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"We Can Do This," Says Palo Alto Muni Fiber Leader

May 22, 2019

During the 20-year on-again-off-again relationship between Palo Alto and a possible fiber optic municipal network, the people of the community have waited while plans have changed, leadership has shifted, and city staff has researched potential infrastructure plans. For the people of the city, it’s a long time to be patient. In a recent opinion piece, resident Jeff Hoel described his long wait and expressed why his city needs to finally move forward and create a citywide municipal Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network.

Knows of What He Speaks

As a retired electrical engineer who has intimate knowledge of technology and networking, Jeff writes in his piece that one of the reasons he moved to Palo Alto in 1998 was because the city was considering deploying a community network. At the time, Palo Alto had already invested in dark fiber, which they have used to generate approximately $2.1 million per year through leases. The revenue has been held in a fiber optic fund, which has grown to around $26 million.

Over the years, the city has commissioned studies and community leaders have publicly advocated for an expansion of the network to a citywide utility for residents and businesses. Palo Alto’s residents have supported the idea, but stumbles in securing funding, difficulties locating private sector partners for a P3, and a failed bid to bring Google to town, have all left the city with no fiber optic network.

Now, Jeff Hoel feels that his city is ready to look at the facts and recognize that there are many municipal networks that are providing fast, affordable, reliable Internet access across the U.S. Jeff notes the success of Longmont, Colorado, where folks can sign up for symmetrical gigabit connectivity for around $50 per month. If so many other communities can manage to deploy networks and operate them efficiently, Palo Alto also has a fighting chance:

"It's not rocket science. We can do this."

Getting Organized for Change

In order to help educate the people of Palo Alto and to organize the support that he knows is in the community, Jeff has launched Muni Fiber Palo Alto. He shares information about municipal fiber networks and other types of technology, resources for more information, and the history of the municipal fiber discussions in the city. Jeff also has listed contact information in order for people of Palo Alto to express their support for a municipal fiber utility to community leaders.

Jeff has included a link in his opinion piece to Palo Alto Council Member Greg Tanaka’s online petition in support of a fiber optic network and encourages supporters to sign.

Check out our Community Broadband Bits Podcast episode 26 from 2012, in which Christopher interviewed Josh Wallace from Palo Alto about the city’s dark fiber network. Perhaps in the future, we’ll be interviewing them about a citywide FTTP project.

Tags: palo altocaliforniaconsiderationgrassroots

Nimble Customer-centric Approach Sets Ting Apart - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 357

May 21, 2019

In early April while Christopher was at the 2019 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, he recorded a series of interviews for the podcast. We’ve been sharing them over the past two months. This week we’re presenting his conversation with Director of Market Development and Government Affairs Monica Webb and Vice President for Networks Adam Eisner from Ting.

In addition to giving us a quick history about the Canadian company that provides Internet access, mobile phone service, and other services, Monica and Adam describe how the company’s culture that focuses on customers has been a driving force behind their success. Christopher asks Monica and Adam about the different models that Ting is using in its efforts to bring high-quality connectivity to places like Westminster, Maryland; Sandpoint, Idaho; and now Fullerton, California. Our guests describe how the company’s startup culture, emphasis on branding and marketing, and hyper local approach has assisted them with becoming and integral part of different communities and in developing unique partnerships. 

Monica and Adam also share some of the lessons they’ve learned in working with municipalities. While places vary widely in character, there are some actions every local community can take that help expedite deployment, especially with regard to preparation of permitting processes and related matters. The sooner a network is constructed and launched, the sooner local residents and businesses are enjoying high-speed Internet access.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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

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

Tags: podcastaudiobroadband bitstingFTTHwestminsterfullerton casandpoint idpartnershipfuquay-varina nccharlottesvillecentennialholly springswake forest

ECFiber Wins Award, Expands in Two Towns

May 21, 2019

In late April 2019, the Vermont Public Service Department announced $220,000 worth of grants to bring high-speed Internet service to 220 homes and businesses around the state. The Department awarded ECFiber with about $63,000 to serve nearly 50 homes and businesses in Tunbridge and Corinth, Vermont, according to the press release. 

This was a competitive award: 20 organizations applied for $960,000 worth of grants from the Connectivity Initiative, but only a few organizations received funding. The Department explained that they chose those projects that had the most bang for their buck. The Department is spending less than $1,000 on average for each address that is considered unserved or underserved. According to June Tierney, Commissioner of the Public Service Department:

“The Connectivity Initiative enables providers to bring high-speed internet to communities with some of the hardest to serve locations, both in terms of cost and terrain.”

From DSL to Fiber

ECFiber is a community-driven effort of 24 member towns focused on bringing high-speed Internet service to rural Vermont, but for the first few years of its existence, the government continually passed over ECFiber for funding. The organization instead used an innovative self-financing model to raise funds, got some funding from a capital investment group, and later, after the state established the "communications union district" designation, issued revenue bonds to continue to grow. Now ECFiber connects more than 2,000 rural homes and businesses, and it continues to expand. Tunbridge and Corinth are small towns that are finally getting the high-speed Internet access they need to stay connected.  

Tunbridge is home to about 1,300 people and Corinth has a population of about 1,400. As of April 2019, Corinth is completing a new town plan that will guide their community far into the future. In the May 2019 draft town plan, high-speed Internet service is highlighted as a needed utility, and the plan recognizes that the current DSL in the town is not enough. In the accompanying town survey, 88 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed:

“Universal cell phone and high speed internet service are important in Corinth.”

Documenting this level of support for high-speed Internet access is a good step for any community because it can be used to support funding efforts. Corinth will soon say goodbye to DSL and hello to fast Fiber-to-the-Home service thanks to ECFiber and the Vermont Public Service Department.

Tags: ecfiberVermontgrantrural

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 20

May 20, 2019

Alabama

State Sen. Clay Scofield: Survival of rural Alabama depends on broadband expansion by Tim Howe, Yellowhammer News

 

Arkansas

What a broadband preemption victory in Arkansas means for rural cities by Spencer Wagner, CitiesSpeak

Arkansas plans to deploy broadband statewide by 2022 by Ryan Johnston, StateScoop

 

California

AT&T and San Jose, CA reach agreement on smart cities tech, digital divide funding by Jason Plautz, Smart Cities Dive

Inside the war over 5G equipment in northern California by Sarah Holder, Pacific Standard

 

Colorado 

With trips east, Loveland looks to other cities’ expertise on building broadband network by Julia Rentsch, Reporter Herald 

 

Idaho 

Next Century Cities highlights state action for broadband, co-sponsors broadband conference in Idaho by Drew Clark, Broadband Breakfast 

 

Indiana

Community forms task force to increase broadband access by Kraig Younts, Rushville Republican 

“This is not something a community accomplishes overnight,” co-chair of the Rush County Connect Broadband Task Force Mark McCorkle said. “It will take considerable time and effort to accomplish our goal of affordable, adequate and reliable internet access to every home and business in Rush County. By working together we can get there.”

 

Maine

Telecom group launches survey to gauge Mainers’ broadband priorities by J. Craig Anderson, Press Herald

Broadband committee starting to look ahead by Lars Trodson, Block Island Times 

 

Michigan

Farmington, Farmington Hills consider building broadband network by Shelby Tankersley, Hometownlife.com

 

Missouri

2019 promising year for rural broadband in Missouri by Dan Claxton, KRCG

 

North Carolina

State is stepping in to help bridge the digital homework gap by Mandy Mitchell, WRAL 

Will North Carolina dig its teeth into teledentistry? By Anne Blythe, North Carolina Health News

 

Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Wolf summons army of municipal leaders to show support for his Restore Pa. plan by Jan Murphy, PennLive

The Digital Literacy Alliance wants to lessen the digital divide in advance of Census 2020 by  Tom Beck, Technical.ly Philly  

 

Texas

'You're doing this to allow your communities to survive:' Rural electric co-ops on broadband by Paul Flahive, Texas Public Radio  

 

Vermont

Scrambling for broadband in rural Vermont by Katherine Sims, VTDigger

The big leaps in service lately across the state have come from communities banding together, like EC Fiber in the Upper Valley, or partnering with small providers. In Craftsbury, where I live, the town received federal grants to build its own 13-mile fiber network, which it leased last year to Kingdom Fiber, a locally owned company that is starting to hook up customers. The percentage of buildings in town with access to true broadband speeds went from 8% to almost half.

 

 

Washington

Washington will create a statewide broadband office to expand Internet access by Monica Nickelsburg, GeekWire

 

General

Telecom, cable groups push rival plans on FCC broadband mapping by Jon Reid, Bloomberg Law

“The biggest consequence is when an area is considered served because they lose access to funding,” Christopher Ali, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, said. “That is hugely problematic when one building in a community has quote-unquote broadband, and the rest don’t.”

Broadband infrastructure should be a national priority for policymakers by Anne Stauffer and Kathryn De Wit, The Hill

Communities are fighting 5G, permit by permit by Sarah Holder, CityLab

Tribes across country push for better Internet access by Felicia Fonseca, Seattle Times

Opinion: Flawed data keeps rural America on the wrong side of the digital divide by Zippy Duvall, Successful Farming

 

Tags: media roundup

Traverse City Light and Power Votes "Yes" on Fiber Deployment Negotiations

May 20, 2019

At their May 14th board meeting, the Traverse City Light & Power Board (TCLP) decided to move forward and begin contract negotiations with Fujitsu Network Communications to expand the city’s fiber optic network in order to begin serving residents as well as businesses.

A Careful Approach

The community of about 10,000 has taken a cautious approach as they’ve investigated the possible ways to improve Internet access in the community. TCLP and city leaders have thoroughly examined the pros and cons, which has allowed them to make decisions based on ample amounts of information.

Earlier this year, they hired Fujitsu to develop a potential business plan, along with a design and operations plan for a municipal network. In past years, the city issued an RFI for a partner to develop an open access network on which TCLP would offer services as an Internet access provider, and they’ve commissioned a feasibility study which examined leasing to a single provider or operating as a municipal Internet access network. TCLP has also discussed the possibility of working with an electric cooperative that operates the region. In the end, they decided to pursue a municipal fiber network.

Traverse City has operated its own downtown WiFi for more than a decade, so understands the value of Internet access to the economy, while folks who live there have come to appreciate access to connectivity.

In Stages

At the May meeting, representatives from the firm went through the plan Fujitsu has developed. The firm described an incremental build, focusing first on an area of the city with a mix of residences and businesses. Working with the TCLP staff, Fujitsu identified an area where premises are somewhat dense, located near a data center, and also geographically close to existing TCLP fiber. Fujitsu explained that by focusing on a subset of Traverse City that meets these requirements, deployment can be effective and less expensive, allowing quicker and more efficient expansion of the next phase. The first phase should be completed in year one. Fujitsu spokesperson Anthony Bednarczyk described the approach as “financially sound and operationally sustainable.”

According to the Record Eagle, TCLP Board Members, who had looked over the Fujitsu report, fired off a long list of questions for Bednarczyk and the other Fujitsu representatives. After receiving answers, all but one voted to allow TCLP Executive Director Tim Arends to move forward with negotiations to build the fiber network.

The city will also hold a public hearing on June 11th to present the report to Traverse City constituents.

The Starting Proposal

As part of the arrangement, the company has proposed that the city allow Fujitsu to handle marketing, selling, and providing services on behalf of TCLP while the network is young. As the municipal network becomes more established, Fujitsu will hand-off these functions to TCLP.

Throughout their report, Fujitsu provides information on the competitive environment in Traverse City and stresses that the service will need to be managed as a competitive entity. Within the report, the firm has provided information based on the competitive environment, where CenturyLink, Spectrum Cable, and AT&T operate. They also remind TCLP that, in order to make the network a success, subscribers will have to switch from incumbent providers which will take steps to retain the customers they now serve. Subscribers of current incumbents have remarked in surveys that they are not happy with the services they receive, however, and seem to strongly support the move for a municipal network.

Fujitsu’s report addresses the first phase of the project, which will be funded with a $4 million interdepartmental loan from the electric utility to the fiber optic fund. In order to break even in 5 years the firm estimates TCLP will need to obtain an Internet access take rate for the project area of 40 percent and a VoIP take rate of 28 percent. The phase one project area will potentially serve about 400 residential and 380 business premises. The firm also shared scenarios with “most likely” and “optimistic” figures that include somewhat larger connection areas and higher take rates.

While 40 percent seems like a high rate, TCLP already has an advantage as being a trusted electric provider and has having local residents pushing the process along. Anti-muni groups have already targeted Traverse City with letters to the local press and to community leaders, but their efforts appear to be wasted. City Commissioner Amy Shamroe told the Record Eagle in January that "...most feedback she hears isn't from people opposing the project but from locals asking what's taking so long."

Image credit Iulus Ascanius at English Wikipedia [Public domain]

Tags: traverse city mimichiganFTTHmunielectricincremental

Good News for Electric Cooperatives as State Legislatures Correct Obstructive Laws

May 17, 2019

Legislative changes are helping electric cooperatives continue to expand high-quality Internet access in rural parts of America. At least three state governments have bills in the works that empower cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet service in their service territories.

Georgia, Maryland, Alabama

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law SB 2 and SB 17, which clarify that both electric and telephone cooperatives are able to provide broadband service. This change allows the electric cooperatives to use their easements which have been used for electric service to extend those easements so they also apply to equipment and lines needed in order to supply broadband service. Electric cooperatives have already been at work on providing Internet service in Georgia: Habersham Electric Cooperative operates Trailwave Network, and the Pineland Telephone and Jefferson Energy Cooperatives have partnered to bring Internet service to their communities.

In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan has just approved SB 634 which similarly underscores how electric cooperatives can use their easements to provide broadband. Meanwhile in Alabama, HB 400 will codify in existing law that electric cooperatives have the ability to offer broadband service and that their easements are valid for that use. Alabama HB 400 has passed in the House and is now working its way through the Senate. Alabama cooperatives North Alabama Electric and Tom Bigbee Electric already provides high-speed Internet service in their service territories. 

Cooperatives Bring New Tech to Rural Areas

The fact is, from electricity to Internet service, cooperatives have taken the lead in bringing new technology to rural areas. They have been building next-generation Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks in order to ensure that every farm, business, and household is connected within their service territories.

Both telephone and electric cooperatives have built FTTH, but electric cooperatives have hit a few bumps with the language of the easements and lack of clarity in state law. For instance, Lake Region Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma had to go door-to-door to ask people to update their easements to include broadband service. Having a law on the books stating that the easements can be used for both electricity and broadband saves cooperatives significant time and money better spent on deploying the next-generation network.

We first saw Indiana make the change in the law for electric cooperative easements in 2017. Since then, the law has been cited as one of the factors that helped encourage Orange County REMC to develop a FTTH network. Now that states are clarifying that electric co-ops have the legal freedom to offer broadband, people who suffer with poor Internet access in these states know that their cooperatives can move forward with projects to improve local connectivity.

Tags: cooperativeelectriclegislationgeorgiaalabamamarylandeasementrural electric coop

Leaders in Lancaster, California, Authorize Resolution to Allow City to Move on Muni, Other Utilities

May 16, 2019

At a Lancaster City Council meeting on May 14th, community leaders voted unanimously to take a step toward establishing several municipal utilities, including a publicly owned fiber optic network.

Good Experiences with Their Public Utility 

Lancaster Choice Energy (LCE) is the city’s municipal electric utility, but in the future may be one of several publicly owned utilities. LCE has a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, which allows individual users within the community to join together for purchasing power and gives them more control over matters such as the source of their energy. Lancaster wants to become a net-zero city and is exploring a range of approaches to reach that goal.

The community also underwent traffic signal upgrades like many other California communities and has installed additional fiber as the city has started to implement Smart City initiatives. At the city council meeting, City Manager Jason Caudle noted that using the fiber optic assets to develop a community network was a strong possibility.

In an article in the Antelope Valley Press published prior to the meeting, Caudle also noted that they plan other uses for the fiber, “As part of our smart cities effort, we’ve installed fiber-optic networks already throughout our city, and then we’re looking at putting our streetlights into Wi-Fi hotspots as well as 5G networks,” he said.

In his report to the council, Caudle wrote:

The establishment of a municipal utility is the next step in continuing to ensure that citizens and businesses are provided with utility services that meet the current and future needs of the community. As a municipal utility, Lancaster will have the opportunity to utilize advanced technology, provide utility services at rates and charges that are fair and reasonable, provide high quality customer service, and provide alternatives to existing providers of utility services similar to what the City achieved through the development of the City’s CCA.

City council appeared enthusiastic about the prospect of taking the step toward establishing municipal utilities, including broadband. One local citizen stepped forward to thank community leaders for their decision to localize utilities: “It makes you proud to live in a city that has a vision for the future and a way to make it be what we want. Thank you so much.”

Watch the short discussion of Resolution 19-18 here: 

 

Lancaster

About 160,000 people live in Lancaster and anther 158,000 live in its sister city of Palmdale, which is adjacent and to the south. There are about 94 square miles in the city, located approximately an hour north of downtown L.A. in the Antelope Valley.

Since 2009, the community has focused on reducing unemployment and has succeeded in shifting those numbers from 17 percent to around 6 percent. There’s significant manufacturing and related industry in the community, including a BYD Auto manufacturing facility, where locals produce electric buses and large scale batteries for the Chinese firm. Lancaster has a thriving renewable power manufacturing industry and is considered the state leader in solar panel manufacturing.

Image of LancasterCA at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Lancaster, California, Staff ReportTags: lancaster cacaliforniamuniresolutionelectric5Gtraffic lights

NRECA Fact Sheet: Electric Cooperatives Could Bring High-Speed Internet To Another 6.3 Million Households

May 15, 2019

Cooperatives are building the next-generation networks that will support rural areas long into the future. We’ve covered this extensively at ILSR as we have gathered materials on community networks from across the country into one place. We want to share this fact sheet from National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA) on how electric cooperatives are well-situated to bring high-speed Internet service to another 6.3 million households.

6.3 Million Households Have a Co-op, But No Broadband

The fact sheet features an insightful map of the areas within electric cooperative service territories that do and do not have broadband. (Note: The FCC defines broadband as a speed of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.) Many telephone and electric cooperatives can take the credit for bringing needed connectivity to their communities. For example, more than 90 electric cooperatives across the U.S. have built Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, which offer some of the fastest Internet service in the country.

The NRECA fact sheet, however, reveals the 6.3 million households in rural electric cooperative service areas that still need high-speed Internet access. These areas are primarily in the Midwest and the South. Creating pathways for electric cooperatives to extend Internet service is increasingly a priority in a number of these states, and state legislatures are now passing laws to empower both electric and telephone cooperatives. NRECA offers more policy recommendations to continue the momentum.

You can learn more about the ways rural cooperatives are bringing better connectivity to rural areas by reading our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.

Check out the NRECA fact sheet, and drop us a line if you know of more resources to add to the ILSR’s Community Networks Initiative archives. 

NRECA Fact Sheet: Electric Co-ops Part of Solution to Expand Rural BroadbandTags: electricnational rural electric cooperative associationmapmappingrural electric coopfact sheetrural

Legislative Intent in Arkansas: A Talk With Senator Davis - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 356

May 14, 2019

It’s mid-May and while some states’ legislatures are still in session, other’s have already debated new legislation, voted, and adopted new laws. This week, we talk with one Senator from Arkansas who, along with her colleagues, are interested in bringing better broadband to rural areas of her state, Breanne Davis.

During the 2019 session, she introduced SB 150, which was ultimately adopted. The bill makes slight changes in Arkansas law that prevent local communities from developing infrastructure to be used for broadband. She and Christopher discuss why she and her colleagues decided it was time to ask lawmakers for the change after years of depending on large ISPs who weren’t living up to promises to expand broadband in rural areas.

Christopher and Senator Davis discuss some of the details of the bill and address the amendments that changed a broad piece of legislation to a targeted law that allows local communities to apply for federal grant funding. She explains some of the reasons for the amendments and how those changes fit into the vision she and her colleagues in the legislature have for the future of Arkansas.

Read more about SB 150.

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

This show is 21 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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

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

Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitsArkansaslegislationsb 150 arbarrier

BrightRidge Creating 10 Gig Connectivity in Tennessee Communities

May 14, 2019

About ten years ago, we first reported on Johnson City, Tennessee. At that time, the community was in the process of installing fiber to improve reliability for their public electric utility. The Johnson City Power Board (JCPB) discussed the possibility of offering broadband via the new infrastructure, but they weren’t quite ready to move forward. Now JCPB has renamed itself BrightRidge and has not only started connecting local subscribers with fiber optic connectivity, but is offering 10 gig symmetrical service.

Past Plans

Johnson City has considered more than one model over the years before realizing the current plan. After initial consideration, they decided to move forward with a public-private partnership to first serve businesses and later residential subscribers. Later, they concluded that a public-public partnership with the Bristol Virginia Utility Authority (BVU) was a better option. After difficulties in Bristol with political corruption and state restrictions, however, that ultimately ended public ownership of the BVU, Johnson City was considering options again.

In 2017, they commissioned a fresh feasibility study to build on lessons learned from their own and others’ experiences and look deeper in the the possibilities of a publicly owned broadband utility.

Johnson City is located between Chattanooga and Bristol. Both cities have fiber infrastructure which has helped spur economic development. Being sandwiched in between these two communities requires Johnson City to be able to compete or contend with the possibility of losing employers and residents who want or need better connectivity. 

The JCPB also decided in 2017 to change their name to BrightRidge; they remain a “not-for-profit, local power company.”

An Eight Year Plan

In July 2018, BrightRidge shared their plan to deploy high-quality Internet access throughout their service areas at a public meeting. Service will be offered through a combination of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless to the more rural areas. Throughout the four-phase plan, BrightRidge will deploy both fiber and wireless systems. Cost of the plan will reach approximately $64 million and will offer connectivity to approximately 61,000 electric customers, or 75 percent of those in the service area, by 2026.

The first phase, happening this year, will bring BrightRidge service to approximately 8,500 premises. The first to be served will be downtown Johnson City, nine industrial parks, and also in downtown Jonesborough, which is located about eight miles from Johnson City. Approximately 4,000 of those will be households in Washington County. At a community meeting last July about the infrastructure plan, BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes told attendees:

“In those more dense areas and around the industrial parks where we have access to our substations, we will roll out the fiber. But we will also be rolling out at the same time the wireless into those rural communities so we can get you high speed access.”

Jonesborough is part of the project due to existing conduit. BrightRidge was able to run their fiber down main street, which had been previously installed for an unrelated underground wiring project.

Dykes told the Johnson City Press in March that phases 1 - 3 will connect 3,847 homes and 373 businesses. In a recent WJHL report, Main Street Cafe and Catering’s Zac Jenkins expressed his excitement at being one of the first businesses in Jonesborough to subscribe to the Fiber Optic Elite 10 gig package:

“This was a great opportunity because there’s a couple [of] buildings right here that don’t have the infrastructure for cable. So it’s been awesome for them to be able to help us put the infrastructure in.”

Approximately 50 businesses and 105 households in Jonesborough will have access this first year of operation. Next, downtown Johnson City businesses and residences will be connected.

Hybrid Approach

Subscribers in more densely populated areas will have access to fiber connections and will have the option to sign up for capacity as high as symmetrical 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service. Rates for residential fiber service include:

  • Fiber Optic - Advantage (200 Mbps) : $49.99 per month
  • Fiber Optic - Performance (1 Gbps) : $79.99 per month
  • Fiber Optic - Elite (10 Gbps) : $299.99 per month

BrightRidge is also offering VoIP for $18.99 per month and a $14.99 per month managed Wi-Fi and streaming video support package. There’s no fee for installation, no contracts, and subscribers can supply their own Wi-Fi routers or lease them from BrightRidge.

Fixed wireless subscribers in rural areas don’t have the same options as those in the denser areas where FTTH will be available, but many will see a noticeable improvement over CenturyLink DSL or Satellite Internet access, which are two of the main ISPs in the rural areas in the region. There will also be no data caps and subscribers will have local support to help with any issues that may arise.

  • Fixed Wireless Internet - Essential (up to 25 Mbps download /3 Mbps upload) : $29.99 per month
  • Fixed Wireless Internet - Advantage (up to 50 Mbps/5 Mbps Bandwidth) : $64.99 per month
  • Fixed Wireless Internet - Performance (up to 75 Mbps/10 Mbps Bandwidth) : $89.99 per month

Looking Forward to Better Service

At the July 2018 public meeting to introduce locals to the plan, people expressed enthusiasm. David Bench, who receives electric service from BrightRidge said, ”I can't say enough good things about it, and wish it had happened 10 years ago.”

Local coverage from WJHL:

Photo credit Mrgriffter [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Tags: johnson citytennesseemuniFTTHfixed wirelessruraljonesborough tn10gbpsgigabitsymmetry

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 356

May 14, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 356 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher talks to Arkansas State Senator Breanne Davis about recently passed Senate Bill 150, which lifted some of the state restrictions on municipal broadband networks. Listen to the interview, or read the transcript below.

 

 

Breanne Davis: In the year 2019, we shouldn't have to choose between where we live and taking a job that requires us to send email.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 356 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, state Senator Breanne Davis joins us to discuss changes in the law in her home state of Arkansas. Earlier this year we reported about a bill that she and several other women lawmakers introduced to lift state restrictions on municipal broadband. After a couple of amendments, the bill passed, and while it doesn't remove all barriers in Arkansas, it is a small step toward local authority for better connectivity. In this interview, Senator Davis describes how she and the other authors of the bill chose broadband as an issue that needed their attention. She discusses how they refined the bill to allow local communities to access federal grant funding. Lawmakers in the state of Arkansas have run out of patience waiting for large ISPs to make good on the promise to deliver rural broadband after taking so many subsidies over the years. You can read more about the specifics of Senate Bill 150 at muninetworks.org to discover how and why state lawmakers decided to make the change. Now let's hear from Breanne Davis, state senator from Arkansas.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with Senator Breanne Davis from Arkansas about a very interesting bill that made its way through that that Senator Davis sponsored, dealing with municipal broadband questions. So welcome to the show, Senator.

Breanne Davis: Hi. Thank you. I'm happy to be on.

Christopher Mitchell: I wonder if you'd maybe just start by giving us a sense of, what is broadband like in the area you represent and even more largely across Arkansas, for our listeners to get a sense of that.

Breanne Davis: Well, a lot of my district — I represent about 90,000 people and my district is pretty rural, so there's plenty of places that don't have access to broadband, and it's similar throughout the state. We have over 40 percent of Arkansans that don't have access to broadband as defined by the FCC, and actually 25 percent of Arkansans that don't have access to broadband at all. So we're really lagging, and it was an important issue for us to take up this session.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I was actually surprised. I know that across the nation there's some places where even a county library may not have access, and that seems like something that occurs occasionally in Arkansas. I don't think a lot of people have a sense of that.

Breanne Davis: Yeah, I think it's interesting because there's a few things we've done really well in Arkansas and you know, one of them is providing broadband to all of our public schools, K-12. So 99 percent of our public schools have high speed broadband, and that was an initiative that our governor took on a little over four years ago. And we actually lead the nation in that. Then we have a coding initiative that our governor also took on to put computer coding into classrooms K-12, and we're leading the nation in that. Yet we're lagging so far behind. I believe we're last or next to last in access to broadband throughout the rest of the state.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and as our listeners will be familiar with, it's varying tremendously within the state. We've done interviews with Randy Klindt, who I believe is at Northern Ozarks Electric Cooperative [correction: Randy Klindt works at Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Missouri] where — I could be mangling some things here, but OzarksGo, where you may be in a rural area and you could have gigabit access and like you're saying, you could be pretty close to there and maybe not even have anything above dial-up.

Breanne Davis: That's exactly right. You know, and it's not just true for our rural areas, but it's true for places within Little Rock, our state's capital, or right outside of a city. You can have access to broadband and hit a spot and not have it at all, and so it's not just true for our rural areas, but all kinds of places across the state. It's actually very interesting.

Christopher Mitchell: And Arkansas is one of the states — we count about 20 in our analysis that have limitations on the ability of local governments to provide service. In Arkansas, basically, cities that have municipal electric utilities have, I think, more broad authority and cities that did not have electric utilities really didn't have any authority. And so, you authored a bill to change that, and I'm curious if you can describe that to us — just your vision.

Breanne Davis: To be honest, I worked with and 21 other women. We actually this session had all of our Republican women legislators come together and just formed a caucus, and we called it Dream BIG, which was Bold Initiatives for the Good of Arkansas. And we tried to find issues that weren't really Republican or Democrat issues, but they were Arkansas issues and problems that we needed to solve and solve quickly. And so, we started talking about access to broadband and realized that Arkansas had on of the fifth strictest laws in the nation in regards to, like you mentioned, cities, municipalities, and counties being able to partner and to bring broadband to their area. And so, as we started to dig deeper, we found that since 2015, there are three major companies in Arkansas that have received $223 million in federal grant money to bring broadband to several areas in Arkansas, but we weren't seeing any closing of the gap in service provided to Arkansans. And so, we just decided, you know what, if they're not going to help solve the problem, then we're going to take matters in our own hands and we're going to lift the restriction and let municipalities if they want to either partner with an Internet service provider or go in on their own and apply for a lot of this federal grant money that's available right now to bring broadband these areas. We started realizing how big the problem was and that it had not been solved and wanted to try to find a way to be aggressive in helping solve it.

Christopher Mitchell: I like the way you put that, that this is in Arkansas issue, not a left or a right issue because I was heartened when the federal government created the ReConnect act, which was created by a Republican Congress and signed by Donald Trump, who's the republican president of the United States, obviously, and it expressly made grants available to cities, whether they wanted to partner or do it themselves. But there is a history, I think of at the local level, this is totally nonpartisan, at the state level, depending on the state, it can get partisan, and inside DC, it actually is quite partisan. And so, was there any resistance, I mean, among your Republican colleagues saying, you know, actually we're uncomfortable with giving cities this larger authority?

Breanne Davis: So we did have a little bit of pushback and questions like that from a few members here and there just saying, you know, what does government even do well so do we really want to allow government into another space? By and large, Republicans throughout the legislature were really on board with it, and I think the best way to be able to explain that shift is really because we've given private companies the opportunity for years now to solve the problem and they haven't done so. And so, I think we just realized, like, we sat back, we let these companies have the opportunity to solve this for us, and we just have to do something different. And so, yeah, we had that conversation, but we actually, to be honest, we didn't have a single person vote against this bill, Republican or Democrat. It just shows you how bipartisan it was and how frustrated all of us were with what was being done here in Arkansas. So it worked out well.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I want to talk a little bit about some of the motivations that have been ascribed. There's two modes of thought I've seen in newspaper articles and in other forms of media covering this, and I want to get your reaction as I sort of describe them. One is that a lot of the people you were working with were motivated because of a frustration around the fact that Arkansas was the first to require a lot of Medicaid reporting online and people were struggling to do that in some areas because of a lack of access. And then there was another article that claimed — really I don't know if I should say "it claimed," but it used as motivation — it was talking about Netflix and being able to stream video as being a frustration that people didn't have access to that as much. And so, we've seen quite a different number of claims. That's why I wanted to talk to you to get a sense of what sort of things were you talking about along those lines.

Breanne Davis: That's funny. I didn't either of those comments directly as we were working through — I mean, I did hear mention of the Medicaid work requirement and having to sign up and do some stuff online, but what we really heard were people just saying, you know, I had to help my child turn in their college application or we had to apply for the FAFSA online, and we had to go down the road, sit down at the end of my gravel road to get Wi-Fi. Or I tried to, you know, pull up an email for work and it took a week for that email to download, and you know, I have to go into town and sit at the local McDonald's and pull up my work email there. And so I felt like there is — in Arkansas anyways, we have so many rural communities, and agriculture, you know, is what we're known for here in Arkansas and our top industry. And we have our small communities that are, I feel like, begging for help from our state and just saying, you know, our community is slowly dying off, our young people are moving off to find jobs and opportunity, and we want to still have a thriving small community. And to me, I think that in the year 2019 we shouldn't have to choose between where we live and taking a job that requires us to send email. And so, I think that what we heard back from Arkansans were, like, very practical things. Of course, Netflix is a way of life for so many of us. It's what we, you know, what we do at night, find a good show, and so I think that of course probably plays into some of the frustrations. You can't even do basic things like watch a show on Netflix. But what we understand is broadband is a commodity, and it's something just like water that we feel like we should have when we go into our home, you know. And like I said, it wasn't just about rural Arkansas. It was about even in the cities too.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to — I always chafe when I hear people sort of almost dismissively using Netflix as an issue in these discussions because whether or not your home has Netflix has thousands of dollars of implication in real estate values. I mean it's a good policy actually for a lot of things regarding the health of a community.

Breanne Davis: I think you're right.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, one of the comments you made was someone had said, you know, "What does government do well?" and I'm someone who alternates between raging at poorly designed government programs and trying to praise others that have really done a transformative job. And so, I'm curious because my vision of this is, I think, like that of many Republicans and frankly I think most Democrats as well, which is that we don't want a government monopoly. We don't want any monopoly. We want some competition. And I wanted to ask you about that because it's something that came up a lot when you talked with my colleague Lisa about this issue, the role that you want to competition to play.

Breanne Davis: A lot of us would say that competition makes each other better, and so I think the same applies here as far as competition goes. And any of us who have paid attention to the broadband issue have read articles about census blocks and how, you know, one service provider is saying, well, we cover this area and this area is covered while they're really maybe just serving one home or one business in that entire census block. So it really gives us a false idea of, you know, what our coverage map across Arkansas and across the nation actually looks like. And so, you know, I think a great example is we have a smaller town in Arkansas. It's called Fairfield Bay, and the mayor there, they just built a convention cente. And it's a great community, but they don't have broadband. I think it's hard to have a hotel and a convention center and ask people to come in when they can't connect to the Internet. The mayor there couldn't get anyone to partner up with him to bring broadband to that area. And so, I think that'd be a great example when we talk about competition that, you know, there's no one there willing to serve that community. And so, him partnering with someone to bring maybe a smaller Internet service provider into community, and then all of a sudden some of the other Internet service providers are jumping at the chance. They know we'll come there, we'll bring a service out to you. And so it makes people, when they realize someone else is coming out that way or there's going to be competition, it makes people react. It makes them move and want to suddenly help solve an issue.

Christopher Mitchell: When you posted your bill, I'm sure it got some attention, and then I think your bill made it through the first committee without any, um, changes to it, any amendments, unanimously. Then it had some significant revisions, and I'm just curious if you can give us a sense of what the reaction was from particularly the three big companies you mentioned, the big telephone companies that have received almost a quarter of billion dollars, I guess, over the last ten years, but also maybe the big cable companies. Like, what kind of a reaction did you get in general?

Breanne Davis: From those companies actually, the day that we announced our initiatives and that bill, I think I had every single one of them in my office that day just talking through it and what it meant. And to be honest with you, they were actually great to work with, and I just appreciated the back and forth that we were able to have. It was good conversation and good discussion about what we were doing and why, and just sort of getting them to at least be neutral on the bill. But some of the changes that we did make resulted in, I would say, unintended consequences from the bill. And so, I've kind of talked about the K-12 initiative bringing broadband to all of our public schools, and there was some language in there that we had stricken originally that impacted our department of information services that worked with the schools and even our higher ed institutions have their own network as well across the state. And so, striking some of that language impacted that and that was not our intent, so some of the amendments that we made were sort of to fix some of those things. We wanted to make sure that we were targeted in what we were doing. I mean, our purpose was just that underserved or unserved areas would be able to get the coverage, and so other things that were happening within that bill — and even you mentioned some of the companies that were already grandfathered in, like electrical companies in certain communities and stuff. So, we wanted to, like, make sure we kept that stuff as it was. We weren't trying to mess with too many things. We were very specific in our purpose and wanted to really keep that vision and move that way.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the — as I read it, your initial bill would have, aside from the unintended consequences which I'll admit I paid less attention to because I'm hyper focused on municipal networks, but I very much appreciate the importance of the committee process to work those things out. I deplore when states and the federal government fail to do that due diligence, so I'm glad that that was caught. But it originally basically would have given cities total authority. You would have had no restrictions, which is what we support at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and what most states have, and you ended up with a bill in which I believe still the municipalities that have electric utilities have broad authority. Now the cities that don't have municipal electric utilities, I believe they have to get a grant in order to be able to build or to partner. And I'm curious, was that something that you saw then as a compromise? Or given that you wanted to make sure you were very competitive in receiving the grants, was that your aim to limit in that way?

Breanne Davis: Yeah, that was more our aim to limit it that way. The lead sponsor on the House end, Representative DeAnn Vaught, her and I just had a lot of conversations between each other just saying, okay, you know, we have groups leaning on us, asking us to amend this or that. And so we just talked back and forth, like, all right, at the end of this, we are not going to give. We think we have the support to get this through as it is right now. As it was originally before any amendments, you know, we believed that we have that support, but we wanted to, like I just spoke about the unintended consequences, but we wanted to make sure that we kept our vision for the bill and what we wanted it to do. So I would say, you know, we don't feel like we compromised and we feel like we really honed in a little bit more on the vision and our intent for the bill. And we really wanted Johnny Rye because it still does say on its own or in partnership with the private entity and yes, then apply for that grant or loan money, and that's what we wanted our cities and counties to do is go after that money that's out there. And so that was really our push towards that direction.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to finish up by noting that there's, I think, a very bright future for a lot of rural Arkansas because of just a lot of co-ops. A lot of the electric co-ops are making really smart investments. I'm very hopeful that we see Arkansas leapfrogging. You know, I think there's a history perpetuated by media often that Arkansas, something may be wrong with it or something like that. I have an uncle that lives there. I've loved my visits to Arkansas. It's beautiful. So, I definitely hope that this works out in the way that you're hoping. I hope you get some of these ReConnect funds.

Breanne Davis: And you know, we're of course going to be watching this and making sure that, you know, different part of government entities that, you know, need to be reaching out to municipalities do so. And you know, if this build it and go far enough, then it's something that I think we're definitely willing to revisit in the next legislative session to make sure that this is getting done for Arkansans.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to say that for those of us who've been working on this and as you've seen, there's no partisanship at the local level. I'm very glad to see that in Arkansas at the state level that you are able to work, you know, sort of pragmatically on it as well, and I hope that that's infectious to other states.

Breanne Davis: Yes. I do too. It was really a great session, and I love the results that we got on it.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well thank you so much for your time today.

Breanne Davis: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it. I enjoyed being on. Thanks for having me.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Arkansas state senator Breanne Davis discussing her bill SB 150 which reduces some of the barriers to local broadband network projects. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 356 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 13

May 13, 2019

Arizona

Thin on broadband: Tribal areas still struggle with lagging technology by Keerthi Vedantam, Cronkite News

 

California

Empower local communities to close the digital divide by Greg Norton, California Economic Summit

 

Colorado 

Broadband Internet access lags in Greeley, badly, and the city is well aware by Bobby Fernandez, Greeley Tribune 

NextLight wins affordability awards from Broadband Now by Sophia Collender, Longmont Observer

 

Maine

Minot selectmen consider broadband study by Eriks Petersons, Sun Journal 

 

Massachusetts 

Petersham residents to get update on broadband by Greg Vine, Athol Daily News 

 

Michigan 

Opinion: Municipal fiber is good for communities by Jon Anne Willow and Curtis Dean, Traverse City Record Eagle

 

Missouri 

Lawmakers negotiate education funding, broadband expansion ahead of budget deadline by Mark Zinn, News-Press NOW

Commissioners say river flooding projected, broadband project continues by Sarah Gray, The Marshall Democrat-News

 

New Mexico

New Mexico utility building rural broadband infrastructure, Albuquerque Journal

 

North Carolina

North Carolina awards $9.8M in grants to boost rural Internet speeds, WRAL TechWire

“The most current map of broadband availability in North Carolina shows that 93.7 percent of North Carolina households have access to broadband. This implies that most North Carolina households should be able to effortlessly connect to the Internet and without too much waiting or delay: run a small business, stream video, complete homework assignments, communicate with friends and family and play video games… But interactions with citizens from all parts of the state have led our office to believe this figure—93.7 percent—is wildly inaccurate.”

NC Company plans to bring faster Internet to northwest Rowan County by Josh Bergeron, Salisbury Post

Rural broadband in NC: A new season or more reruns? By Kirk Ross, Carolina Public Press

Swain, Jackson counties receive grant funding for broadband infrastructure, Cherokee One Feather

Rural Counties Get $10M for Broadband from N.C. Legislature by Charlotte Wray, Henderson Daily Dispatch

  

Tennessee

The oldest town in Tennessee receives the fastest broadband by Kristen Gallant, WJHL

 

Vermont

Broadband is no longer a luxury for rural Vermont by Carolyn Partridge, Brattleboro Reformer

 

Washington

Community responds for broadband survey by Diana Zimmerman, Wahkiakum County Eagle

 

General 

Your 5G phone won’t hurt you. But Russia wants you to think otherwise by William J. Broad, New York Times 

Henry Waxman: Congress should act now to ensure a free and open Internet by Henry A. Waxman, Los Angeles Times

Big telecom isn’t the answer to bridging the digital divide by Deborah Simpier, Broadband Breakfast 

As is often said, if big telecom could make money in rural areas they would already be here. When it comes to bridging the digital divide, big telecom probably isn't the answer. The future of rural access, instead, belongs to rural people who are blazing new trails of innovation and community powered networks, and that is a revolution I am excited about.

Broadband is the new railroad by Jonathan Sallet, Benton Foundation 

House passes 'pretty minor' broadband bill, expert says by Ryan Johnston, StateScoop

 

Tags: media roundup

Berrien County Makes Broadband A Priority

May 13, 2019

On April 4th, 2019, the Board of Commissioners of Berrien County, Michigan approved a resolution that formally acknowledges that achieving countywide access to high-speed Internet is crucial to the county’s mission of improving quality of life for present and future generations.

Read the resolution here.

Connected Nation ranks Michigan 34th among states for broadband adoption and an estimated 368,000 rural households still do not have access to FCC defined broadband at 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Many areas of Berrien County lack access to Internet speeds over 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps uploads. The resolution will ensure that the county commits to pursuing opportunities and partnerships that increase broadband availability.

County commissioners Ezra Scott, of New Buffalo, and Teri Freehling, of Baroda introduced the measure and have already begun taking steps to turn it into action including creating a board subcommittee that works with municipalities and community partners to pursue broadband opportunities. They're also exploring the possibility of a grant application for the newly announced U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program). The commissioners hope that the resolution demonstrates how serious Berrien County is about pursuing countywide broadband access. As Freehling stated, “broadband is more than an option, it’s a necessity.”

Other local leaders have put their commitment to better local connectivity on record with various resolutions. Most recently, Bozeman, Montana, passed a resolution declaring broadband essential infrastructure. In 2018, Bangor, Maine, passed a similar resolution.

Broadband as A Necessity

Berrien County is located in southwest Michigan and home to just over 150,000 people. As part of the state’s “fruit belt”, the county leads the state in production of peaches, pears, and grapes and half of the county’s land is dedicated to agriculture.

Despite high-speed Internet access being crucial for modern “precision agriculture,” which uses elements of GPS to track crops, Freehling, who lives on a working farm, said she has no access to broadband because her home is on the wrong side of the road. Likewise, Internet speeds are so slow, with download speeds sometimes not exceeding 4.2 Mbps, in Scott's town of New Buffalo, the township clerk has trouble downloading county tax records and election documents.

Freehling's goal is to make Berrien County “a top five pick” for those seeking to locate here and she does not “want the lack of broadband to hinder that.” With the approval of the new resolution, Freehling hopes that the county can work towards universal broadband access, which will in time attract new businesses and employees.

Pursuing the ReConnect Program

One way Freehling and Scott believe Berrien County can start pursuing countywide broadband is through the ReConnect Program. Established on March 23rd, 2018, the ReConnect Program will make available at least $600 million in rural broadband projects, through $200 million in grants, $200 million in loan and grant combinations, and $200 million in low-interest loans. The program was created because, as United States Secretary of Agriculture Perdue describes, “Reliable, high-speed broadband Internet e-Connectivity is critical for economic prosperity and quality of life in the 21st century, from education to health care to agriculture to manufacturing and beyond.”

Telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, Internet service providers, and municipalities may apply for the program and are eligible if they are in a rural area where more than 90 percent of the households do not have sufficient broadband access. Most communities in Berrien County are eligible because they have fewer than 20,000 people and currently lack broadband.

Freehling explained that the resolution does not mean that the county is looking to start providing Internet, but instead will serve as “‘conduit’ to municipalities, companies or organizations that want to apply for a grant.” 

A Proactive Approach

Depending on the package available, grant applications are due between May 31st and July 12th, 2019. Because the application involves numerous steps, including having all plans certified by a professional engineer, this deadline is expected to be difficult to meet. The county’s director of community development, Dan Fette, told the commissioners that, “there is no way to put together a credible application by May 31st.” Despite this, Scott and Freehling are determined to bring broadband to Berrien County.

As Freehling noted, more funding should become available in the next fiscal year and there is a possibility that the current grant application deadline may be extended. Additionally, when Scott met with the U.S. Commerce Department officials, they offered to assist with the process because they want Berrien County to be a pilot for expanding broadband. Scott said:

“We can’t sit back and let other counties and people do this around us. We have to be proactive. We have to take action instead of reacting.”

While Scott estimated it may take years to see significant progress in broadband coverage in Berrien County, Freehling asserted that she hopes with the approval of the resolution, expanding high-speed Internet across the county will remain a strong long term priority. As Freehling said of achieving universal broadband, “this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Berrien County Resolution Declaring Broadband Essential to County's GoalsTags: michiganberrien county miresolutionruralfarmfederal funding

Plainfield Votes to Fund Gigabit Community Network

May 10, 2019

At the 2019 Annual Town Meeting, voters in Plainfield, Massachusetts, unanimously approved the $150,000 necessary to begin operating the Plainfield Broadband network. Westfield's Whip City Fiber, about 35 miles south, will be working with Plainfield to manage the latter's network. Plainfield Broadband expects to have Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) high-speed Internet service to a few homes at the end of 2019 and a finished network in 2020.

Local Dollars

The funding comes to about $150,000 in the 2020 town operating budget, and will cover the Plainfield Broadband project expenses. Departmental receipts will pay for about $132,000, and the remaining $18,000 will come out of taxes. In future years, however, the network will be funded through service receipts according to Plainfield Broadband Manager Kimberley Longey in the local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Longey also told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that 162 residents have signed up for Internet access from Plainfield Broadband; if another 110 residents sign up for service, then the network will be in a secure financial position. Plainfield residents can register online or at the local library.

Plainfield is a small town of only about 600 people and the plan is to bring high-speed Internet service to several homes in late 2019 with a full rollout in 2020. The prices for the Plainfield Broadband services are $85 each month for residential Internet service and $12.95 for phone service. Residential service has upload and download speeds of up to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps), and there is no contract for the service.  

A Collaboration of Community Networks 

The town of Plainfield has been working on a plan to improve Internet access for years. In 2015, they created the Plainfield Light and Telecommunications Department, commonly known as Plainfield Broadband, as a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). Originally designed to provide for electricity, MLPs are now also a way for communities to own and operate their own networks for Internet service. 

The town partnered with Whip City Fiber, the MLP of the nearby city Westfield. Whip City Fiber currently provides Internet service in several other western Massachusetts communities and is working in some capacity with around 20 different towns in the region. They're offering consulting services, managing infrastructure, and providing Internet access.

This is a large step for the small town, but they are ready to move forward. As reported by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Longey explained the importance of the supporting Plainfield Broadband:

"This is a community network … Our sustainability is based on people taking service from us for TV and [I]nternet."

Tags: massachusettsFTTHplainfield mawestfield magigabit

Looking for A Graphic Design Summer Intern

May 9, 2019

Summer is quickly approaching, which means we’re opening up opportunities for interns looking to gain some experience while classes are not in session. This year, we hope to find a Graphic Design Intern to help us develop more resources to help spread the word about publicly owned Internet networks. We want a creative person to fill this June 2019 - August 2019 opening; check out the posting below and apply before May 22, 2019.

Graphic Design Internship (Summer 2019)  — Minneapolis, MN 

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is looking for a paid graphic design intern to work primarily with our Community Broadband Networks initiative. Our ideal candidate is enthusiastic about working to make the world a better place. You will get real life experience in educating the public on hot topics while learning how a nimble nonprofit policy organization works. You will have some tasks assigned but we want someone who can jump in with their own ideas as well.

This internship is paid $15/hour.

Application materials due: Wednesday, May 22, 2019.

Term of internship: June 2019 – August 2019 (these terms are negotiable, given school schedule and/or other commitments).

Position description: Designing in-house web and printed materials, including research reports, fact sheets, and promotional materials. 

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Applicants should be pursuing (or have acquired) a degree in graphic design, marketing, or a related field.
  • Experience with Pages, Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop
  • Strong creative skills
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Access to a computer for work use is preferred

To apply, please submit cover letter and resume to Broadband(at)MuniNetworks.org using the subject line: Graphic Design Intern Application

Tags: jobsinstitute for local self-reliance

Three States, Their Local Communities, and Broadband Funding Denied

May 9, 2019

During this legislative session, state lawmakers in several states passed bills that allocated funds to broadband deployment and planning programs. In many states, elected officials are listening to constituents and experts who tell them that they need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to keep their communities from dwindling. States that refuse funding to public entities, however, block out some of the best opportunities to connect people and businesses in rural areas. In places such as Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, states need to trust their own people to develop necessary broadband networks.

The Great Lakes State: Not Great at Supporting Local Broadband

Michigan’s HB 5670 caught the attention of community broadband advocates when it was introduced by Representative Michele Hoitenga in 2018. The bill was firmly anti-municipal network and after some investigation, it became clear that Hoitenga received guidance from lobbyists from big cable and telephone monopolies. HB 5670, with its sad definition of “broadband” and attempt to fork over state funds to big national ISPs didn’t go anywhere alone after word spread.

Folks from the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and other constituents in rural Michigan voiced their concern and the bill seemed to disappear. In reality, the House folded the language into SB 601, a large appropriations bill, which has now become law. Section 806 lists the types of entities that are eligible to receive grants from the $20 million set aside for infrastructure -- public entities are specifically eliminated.

In Michigan, places such as Sebewaing, and Marshall have already proven that local residents and businesses need gigabit connectivity and that they trust services from their local municipal utility broadband provider. The language of SB 601 as written will also prevent local governments from obtaining grants with which they could develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships. In Lyndon Township, the community is building a fiber network and working with a local cooperative for gigabit Internet access, but such an arrangement would prohibit Lyndon township from receiving any funding from the Michigan program, even though areas of the township were considered “unserved,” another grant requirement.

Tennessee Still Refusing to Follow Their Own Advice

Tennessee chose to dedicate $14.9 million to rural broadband this year via their Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, which passed in 2017. As in the case of Michigan, the Act includes a range of entities as eligible to apply and receive funding, including cooperatives, but specifically excludes municipalities and their municipal electric utilities.

In a 2017 article in Nooga Today, former Representative Kevin Brooks who now serves as Mayor of Cleveland, commented on the less admirable qualities of the bill:

When asked why it was more difficult to include city electricity providers, Brooks said it is about competition and money.

Allowing municipalities to offer services increases competition, but Comcast and other providers have said that it isn’t fair for them to compete against government entities such as EPB.

Last year, the corporations lobbied legislators and killed another effort for broadband expansion.

“We got the co-ops and we’re going to keep working on cities and municipalities,” Brooks said. “We are going to take what we can get … It’s a big deal.”

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Program still does not consider municipalities eligible to apply for funding two years later. When the state announced which applicants won the awards this year, Christopher commented the obvious on Twitter:

Great news! And without spending a taxpayer dollar you could bring fiber to 2x as many households by removing the prohibition on muni fiber expansion that was created to protect out-of-state monopolies. https://t.co/niNNIhcp29

— Christopher Mitchell (@communitynets) March 20, 2019

This year, state funding will go to 13 grantees, more than half of which are electric and telecommunications cooperatives, which is a plus, but the state of Tennessee is home to several munis that have the ability to expand to nearby communities but for state legal restrictions. Governor Bill Lee’s press release notes that the funds will be used to expand broadband to more than 8,300 households and businesses in 17 counties. Approximately $20 million in matching funds will add to the state investments.

Almost three years ago, the state Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) released a report to the former Governor on broadband accessibility and adoption. In that report, the TNECD recommended that state laws prohibiting municipal network expansion be lifted, but the state legislature still remains in the grip of big cable and telephone monopolies.

Rather than allowing local communities where fiber networks have proven benefits of economic development, public savings, and better access to education and healthcare, state leaders remain stubbornly faithful to large corporate ISPs. State lawmakers are willing to subsidize deployments by companies such as AT&T and Spectrum Cable, allowing shareholders from elsewhere to profit, but limiting competition. If Morristown's FiberNET or Tullahoma's LightTUBe could expand unrestricted beyond their electric service areas, bringing high-quality Internet access to rural residents and businesses would happen faster and keep precious dollars in the state.

Lobbyists in Virginia Control State Broadband Spending

This past session, freshman Delegate Bob Thomas, Jr., introduced HB 2141 in an effort to expand local authority for broadband funding and control. The state allows local communities to develop service districts, giving them the authority to create special taxing districts for necessary services, such as water, sewage, and garbage disposal. Rep. Thomas’s bill as introduced would have allowed local governments to do the same with broadband infrastructure, granting that authority under Sec. 15.2-2403. Powers of service districts. The Virginia General Assembly Legislative Information Services (LIS) summary of the bill as introduced reads:

Local services districts; broadband and telecommunications services. Authorizes a local governing body, with respect to a service district, to construct, maintain, and operate such facilities and equipment as may be necessary or desirable to provide broadband and telecommunications services.

The bill appeared to have support in the House, but lobbyists from the large corporate Internet access companies went to work in the Senate to erode any enthusiasm for the measure. They found a way to convince Rep. Thomas to amend the bill, persuading him that it was doomed to failure without changes. 

The House passed the bill but when HB 2141 went to the Senate, lawmakers amended it further, specifying that only “nongovernmental broadband service provider(s)” could work with municipalities and other local governments to develop broadband networks. Lawmakers had extracted the heart of the bill and in conference committee, the Senate version won out. The final version that was passed by the General Assembly and will be adopted into law reads:

Local services districts; broadband and telecommunications services. Authorizes a local governing body, with respect to a service district, to contract with a nongovernmental broadband service provider who will construct, maintain, and own communications facilities and equipment required to facilitate delivery of last-mile broadband services to unserved areas of the service district, provided that the locality documents that less than 10 percent of residential and commercial units within the project area are capable of receiving broadband service at the time the construction project is approved by the locality. 

In Virginia, state law discourages municipal Internet networks with a series of burdensome reporting requirements and hurdles, and the Virginia rural broadband funding program locks out public entities. The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) requires applicants to be units of government, but only accepts applications from them if they work with a private sector co-applicant. Only projects that bring Internet access to unserved areas can obtain funding through the VATI. Most troublesome, however, is the provision that prevents public entities from owning and operating a network funded through the VATI, even though they are expected to provide matching funds. Unfortunately, Rep. Thomas's bill did not amend either drawback.

People in Virginia who support publicly owned broadband networks will continue to work to educate legislators before the next session. If the state removes existing barriers, local governments will be able to assist in bringing high-quality Internet access to unserved and underserved areas. Networks such as those developed by the Eastern Shore of Virgninia Broadband Authority (ESVBA), has already helped to connected areas once unserved and continues to expand, via its open access infrastructure.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) manages the VATI program. Even if the DHCD chose not to award funding to local governments for broadband initiatives, municipalities, counties, and other public entities should be eligible to apply. No one knows the needs of the local population better than those who live there; by refusing their right to apply, the State of Virginia is leaving significant local knowledge untapped.

Feds Think Otherwise

While elected officials in some state capitals say they’re trying to solve the problem of the rural / urban digital divide, they’re establishing unnecessary hurdles for their constituents by locking public entities out of the funding process. State lawmakers are taking an outdated approach that even the federal government has abandoned. 

The Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program) through the USDA, makes $600 million available in a combination of grants and loans for rural broadband. In addition to traditional Internet access providers, co-ops, and other traditional broadband providers, tribes, states, local governments and other public entities can apply for funding. 

When states such as Tennessee, Virginia, and Michigan purposely deny local governments the right to bring better connectivity to their residents and businesses, they interfere with local matters. If the federal agency recognizes the intuitive vision of local communities, states need to follow suit.

Image of the Michigan House Chambers courtesy of Steve & Christine from USA [CC BY 2.0]

Tags: state lawsstate policymichiganvirginiatennesseefundingrural

Going for a Gig in Grinnell, Iowa: Competition on the Horizon

May 8, 2019

Grinnell, Iowa, home to about 9,000 people, has a need for speed. That’s why the city is looking to Mahaska Communication Group (MCG) to provide high-speed Internet service of up to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) over a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. After MCG announced the possibility in mid-April 2019, Windstream Communications now also plans to bring FTTH to Grinnell according to The Scarlet and Black.

“Undeniable Correlation"

MCG has already distributed a two-question survey to residents in the Grinnell area to determine interest in the FTTH network. To give residents an estimate of the prices, MCG linked the price list for Oskaloosa. The prices are $50 for 25 Mbps (download) / 25 Mbps (upload) and $75 for 1 Gbps/1 Gbps. The company also offers triple play packages of Internet, TV, and phone.

The Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce stated that MCG may start building the FTTH network in 2020. Similarly, Windstream has revealed a plan to start building its own FTTH network in Grinnell in the Fall of 2019. City Manager Russ Behrens told The Scarlett and Black:

"At the end of the day, our goal is not necessarily to support one [Internet service provider] over the other, it’s to provide the best broadband service to the community that we can, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

He also mentioned that there was “an undeniable correlation" between the MCG interest and the Windstream announcement.

Two Years of Examination

About two and a half years ago, the city and the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce put together a series of focus groups to learn what residents and businesses wanted. Better Internet service made it into those conversations, and since then the city and chamber have been in discussions with Internet service providers. None of these conversations, however, made much progress until MCG stepped forward.

MCG is based out of the small town of Oskaloosa, Iowa, and was recently profiled in Broadband Communities Magazine as "an accidental ISP.” The Musco Lighting company was only trying to provide service for its business operations in the early 2000s, but community members wanted in on this new connectivity. In 2006, MCG partnered with the nearby city of Indianola to expand Internet service there. Since then Indianola has built its own FTTH network. Now, MCG is providing service not only in Oskaloosa, but also in the communities of New Sharon, Montezuma, and Lake Ponderosa as of 2018.

Economic Development 

Although any FTTH network in Grinnell would be aimed at residents, it still advances economic development. Chamber of Commerce Director Rachael Kinnick explained in The Scarlet and Black:

“Traditionally when people thought of economic development they thought of brick and mortar and the actual infrastructure of a particular building. Now we’re thinking more community-development based, things that make [a community] attractive for people to want to take jobs at your companies.”  

Tags: mcgiowagrinnell iagigabitFTTHcompetitionwindstreamsymmetry

Carolina Public Press Covers North Carolina Broadband Bills

May 7, 2019

The Carolina Public Press interviewed Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR's Community Broadband Networks initiative, for a story about two proposed bills in North Carolina that aim to help bridge the digital divide. 

His contributions are below: 

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said it’s evident by what’s happening on the ground that the major companies like Spectrum, AT&T and Century Link are far more interested in investing to compete in the lucrative, more densely populated markets. At the same time, he said, they’re fighting off changes in order to hold onto their monopolies in the less populated regions.

“It’s a fundamental conflict because North Carolina needs to encourage other kinds of investment,” he said.

“The big companies will not get the job done in the rural areas.”

Mitchell, who took part in a series of broadband discussions in January in several North Carolina communities, said the result has deepened the digital divide here. Among the states, he said, North Carolina has one of the greatest discrepancies between the digital haves and have-nots.

“There is more investment in high-quality networks in North Carolina cities than the average cities in the United States, and there is less investment in the rural areas than the average for rural America,” he said.

“I would expect to see a second or third fiber option in Chapel Hill or Raleigh before I’d see the first one in a town 75 miles east of there,” Mitchell said.

Read the full story here.

 

Tags: press center

Talking Rural Broadband, the Internet, and Media with Dr. Christopher Ali - Broadband Bits Podcast 355

May 7, 2019

The Austin, Texas, 2019 Broadband Communities Summit was about a month ago, but we’re still enjoying the experience by sharing Christopher’s onsite podcast interviews. This week, he and University of Virginia Assistant Professor Christopher Ali have an insightful conversation about rural broadband, media, and the Internet — and we get to listen in.

Dr. Ali works in the University Department of Media Studies and has recently published a piece in the New York Times titled, “We Need A National Rural Broadband Plan.” In the interview, he and Christopher discuss the op-ed along with Dr. Ali’s suggestions for ways to improve federal involvement in expanding rural connectivity. In addition to structural issues of federal agencies that affect the efficiency of rural expansion, Dr. Ali discusses the advantages he sees from a single-entity approach.

The two also get into a range of other topics, such as the importance of broadband to help deliver a range of media, especially in rural areas where local media outlets are disappearing.

Read Dr. Ali's op-ed here and order his book, Media Localism: The Politics of Place from the University of illinois Press to learn more.

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

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript for this episode.

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

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

Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitsmediaruralrural electric coopfederal governmentfederal fundingop-edfcc

Growing Oklahoma Community Embraces Benefits of Publicly Owned Fiber

May 7, 2019

Hidden among stories of small town decline are places like Tuttle, Oklahoma, a city of more than 7,000 which has continued to grow in defiance of the dominant narrative. Tuttle, located about 30 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, has experienced a “53 percent increase in residential growth since 1990," and within the next ten years, city officials expect Tuttle to nearly double in size.

However, connectivity wasn’t keeping pace with Tuttle’s growth. Most people were stuck with slow DSL or even slower fixed wireless Internet access. After existing providers demanded massive subsidies to connect the city, Tuttle decided in 2017 to build its own gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. By choosing municipal ownership, Tuttle City Council has ensured that all residents and businesses will have access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity now and well into the future.

Public Ownership Solution to Poor Connectivity

After the city’s cable provider shut down ten years ago, many Tuttle residents were left with no access to high-speed broadband. “The local WISP [wireless Internet service provider] was the only option for most offering, at best, 3 Mbps speeds during non-peak times,” Tuttle City Manager Tim Young shared in an email. Some people in the city’s downtown also had access to slightly faster DSL from AT&T, but neither provider was upgrading or investing in its network.

The lack of fast, reliable broadband impacted the city’s ability to retain new residents. Young explained that newcomers would sometimes leave Tuttle after only two or three years because of poor connectivity.

For years, the city attempted to partner with private Internet access providers, including the incumbent WISP, to expand broadband access but to no avail. “No one was willing to serve the entire community without substantial cash infusions from the taxpayers,” said Young.

Ultimately, the city decided to create its own FTTH network, Tuttle Fiber, which is owned by the Tuttle Development Authority, an entity established for the project. “If the City will be required to infuse significant cash resources to construct a true fiber-to-the-premises system, then the City should in fact own and operate the system,” Young described city council’s reasoning. Public ownership ensures that everyone in Tuttle will have access to high-speed connectivity that isn’t at risk of disappearing if a private company shutters or gets sold.

Tuttle Fiber Network Details

Tuttle began deploying fiber in 2017 after a couple of years of consideration, during which city officials visited fiber networks owned by the city of Sallisaw and Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative.

The Tuttle Fiber network will connect all of the city, except for a small portion that already has access to fiber from Pioneer Telephone Cooperative. According to Young, network construction will cost approximately $10 million, which Tuttle is funding through local bank financing. The city expects to finish deployment by early 2020 — 2.5 years earlier than planned. More than 500 homes are already connected.

Though Tuttle doesn’t have its own municipal electric department, it does offer water, natural gas, and waste water services. Much of the fiber deployment has been underground along the city’s existing Rights-of-Way. Aerial fiber will be moved underground as streets are opened up as well, making the fiber network even more resilient in the face of Oklahoma's ice storms and tornadoes.

Tuttle Fiber offers Internet access only — no voice or video services. “Definitely in this day and age, you don’t need to provide those services,” Young said. “We just want to be that pipeline.”

Residential subscribers have three symmetrical tiers to choose from:

  • 25 Mbps for $65 per month
  • 50 Mbps for $80 per month
  • 1 Gbps for $99 per month

New subscribers must contribute $240 dollars (either all at once or spread out over 24 months) toward installation costs, but there are no contracts and wireless routers are included in the fees.

“Wish We Would Have Made This Decision Years Ago”

Tuttle is pleased with its decision to move forward with a fiber network. “At first, this seemed like a daunting task,” reported Young. “Now that we are operating, we wish we would have made this decision years ago.”

Residents are happy too, despite having doubts at the beginning. Young explained:

“Initially, there was quite a bit of skepticism the city could construct a reliable system. Once the first customers were connected in October 2017, word quickly spread that the system works, it is fast, and it is reliable. Now, we cannot finish constructing the fiber network fast enough.”

Currently, the take rate is around 60 percent in connected areas, exceeding expectations.

Multiple nearby communities have expressed interest in annexing because of Tuttle Fiber, the only network of its kind in the region. “Tuttle will be the first community in the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area,” Young shared, “to claim every home and business will have access to 1 gig speeds, regardless of the Internet service provider!”

Photo credit Tuttle website.

Tags: tuttle okoklahomaFTTHmunigigabitsymmetry