Press

 

Virginia

Rural Caucus learns about bridging state homework gap by Bob Stuart, The News Virginian

New internet provider option arrives in Roanoke aboard municipal broadband network by Jacob Demmitt, The Roanoke Times

While the RVBA provides its own internet service to business customers, it also allows other providers to lease space on its network. That way, new and existing companies can compete in the market without the need to invest in building their own, often redundant, networks.

When the RVBA formed and began spending taxpayer funds on its fiber network, localities touted the effort as a way to bring more internet provider competition into the region, lowering prices while increasing connection speeds.

 

Washington

Darrington nonprofit working to offer internet access by Kari Bray, Everett HeraldNet

 

West Virginia

Broadband workshop scheduled Sept. 19 in Charleston by Andrea Lannom, The Register-Herald

“Closing the digital divide in rural America and expanding broadband access has been a priority for me,” Manchin said. “I successfully led the effort to advance over $4.5 billion in federal funding for mobile broadband deployment in rural America and this workshop will be an important step toward connecting West Virginia communities with this funding and additional funding options and models for broadband infrastructure projects that will work for West Virginia. I encourage every stakeholder, community, and individual to reach out to me and attend this workshop so we can work toward closing these broadband gaps together.”

Tom Payne: Most of WV missed out on desirable business features (Gazette), by Tom Payne, Charleston Gazette-Mail

In order to attract business and high paying jobs, West Virginia must provide modern broadband communications capabilities statewide. Currently, in my experience traveling throughout the 2nd Congressional District, not only was 4G level communications not readily available, 1G communications was the only level of communications available in most of the rural counties and communities of the 2nd Congressional District. The most notable exception was the ready availability of 4G level communications in Berkeley and Jefferson counties and the Charleston area. 

High-speed broadband availability is the most important factor in a business decision to locate new business facilities. While broadband, in my opinion, ultimately settles the decision leading to the selection of a new business location, other factors, such as high quality transportation infrastructure; first-class school systems, including vocational technical training; high quality housing; high quality healthcare availability; low crime rates, including opioid drug addiction rates; the strength of families in each community, among other factors, can also have significant influence in the final site selection decision.

 

 

General 

The Monopolies that No One Is Talking About by Gabrielle Daley, Public Knowledge

Leaving aside the discussion for a minute on whether tech platforms like Google and Amazon actually might meet the definition of a monopoly under our nation’s antitrust laws (a precise and economically rigorous definition usually left to the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, or the federal (and sometimes state) court system), we seem to have forgotten about an important part of the digital ecosystem and whether it has a monopoly problem. It’s the one that’s hiding in plain sight and the evidence is in your mailbox (or inbox) every month when you get your cable bill.

Why does it matter if cable internet service providers have market power? When companies monopolize they may hurt consumers because they no longer have the incentives to compete on price or service, with the unsurprising result that even while profits for companies increase consumer satisfaction plummets and prices continue to rise.

 

Broadband is getting faster and more available-- but is it enough? By Colin Wood, Statescoop

It's obvious that there's a shortage of market competition, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

"It looks to me like companies that have done too little investment are trying to justify that," Mitchell said. "The FCC's numbers, these numbers, they all show most people don't have a lot of choices."

The data collected by the FCC used in the report is collected at the census block level, Mitchell said. This means, for example, that a resident who lives near a hospital that has access to broadband but doesn't necessarily have access himself would be statistically misrepresented as having access. This means the figures presented in the research are maximum values — the actual number of people who have access to these choices is lower. ...

"We are in the worst of both worlds," Mitchell said. "If we had a lot of competition, we would have more investment and better choices. If we were still in an era in which we had one investor and they were more heavily regulated, we would probably be paying less and have faster speeds because that would be what the regulators would demand. Instead, we have very light regulation and no competition."

Where the Digital Divide is the Worst by Mike Maciag, Governing

Net Loss? Keeping the neutral in neutrality by Dennis Myers, News Review

Rural Broadband Expansion At Issue in CenturyLink-Level 3 Deal by Mariam Baksh, Morning Consult 

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

Tags: media roundup

Reminder: Broadband Communities Conference Nov. 7 - 9, Atlanta

September 11, 2017

The Fiber for the New Economy: Economic Development Conference event from Broadband Communities Magazine may seem like a long way off, but November 7th is just around the corner.

CLIC Day

The Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport will host the event and Christopher will be speaking or leading panels on each day of the conference. There is also a special program on Tuesday, November 7th, from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC). The CLIC Day program will focus on legislative issues and how local communities can begin change at home.

Check out the agenda for CLIC day here.

Multi-Topic, Multi-Day

In addition to issues of local authority, the 3-day conference will address a range of issues such as rural broadband solutions, gigabit connectivity in education and economic development, and serving MDUs. There will also be panelists from electric cooperatives, mobile broadband providers, and consultants sharing information and strategies. Legal issues, digital equity, and financing are just a few more topics on the agenda.

Chairman Jim Baller described the group of speakers:

We are assembling an outstanding multi-disciplinary roster of national, regional and local experts, practitioners and community leaders who have highly relevant, first-hand experience. Emphasizing, but not limiting themselves to the Southeast Region, our speakers will provide a wealth of economic research; case histories highlighting what is working well and what is not; and how-to materials and other practical information that attendees can take home and put to immediate use in their communities.

You can see the full list of speakers here.

Register for the conference and reserve your hotel room online. Worth it! 

Tags: conferenceeventbroadband communities magazinechristopher mitchellcoalition for local internet choice

Ohio State Lawmakers Look To Minnesota For Broadband Development

September 11, 2017

Two Ohio State Senators are taking a page from Minnesota’s playbook to expand rural broadband connectivity. Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Republican Sen. Cliff Hite recently announced that they would be introducing legislation to create a grant program modeled after the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

Putting Money Into It

The program is expected to expand broadband Internet access to approximately 14,000 rural Ohio households per year. State officials estimate that 300,000 homes and 88,500 businesses in rural areas of the state do not have access to broadband connectivity.

In Minnesota, the Department of Employment and Economic Development hosts the Office of Broadband Development, which administrates grant awards and management. The Ohio bill will place the responsibility for the program in the hands of their Development Services Agency (DSA).

Grants will be awarded of up to $5 million for infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas; the grants cannot fund more than half the total cost of each project. Recipients can be businesses, non-profits, co-ops or political subdivisions. The bill allocates $50 million per year for broadband development from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier bond revenues.

The Ohio Third Frontier is a state economic development initiative aimed at boosting tech companies that are in early stages and helping diverse startups. The Ohio General Assembly appropriates funds to the program, much like the Office of Broadband Development in Minnesota.

Minnesota Setting The Trend

This isn’t the first time politicians have looked longingly at Minnesota’s plan to build more network infrastructure in rural areas. Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, released an economic plan for his state this summer and addressed the need to improve connectivity in rural areas. In his plan, he suggested that the state adopt clear goals “[s]imilar to the legislation Minnesota has passed.”

His report inspired the Roanoke Times to look deeper at Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program and the editors decided that “there are some useful lessons Virginia can learn from Minnesota.”

Bipartisan

Hite and Schiavoni reveal one of the fundamental truths of better connectivity: that it is not a partisan issue. As the Roanoke Times noted in their editorial, Minnesota passed their enabling legislation to implement the Border-to-Border Broadband Program with strong support from both parties. Ohio’s efforts are off to a good start as companion legislation in the House also has cosponsors from both parties.

At a press conference to announce the legislation, Schiavoni pointed out:

“This legislation is incredibly important to Ohio’s future. Without access to broadband internet service, businesses can’t reach their customers, students can’t do their homework and workers have difficulty searching for jobs.”

And Hite described what he hopes will come of the new program:

“We are woefully behind in expanding broadband access in the State of Ohio, including my district. This legislation is crucial for improving a situation that will continue to be a problem for many of my constituents if something is not done.”

Watch the press conference:

Tags: ohiominnesotastate policystateruralfundinginfrastructurestate lawslegislationgrant

RS Fiber On Mozilla's All Access Pass Podcast

September 9, 2017

Mozilla’s All Access Pass with Veronica Belmont explores local broadband initiatives in episode 6. She sends reporter Dominic Girard to speak with folks in Renville and Sibley County, Minnesota, to discuss the RS Fiber Cooperative.

Girard talks with Mark Erickson who spearheaded the project and describes how difficult is was for farmers who needed better connectivity for 21st century agriculture. Jake Rieke, a local farmer, shares the concerns he described with us in episode 198 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast - how awful Internet access could negatively impact his family’s future.

The crew also interviews Angela Siefer from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) who describes the local desires to invest in better connectivity but state barriers that often interrupt those efforts. Angela gets into the ripples those barriers and access to the Internet interrupts the ability for women, people of color, lower-income folks, and the LGBTQ community to participate in civic engagement.

The show also ventures to the way a group of entrepreneurs are using the Internet to help Syrian refugees adjust to a new life. Their program has changed people from refugees to coders sought out by tech companies.

The show examines how access to the Internet - or lack of it - has become a factor that impacts one's life for the better or worse.

Listen to episode 6 of All Access Pass here.

Learn more about the RS Fiber Cooperative from our 2016 indepth report RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

 

Tags: rs fiber cooprurallocalbarrierminnesotasibley countyrenville countyaudionational digital inclusion alliance

Madison, Wisconsin, Releases RFP: Responses Due Oct. 20th

September 8, 2017

Last year, Madison’s CIO Paul Kronberger spoke with Christopher about the city’s pilot project to bring better connectivity to several lower-income areas. They also discussed the community’s separate plan to deploy dark fiber infrastructure across the city. The city recently released its Request for Proposals as they seek a partner for deployment for a Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. Final proposals are due October 20th.

The RFP comes about a year after the community finished a feasibility study to examine costs, interest, and business models for a city-wide municipal network.

Publicly Owned With Help From A Partner

Madison has a specific business model in mind. They are looking for a partner willing to emulate Huntsville’s approach, in which the city designs, builds, and owns a dark fiber network. A private sector partner constructs fiber drop cables from the public rights-of-way to the subscribers’ premises. The partner handles lit services responsibilities and the city takes care of all dark fiber concerns. Madison also wants its partner to take on the task of obtaining access to necessary private easements. The community is looking for a firm that is willing to establish a long-term relationship.

The city has determined that the project will consist of 114,680 residential passings, which includes both single-family and multi-family dwellings. The number of business passings has been calculated to 10,331. All community anchor institutions (CAIs) will also be connected.

The Vision For Madison

Approximately 247,000 people live in the state's capital city, having seen an increase of 8.6 percent since 2010. Madison is considered a town with an exceptional quality of life, in part because the city has established a set of Racial Equity & Justice (RESJ) goals. Their desire to invest in the infrastructure to bring equitable service to all of the community is an extension of those goals.

In it’s RFP, Madison stresses the need to realize its vision to bring gigabit connectivity to every premise in the community. The city has higher unemployment and poverty rates that national averages and wants to leverage ubiquitous fiber Internet access to overcome those challenges.

The city is also home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where the research community needs better connectivity to function effectively. Similarly, manufacturing entities such as Oscar Mayer, French Battery Company, and Olds Seed Company require high-quality connections for efficient operations. Healthcare, biotech, and related industries are one of the largest industries in Madison; 70,000 people work in the field. Over the past few years, Madison has added jobs and a new municipal FTTP network could increase that momentum while sparking the community’s high-tech entrepreneurial spirit.

In addition to UW Madison, eight other colleges are located in the city. The Madison Metropolitan School District manages 48 schools for more than 27,000 students and there are almost 30 additional private schools for K-12 students.

Madison’s vision describes their desire to use better connectivity to drive economic development and to enable their citizens to excel. Community leaders are taking a 21st century perspective and recognizing that subscribers do more than stream movies or peruse Facebook:

We intend to empower our citizens and local businesses to be network economy producers— not just consumers of network information and data services. Further, we intend to provide our business and CAI stakeholders with the broadband capacity they need to compete successfully in the global marketplace, and to support the local community. 

Read the full RFP here.

Important Dates:

Deadline for submitting non‐binding Letter of Intent in Appendix A to respond to RFP :  September 14, 2017

Release of Appendices to entities that submitted LOI in Appendix A : September 15, 2017

Deadline for submitting questions to the City : September 22, 2017

Responses to questions due from the City : October 6, 2017

RFP responses due : 2:00 PM on October 20, 2017

City of Madison Request for Proposal for Partnership for Deployment of A FTTP NetworkTags: madisonwisconsinrfpinfrastructuredark fiberhuntsvillepartnershipFTTH

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 269

September 7, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 269 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Pete Hoffswell, the Broadband Services Manager for Holland, Michigan, joins the show to discuss the city's downtown pilot program. Listen to this episode here.

Pete Hoffswell: The demand is here and it's now and we have people banging on our doors saying "Come on, let's do this."

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 269 Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week Christopher talks with Pete Hoffswell from Holland, Michigan. The community has had fiber in place for a while now, but are in the process of building out a pilot program to offer connectivity to downtown areas. In this interview Pete explains what Holland has achieved, what challenges they face, and what they have in mind for better connectivity. Now here's Christopher and Pete Hoffswell from Holland, Michigan.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast! I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and today I'm speaking with Pete Hoffswell, the Broadband Services Manager for the Holland board of Public Works in Michigan. Welcome to the show.

Pete Hoffswell: Hi, Chris, how are you doing today?

Christopher Mitchell: I'm doing good. It's good to talk to you here. Let's just dig in a little bit with what is Holland like?

Pete Hoffswell: You know, Holland, Michigan is on the shore of Lake Michigan. We're about 100 miles from Chicago by boat so it's a little longer by the highway but we're not that far from Chicago. We're right outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Holland has a population of 33,000 and is part of a larger regional area of 100,000 people. It was settled in 1847 by Dutch immigrants, as you could well guess. We host a Tulip Time festival here with over 600,000 visitors every year. We have a lot of tourist influx into our town, it's a big part of our DNA here. But another big part of Holland is our business. We are a support industry for automotive, of course, a lot of light industry in our town and a lot of knowledge workers working downtown in small startups. Everything from industrial design, embedded systems, up to full cloud based service companies.

Christopher Mitchell: In your part of the Board of Public Works, which is one of the earlier ones, I mean I think people often think that these electric utilities or utilities that went on to also do electricity started in the early 1900's but you beat the curve quite a bit.

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah. We had a problem with all the horses running around on the street. It was a little dark and it was being a problem so we decided to move from our gas lights to electric. In 1883 the Board of Public Works was founded, really for water first, but in 1888 we started with power. We got lights on the streets and immediately went everywhere else like the rest of the country. What's sort of interesting about the Board of Public Works though, and why we're talking today is in 1992 the BPW decided to enhance their utility services by adding a fiber optic loop to our system. It allowed us to really take care of electric switching and pumps and everything throughout the system. When we did that, somebody had the brilliant idea of building that with extra capacity, to serve the community for communications. We built that Chris, as an open access model and to this day have had great success providing fiber, not only for the utilities internal operations, but for our community as a whole.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, before we get to far down that, and that's where we're going to spend most of our time talking about. I think that a number of people might think of Holland as one of many Michigan towns that are great to visit, but Holland is, I think, somewhat unique and I'm curious if you could just tell us a little bit about some of that.

Pete Hoffswell: Our heritage, the Dutch, is really about working, about starting businesses up. I just read in the paper one of the great-grandfathers of a gentleman here, in town, was a lamplighter. He was lighting lamps, he went on to start a recreational equipment bike store downtown and that gentleman, to this day, is still running that business there. It's entrepreneurship type community. We have a ton of companies down on our min street, which is called A Street, that are all startups. Whether they're building embedded systems to support refrigerators and ovens that are built in Whirlpool, just south of us, to cloud based services, it's really amazing stories downtown.

Christopher Mitchell: So getting on to the open access fiber. You mostly serving businesses, I think. You have over 200 customers. Why don't we talk a little bit about this long history you've had with that model. Before, to tease the future, we're going to talk about the new model that you're exploring.

Pete Hoffswell: 20 Years ago we built this fiber to support our utility and the community and we built that, now open access model, and we did this providing services in two different ways. The traditional dark fiber lease. We give you the strands of fiber and that's -- You have at it.

Christopher Mitchell: We have a history in my office of trying to explain dark fiber and I actually really like that explanation because I think it really captures that you have to have expertise to take advantage of it. You also have a model, which might be more appropriate, for less tech savvy businesses.

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah, that's our active ethernet service. The active ethernet service is a list service where we actually bring a network device into the business. You plug into an ethernet port and we provide, in transit across our network, connection to wherever else you want to go. If you're a business and have two locations in our area we can provide transit service to connect those up just like they were on a LAN. We support this with a 10 gigabit MPLS backbone for the techies out there. Pretty soon we're going to upgrade that to 40 meg as the bandwidth is getting sucked up.

Christopher Mitchell: Presumably 40 gig.

Pete Hoffswell: Oh, I said 40 meg, oy! You know I have to speak to our community, who speaks in megs, and I say "Well it's a 1,000 megs."

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Pete Hoffswell: They're like "What's a gig?" "It's a 1,000 megs." "Oh, okay, yeah. I understand that now."

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I like to tell people you don't really have to get focused on what it is, you just want to know, understand, more is better. It means less waiting on your computer.

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah, I use the highway analogy all the time. It's a 1,000 mile an hour highway. That's what we're talking about.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: And so when you use ethernet service, that's something that, if I was an LISP that was trying to serve customers in the area, I could lease that. I would pay you for that service and then I would be branding it as my own and delivering it and offering customer support on it. Is that how it works?

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah. That's exactly right. So our open access model really splits this facilities management, that's the fiber and the network electronics, all of that separates out from the services that ride on it. So our open access model we have six partner ISP's today that take full advantage of that. Customers call our partner ISP's and then the partner ISP calls us and says "Can you hook us up?" And we've done that, we have over 200 customers of our ISP's that utilize that.

Christopher Mitchell: And that actually reaches outside of the city, even, in some cases, right?

Pete Hoffswell: Absolutely. Our electric service area reaches outside of the city proper, serving over 33,000 customers with electric and water or waste water, and our fiber optic system extends even further beyond that, covering the greater part of two different counties.

Christopher Mitchell: And have you been expanding this? I usually use the word opportunistically. Is this something that, over those twenty years, you've expanded to new areas or is it largely that same foot print that was originally built out with extra capacity?

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah, that's a great question Chris and I have an interesting story with this. Historically, we really built this with the capital recovery assurance. If a new customer wanted to get on board and it cost $2,000 to build the fiber into their building, then we said "Sure, you can come on board for $2,000." Well growth was very slow that way. It's a big up front investment for any company. Four years ago we decided to change our cost recovery model, which was that up front pay and we'll build it, to a four year return on investment model where we take the revenues that we expect to earn over four years on that new circuit and roll that into the build cost. So this allows us to grow fiber much quicker by just taking and reinvesting in this system.

Christopher Mitchell: Man, I'm curious. If I'm an ISP that is using your services, am I paying you a percentage of revenue that I'm making or is it a flat fee based on different criteria?

Pete Hoffswell: It's a flat fee and as a municipal utility we operate in a classic rate book format. So we have our dark fiber leases, so many cents per mile, and our active ethernet service is so many dollars per meg and you can go right to our website and see all that. The ISP pays those flat rates to us and then they mark that up with whatever the cost in revenue that they want to make on top of that.

Christopher Mitchell: Right and so we've been talking about this open access model, that uses dark fiber and active ethernet, mostly to connect larger businesses but there's something new in the air as of this summer. Well, it's been officially decided this summer, but it's been talked about for quite a while. We're talking about yet another approach the gigabit passive optical network or GPON, which is for people who aren't familiar. It's the technology that, for instance, Chattanooga uses, Verizon uses -- A lot of the biggest ISP's have used to connect residents. So what are you doing with GPON in the near future?

Pete Hoffswell: One of the issues we've had in our community -- Our services work great for medium and large sized businesses. We haven't been able to really provide service to the rest of our community and the city council, here in Holland, over the past couple of years is -- Prioritized that highly. It was number one a couple of years ago, was broadband development in our community, and they tasked the BPW to take a look at that and come up with solutions. What we've done is a year ago we started a pilot using GPON downtown. Connected up some of the retail establishments down there. We connected up restaurants and coffee shops to provide gigabit service to their customers. We also connected up a incubator space where we have small companies working together in a collaborative environment and they needed a lot of bandwidth. And a great company downtown, called Collective Idea, that does online application development for companies across the country and around the world. They rely heavily on Internet connectivity as part of their business and our pilot served them over the past year very successfully. So we're moving now to an expanded pilot program and we're going to utilize this GPON infrastructure, we're going to build it out to a footprint, sort of a fiber zone, if you will, downtown that covers 158 buildings with about 450 customers. This is a typical main street, so you have the first floor is retail, restaurants, coffee shops, and what not. Upstairs is small businesses and residential, a mix.

Christopher Mitchell: I just wanted to suggest if people want to get a sense of how the public is responding to both the existing pilot and the expanded pilot, Hollandfiber.org is a really good site. Other communities should definitely be taking a look at this in terms of how activists and people in the community can document and encourage these kinds of investments. But I just -- I love the quotes from the people involved and you get a real sense that there's a lot of enthusiasm.

Pete Hoffswell: I am glad you brought that up. One of our key strategies is -- We are building fiber for our community. Does our community want it or not? We're not going to build fiber to the community if they say "You know what? We're good." You need to have that relationship with your community. You need to be open. You need to have those stakeholders out there that are saying "You know what? This is really a good thing for our community. We need you to do it." Hollandfiber.org is that community side. It's really a key component of developing fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: And a good model for others to check out. But let's go back to this, the pilot and the expanded pilot. With a new technology there's been some lessons learned and one of the decisions that you made this summer was that you're going to become an ISP as the city rather than only doing open access.

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah. We will be a municipal ISP. It's an exciting time for us. As we've been talking about, we have an open access model, we have a lot of partner ISP's, and we were really excited about doing open access GPON infrastructure as well and put an RFI out for that. Our RFI respondents were really the companies doing sort of a classic model, which is the facilities plus service based stuff, and since we do all the facilities, it didn't really match up.

Christopher Mitchell: And so this is something that might be surprising to people but this happens fairly frequently, I think, where the city says "We would like to do A," and you get a bunch of responses from companies that say "We're going to do B." And then the city has to figure out what it wants to do because you can't force companies to participate in your plan A, you have to adjust, right?

Pete Hoffswell: You do, and Chris, you know, as well as anybody, that this is a new market. It's new ways of doing business. The business models are being figured out right now. I mean, we're really on the cutting edge of figuring out new ways to provide broadband services to the community. And I think, you know, this idea of public/private partnerships and where it's going to ultimately end up, we're not sure. I mean we're trying to figure it out. That's what our process has been. We're becoming an ISP, yeah, but we're designing our GPON infrastructure to be open access still. So like the Ammon model, we love Ammon, it's a great, great, great model. We are going to do that in our town too. We're going to be the ISP first and we really, really hope to see partner ISP's and other service providers too, whether they're security or phone, or whatever over the top services they want to provide. It's all going to be open and available. Our rate books are written this way. So for us it's like law.

Christopher Mitchell: So where are you at now, as we're talking at the beginning of September?

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah, so we've gotten through the uphill battle of planning and policy and regulations and laws. Really I think of "The Little Engine That Could," you know, I think I can, I think I can. We've been doing that here for the past year in earnest. Working at getting everything lined up, ready to go. That culminates at the peak of the hill with our city ordinance that authorizes BPW to become an ISP. We're ready to go. So now we're on the downhill run. We're working on building fiber downtown. So we have fiber everywhere but we don't have a GPON infrastructure, that's fiber to every single building downtown. That's what we're going to build here over the next couple months and we should see our first customers coming online with our new service in November.

Christopher Mitchell: So for people who are located outside of downtown who are, undoubtedly, enthusiastic about the expansion but curious when they might also get their crack at it -- What do you tell them?

Pete Hoffswell: Personally, I'm a big advocate of ubiquitous networks. The fiber should be available to everybody, just like the roads are available to everybody. Our downtown pilot is really an exploration on what is it like to provide this new, what we call shared gigabit service, how do the numbers work out, what is the take rate, and we want to get our feet wet with this project. That's why we call it an expanded pilot. But for every one person that signs up downtown we have ten people that are sending in notes of requesting connectivity. So there's definitely interest outside of our initial area and we're trying to figure out how we can do that. The downtown project, Chris, is working on that four year ROI model. We're building that on the understanding that we will get the revenue back over the next few years to pay for that infrastructure. We're very confident. There's a high density of people downtown. That doesn't translate well to the rest of our community, which is going to be a small city density of customers and then out in our outlying townships you're getting into rural access. So we sort of have the whole gambit. From a high density all to the way to the rural and we're trying to figure out how do we pay for that and I think everybody in the country is trying to figure out how to pay for that. I think half your podcasts are probably focused on this particular issue.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Now I know I've seen you at many events and things like that, I know you've been paying attention to what other folks are doing so -- So what are some of the things that you've seen other people doing that you're considering doing?

Pete Hoffswell: We're researching this right now, trying to figure it out. What we'll do, ultimately, I'm really not sure. The demand is here, and it's now, and we have people banging on our doors saying "Come on! Let's do this!" The great models that we see out there today is that of demand aggregation, which is your typical model that you see throughout the country. That's where you identify a zone, an area in your community, and you say "Okay, everybody in that area, you guys sign up and if you commit to purchasing the service then we will go ahead and build it out to you." So once the take rate in that zone gets to a certain level, you have an assurance that you'll be able to recover your investment on revenues that you'll get from that area and you go ahead and build it. That's what they do over in Europe, right? They've been doing this a long time, demand aggregation. We've seen various levels of success in the country with demand aggregation, it can be tricky.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the important pieces is something that you said earlier, which is that you have a commitment to get to everyone, eventually, but you may be prioritizing based on the business model. Which, I think, is definitely a reasonable way to go and one of the things that I strongly believe is local authority. If people -- If the voters of Holland would like to use a different model, they could certainly tell their elected officials to do that. You know, I think a lot of this is the DPW, the Department of Public Works, figuring out how to act within the current political environment but people could always change that if they would like to get fiber more rapidly.

Pete Hoffswell: Yeah, demand aggregation, it's not a ubiquitous build. Economic divides match up with digital divides, as you well know. This may not be a good way to build fiber into communities that maybe really need it.

Christopher Mitchell: I just wanted to hammer home -- I'm never as clear as I want to be. But when an organization like yours is doing this, that is committed to serving everyone, that has a history of serving everyone, I have more faith that, even if over the first few years the demand aggregation goes first to the places that are more affluent, that you will, ultimately, connect everyone. The utility will have a pressure on it, to connect everyone and I just think it's worth remembering that because private companies that use demand aggregation may not have that priority to come back around and make sure that, ultimately, everyone gets it. Because this is a multi --. It's a 100 year technology, it's a very long horizon and although it's frustrating that the most affluent may get it first, it is better that the low income folks do get it over three to five years than over 50 or 60 years.

Pete Hoffswell: It's true, man. You can look at it as a means to an end, Right?

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Pete Hoffswell: Absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: So --

Pete Hoffswell: And I think any of these models can be used in tandem, in conjunction with each other, to reach an ultimate goal.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. So let's talk about another one. What else are you considering?

Pete Hoffswell: You know, another model is that of city investment. That would be capital costs are covered by either like a bond issue or a special assessment. These have been met with various levels of success across the country as well. We're very familiar at the Holland Board of Public Works with special assessment because that is how you build utilities. That's how you build water and sewer service. If a new neighborhood comes up, they'll build a sewer main down the middle of the road and that is paid for though a special assessment, it shows up on your tax bill. It's not a tax, it's a special assessment to help recover the cost of that infrastructure build.

Christopher Mitchell: And I think it's worth noting that if the property is sold then the new owner will take over that assessment. This is one of the nice things about it, and something that's different about it than a tax, because a home owner is taking less risk because the assessment would stay with the property.

Pete Hoffswell: Absolutely. Another place that the board has experience with special assessment is our downtown area. We, as a power provider, have a lot of waste heat on our power plant. We've taken the waste heat and we've pumped it in pipes underneath all of our sidewalks and lot of our roads in our downtown area to produce a snow melt system. The snow melt system has take our downtown from shutting down in the winter almost, because we get a ton of snow here, we're in a snow band lake effect here on Lake Michigan, to bringing a economic revitalization in the off season for the downtown. That's paid for by a special assessment to the businesses that are along that snow melt system. So it's an interesting tool on how to get things done and it's been very successful and an economic development tool. This may be a good way to do fiber development as well so we're looking at it.

Christopher Mitchell: I just wanted to note, that was one of the things that I was thinking of, as terms of Holland being special. I think thinking just a little bit differently and one of the side effects of using that waste heat in that way is that, of course, you're not dumping extra salt into the lake or the watershed, which is something that, I think, people are going to be increasingly concerned about in the future. It's a little bit of an aside on technology based podcast.

Pete Hoffswell: It's an innovative thought, right? Innovation is a key to what we're trying to do and thinking about things outside of the box, like our snow melt system, is a great example of that. I think it really is a good shot in the arm for broadband development to say "You know what? We're not exactly sure how broadband might help our community but we think it will help our community. Let's talk about it, let's figure it out." One of the things that we didn't even think about with the snow melt system is it is a fitness tool. We have people coming all year round to come walk on our beautiful streets because there's no snow on them and there's nowhere else that they can get out and do their walking.

Christopher Mitchell: So Pete, one of the things that we often see of course, is that the big companies, your Comcast, your AT&T, Verizon, Charter, whatever -- They aren't really interested in investing in a community, like Holland, to bring the next generation of technology up unless there's real competition. You know, they'll do it on their time schedule. But when a city, like yours, starts stepping up then they'll often increase their investment, they'll lower their prices and things like that. I'm curious how you're going to react to that dynamic when it comes to pass.

Pete Hoffswell: Holland Board of Public Works works for the city and the city has a mission for the betterment of our community, right? We want to increase the attractiveness and livability of our community and the BPW is no different. We're very excited about the incumbent ISP's being in town. They have made our community better because they provide a service, right? They've done a great job of that over the past 20 plus years and right next to us providing services as well. So we've had a pretty good relationship with them. Now, moving into becoming an ISP, we're really getting into their space, right? We're going to go fully competitive. Customers downtown are going to be able to order from the incumbent ISP's or from us and that's great. The incumbent ISP's have responded to our work downtown by enhancing their infrastructure. We see a lot of new fiber builds going down downtown and they're working to get their network in our city up to the next level to remain competitive. This is great. It's awesome. The ultimate goal of providing better broadband for our community is being met in more ways than just us doing it. The other thing that's great on this Chris, is we're an open access model, right? We want to build the infrastructure and let all the ISP's in the are and other service providers utilize that and the big incumbent ISP's are facilities based so they don't necessarily have that in their business models. They want to own the infrastructure and then sell services on top of that but we're starting to see some chinks in the armor. They're willing to sit down at the table and talk to us. We even have some of the incumbent carriers in our area using our fiber because we happen to have it where they don't have it and it works great. We think in the future we're going to see more and more of this partnership infrastructure opportunities. Whether co-builds, whether it's dark fiber leases, or even active ethernet services to incumbent ISP's just grow. I'm very optimistic Chris, that we're moving to a new era of telecommunications that we're going to see things be more open.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I think there's a lot of people who might be thinking "Yeah, if I lived in Holland I'd be pretty optimistic too."

Pete Hoffswell: We have a windmill here that was brought over on the ship in 1964 from the Netherlands and we have fiber even to that thing. You can go there, it's an operating windmill, and you can go up there and the folks in their Dutch costumes and wooden shoes are sitting behind the cash register and they'll sell you a bag of flour that was ground by wind from this windmill. It's fantastic and the fiber is there to help them do it.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, just as long as they all remember to root for the U.S.A. in the World Cup and not the Dutch, it sounds pretty good.

Pete Hoffswell: Hey, hey, we're all winners here.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you so much Pete for coming on, telling us more about what's going on in Holland and also for inspiring people to think a little bit about what they could do differently in their communities.

Pete Hoffswell: It's all about passion. If you can see a goal of better broadband for your community, then do whatever you can to get there. Be excited about it, know that there is a path to get there and just up to you as broadband developer to find it.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Pete Hoffswell from Holland, Michigan discussing the community's municipal fiber project. We have transcripts for this, and other Community Broadband Bits, 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 ILSR podcast, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Thanks to Arne Husby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed though Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 269 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptopen accessdark fiberhollandmichiganpilotfeasibilityfiber-to-the-businesseconomic developmentgrassrootsactive ethernetdowntown

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 268

September 7, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 268 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Jon Chambers of Conexon once again joins the show. This time Jon dives into the details of the Connect America Fund program and discusses the upcoming Connect America Fund auction. Listen to this episode here.

Jon Chambers: Rural Americans, have the same aspirations, the same needs, the same uses of the Internet as everyone else. It shouldn't surprise anyone when I say, rural Arkansans, rural Missourians subscribe to gigabit services too. It does surprise people. It surprises people at the FCC, it surprises policy makers. Doesn't surprise people who live and work and spend their lives in rural America.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 268 of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast from The Institute For Local Self-Reliance, I'm Lisa Gonzalez. As the question of how best to bring high quality Internet access to rural America becomes more pressing, rural cooperatives are rapidly taking a leading role. This week's guest, Jon Chambers, works with electric cooperatives that decide they want to offer high speed connectivity. Jon spent time working for the FCC and has a special understanding of how the agency approaches review and funding for telecommunications. In this conversation, he and Christopher talk about the Connect America Fund. Learn more about Jon's firm, visit their website at conexon.us. Now, here's Christopher and Jon Chambers from Conexon.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at The Institute For Local Self-Reliance. Today, I'm once again with Jon Chambers, a partner at Conexon. Welcome back to the show Jon.

Jon Chambers: Thank you Chris. Thanks for inviting me.

Christopher Mitchell: You've been on the show multiple times recently, talking about how rural electric cooperatives can basically solve this problem for all of rural America. Do you want to briefly remind us what Conexon is?

Jon Chambers: Conexon is a consulting firm that was started by my partner, Randy Klindt, who conceived of, designed and oversaw the construction of the very first fiber-to-the-home network built on an electric cooperative infrastructure to 100% of the membership without any federal support, without any state support, without any grants, without any government loans. Today, that project, which is Co-Mo Connect in Central Missouri, makes available to all of its members gigabit, 100 megabit per second service, fiber-to-the-home service. Randy took that design and he has applied it to other cooperatives. He and I work together exclusively with electric cooperatives, replicating the Co-Mo success anywhere there's a cooperative that's interested in serving its members with broadband Internet service.

Christopher Mitchell: Today we're going to be talking more about a important FCC program, the Connect America Fund, which you and I have both been very critical of in its initial stages, the first two phases. But we're coming to one of the most important phases, where finally some money will be available to non-incumbent carriers, and how important it is to get this right. Maybe you can start by letting us know, what's at stake with the next round of the Connect America Fund approach?

Jon Chambers: This is a critical stage in the evolution of the Connect America Fund. The amount of money that the FCC has put in this budget, and this is a budget for an auction of funds for those to bid for and provide broadband service. The total budget is relatively small, it's less than 5% of the amount of money that the FCC spends on rural broadband programs. That is to say, every year the FCC administers over four and a half billion dollars of programs for rural broadband, the Connect America Fund auction will be a program of $198 million a year over 10 years. The size of it aside, it's important for a couple of reasons. One is, the FCC has set out bidding tiers, service levels, that far exceed the levels that the FCC has required of the telephone companies in the other Connect America Fund programs. In the other programs, the FCC has required 10 megabits per second down and one megabit per second upload speeds, and in some cases 25/3, but the vast majority of the money today that the FCC spends goes to a service that the FCC itself doesn't consider to be broadband, 10/1 speeds. In this auction, the FCC has setup a structure where a bidder can bid to deliver gigabit service or 100 megabit per second service or 25 or 10. The importance of that to my way of thinking is, to the extent the FCC sees that there are bidders for gigabit service that can bid on that service, that's within the same budget, that it provided in fact far less of a budget than it provided to the telephone companies. I would hope that that proves something to the policy makers. The second important point about an auction is that the auction will be open to all types of companies using all types of technologies. There too, this is an evolution in the FCC's approach, even though the 1996 Telecom Act permitted multiple providers of service in rural areas able to receive universal service support, still today nearly all of the funding goes to the same incumbent telephone companies that have been receiving funding for decades. Again, even though it's less than 5% of the total budget, it is an opportunity for those who are not incumbents, who are not incumbent telephone companies to bid for, to deliver service and if nothing else, to make a point that there are other types of companies, for me especially the companies that we work with, rural electric cooperatives that can demonstrate to the FCC, demonstrate to the public, demonstrate that they're capable of building, operating, maintaining fiber networks and delivering broadband service and voice services to their subscribers.

Christopher Mitchell: These rules are not yet finalized. They'll be finalized in the coming months and then the auction will be next year in theory.

Jon Chambers: That's right. There is currently a public notice that the FCC issued earlier this month. The public notice seeks comment on the final rules the FCC will adopt for the auction. The comment cycle is ongoing, comments are due in September, reply comments in October. All of us expect the FCC will adopt final rules for the auction before the end of the year, which tees up the auction to occur in 2018.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we're really focused on is making sure this auction goes well, that those who bid and win do a good job, because that will influence how future funds are spent by the FCC.

Jon Chambers: Yes. I think that's the critical point and why I'm so pleased that you invited me to talk with you today. Success in this auction could well influence future funding by the FCC, future decisions by the FCC about how best to spend the public's money, the levels of service that carriers are capable of providing in rural areas. We know from our experience, where coops are providing gigabit and hundred megabit per second symmetrical services, we know what rural Americans adopt when those services are made available to them. In markets where we have clients offering service we find upwards of 40% of rural Americans subscribe to gigabit service. I know that the FCC and the leadership of the FCC has made comments in the past about how rural Americans don't need those kinds of services, but I would hope that one of the things this auction can demonstrate is that there are companies capable of providing that service, demonstrate that rural Americans will subscribe to those services. Perhaps, if all goes really well, the FCC will recognize that they ought to follow more of what consumers want than their own notions of what's sufficient for some Americans as compared to what other Americans subscribe to. Rural Americans have the same aspirations, the same needs, the same uses of the Internet as everyone else. It shouldn't surprise anyone when I say, rural Arkansans, rural Missourians subscribe to gigabit services too. It does surprise people. It surprises people at the FCC, it surprises policy makers. I'll tell you who it doesn't surprise, doesn't surprise the people who live and work and spend their lives in rural America.

Christopher Mitchell: We want to make sure that these rules are set to prevent fraud basically, whether it's intentional or perhaps one might say unintentional, in the sense that making sure that the FCC has crystal clear rules to make sure those who bid have the ability to actually deliver what they're promising, rather than speculating. I think some will view this, they'll be frustrated and angry even at some of the things we're going to talk about in terms of the rules we'd like to see. But I want to make sure people understand where you're coming from, this isn't hypothetical for you, you've seen this already happen in the rural broadband experiments. You are very familiar with the history of fraud in these FCC programs. I'm hoping you can tell us a little bit about the experience from the rural broadband experiments, and how I think a program that you helped to design, you might be frustrated with some of the people who won some bids and did not deliver.

Jon Chambers: I did work at the FCC for a time. I was hired in 2012 and asked by the chairman of the FCC to begin working on the reform of some of the FCC's spending programs. In particular programs that had been beset with fraud. The FCC administers important programs, programs that meet the needs of Americans who would otherwise not have access to telecommunication services. But unfortunately each of the FCC's programs, programs to help people who are deaf, programs to help schools and libraries, programs to help low income Americans, programs to help people in rural and high cost areas, each of those programs has had fraud, hundreds of millions of dollars of fraud. My experience and my review of the programs when I was at the FCC, was that part of what leads to the fraud are the imprecision of the FCC's rules and the willingness of some program participants to take advantage of imprecise rules. In the, you mention the rural broadband experiment, that was an experiment to hold an auction, very similar to the auction that will be held for the Connect America Fund, an experiment to hold an auction and to see what the bidding behavior would be, to see what if you allowed for many different kinds of companies to participate, to see how they would bid. What we found, among other things, is that there were folks willing and capable of bidding and building networks. We found a lot of folks who would bid more for the hope that the money would allow them to build a business. We found bids of, I'll use I guess maybe the most famous example, a person who bid $1. That is $1, not $1 a customer, not $1 for a geographic area, bid $1 in order to get the FCC's imprimatur, that it was an awardee of an FCC program as a marketing tool. We found people who bid and then were unable to fulfill the FCC's requirements, unable to get a letter of credit, unable to provide financial information, unable to get eligible telecommunications carrier status from the states, which is a core requirement in the statute, unable to deliver the services that they bid for. My concern about this auction is that the FCC has yet to take the step necessary to be clear and precise about what kinds of companies and what kinds of technologies are capable of delivering services in the various tiers the FCC has. The FCC's structure almost invites people to bid for more than they can deliver, because by bidding for the higher tiers, the 100 megabit per second tier or the gigabit tier, that gives you a greater weight in the auction. That gives you an advantage in the auction bidding. And yet, the FCC's ability to monitor, to evaluate, to know for sure whether a bidder is going to be able to deliver the service, to deliver 100 megabit per second service or gigabit service to any one that wished service in the geographic area they're bidding for, the FCC's abilities are limited. They have limited staff, they have limited technical capability. They will be overwhelmed with the number of bids. So therefor, unless the FCC does something far more than it's suggesting, even in its current rule making, the FCC could be overwhelmed with bidders and their response would be to allow all bidders to participate and they will see what was very much a repeat of the bidding behavior in the last auction of this sort, that is people who bid and then aren't capable of fulfilling their bid. That's worrisome to me and others who work in rural areas, trying to get broadband networks built. Because as I described before, this is the promise, in some ares subsidies aren't needed, in most of the areas we work you can build a network without any federal support. But when you get down to areas which have two or three homes per mile, it is necessary to get some kind of support, just because the revenue is not there to build, operate, maintain a network. We, those of us who live and work in rural America, all have a stake in this auction getting done right. The FCC, it needs to adopt clear guidance that certain technologies are only capable of certain services, that certain technologies can't bid for more than they're capable of delivering. I know that the FCC desires to be technologically neutral in its approach, but technological neutrality and technological savvy are two different things. There are certain things that can't be delivered by certain technologies. The FCC ought to be clear that if you have a particular capability, a particular approach, you could bid in one tier. If you have other capabilities, you might be able to bid in another tier.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the most obvious examples of this would be satellite services. Something that we've increasingly seen the FCC willing to accept as a broadband technology from what we can tell, from for instance maps that they release of who has access to broadband. I think we could quickly dispense with satellite should not be one that is considered to be delivering a high quality broadband, whether it's 100 megabits, a gigabit or even if it's 25 megabits. You've noted that there's a technical test that should be a part of this that would disqualify satellite.

Jon Chambers: Satellite and any provider of service has to be able to deliver voice service. That's fundamental to Section 214 of the Communications Act. That is, this is support for telecommunication services, voice services. Broadband is included but it's not separate. That is, the FCC can only provide support to those who are capable of providing high quality voice service. Now, the FCC is adopted a test, at least suggested a test in its rules. The voice service that you provide, the broadband service you provide has high latency, greater than 100 milliseconds, then the voice service has to be able to be tested and scored under an old and well known type of test called a Mean Opinion Score, which tests voice quality. For one, I am skeptical that satellite voice, which has latency of three quarters of a second, or a second and a half in a double hop voice call, that if you properly conduct a MOS test, that you find the scores that the FCC says are necessary in order to receive support. I would withhold judgment until I saw the tests, how the tests were conducted, what the actual scores were. I think any test of that sort ought to be open for public inspection. It isn't, and currently all the FCC is suggesting that any bidder certify that they have conducted such a test and gotten certain scores. I think for something like voice, which I have young kids they hate to talk on the phone, they may think texting and Snapchat and everything else is more important than voice. But the Communications Act still holds voice at a premium, especially for supported rural areas. You've got to be able to deliver voice. I think that's true for satellite.

Christopher Mitchell: It's important to remember that for a lot of people who may have cellphone reception in their yards, they may not have it in their house. This is still a public safety issue, especially in rural areas. I think it's good to remember, but I'd like to move on to what I think is one of the most important pieces, which is the carrier of last resort. Remembering that this is not the rural broadband experiments program, this is program that is designed to make sure no one is left out. One of the things that you're really pushing for, is for the FCC to certify technologies that would make sure that everyone can receive it, regardless of whether you're on the wrong side of a hill. What's the issue there?

Jon Chambers: This program really is about being the carrier of last resort. While the Communications Act does permit multiple providers in rural areas to receive subsidies, somebody has to be responsible in case there's no one else to provide service. That's the structure of the Communications Act and that's what this funding is really meant to ensure. There are only a couple of types of companies that have been traditional providers of that sort, universal service providers. Those that would be willing and able to provide service to every single person in a geographic area, no matter how far out that last home is, whether it's another mile down the road or a couple of miles down the road. It's been the telephone companies and it's been electric companies, electric coops for the most part. It is not today, at least I'm unaware of any rural area in the country where a fixed wireless provider, a spectrum based provider is the only provider of service, is that carrier of last resort, has been designated as a carrier of last resort by a state commission and has that responsibility. It's possible to build networks so that that last 100 feet, 100 yards is a wireless link. It's often a more expensive network to build than the kind of network that is often built by fixed wireless providers, where they might put radio equipment on a water tower, or on poles, or on buildings in order to provide their service. You've got to be able to get everywhere. You've got to be able to get everywhere regardless of terrain, regardless of foliage, regardless of weather, regardless of anything. The issue I would suggest to the FCC and those who would bid planning to use wireless technology is, you could look at just about any fixed wireless provider's website, look at their terms and conditions, and they all have exceptions. They all will say that you cannot count on being able to get service. Now, that's perfectly fine if you're just a provider of service. There's nothing wrong with that, the WISPs and the others have been a valuable provider of Internet service over the years. But carrier of last resort has other responsibilities, and those responsibilities often imply that there's additional cost to it. That's additional cost and not just to provide some level of service but whatever level of service that you're bidding for in the auction. Again, I look at what companies submit to the FCC in their semi-annual reports, the 477 form reports as to their level of service. We examine markets, we look at competitive markets for everywhere that we're going to business, everywhere that coops are going to do business. There's a lot of disconnect between what people say they can provide and what actually gets provided. Most wireless services that are provided in rural areas are at the one and a half megabit per second, three or five or maybe 10 megabits per second. If that's what people are bidding for, I think that's perfectly fine, as long as they can get everywhere. To the extent folks start bidding at that 25 megabit, 100 megabit, gigabit service tier, I think they're going to have to demonstrate they have the spectrum sufficient to deliver those services, they have plans in place that they can get to every single customer. I think that ought to be examined by the FCC because you don't see any market in the country today where the dominant provider anywhere in the country is a fixed wireless provider or a satellite provider. The country is still served by wire-line networks. Mobile networks are served by wire-line networks. Building fiber deep into networks is the goal of improving Internet service, the goal of improving broadband generally, improving mobile services, getting to 5G, getting to all of the promises of the Internet. You have to build fiber and you have to build fiber deep into networks, close to people's home, or in what we do, all the way to the home. Anybody that thinks there's a shortcut to it, because they can use spectrum at long distance, or they can use satellites, hasn't yet demonstrated, as far as I know, that they can get everywhere in geographic areas in rural America and deliver those services to every home in rural America, just like telephone coops do, just like electric coops do, just like the traditional carrier of last resort operators have done for decades.

Christopher Mitchell: As we're running out of time here, I think you're going to be putting up a blog post soon on the Conexon website that will have some additional details that I hope people will look at. I also want to remind people that if you've enjoyed listening to this, you should really make sure you're commenting on this proceeding. This is what's going to make a difference. Many of us have commented on the net neutrality rules, were one of 20 million people contributing. This is something where individual comments will make a big difference because you're not going to see a ton comments on it. So please, take some time to listen to this interview, read the transcript and make some informed comments.

Jon Chambers: I do think there is a resolution to the difficulties the FCC faces, which is to change these programs from a command and control, we give money to a monopolist, we ensure that they're a monopolist over a period of time, a decade or longer. To change that to a consumer-led program, where the consumers decide what service they want, and whoever is capable of providing the service the consumers want, that's the one that gets the subsidy in areas the FCC has deemed necessary. You could run that through the auction. Don't limit whoever can get funding in rural area to a single winner in the auction, you could give the winner a period of time to start building out their network. But if they're not capable, rather than taking the money back, or rather than trying to find somebody else then to come in, or rather than re-auctioning [inaudible

00:26:21] if you allow any other service provider, if you allow them to compete for the customer and also compete for the subsidy, you would resolve every single issue that I've just raised. To that, I would hope satellite providers would agree with me, fixed wireless providers would agree with me, traditional telephone companies, cable operators, fiber providers, all would agree with me that they ought to let the consumer lead the decisions as to where the public's money flows.

Christopher Mitchell: We might have some listeners who are tearing their hair out, thinking, "But these areas don't have a choice, that's the problem." I wanted to make sure people are aware that you know that. You know that better than most people. Your belief is that when there's more money in those areas, we'll see maybe WISP will get more if satellite companies want to compete for that, they can. But I think fundamentally you believe, and in part because you've talked with so many of these folks, rural electric cooperatives are going to be increasingly going into those areas, and you think that they will inevitably by the best choice.

Jon Chambers: People don't have a choice, not for lack of money that's been spent. Like you said, the FCC spends four and half billion dollars year in and year out on rural America for telecommunication service. The problem is, other providers, competitors, others don't have access to the funding and the funding is necessary in large parts of the country. The problem is the design of the program. The reason there's no choice today for broadband is that the programs have been designed for decades to limit choice to a single provider. If the single provider, not facing competition, has decided to limit the availability, the speeds, there is no choice. It's the design of the program that has led to lack of choice, not the other way around. It's not that, "Oh, there's no choice. How could I think that there would be choice?" People are building today, communities are building fixed wireless, satellite, guys that I work for, electric cooperatives are all building all without access to funding. If you allowed not the funding to go to a single company to make sure that an area was a monopoly, but to make sure that what the consumer shows was how the funding was delivered, then you would unleash the funding to the areas where it was needed. It's an entirely different approach and it isn't one that the FCC is going to adopt because the FCC traditionally follows a certain path. This is a different path entirely.

Christopher Mitchell: I think there's a lot of good points there. Like many listeners, I have no doubt. I'm frustrated to cut it off here but I have to, in part because I have to run and also because we're trying to the podcast to a more reasonable length. But Jon, I have no doubt we'll have you back on. We really appreciate all the time and work that you have shared with us.

Jon Chambers: Thank you Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Jon Chambers from Conexon and Christopher discussing rural connectivity and the Connect America Fund. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @CommunityNets. Subscribe to this podcast and The Building Local Power and Local Energy Rules Podcasts. You can access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to episode 268 of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcriptconnect america fundfcccompetitionrural electric coopsubsidiesgrant

Ellsworth, Maine, Celebrates Fiber Lighting

September 7, 2017

Two and a half years ago, the city council in Ellsworth, Maine, voted to take the first steps toward better connectivity through a publicly owned fiber optic network. On August 29th, the community held a “Lighting Presentation” to kick off the realization of its vision.

Already Serving Businesses

The three-mile open access network is already serving local establishments and the Union River Center for Innovation, but local officials and business leaders gathered with U.S. Senator Angus King for the ceremony to celebrate.

“Connectivity levels the playing field for those of us who are small business owners,” said State Senator and local business owner Brian Langley.

Ellsworth obtained a $250,000 grant for the project from the Northern Border Regional Commission. In addition to approximately $28,000 in tax increment financing (TIF), the city council decided early in the planning process to dedicate $30,000 to the project to extend it an additional mile. Ellsworth obtained additional capital when it sold property that was the site of a former community owned nursing home. In total, Ellsworth contributed $110,000 to the project costs.

Keeping It Local

Ellsworth owns the new infrastructure and Maine’s GWI is using the fiber to provide Internet access to businesses and institutions along the route. GWI, which is also working with other Maine communities like Sanford, Islesboro, and South Portland, is the first of what Ellsworth hopes will be several ISPs to use the infrastructure.

The main purpose of the investment is to stimulate economic development by improving connectivity services and prices for potential employers. Ellsworth commissioned a feasibility study to examine the possibility of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) back in 2015, but determined that a community-wide project was cost prohibitive. After consideration, they chose to make the three-mile fiber investment as a first step; their design allows for future expansion so more businesses and perhaps residences can connect to the network.

Ellsworth’s population is only about 7,700 but the community is growing quickly. The network will help the town focus on attracting well-paying jobs while providing better opportunities for telehealth, home-based businesses, and better educational opportunities for families. 

As Kerem Durag from GWI said at the ceremony, “Ellsworth has plugged in.”

Tags: ellsworth maineopen accesseconomic developmentfiber-to-the-businessgwimainegrant

Holland's Muni Fiber Pilot Expands in Michigan - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 269

September 6, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 269 - Pete Hoffswell, Broadband Services Manager for Holland Board of Public Works

Holland is expanding its pilot area for municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services in Michigan's Dutch outpost. To explain the past, present, and expected future of muni fiber in Holland, Broadband Services Manager Pete Hoffswell for the Board of Public Works, joins us in episode 269 of the Broadband Bits podcast.

The city has some 25 years of experience with dark fiber and open access with 6 ISPs serving some 200+ business locations. In recent years it has looked to expand that network, starting with a gigabit passive optical network (GPON) network in the higher density areas of downtown. 

We discuss the city's decision to become a service provider and plans for further expansion, as well as how the city is reacting to increased investment from the existing cable and telephone companies. 

In our discussion, we mention HollandFiber.org

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

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

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

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

Tags: open accessdark fiberhollandmichiganpilotfeasibilityaudiopodcastbroadband bitsfiber-to-the-businesseconomic developmentgrassrootsactive ethernetFTTHmunigponutilityrfipartnershipexpansiondowntown

Federal Funding Available: Department of Agriculture Growing Internet Service

September 6, 2017

Get your applications ready! The United States Department of Agriculture  Rural Utilities Service (USDA RUS) is accepting applications for another round of loans for the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. This program provides loans of up to $20 million for rural connectivity. The window to apply opened September 1st, and the deadline is September 30, 2017.

Thousands To Millions Of Dollars For Rural Areas

The USDA RUS has at least $60 million available this funding cycle for this program. All loans will be between $100,000 and $20 million. The program will only consider funding projects that offer speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

For this program, the USDA RUS focuses on completely rural communities where at least 15 percent of households do not have high-speed Internet access. To be eligible, these rural areas cannot have more than two incumbent providers or have previously received USDA RUS funding. 

Although the program is specific to rural communities, most organizations are eligible to apply, including tribal governments, local governments, cooperatives, and corporations. No partnerships and no individuals may apply for funding, however, as the loans must go only to organizations.

This is only one of the Broadband programs that the USDA RUS manages. The agency also handles the Community Connect Grants and the Distance Learning & Telemedicine Program. The report “Broadband Loan and Grant Programs in USDA’s Rural Utilities Service” from the Congressional Research Services describes these programs in more detail.

Online Submission Only

The USDA RUS officially began accepting submissions September 1st and organizations have until September 30, 2017, to apply. If you are working in an area with poor Internet service, it’s important to note that this program only accepts applications through an online system. 

Through the online system, RUS staff can review applications and answer questions as they are developed. Once an application is complete and submitted, the staff cannot provide feedback and the organizations cannot edit their applications. 

Learn more on the USDA RUS website or read through this useful packet from the January 2017 webinar. Applicants can also review this page from the USDA website for a helpful collection of resources.

Tags: usdafederal fundingloanrusfundingfederal government

NTCA Survey Examines Indie Telcos And Fiber Deployment

September 5, 2017

When it comes to rural areas, it’s no secret that national providers have little interest in serving the sparsely populated communities. Cooperatives and small local providers typically pick up the slack but it isn’t easy. In a recent survey indicated that small rural telephone companies are overcoming hurdles to deploy fiber and making long-term plans to continue the trend. Furthermore, rural subscribers are proving that they are hungry for high capacity connectivity.

Local ISPs Are Doing It

Approximately 89 percent of “NTCA 2016 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report” revealed that the expense of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment was the most difficult barrier to break through. Even though they faced the difficult problem of financing, 52 percent of survey respondents in the midst of fiber deployments in the spring of 2017 were serving at least half of their customers with FTTH.

Planning For The Future

Fiber is the future for most of the survey respondents. Eighty-two percent reported long-term fiber strategies with 66 percent of those with strategies planning on offering FTTH to at least half of their customers. Another 39 percent of those with long-term fiber strategies will offer fiber to the node to more than 75 percent of their customers by the end of 2019. Thirty-one percent of local telcos with long-term fiber plans who responded to the survey report said that they have already completed their fiber deployment plans.

Subscribers Want More

According to survey respondents, rural subscribers are choosing faster speeds tiers. Relative to the same survey one year ago, the demand for download speeds in excess of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) more than doubled from eight percent of subscribers to 17 percent of subscribers. As the percentage of subscribers choosing a faster speed tier is increasing, the number of subscribers signing up for slower speeds is decreasing. The report describes rural subscriber behavior as, “moving up the broadband speed chain” and says that “…providers need to be prepared to offer them the level of service they demand.”

What Does The Survey Tell Us?

The survey reveals that rural residents and businesses are increasingly interested in high-quality connectivity and that small entities will do what it takes to bring it to them. Based on the fact that cost is the primary barrier facing the small entities serving communities left behind by national providers, it also supports the proposals we recently heard from Jon Chambers in episode 268 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

He suggested that, as the FCC reviews how funds for the federal Connect America Fund program are distributed, the agency take a consumer-driven approach. Rather than continue to dole out millions of dollars to national telephone companies only willing to invest in more DSL connections for rural areas, one of the factors the FCC should consider is what rural residents want and which bidders are willing to provide it. Small local companies and rural electric cooperatives that struggle to fund fiber deployment but still prioritize it deserve a higher ranking than multi-million dollar companies that build outdated infrastructure for rural communities. If they can build it and are committed to the project they propose, they should be taken seriously as contenders for Connect America Funds. Additionally, those proposals need to be carefully scrutinized to meet the needs of the people and businesses they aim to serve.

Read the full NTCA report, which includes survey results about other issues such as marketing and video service. 

Check out Christopher’s interview with Jon Chambers, a partner in Conexon, on rural electric cooperatives, the Connect America Program, and serving rural America.

Tags: surveyntcaruralsmall businessfundingFTTH

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 4

September 4, 2017

Alaska

A fight for Internet access is brewing in Alaska by Sydney Johnson, EdSurge

 

Colorado

Letter: Fort Collins can provide fast, reliable Internet service by Tim Tillson, The Coloradoan

State and local officials meet in Moffat County to discuss broadband by Craig Daily Press

 

Massachusetts

Greenfield Internet service rolling out by Aviva Luttrell, The Greenfield Recorder

 

Minnesota

Fond du Lac bridges the digital divide by Konnie LeMay, Indian Country Media Network

Some 900 homes on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation will soon gain something that 80 percent of U.S. residents already take for granted—home access to high-speed Internet service. Thanks to two $3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants, plus an additional $2.2 million investment from the tribe, some 160 miles of broadband cable are being planted across the rural areas of the reservation, along with 79 additional miles to connect homes. The project, just started, is expected to be complete by fall 2018.

 

New York

Cohoes considers offering citywide Internet service by Kenneth C. Crowe II, Albany Times-Union

Nicknamed the Spindle City for its 19th-century garment industry, Cohoes is seeking to make a leap to 21st century connectivity.

"This would put us years ahead of other municipalities, grow our economy, and all while reducing the monthly costs to our residents and businesses. I am looking forward to building out this critical infrastructure and joining only a select group of cities in the country," Mayor Shawn Morse said.

The availability of municipal broadband service would be attractive to small and mid-size businesses, giving the city a competitive boost in economic development efforts, Jacobson said.

 

North Carolina

New website allows you to report broadband coverage by Emma Jane House, WNCT 9

 

Ohio

Cleveland residents take AT&T broadband complaint to the FCC by Mallory Locklear, Engadget

 

Washington

Rural Washington still waiting for high-speed broadband by John McCoy, The Seattle Times

 

General

Rural America is building its own Internet because no one else will by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard (Vice)

About 19 million Americans still don't have access to broadband internet, which the Federal Communication Commission defines as offering a minimum of 25 megabits per second download speeds and 3mbps upload speeds. Those who do have broadband access often find it's too expensive, unreliable, or has prohibitive data caps that make it unusable for modern needs.

The promise of telemedicine depends on bandwidth, technology by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

98.5% of unique net neutrality comments oppose Ajit Pai's anti-Title II plan by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Tags: media roundup