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Net Neutrality Repeal Fact Sheets: By The Numbers, Maps And Data

December 13, 2017

Update 12/20/2017: Original maps generated on December 11th and used for these fact sheets understated the population of Americans forced to obtain services from known network neutrality violators. The problem is even greater than we originally calculated. Updated fact sheets will be available soon.

Network neutrality protects Americans from the ability of powerful ISPs to exercise unchecked power over what subscribers access and how quickly they receive certain content. The neutral characteristic of the Internet is one of its finest qualities. If Republican FCC Commissioners and Chairman Ajit Pai vote to shred network neutrality on December 14th as they’ve indicated, 177 million Americans will be left to the whims of a flawed market.

Mapping It Out, Presenting The Fact (Sheets)

We recently presented visualizations based on FCC Form 477 data that supports our findings on the way the repeal will limit vast swaths of people to a bleak Internet access future. Nationwide, approximately 29 million people have no broadband Internet access. Another 129 million will have no ability to change Internet access providers because there is no other option. Out of those folks, 48 million are forced to take service from an ISP that is a known network neutrality violator. Likewise, 146 million may have a choice between two ISPs, but about 52 million must choose between two network neutrality violators that have actively worked to undermine the policy for years. 

Our team also parsed out the numbers for California and the East Coast from Maine to Virginia. The results are just as discouraging.

In our fact sheets, we focused on the number of people who either have no broadband access or who will be forced to take service from a firm that is a known violator of network neutrality. We've included our maps to help illustrate just how pervasive this problem is in each region.

As a defender of network neutrality, this is the kind of information you want to share. You can easily print, post, and pin these resources and we encourage you to do so as often as possible. If you live in California or the east coast from Virginia to Maine, please share these resources with your neighbors. If you live in other areas of the country, the full U.S.A. map and data are also pretty striking.

 

United States Fact Sheet: Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, U.S.A. Edition, fact sheet here.

California Fact Sheet: Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, California Edition, fact sheet here.

East Coast (Maine to Virginia) Fact Sheet: Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, East Coast Edition, fact sheet here.

 

Check out our data, detailed maps, and analysis here. We explain our methodology and provide an overview of the maps, as well as examples of network neutrality violations from the top cable and telephone monopolies.

Links to large versions of maps:

Download the full U.S.A. map [18 MB png].

Download the full East Coast map [12 MB png]

Download the full California map [9 MB png]

Tags: network neutralityfact sheetmappingfccajit paicomcastcharterverizoncompetitionmarket powermapat&t

Christopher On Marketplace: Munis And Network Neutrality

December 12, 2017

As the FCC’s vote on whether or not to remove network neutrality draws near, an increasing number of people are beginning to wonder how Internet access will change for them. Journalists have reached out to us to ask about the role of publicly owned Internet networks and the future without federal network neutrality policy protections. Molly Wood from Marketplace Tech interviewed Christopher to ask about the pros and cons of munis, how the FCC vote could affect municipal networks, and how municipal networks may help when or if we face an Internet no longer protected by network neutrality.

Wood asked some general questions about munis and their cost, and Christopher offered some specific examples from information we’ve learned from the communities we study. Now that big ISPs are set to receive the keys to the kingdom, local leaders wonder if they can take steps to avoid the pitfalls of unfettered power.

Christopher told Molly:

The only way that [ending network neutrality] would help cities and people more generally is that it would lead to more cities considering this and cities being more aggressive because the big cable and telephone companies would likely abuse their new power. But the Internet will still be there behind the scenes and cities can build their own apps and get around the barriers that the big cable and telephone companies are producing.

Listen here or at the Marketplace website.

Tags: christopher mitchellaudiointerviewnetwork neutralitymunifcc

Discussing the Digital Divides On Road to Digital Equity - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 284

December 12, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 284 - Angela Siefer, Executive Director of National Digital Inclusion Alliance

If everyone subscribed to Internet access, the business models for supplying it would be much easier. But there are strong reasons for why many are locked out of Internet access today, a subject we explore with National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer in episode 284 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

We discussed what digital inclusion is and what prevents people from subscribing to the Internet. There are no solutions to these problems from the federal or state levels - the most promising solutions are bubbling up from communities. Angela tells us how.

We also talk about the problems created by redlining - where ISPs like AT&T systematically refuse to invest in some neighborhoods for a variety of reasons. And toward the end we talk about network neutrality and its impact on the digital divide. If you want more Angela after you finish this interview, listen to her with Veronica Belmont from Mozilla's IRL podcast.

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: digital dividenational digital inclusion allianceruralohioclevelandfccpolicydatamunigrassrootsorganizingseattleaudiopodcastbroadband bitsnetwork neutrality

SoCal City, Manhattan Beach, Considers Building Muni Network

December 12, 2017

In southern California, the city of Manhattan Beach is considering creating a municipal broadband network to extend quality, affordable broadband to its residents and businesses.

Advocating for Quality Internet 

Talk of the network surfaced from Information Technology director Sanford Taylor’s "Fiber Master Plan." Beyond providing better broadband, the network would support “Smart City” projects: synchronized street lights, community cameras, and parking meters that allow drivers to find parking spots through an internet app.

Taylor previously worked for the city of Long Beach where he helped spearhead their fiber network. Municipalities typically pay exorbitant prices for large-scale high-speed Internet. Long Beach had been paying around $14,000 per month before Taylor transitioned from traditional ISPs to a wholesale option costing only $1,100 per month.

Nearby Santa Monica has had success with their publicly owned network, which connects businesses, community centers, and has helped improve the functionality of municipal systems like traffic signals and cameras. The Long Beach I-Net facilitates city operations by providing connectivity to municipal facilities but doesn't connect businesses or residents. A private firm, Inyo Networks, developed a citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in the nearby town of Ontario; Taylor and Public works director Stephanie Katsouleas have been studying the arrangement closely. They are also visiting other communities that are investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including Beverly Hills.

Taylor issued a Request for Proposals recently and just that small signaling of network independence had ISPs scrambling, resulting in the city obtaining service through a different incumbent provider with more bandwidth at nearly half the cost. 

Manhattan Beach is conducting a survey to bring FTTH services to not only business but also residents. Taylor recognizes that the city is primarily residents and small businesses that don’t necessarily need massive bandwidth capacity, but rather a quality service that’s reliable and affordable.

Connecting the Community

Even so, Katsouleas explained that the capacity will still be ten times better than the average 100 Mbps connection that most city networks provide. "We are looking at providing at least a [gigabit] to each home… ideally at less than you are paying today."

The seemingly inevitable repeal of net neutrality regulations has also influenced the city’s decision to conduct the survey. City Councilperson Amy Howarth explained,

We might be able to offer our residents more broadband and a cheaper rate than they are paying now and circumvent problems that will come about because of the changes to net neutrality.

The initial costs of the project are one of the biggest challenges, but Taylor plans to have figures for the city council to review by February.

Tags: manhattan beach cacaliforniaconsiderationmaster planFTTHgigabitsurvey

Community Broadband Media Roundup- December 11

December 11, 2017

On December 14th, The FCC will vote on whether or not to repeal Net Neutrality. In anticipation to the vote, we have included a roundup of the media coverage of the vote in our weekly Community Broadband Media Roundup:

Net Neutrality

Preparing for the End of Net Neutrality, City Tech Leaders Warn of Widening Digital Divide By Zack Quaintance, Government Technology News

City gov tech leaders said this week that a repeal is all but certain to make it more difficult for municipal governments to foster digital equity. As Internet access has become essential to modern life — for applying for jobs, helping kids with homework, finding health care, etc. — cities have increasingly dedicated resources toward ensuring that all residents have access to the Internet, as well as to the equipment they need to use it and the skills to efficiently navigate the space.

Comcast deleted net neutrality pledge the same day FCC announced repeal By Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Nationwide Protests on Net Neutrality Come to Arizona By Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AZ

[Christopher] Mitchell notes that in many towns, big Internet service providers have a near monopoly.

"Most Americans only have one choice in high quality Internet access,” he points out. “Beyond that, they have to either take a lower quality service option or move."

In more than 30 states, local authorities have taken the matter into their own hands, organizing municipal telephone companies that compete with the big ISPs but are required to operate in the public interest and seek to offer reasonably priced high speed Internet.

Net Neutrality Battle Lines Drawn as FCC Vote Looms By David Jones, E-Commerce Times

FCC won’t delay vote, says net neutrality supporters are “desperate” By Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

How The Fcc's Net Neutrality Plan Breaks With 50 Years Of History By Tim Wu, Wired

An About Face On Net Neutrality, Then, How President Trump Is Reshaping The Judiciary By Diane Rehm, The Diane Rehm Show

"The Net Neutrality rules were designed to ensure that the handful of giant [internet] carriers would be obligated to be fair... What is happening now is that the Trump Administration is lifting any obligation on those carries to be fair,” said Susan Crawford.

The F.C.C. Wants to Let Telecoms Cash In on the Internet By The Editorial Board, The New York Times

Net Neutrality Battle Lines Drawn as FCC Vote Looms By David Jones, Tech News World

For consumers and smaller competitors in rural America, the possible repeal of Net neutrality would create an even more complex set of issues, due to the high cost of investing in last mile infrastructure and therefore limited competition, noted Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

"Repealing Net neutrality gives the biggest companies more incentive to create toll booths for Internet content and profit from that rather than building better networks in rural areas," he told the E-Commerce Times. "The change is a big deal, rewarding the biggest firms at the expense of smaller firms that have less market power."

Protests Across Ohio This Week for Net Neutrality by Suzanne Potter, WCSM Radio

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says providers might start partitioning off the Internet with packages that only give people access to specific sites.

"The fear is that without network neutrality, without that protection, the Internet service providers will have more power to charge you more to access certain sites or certain services," he points out. "Historically, the example is that you might get charged more to use Netflix. "

Ohio protests to support net neutrality By Chris Pugh, USA Today

 

Alaska

Let’s make broadband affordable in Fairbanks By David Guttenberg, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Whether solutions have come from electric co-ops, independent fiber cooperatives or by municipalities, communities across America finally are gaining access to high-speed internet. It is time to consider whether these solutions can be implemented in Alaska. It is time for Fairbanks to finally catch up and get the affordable, high-speed broadband it deserves.

 

Colorado

Colorado Localities Vote for Broadband, but Must Get Creative to Actually Deploy It By John Aguilar, The Denver Post, Re-published in Government Technology News

Colorado Municipal League deputy director Kevin Bommer said industry players haven’t been willing or able to extend their data pipes to all corners of the state, leaving many parts of Colorado — especially rural areas — with substandard connection speeds that make it hard to do business and enjoy high-bandwidth experiences such as Netflix viewing or online gaming.

“People, businesses, schools and rural hospitals are getting left behind,” he said. “When the private sector cannot or will not provide the service, the law allows for local governments to look to find a way to do it.”

With Voter Approval for Municipal Broadband, Colorado City Asks Citizens How to Proceed By Tyler Silvy, Greeley Tribune, Re-published in Government Technology News

 

Mississippi

Coalition seeks to improve ‘Broadband in Mississippi’ By Merle Flowers, Desoto Times - Tribune

 

Ohio

Ohio Legislators Propose $50M for Rural Entities to Build Out Broadband Internet By Jim Siegel, The Columbus Dispatch, Re-published in Government Technology News

 

West Virginia

27 WV counties involved in applications for broadband funding grants By Max Garland, Charleston Gazette- Mail

Nearly half of West Virginia counties seek broadband grants By The Associated Press, The Seattle Times

Half of West Virginia has Applied for Broadband Assistance by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

 

General

Rural America Is Building High-Speed Internet the Same Way It Built Electricity in the 1930s By Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

Electric cooperatives were developed across the US in the 1930s as part of FDR’s New Deal. These not-for-profit organizations received federal subsidies to build out electricity infrastructure to power up rural America. Co-op members pay to join, and pay for their electric usage, but any extra money is reinvested into the co-op, or paid back to members.

Now, many of these co-ops are taking on the digital divide by offering high speed fiber optic internet to the home for their members. As of this year, 60 electric cooperative across the US have started broadband projects, according to a recent policy brief published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit that advocates for local solutions for sustainable development.

A Case is Made: Leverage Electric Co-op Network to Expand Rural Broadband! By Steven Dubb, Nonprofit Quarterly

In a report released earlier this week by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Christopher Mitchell and Hannah Trostle suggest applying the same model to close the rural-urban broadband gap. One big advantage that we have over the 1930s is that no new organizations need be formed.

Telemedicine Could Trump Economic Development for Driving Community Broadband By Craig Settles, Government Technology News 

Tags: media roundup

Repealing Net Neutrality Puts 177 Million Americans at Risk

December 11, 2017

This Thursday, December 14th, the FCC plans to remove network neutrality protections. Republican Commissioners and Chairman Ajit Pai justify the decision by claiming that the market will naturally protect subscribers from predatory big ISP behavior. Unfortunately, the FCC’s own numbers disprove their theory. We dug into the data that reveals how 177 million Americans will be left without any market protection following net neutrality repeal.

Visualizing The Data

Using FCC 477 data, we created a visualization of relevant data. This map focuses on the people and businesses at greatest risk - where they are limited to options from providers that have violated network neutrality in the past or have admitted the plans to violate it in the future.

For a larger image, download this version [18 MB png].

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, U.S.A. Edition, fact sheet here.

The results are not inspiring. More than 129 million people are limited to a single provider for broadband Internet access using the FCC definition of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Out of those 129 million Americans, about 52 million must obtain Internet access from a company that has violated network neutrality protections in the past and continues to undermine the policy today.

In locations where subscribers have the benefit of limited competition, the situation isn’t much better. Among the 146 million Americans with the ability to choose between two providers, 48 million Americans must choose between two companies that have a record of violating network neutrality.

Look at the East Coast, where the problem is particularly bad, except for maybe NYC, where we did not include Altice, which recently purchased Cablevision. We did not feel that we had enough evidence of its history to include it as a past violator. 

Download the full East Coast map [12 MB png]

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, East Coast Edition, fact sheet here.

From Virgina to Maine, there are 74 million Americans. Nearly 15 million will soon be limited to a single broadband provider that has already violated network neutrality. 15.5 million can only choose between 2 providers that both violated net neutrality. Another 3 million have no broadband Internet access available. 

Download the full California map [9 MB png]

Download Net Neutrality Repeal By The Numbers, California Edition, fact sheet here.

California has a total population of 39 million. 10 million Californians have no choice for broadband except for a single company known to have violated network neutrality. Another 9.5 million have two options for broadband Internet access but both have violated network neutrality. 2 million people have no broadband access. 

When the FCC repeals network neutrality, the 129 million Americans with no choice in providers will join the 48 million with a choice solely between past violators and another 29 million Americans lacking broadband altogether to total 206 million Americans who have been abandoned to the whims of massive cable and telephone monopolies. 

In 10 years of working with community-based providers and small ISPs, we have only seen one thing that encourages more investment from the monopoly ISPs: competition. Removing network neutrality protections will enable these large firms to increase their margin without investing in new services, leading to less investment for the least connected. It will decrease investment and competition in that sense. But as firms like AT&T cut deals with other monopolies, expect AT&T's ISP rivals to face more barriers to their own success, leading to more consolidation and less overall investment. These are the trends a rational person should expect following FCC Chairman Pai's holiday gifts to the biggest ISPs.

Known Violators

For our analysis, we focused on the two biggest cable and telephone monopolies: AT&T, Verizon, Charter, and Comcast. These firms have multiple violations of both the letter and spirit of the rules around network neutrality and have spent millions to prevent the FCC from enforcing the rules.

Free Press compiled a list of violations and here is some additional evidence: AT&T exempted DirecTV from its data caps; AT&T and Verizon on data cap exemptions; Verizon throttling Netflix; Verizon Lawyer tells federal court it wants paid prioritization; Comcast removes pledge against paid prioritization; Charter messes with inter-connection points to create fast lanes. There is more - such as Comcast's throttling BitTorrent while lying to subscribers about it 

Not all of these violations are necessarily specifically violations of network neutrality as defined in the 2015 FCC Order. But they all demonstrate the obvious motivation of monopoly-minded firms to maximize short-term revenue by setting up virtual tollbooths. Some smaller firms may also engage in violating network neutrality, though for different reasons. Smaller firms are unlikely to be able to extort payments from Netflix, for instance, but they can exert pressure on their users to avoid needed upgrades. In short, there is more than enough evidence to be supremely concerned about impact of the FCC's looming decision to repeal network neutrality. Particularly where people are captive to large monopolistic companies. 

A final note on the underlying data - because the FCC data is collected at the census block level, these numbers almost certainly understate the scale of the problem. A census block may be divided between two non-overlapping providers, resulting in the claim that it is competitive despite all inhabitants only having a single option. Similarly, a census block may be only partially served in reality despite official government records indicating all inhabitants have broadband access. 

Thanks to H. Trostle and Christopher Barich for the research and mapping behind this analysis. 

Tags: network neutralityfcccomcastverizonchartercompetitionmarket powermapajit paiat&t

Totals Are In: Comcast Spends $900K In Fort Collins Election

December 9, 2017

A month ago we were following the election in Fort Collins in which Comcast had invested heavily to oppose a measure to allow Fort Collins can pave the way for a future municipal network. Comcast lost their bid to buy the election and their recent campaign report reveals that the bankroll they spent was much more than anyone realized.

Close To A Million

When we analyzed Comcast’s investment in the Fort Collins election for our report, Comcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Million in Revenue from Real Broadband Competition, we looked at the logic behind the big ISP’s investment to stop measure 2B. At the time, the front for Comcast and CenturyLink, Priorities First Fort Collins, had only spent about $200,000. Within two weeks of releasing our report, that figure rose to more than $450,000. The last campaign report, filed in early December, reports that the organization spent approximately $450,000 more. All told, the total amount spent by Priorities First Fort Collins for the compaign came to a whopping $900,999.

The grassroots organization Fort Collins Citizens’ Broadband Committee spent a little more than $15,000.

The measure to pass 2B to allow Fort Collins to amend its charter to simplify moving forward with a municipal network utility passed with 57 percent of the vote.

We looked at how much both sides spent and how their investments paid off. The anti-muni faction thought they could win by throwing money at the voters, but the locals who understand the problem in the community knew that education and leg-work were the key:

Learn about what it was like in the trenches for the Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee by listening to Christopher interview Glen Akins and Colin Garfield in episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Surpassing All Others

By comparison, incumbent Comcast spent approximately $200,000 to oppose a referendum in Longmont in 2009 and $300,000 again in Longmont in 2011. Since voters in Longmont passed their referendum, the community has gone on to create it’s municipal network utility, NextLight. Fort Collins and other Colorado communities considering ways to improve broadband often look at NextLight as a model. Longmont’s network has improved connectivity for residents, schools and municipal facilities, and boosted economic development.

While their investment in the Fort Collins election may not have paid off, we expect to see more targeted efforts to sway voters and to influence policy makers through lobbying efforts. National ISPs like Comcast, CenturyLink, and AT&T know that municipal networks mean competition they don’t want to face.

Tags: fort collinscoloradocomcastelection

Burlingtonians Scrutinize Schurz Sale

December 8, 2017

Last week, Burlington’s City Council finally chose a buyer for Burlington Telecom (BT), their municipal network that began serving residents and businesses in the early 2000s. City Councilors and representatives from Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners hashed out the details of an agreement at the eleventh hour. The Letter of Intent (LOI) was released on December 6th; the public can now analyze the deal their elected officials chose for them.

Night Work

On December 1st, editors at the Burlington Free Press published a piece highly critical of the process that occurred in the late night and early morning hours of November 27th and 28th. They wrote:

Burlington residents have every right to wonder what happened to the promise of an open and public process for picking a buyer for Burlington Telecom.

Many city residents woke up Wednesday morning to find that their elected representatives had chosen Schurz Communications as their preferred buyer for Burlington Telecom based on a bid significantly revised just hours before the vote.

Editors went on to state that the City Council had “negated the months-long public process for the sale” of BT by allowing Schurz and ZRF to alter their bid and accepting it without giving the community time to review it or weigh in. After so much time and effort invested in a process that was intended to be transparent and include the entire community, Burlington leaders seem to have dropped the ball at the five-yard line.

The Letter Of Intent

People following the process know that Schurz was one of the four bidders that made it to the semi-finalist status but was eliminated when the City Council cut the list down to Toronto-based Ting Internet and the Keep Burlington Local Cooperative (KBTL). When the vote was split between Ting and KBTL, the City Council asked the two to try to work out a single offer, but the company and the co-op could not do so. Councilors decided to reopen the bidding and invite Schurz and another potential bidder that had dropped out under some controversy, ZRF Partners.

ZRF and Schurz were waiting in the wings; the two had worked together to craft a bid and presented it to the Council, as did Ting and KBTL. KBTL had been eliminated in the first round of voting on November 27th, which left Ting and the Schurz/ZRF bids. The latter was not satisfactory, but the City Council allowed Schurz and ZRF to make alterations to their bid that night. There were numerous breaks in the meeting and out of site discussions that culminated in significant changes in the Schurz/ZRF bid. The final proposal wasn’t revealed disclosed until soon before the final vote. The process, as the Free Press editors noted, flew in the face of all the careful steps for transparency the community had taken over the past year.

A significant change included a switch of the controlling partner, which was originally slated to be ZRF with Schurz as more of a financial backer. Ting’s bid remained the same and the final dollar amount from Schurz came to $30.8 million, which was what the company had offered in their original bid.

At the time, the details of the Schurz/ZRF bid had not been worked out, but the parties moved forward with the intention to fine tune the agreement in the days after the vote. On Wednesday, December 6th, the city released the LOI from Schurz and ZRF, which spelled out a framework of what had been worked into the final bid. 

The other basics of the Schurz/ZRF bid, as summed up by VTDigger are:

Schurz will relocate Burlington Telecom offices in Memorial Auditorium and will enter into a five-year lease on the main Burlington Telecom offices on 200 Church St.

No rate increases for at least five years

Retain local management and employees, and will grow locally as Burlington Telecom grows

Expansion of customer service hours to evenings and weekends

Continue Burlington Telecom’s Net Neutrality commitment

A $2.5 million investment in Burlington’s technology community over 10 years, likely through investment in the BTV ignite technology and innovation incubator

A $500,000 investment over five years for technology workforce training

Possible Burlington Telecom expansion to Winooski and South Burlington

Allow the city to buy up to one-third of the business

Agreement to an anti-monopoly restriction

Caveat Emptor

One of Burlington’s strongest concerns as they looked for a buyer for BT, was the threat of losing their network to a huge monopolistic ISP, such as Comcast. To avoid that possibility in the future, they required every bidder to agree to adhere to an anti-monopoly promise if the bidder were to flip the network.

Schurz promised in its LOI that it “…understand(s) the City’s concern on a future sale resulting in excessive market share greater than 75% for a new buyer and would agree to that threshold, and we would support the City’s desire to be involved in the regulatory review and approval process.” The extent of the city’s involvement is left unstated. In an earlier section of the LOI that discusses the city’s ability to remain engaged with decisions regarding the network, Schurz limits Burlington’s influence on the number of board members that might serve. Because the city’s limit of ownership is capped at one-third, their influence will not be determinative.

The buyers have big plans for the network and, in their LOI they state that they plan to “enhance BT’s profitability 2-3x organically in the near to medium term and significantly more if successful in partnership/acquisition opportunities.” If they don’t get the results they want as quickly as they want, we wonder if they will abandon the project and put BT up for sale.

Schurz states in its LOI that it intends to remain a family company and intends to stay that way, but we’ve seen similar statements and promises of long-term commitment become casualties of difficult finances or a generous offer. Schurz offers Burlington the right of first refusal, which we also saw when UC2B sold assets to  iTV-3. No one has a crystal ball, but the mood and financial situation in Burlington would probably need to change significantly before the city could exercise that right. Stranger things have happened, but not very often. 

Is This Really What You Wanted, Burlington? 

When the city established the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board (BTAB) to established criteria and recommendations for city leaders when looking for a buyer, they laid out issues that locals expressed as important. Including a commitment to network neutrality, people in Burlington want to be sure that BT doesn’t end up in the hands of a monopoly-style ISP, that rates remain affordable, and that they retain a sense of local control.

Schurz, a family owned media company, has been growing through consolidation over the course of decades. Most recently, they’ve started investing in ISPs, such as Antietam Cable and Orbital Communications. They are also known to have purchased and flipped radio stations and newspapers. If Schurz sells BT in the future, their decision would seem consistent with its treatment of other acquired assets. The communities served by Schurz ISPs often complain about poor customer service, as revealed on Facebook, Google, and Broadbandreports.com. Some of Schurz leadership hails from Comcast, including Bryan Lynch, who was with the cable giant for 16 years. Schurz companies have imposed bandwidth caps and they’ve gone on record with the FCC as opposed network neutrality.

The process to choose a successor for ownership of BT was exhaustive for the community and presented a problem to elected officials that seemed like a no-win situation. No doubt this decision will be one that City Councilors will rank among the hardest choices they’ve ever made during their terms. We can’t help feeling there was an element of decision fatigue and that political animosities influenced the final outcome. The Burlington City Council’s final decision to embrace Schurz appears to disregard BTAB’s advice and oppose the practices that make up the essence of what Burlingtonians wanted in a new Internet access provider.

Now that the community has chosen a buyer, the final agreement with all the legal details needs to be approved. The City Council expects to approve the sale at the December 18th meeting in order to meet the deadline established by the 2014 settlement with Citibank. Next, the state Public Utility Commission needs to approve the sale, probably in mid-2018. 

Read the LOI here.

Read the City press release here.

Listen to Christopher interview General Manager Stephen Barraclough about the rebirth of BT in episode 283 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

December 14th Update: A finalized LOI was developed between the city and Schurz Communications, with more detailed language, and is now available. Next, the parties will work toward a purchase agreement. Read the finalized LOI here.

Letter of Intent from Schurz and ZRF Partners Finalized Letter of Intent from Schurz and ZRF PartnersTags: BurlingtonBurlington TelecomVermontpublic v privateprivatizationrfp

Monopoly Power and Network Neutrality

December 7, 2017

The FCC is scheduled to decide the fate of Internet access on Thursday, Dec 14. Will anyone anywhere in the U.S. be able to pay one basic fee to access information on the Internet from the most popular to the most arcane content providers? If all indications are correct, probably not. ISPs will increasingly decide on what terms we access the content we want. Prepare for your bills to go up. 

You might wonder why the FCC is so focused on rolling back such an overwhelmingly popular policy in favor of giving more power to the most hated corporations in America. It isn't because the most recent rules to codify the long-standing principle of non-discrimination has harmed investment. It hasn't

But something struck us about the lobbying campaigns around this issue. This graphic from the Sunlight Foundation shows just how hard the top telecommunications companies and their lobbying associations have focused on defeating network neutrality. The image shows lobbying reports generated by lobbyists and whether or not the entity is opposed (red) or in favor of (green) network neutrality. As you can see, the amount of red coming from the ISPs that serve most of America vastly outstrips the green.

Seeing Red

Since the Sunlight Foundation published this graphic in 2013, the landscape has changed in important ways. The two top firms supporting network neutrality were taken over by big monopolists that oppose maintaining an open Internet.

In 2015, Verizon acquired AOL for $4.4 billion and CenturyLink recently completed its acquisition of Level 3. CenturyLink, which sued the FCC over Title II reclassification, does not support network neutrality. The next strongest net neutrality supporter was Google, which took a quieter position in the 2015 debate over Title II but has since spoken out in favor of keeping the rules. 

As a result of these acquisitions and the resulting concentration in the ISPs market, the small number of telecommunications companies that had favored network neutrality just a few years ago are now in the opposing camp. Without other viewpoints to counter the army of lobbyists passing on the anti-neutrality position, lawmakers will forever be surrounded by one perspective. Others, like Netflix and Etsy have stepped up, but the lobbying firepower is clearly on the side of the small number of massive monopolies that want to create new tollbooths on the Internet to extract still more revenue from subscribers. 

Lawmakers have limited time and an unlimited list of issues to resolve; they rely on others to offer information. Often their time is monopolized by lobbyists who are paid to get results from the companies that retain them. Without divergent viewpoints, we can't expect lawmakers to implement policies that consider the needs of everyone.

Deja Vu

As we've seen on the state level, when Comcast, AT&T, and the other giant ISPs flex their muscles by monopolizing the flow of information to policy makers, what's best for average folks falls by the wayside. Deep pockets from these multi-million dollar corporations have allowed them to cut off state legislators from their consituents. It's much easier to decide that removing local telecommunications authority is the best decision if local people don't get the chance to express their thoughts.

The problem with monopolies is far greater than their capacity to raise our prices. When they make the rules for something as important as how the Internet functions, they cause far more damage. 

Network Neutrality logo glow by Camilo Sanchez (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: lobbyingmonopolynetwork neutralityfcclegislationfederal

Border-to-Border Grant Awarded to Paul Bunyan Communications Co-op

December 7, 2017

The state of Minnesota has awarded Paul Bunyan Communications the Border-to-Border Broadband grant to expand fiber optic services to three different counties.

The expansion will cost $1.78 million, with Paul Bunyan Communications contributing $980,990, and the state Border-to-Border grant covering $802,620. The plan should be finalized by the spring and construction will start this summer. Paul Bunyan Communications projects the build-out will be completed by June 2020.

Rural Minnesota Gets Better Connected

The Border-to-Border Fund was created by the Minnesota state legislature back in 2014. The goal is to help make the financial case for providers to invest in building infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Many underserved areas of the state have included the Border-to-Border grants in their planning process and as a pivotal part of their expansion models. The financial boon from the state has proved successful for many communities. RS Fiber Cooperative has been successfully connecting towns and rural areas in Sibley and Renville County, and they recently announced a gigabit residential connection at no additional cost for subscribers. It’s also attracting investment and industry, explained Mark Erickson in a recent report, citing the forthcoming medical school being built in Gaylord:

"We have that opportunity because of the Fiber-to-the-Home network. Without it, no medical school."

Cooperative Success 

Paul Bunyan Communications Cooperative has already made massive strides in providing high-speed access to large swaths of northern Minnesota. Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone reaches more than 29,400 locations, covering more than 5,000 square miles in Beltrami County, also reaching areas of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.

The ever-growing network has also expanded services to the Red Lake Nation Native American community, one of the lesser-served demographics when it comes to high-speed rural access.

In 2015, Paul Bunyan Communications Cooperative was awarded the Leading Lights National Award for Most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service. SEO and general manager Gary Johnson explained their approach,

"It is one of the first gigabit network initiatives that will encompass a large rural area and I think that is significant."

The Paul Bunyan Communications’ remarkable success and expansion will surge forward with the acceptance of the Border-to-Border Grant. In the next two years, the construction of the expanded network will pass through a minimum of 830 locations.

This year, the Border-to-Border Broadband Fund granted a total of $26 million for 39 broadband infrastructure projects. It will ultimately provide an estimated 9,973 households, 2,169 businesses, and 60 community institutions across the state with reliable, high-speed access. A full list of awardees can be found here at the Minnesota Department of Eomployment and Economic Development website.

Tags: paul bunyan telephone cooperativeminnesotacooperativegrantgigabitrural

Reinventing Burlington Telecom - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 283

December 6, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 283 - Stephen Barraclough, Burlington Telecom General Manager

We're continuing the interviews Christopher conducted while at the November Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta; this week, he's talking with Stephen Barraclough, General Manager for Burlington Telecom (BT) in Vermont. Stephen has worked diligently to reinvigorate and preserve the publicly owned network that, regardless of troubles, has been popular with subscribers.

Christopher and Stephen had their conversation prior to the November 27th Burlington City Council meeting when Councilors voted to sell the asset to Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners. The vote came after a long and arduous process that dragged on the community. Details of the agreement were still being negotiated when we published this podcast. Read more about the history of BT here.

Stephen and Christopher talk about what it was like when Stephen took the helm of the network. At the time, there were financial difficulties caused by a prior Mayor’s administration, but the community had come to rely on the fiber optic network and wanted to do what they could to preserve it.

Stephen describes the problems he faced and how they went about restoring the network step by step. He notes that saving BT was a team effort that involved industry colleagues, employees at BT, the city’s leadership, and the community as a whole. Central to their rebirth was self-reflection as an organization and taking control to set themselves apart from the competition. Christopher and Stephen also talk about other issues, such as BT’s low-income program, customer service, and the effort to retain a public interest philosophy under the expectation of privatization. Stephen sees only opportunity for BT and its subscribers as the community moves forward.

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can 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: BurlingtonBurlington TelecomVermontmuniaudiopodcastbroadband bitslessons learnedfinancialcustomer servicelow-income

NoaNet Helps Ellensburg With Pilot Problems

December 6, 2017

Ellensburg, Washington, decided to pursue a fiber optic pilot project to serve local businesses almost a year ago, but they’ve encountered some bumps along the way. After revising the original plan and working with the state’s nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), it looks like they’ll be moving forward.

The Logical Progression

Back in 2013, Ellensburg realized that they could save significantly by ending service from Charter Communications and investing in a publicly owned institutional network (I-Net) to bring connectivity to municipal facilities. The positive results from the investment inspired them to take the next step and look into expanding their investment to infrastructure for businesses and residents. Early this year, they decided to start with a pilot program that would build off their I-Net to bring 30 businesses fiber connectivity, including a few home-based businesses and telecommuters.

Financial Slow Downs

The city received a grant from the Distressed County Sales and Use Tax Infrastructure Improvement Program to fund the project; the City Council dedicated the $169,560 grant to the project.

When they asked for bids from three contractors that are listed on their small works roster, none were interested. Next, they chose a firm to negotiate with but the first quote of $415,000 was well above their budget. Even after negotiating the price down to $315,000, the City Council was hard pressed on their next move.

In October, the city’s Utility Advisory Committee recommended they consider reducing the area to be served in the pilot project to reduce the cost of the deployment. They chose to let the bid expire.

The NoaNet Connection

In November, Ellensburg Director of Energy Services Larry Dunbar recommended that the city take advantage of an existing interlocal agreement with NoaNet in order to reduce the cost of the deployment. The agreement would allow NoaNet to use three dark fiber strands on Ellensburg’s network in exchange for 140 hours of engineering services to Ellensburg. The dark fiber, if leased to some other entity, could bring in $5,900 per year and the engineering services are valued at around $17,000. The City Council voted unanimously to act on the recommendation.

This isn’t the first time that NoaNet has worked with local communities interested in improving local commercial or residential connectivity. In 2016, the community of Anacortes took advantage of their design expertise as they started to develop their publicly owned fiber network. NoaNet’s been operating all across the state since 2000 and they’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. Community networks are notorious for acting in the public interest, such as sharing their knowledge with places like Anacortes and Ellensburg.

Dunbar also reviewed the new pilot service area. According to the Daily Record News:

The new area, which covers between Second and Fifth avenues, and Pearl and Main streets, is smaller than the originally proposed project area and would include approximately 50 businesses. Of those businesses, five have already expressed interested in the project. These businesses will need to re-submit applications to the project due to the changes that have occurred.

Twenty-five of the original 30 businesses that had applied to participate in the pilot are no longer in the planned service area. The Utility Advisory Committee plans to offer an updated timeline for the project at the next meeting scheduled for December 21st.

Tags: ellensburgwashingtonnoanetpilot projectfundingeconomic developmentI-Net

NYC RFI For Better Connectivity: Responses Due January 19th

December 5, 2017

On November 15th, the City of New York announced that it was looking for ideas to bring high-quality connectivity to every resident and business. Their goal is to get every one connected by 2025; they’re starting with a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit ideas for potential strategies and partnerships. Responses are due January 19th.

The Big Apple’s effort comes on the heels of San Francisco’s decision to invest in municipal broadband to connect the entire city. New York’s RFI states that they will use all their assets — from rooftop to, to poles, to organizational resources — to move their efforts along so New Yorkers can enjoy fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. City leaders want to exhaust all avenues and are encouraging both public and private sectors to become involved in the initiative.

The Vision

In their vision, New York City leaders have identified five goals they wish to achieve through better broadband infrastructure:

Promote competition in the residential and commercial broadband markets.

Provide high-speed residential Internet service for low-income communities currently without service.

Increase investment in broadband corridors to reach high-growth business districts, with a focus on outer-borough neighborhoods.

Promote seamless user experience across public networks to create high speed access across the boroughs.

Explore innovative ways to provide high-speed Internet to homes, businesses, and the public.

At this point, they’re open to any technology or business model that can achieve these goals and is future proof.

Resources

As part of the RFI, the city provides links to New York’s essential reports and information about assets, including information about franchise agreements, micro trenching rules, and Wi-Fi hotspots. There’s also a link to the Queensbridge Connected program, the high-speed Internet service for folks living in the Queensbridge Houses. We spoke with the city’s Senior Advisor to the CTO Joshua Breitbart in May about the project during episode 254 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

With about 8.5 million people distributed over an area of about 300 square miles, the community is the most densely populated in the U.S. Most people living multiple-dwelling units (MDUs) within its five burroughs and income levels vary dramatically.

Register and read the full RFI here.

Tags: new york citynew yorkrfiubiquitousmetrourban

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 282

December 4, 2017

This is episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Joining the show from Fort Collins, Colorado, Glen Akins and Colin Garfield describe the grassroots organizing that defeated a Comcast-funded astroturf group. Listen to this episode here.

 

Glen Akins: The $451,000 turned this from a local story to this small town in Colorado to a national news item.

Lisa Gonzalez: You are listening to Episode 282 the bonus episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In Fort Collins, Colorado, the community voted earlier this month to change their city charter in order to simplify the process if the city decides to invest in high quality internet network infrastructure. Voters chose to opt out of restrictive state laws back in 2015. In an attempt to derail the campaign so that they wouldn't have to face the prospect of competition, Comcast and cronies led an expensive local disinformation campaign. Under the guise of a local grassroots group, they blanketed the community with misleading advertisements and literature. According to campaign disclosures, the Comcast front group spent around $451,000 to fight the local initiative. In end, the initiative passed. We reached out to two people in Fort Collins who were spearheading the campaign to pass Measure 2B. We wanted to hear how they did it. Colin Garfield and Glen Akins are here to offer their insight into what worked, what they would change and what they were thinking while pitted against the Goliath ISP. Now here's Christopher, with Colin Garfield and Glen Akins from Fort Collins Colorado.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance up in Minneapolis and today I'm speaking with Colin Garfield, campaign lead for Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee, welcome to the show.

Colin Garfield: Thank you, Chris. Pleasure to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And also, Glen Akins who's also campaign lead for Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee. Welcome to the show.

Glen Akins: Thanks, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: So, this is I think really exciting. We had this interesting history in Colorado of now well over one hundred communities reclaiming local authority from a state that usurped it in 2005. Maybe we'll start with, before we really get into that too much though, what is Fort Collins like for people who haven't been there and I'll just take the easy answer, which is that it is insanely beautiful. I don't understand how any of you get any work done. But, Colin, let me ask you first to just maybe tell us a little bit about Fort Collins.

Colin Garfield: Yeah, so our city's about 165,000 people and it’s a university town. So Colorado State University, this is the home to it. We have a pretty progressive and highly educated city, which is, you know, great benefit to this campaign and I guess Fort Collins is kind of known for not only its university but it's also known for its breweries. We have like twenty some breweries and it's a bicycle town and it's this really progressive, cool city that we live in.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, we actually did a podcast with your mayor, previously. We'll have that in the notes along with this show for people who might want to go back and learn a little bit more about the under grounding that's been done there. It's a remarkable, remarkable place I think in terms of long term decision-making, which is kind of what we're going to be talking about and Glen, I think maybe you can provide a little bit of background on what's happening broadband-wise over the past five years or so in Fort Collins.

Glen Akins: Initially, Fort Collins wanted to be a Google Fiber city and they pursued that but that didn't pan out, so they also participated in the Gig.U which is created by Blair Levin who was a former FCC chairman, I believe, or attorney with the FCC. And so they kind of went through that process and then about two years ago, we had our SB 152 opt-out vote and that was critical to align the city to move forward and spend money on planning and analyzing and researching a broadband network for the city. Once we opted out of that, we had about a two year process where we worked with consultants and cities and community people to come up with a broadband plan and ultimately that effort went to the ballot box last November for the voters to vote on.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, just a quick note. Blair was, I believe, the Chief-of-Staff for people who are curious, but you're right, he started the Gig.U process, which got a lot of communities thinking about this. One other note, a little bit of housekeeping, sometimes people think that they would also be able to organize a referendum to opt-out of their state barriers and I just wanted to make sure that it was clear to everyone that this is unique to Colorado.

Colin Garfield: Very unique.

Christopher Mitchell: If you're in North Carolina, no such luck, you've been pre-empted, I'm sorry. But one of the things that's interesting is you've gone through two referenda now and in the first one, which was just to opt out, Comcast didn't really oppose it, I think right, and then in this one, they did. Just maybe briefly give us a sense of what you were up against.

Colin Garfield: Kind of the quick history about that is in 2015, when the original opt-out passed, we had an 84% pass rate, which is historic. Very few elections pass at that level and as far as opposition, there was no formal citizen opposition or any formal Comcast opposition. Fortunately, the group that was supporting this was able to do so with a very small amount of money and there really wasn't much push back at all.

Christopher Mitchell: And so if you fast forward to today or even a few months ago, there's much stronger opposition and I think we can jump more into that in a second. Glen, tell us a little bit about the Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee.

Glen Akins: Under Colorado state law and probably most other state laws, the city itself isn't allowed to lobby for or against ballot measure once it has been placed on the ballot. So the city wasn't able to help us with anything. So Colin and myself and another guy, Tim, as well as some folks at Colorado State University got together and we formed this Citizens' Issue Committee to advocate for the passage of the ballot issue and that's how the Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee got its start.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say, and either one of you can certainly jump in, you got together and started this group, I feel like we can spend a little bit of time in there. Did you already know each other, did you meet through a website like Meet Up or did you meet in a coffee shop. How did you all know each other and start organizing?

Glen Akins: So we all kind of knew each other from the SB 152 process from two, two and a half years ago. And then in addition to that, the city had had public outreach sessions over the past two years and so a lot of us met through those public outreach sessions that the city had and now this is kind of a natural extension to all those outreach sessions.

Christopher Mitchell: And Colin, what was your perspective, how did ... was this just a matter of you got together at a bar one night and started talking about it, thought "Hey, let's actually do this," or was there some other method in which you got it rolling?

Colin Garfield: Well, it's kind of interesting. So we all joined the citizen committee, which is sponsored by the city back in March of 2016 and we kind of got to know each other a little bit more and then it kind of grew up and kind of understood each other's skill sets and our passion and then in June of 2016, I formed a public outreach group called Broadband and Beers and so what that entailed was me having monthly events at local breweries and inviting citizens, policy makers and staff and kind of really publishing this project outside of the city and kind of get people involved more. And so I guess, we kind of created our own platform starting with the committee and then with Broadband and Beers, then it graduated with the actual ballot committee. So it's kind of a long term, a 16 month platform progression, I guess you could say. It wasn't like an overnight idea, it just gradually gained more steam ad more steam as the months went by.

Christopher Mitchell: What was the first Broadband and Beers like? In some ways, I think there was a similar group in Longmont and so this is not totally unprecedented but how did it come about and how did you make people aware of it?

Colin Garfield: So the first event was not successful. I had about twelve people show up including like four staff members so it was a pretty small turnout.

Christopher Mitchell: I think you're selling yourself short, I think not successful is you on a bar stool.

Colin Garfield: Okay, good point. It started out with some immediate interest from about ten or twelve people and I kind of published this originally on Reddit and Facebook and things like that so I used that digital platform to publish and advertise it. And I also went through the official city channel to invite staff members, city council members and the mayor and through the ... I think I did seven or eight of these things and I believe the mayor showed up to three of them, council members showed up to three or four of them, we had staff at every one of them. So it gave an opportunity for citizens to not only talk about it among themselves but also to actually ask the mayor and council and staff about the actual project itself and get a direct response from them.

Christopher Mitchell: Colin, have you organized things like this in the past or was this somewhat new for you?

Colin Garfield: So this is the first time I've really rolled the dice on advocacy. That's always a fun word to say, right? So, yeah, it's kind of my first go around and I kind of had to teach myself public outreach, communications with it, advertising. I'd never done it before. My professional background is a GIS cartographer so I used to make maps for a living and that's not really related to any of this, so. It was my first go around with all of this.

Christopher Mitchell: And Glen, I'm curious if you have any background in local organizing?

Glen Akins: Absolutely none whatsoever. There's a bit of shock on Colin and I's faces where we left one of our meetings and realized that we were it for the ballot issue. It was us, Tim and a few other local organizers and that was it, we were on our own from that point out.

Christopher Mitchell: And when did you realize that you in some ways weren't just David going up against Goliath. You were David going up against Goliath and several of his friends and a massive cash campaign of influence behind them?

Glen Akins: That was one of the first campaign finance disclosure, actually, the second campaign finance disclosure was filed by the opposition. The first one, they just showed $10,000, $11,000 in income and no spending but the second finance disclosure, which was about two weeks before the election, two and a half weeks maybe, we saw the $200,000 amount there and at that point we realized that this was big. It wasn't quite as big as Longmont's battle back in 2009, 2010 whenever that was. But we realized it was big. The Friday before the elections when we found out that the $451,000 had been spent against us and at that point, there's a little bit of freaking out, a little bit of panic and a little bit of "what did we get ourselves into and how is this going to work out"? As you know, it turned out well.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, well what was the final vote?

Glen Akins: 57 to 43.

Colin Garfield: Yeah, that's correct.

Christopher Mitchell: So I'm curious, Glen, I'll stick with you on this. Did you have a sense, like a confidence going into it or was it this sense of "oh man, it's going to be tight"?

Glen Akins: So, when Kaley Rogers at Motherboard asked me that question, I thought it was going to be close, maybe 60 to 40 in favor and then, I think the Sunday and Monday before the election, got a little worried and I started thinking it was going to be 60 to 40 against us. And then, I think, Tuesday morning, I got a little bit more positive attitude and my prediction was 52 to 48 for us so I'm happy with the 57 to 43 turnout. But that was kind of my thinking along the time, seeing the money, seeing the reactions, having people on forums second guess how we were running our campaign and stuff. There's a lot of emotional ups and downs there leading into this process. Lots of lost sleep too.

Christopher Mitchell: If there's one thing that drives me nuts, is people who haven't invested of themselves, telling other people who are out there working and sacrificing how to do things. I'm sure you got a fair amount of that.

Glen Akins: It really didn't start until the Tuesday morning before the election I think. There was a little bit of blow back on one of the forums out there that basically said we should have ran a more negative campaign, we should have pointed out Comcast failures at every turn and I think this being an off year election, that would have turned off a lot of voters, they would have seen the negativity on the Comcast side, they would have seen the negativity on our side and instead of going out and voting for us, they probably would have just stayed home. So, I'm really glad we stuck with running a positive campaign and talked about what a symmetric fiber optic gigabit network could bring to our community versus just bashing the incumbents.

Christopher Mitchell: Colin, I think were there things that you were involved with aside from the Broadband and Beers? Because there's a sense of running a positive campaign, I'm guessing you did more than get together once a month to talk.

Colin Garfield: Yeah. So, I kind of took the management role from the get go with all this and what I mean by that is, with Tim and Glen and some other gentlemen on the committee, my goal and my role was to really keep everybody together for a month at a time and kind of manage this group and make sure that everyone's skill sets are utilized and that we don't lose anyone along the way and I also built the website for our committee and I did a bunch of public speaking engagements and I had multi-faceted role within the group but primarily early on it was religiously managing the entire thing before we actually got a campaign manager.

Christopher Mitchell: When you're dealing with an entity that's spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, I assume that the only way that they can do that is by a lot of TV and radio ads. I presume that you did neither. What sort of mass media did you do? Did you have glossy mailers, how did you get the word out to people who may not already know about it?

Colin Garfield: With $15,000 you can't do a whole lot. You have to be very, very targeted in what you do. So you're looking for the best bang for your buck. So what we basically did, we sent about ten thousand mailers to a voter database that we had ahold of. We did some radio ads but I think our main attack was through Facebook and social media. We had a very extensive page, we spent a lot of money on that. I think it was around $3000 total on that. We boosted a lot of posts, we had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of comments that were responded to and a very in depth conversation on the Facebook page. I also took a lot of care developing the Reddit response. The Reddit Fort Collins group was a big proponent of this so I published this for about 14 or 15 months straight to make sure people were aware on that platform as well. So we kind of took small angles, we didn't have any big TV ads, any big radio ads, we didn't send out multiple mailers to residences like the opposition group. We didn't have a lot of money to work with so we had to be very careful about how we spent it.

Glen Akins: I think some people received eight mailers from the opposition in their mailboxes over the course of the campaign.

Christopher Mitchell: Did the opposition hurt themselves ultimately with a message that just seemed belittling and also, they made this wild claim in terms of how much money would be authorized when that actually wasn't in the language? Just for people who aren't familiar. This vote technically was to change the city's charter and to authorize a maximum level of debt borrowing. Not that the city was going to borrow that much but that it had to pick a maximum amount and so that was the amount that the city could borrow up to with whatever plan is developed in the coming year or years. One of the things that the Comcast funded group did was they claimed that that money was all going to be spent and wasted and wouldn't be available for roads and things like that. How did people react to those claims?

Glen Akins: The opposition framed it as we could spend $150,000,000 on broadband or we could spend $150,000,000 on roads or schools or public safety but the truth of the matter is that only one of those had a stream of revenue coming in to pay back the $150,000,000 that would be borrowed and that was broadband. If you wanted to spend $150,000,000 on roads or schools or public safety, you'd have to find some way to pay back that $150,000,000 you've borrowed. So, that was the big difference. It was pretty easy to point out that if we built a broadband network, we have this separate revenue stream to pay it off and that revenue stream is coming out of Comcast and Century Link's bottom line. It's not coming through new fees on electric bills, it's not coming through new property taxes, it's not coming through new tax increases or general revenues.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, Colin, I'm curious if you have a reaction also?

Colin Garfield: Yeah, so kind of going back to your earlier question. Like Glen was saying, we were shocked when we saw the amount of money being spent and at that time it was terrifying. But in hindsight, I actually think it was a gift to us because it allowed us to really publish this to news media outlets and we dozens and dozens of people cover it. We had TV interviews, radio interviews and I think people that may not have voted at all actually ended up voting because they were so sickened by the number being spent. So I think in the short term it was terrifying but I think in hindsight, it actually was a gift to us as strange as that sounds.

Glen Akins: The $451,000 turned this from a local story to this small town in Colorado to a national news item and so we made Comcast hometown paper the Philly Inquirer, we made Ars Technica, we made Motherboard, we made all the Denver area stations and if Comcast and Century Link and their organizations hadn't spent that money, it would have been just another local vote and another local story.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that is somewhat unique about your situation I think is I don't know of another city, maybe a Boulder or something, but in the year 2017, you have Comcast is either about to offer gigabit downloads or could be offering it in some areas already, you have Century Link has built some fiber to the home, fiber to apartment buildings perhaps in Fort Collins. It's a harder case to make that you're not getting investment from the big companies in a place like Fort Collins than in Loveland nearby or other smaller towns so in that respect, you guys really knocked it out of the park by demonstrating the strong demand for something better than the big cable and telephone companies. I was just wondering if you can reflect on that a little bit.

Glen Akins: One of the big things we emphasized was that we wanted our citizens not just to be able to consume content but we wanted them to be able to create content and in order to do that we need the fast uploads and the fast uploads just aren't there with either Century Link's DSL offering or Comcast gigabit offering in the city. The other thing that really helped us there with respect to Comcast gigabit offering is that it's $20 a month more here than it is in Longmont and it also doesn't include unlimited data here but it does include unlimited data in Longmont. So the service in Longmont is $70 a month where they have their own municipal fiber network but to get that same service without a data cap in Fort Collins, is $140 a month and so we were really able to press the issue with the price discrepancy there between the cities that had their own municipal fiber network and the city that doesn't and I think that helped us too.

Colin Garfield: Yeah, I agree with that and I think the other thing too was developing messaging and key points for different demographics within the city. So, rather than having this one umbrella statement saying this is why we should get gigabit, we really focused on adapting language to each, so the senior citizens, to students, to tech entrepreneurs, small businesses, the average person. So we spent a lot of careful time crafting those messages to make sure that each angle was addressed and not just assuming that one message, that one size fit all kind of thing.

Christopher Mitchell: Was there any specific approach or tactic you took that surprised you in terms of how well it worked or how it did not work?

Colin Garfield: I guess when I first, we first started in the Facebook push, I'd thought maybe it would be like fifty people would follow the group and we'd have daily posts that maybe got like ten or fifteen likes and a couple comments and in reality we ended up getting like 550 people who liked the page. We had thousands of comments by the end of the campaign, [inaudible

00:20:52]. That really blew me away that the conversation was so in depth and so critical and the other part of that too is the opposition group had a Facebook page that was locked down, you couldn't join it, you couldn't comment. Their YouTube page was locked down, you couldn't even talk to them. So they sent their trolls over to our page and we still had a conversation with them and when we couldn't even send our people over to their page. The other thing that surprised me is that on Reddit Fort Collins, and I know Reddit's historically quarterbacks and armchair theorists they always stigmatized as not going in public and talking and actually making a movement, this is by far the most energetic and high response topic we've ever seen in Fort Collins Reddit and a lot of people came out and a lot of people interacted with it. We even had people organize a public sign waving on one of our busiest intersections, which people who follow Reddit is mind-blowing to me. So I think the digital platform was what really surprised me and the effectiveness of that.

Glen Akins: The organic reach of our Facebook posts really surprised me too. I mean the organic reach got up into the tens of thousands. We paid to kind of get the initial kick off and get the message out there but once the message got out there, people started sharing things and our organic rate was tremendous too.

Christopher Mitchell: Right and we're talking about a city with about 140,000 people.

Colin Garfield: 165, yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Right so in eligible voters, people who actually vote, ten thousand reach is a significant part of the electorate for an off year election.

Colin Garfield: Absolutely, yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, is there anything else that we should mention for people who I think are inspired by this and hopefully learning from it and trying to organize in their own communities?

Glen Akins: One thing I want to say is, if you've never been through the election process before as an active participant, an organizer of an about issue campaign or something, you do need professional help, hire a campaign manager and your campaign manager should know graphic artists in the area, she should know how to place ads with the local newspaper, how to reach DJs to record radio ads for you, how to place ads with radio, how to write letters to the editor. You definitely need someone who's been through this process before and has the contacts for all these organizations that you will be doing business with so that as volunteers who are also doing your day job, you're not wasting a lot of time trying to figure out how to place an ad with the local paper or how to place an or record a spot with the radio station.

Christopher Mitchell: Great, that's terrific advice. Colin?

Colin Garfield: Yeah, so I think it's really having the mindset of playing the long game. Going through municipal broadband, it takes months if not years to really make progress and don't be discouraged by lateral gains or small gains, it's a long game you need to play. That patience is something I learned early on, it takes incredible patience. And a couple other things that I would recommend is really starting with that core group of people who are highly energetic, who know what they are talking about, who are very passionate about the subject and then kind of develop that larger steering committee. But you want to have that core group, it's really important. And I guess a few other things. Unfortunately, in this world, it takes money so lessons learned from my group, or our group I should say is you have to start your fundraising early, you have to identify your stakeholders whether it's major businesses, universities, business groups etc. And also a big one that I learned was that publishing documents and making emails from city council transparent and publishing those for people to know about and really creating that window transparency so people can see the inner workings of the project and not just on the surface is very, very crucial too. We don't have a magical playbook but we did learn quite a bit and we're always happy to discuss it with people in different communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Great and no doubt that you'll have some people contacting you. I'm happy to connect people to you to make sure that this continues and the enthusiasm that you all helped to create will continue to spread. We need people to step up and take responsibility even if they're not elected officials. That's the way our democracy is supposed to work and it is inspiring when people do that and make a difference. Thank you for doing it, thank you for sharing your lessons.

Colin Garfield: Yeah, absolutely, thanks for having us. I appreciate it.

Glen Akins: Thank you, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Colin Garfield and Glen Akins from Fort Collins Colorado. Check out our coverage of the campaign and efforts to improve connectivity in Fort Collins at MuniNetworks.org. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcasts@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 any other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research but also subscribing to our monthly newletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song “Warm Duck Shuffle” licensed through Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 281

December 4, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Will Rinehart of the American Action Forum in Washington D.C. discusses telecommunications and economics with our host Christopher Mitchell. Listen to this episode here.

Will Rinehart: And I do think that obviously good policy is very very important and that's where you and I agree a lot. You know there's obviously some good policies that can be enacted. There's probably better conversations that could be had in this space and that's also something else that I really do really want to see. You're

Lisa Gonzalez: listening to episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzales as a research organization. We here at the institute make it a habit to hear all sides of the debate along the way we make connections with people who offer perspectives on policy that differ from ours. We consider these conversations critical as we analyze factors that help us create policy recommendations and resources for local communities. This week Christopher talks with Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum. They got together at the recent broadband community's economic development conference in Atlanta. In this conversation you'll hear the two discuss a variety of topics they talk about the area of telecommunications and economics and the forum's approach. You'll also hear that these different perspectives aren't as black and white as they first appear. Now here's Christopher with Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bits podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Coming to you from Atlanta sitting practically on a runway at the Atlanta airport with Will Rinehart the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy with the American Action Forum. Welcome to the show. Thanks Chris. Thanks for having me. We're at the broadband community's event here. We just had our second panel which is called a blue ribbon panel and general session kind of thing. And you and I are typically brought on as people who have very opposing points of view.

Will Rinehart: [laughs] To kind of get the crowd riled up in the morning.

Christopher Mitchell: And I you know as someone who has strong points of view I think there's tremendous value in the audience hearing from multiple points of view on very much. So what does the American Action Forum do as a think tank based in Washington D.C.?

Will Rinehart: You know we do a little bit of everything. My boss is a former CBO director. We do a lot of economic analysis of various sorts. That's kind of where I try to focus on -- my focus obviously is in technology policy. So with that comes a lot in telecommunications and broadband deployment. And one of the other major areas that I really have kind of come to work a lot on are these you know platform technologies. You know Facebook and Google which have been getting a lot of interesting critiques as of late and the mob switches very very quickly when we talk about 18 months for this all to change over.

Christopher Mitchell: As someone who's long been skeptical I'm also leery of mobs.

Will Rinehart: So yes. Yeah. The platform area is another area work a lot in and also AI and I've been doing some actual original research in AI and productivity numbers. And the sharing economy and kind of you know how work is changing as well. So it's there's a lot of interesting work to be done to be very honest if you're in this kind of space between policy and in technology and I really do want more people to be looking at this because I think there's still a lot of very low hanging fruit.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I think your work might be carriage caricatured as just being pro industry reflexively pro cable pro telecom monopoly. And I want to ask you like for people who make those sorts of accusations. Do you feel you are pro cable and telephone monopoly.

Will Rinehart: No no not at all. Wow this is this is a this is a really harsh setup.

Christopher Mitchell: No, I mean I don't I don't mean to say that you are. I'm saying that there are people who say that and in many ways I think when I'm on offense you're defending the industry you appear to be you know defending them in ways that you may disagree with me and also disagree with them. But you're focused the reporters are interested in how you disagree with me. So I want to be fair.

Will Rinehart: Yeah. No no. I guess the I think the there's there's obviously a nuance and a depth to all the different positions and you know individuals may kind of pick out and really hone in on one thing or another thing that you said without really kind of understanding the nuance. I guess part of it really comes down to me is just seen and I think that you actually mentioned this to me that you know your originally from Minnesota. And so for you the ability of government to kind of come in and solve a lot of very interesting problems. Like that's kind of the baseline compared to myself. I'm from Springfield Illinois. And so I see a lot of these issues bubble up over and over again with with government based solutions. I guess I'm just much more skeptical of our ability to really kind of change and curtail markets and I do think that obviously good policy is very very important and that's where you and I agree a lot.

Will Rinehart: You know there's obviously some good policies that can be enacted. There's probably better conversations that could be had in this space and that's also something else that I really do really want to see. I'm not I mean I'm not for one industry or another. I'm actually much more interested in innovation and ensuring that innovation occurs and that the form that that take for me often often you know lines of this idea of permissiveness innovation. Let's see what's going to happen then when bad things do happen and let's try to police it when they do happen. And so I think just for me there's hesitation and skepticism in our ability to really changing and define and curtail these markets. And also I guess a little bit more optimistic about the outcomes themselves.

Christopher Mitchell: So when you talk about the permission this innovation it's interesting I think everyone says that they want that. I know very much so. And one of the things that I firmly believe is that if we had rather than two major cable companies that are you know charter and Comcast if we had 15 and there were even regional monopolies. I feel like I would be more likely to think that there could be permissions innovation even if they were very powerful but they were less large. The scale of Comcast and Charter makes me think that the biggest threat to permission is innovation the ability to just come up with new things is those two companies because they have such a you kind of have to deal with them if you want to be innovative in the broadband market today.

Will Rinehart: I think the numbers game is an interesting question. This is something that seems to at least inform and implicitly inform a lot of the conversations that go that go on and the number of like you know 15. So if we had for example within each market if we had 15 different players there's often this problem.

Will Rinehart: On the downside that a lot of economists will talk about which is you can't have you can't have elements of scope. You can't have an economics of scope that that practically speaking when you're a very small player your ability to use the investment which is you know as you know is a very very kind of tall order to actually spread that across your consumer base is very very difficult. So I you know who knows what exactly the right number is and I guess that's also one of my skepticism but I don't think that necessarily more competitors is is always going to be a better better situation.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I just I think I wasn't totally clear and that's a very good point for why it's unreasonable to expect that we'd have 15 different choices in the market and infrastructure competition basis. The point I was I was trying to make was that if we had 15 cable companies each of which was dominant and a monopoly. So if Minnesota and Upper Midwest had cable company A and the East Coast cable company be and there were still these kinds of almost monopolies. The mere fact that you would have different companies that were kind of looking over their shoulders at each other to me is a different dynamic. So it's not to say that any one person would be to choose from 15 firms but that there's not just two major firms out there that are kind of calling the shots when we have so much collapsed or there's just two major cable companies in the United States at this point.

Christopher Mitchell: I worry that they can do things that even if they're the whole country was divided you know and then there was not overlapping territory. If there was a higher number of those entities there are going to be checking each other and there is going to be a different result than when you have just two firms.

Will Rinehart: That's a bit of a different articulation than what most people would say in this space which is you know instead of having effectively one cable provider in a region or you'll have one you know one DSL based provider in a region you know oftentimes a conversation typically goes region by region. So it's like you know this market whatever this market is let's say you know in your example it's Minnesota let's say it's the Twin Cities market. It has you know rather what is being added within the conversation is that you know well within this market we need X amount of players. And what I think you're saying is that wait a second maybe instead you'd have three or four providers that would be for example within the twin cities and a different set of three or four providers with the B and within a different region.

Will Rinehart: I still kind of go back to this problem which is a pretty endemic problem which is again scale and scope. We do know to a certain extent that companies when they are able to buy at scale they're actually able to provide the services cheaper for specific consumers. There is this range of providers that typically works really really well for a region which is effectively three or four. Now it seems that only the major cities seem to really get that you get. You know for example a some sort of you know independent fiber provider a cable provider and then effectively your you know your DSL based provider that has you know done some sort of overbuild or or really developed out with fiber and therefore you have effectively these three competitors these obviously as you're well aware come from historical decisions on actually providing a very specific franchise service and in each of the different cities and so you know for a very long time.

Will Rinehart: One of the ideas was will we need to provide some sort of competition for the broadcasters and so we're going to give them the cable providers an outline within our region and that's where a lot of these original franchising agreements come from in kind of where the you know where the footprint originally comes from. It comes from you know effectively the 50s and 60s we made these decisions about creating some sort of competition playing field. And that's again that's also part of where I I times find myself skeptical of some of these the measures to specifically create competition in these spaces because at some point in the future you won't have to live with those decisions that you've made. I know there are some cities that specifically had dual providers of cable and those cities now typically have two sorts of cable providers.

Will Rinehart: Those decisions it seems are very long lasting within a city. So the question is is where. Where do you go from here now and how do you create an innovative space going forward. But I do know that one area that seems to be an interesting potential competitive check is at least with wireless. And I know this is something that you and I have discussed in the past. For me I think why it's interesting as you know whenever you have kind of robust competition on the wireless space as well whenever consumers choose that wireless service they tend to also demand more or tend to put you know there seems to be some sort of competitive pressure that's put on the traditional fixed services and so they also tend to either increase their quality or decrease their their prices for whatever that bundle is.

Will Rinehart: So to me I think that's going to be an interesting thing going forward especially considering kind of where we've gone over the last 20 years with this. I think in the immediate future it will be very interesting to see what happens with the kind of the fixed wireless space and again I know that there's there's a whole bunch of kind of different sorts of competitive issues there but there seems to be something happening there that whether or not they are completely substitutable in service there is something with the fact that consumers want both. They want both you know high quality wireless service and high quality fixed service and that the effect of that is rather that there's pressure that's put also on the fixed providers. We

Christopher Mitchell: are seeing I think new hope in the U.S where we're fixed wireless is coming in using the wired service within the building to distribute. And that's exciting in talking with those fixed wireless providers. We generally find that they do not see an approach do that in single family homes. So you know in some ways depending on which market you're talking about it has different impacts. I continue to find that mobile wireless is not a substitute in any way for high quality fixed access. One of the things that I wanted to pull out from your discussion about past franchising that I think is underappreciated is that the reason the vast majority of Americans have access to broadband as defined by the Federal Communications Commission has 25 megabits by 3 megabits which we're going to discuss in a minute. In terms of that standard is because cable passes like 92 percent of Americans.

Christopher Mitchell: The reason that 92 percent of Americans are passed by it is because franchises granted cable companies certain rights to use the public right away in return for a requirement to build out to everyone. I don't believe cable companies would have made those significant investments in the lower income communities or in density in areas with lower density. Absent those requirements and so I don't want that to be lost in terms of when we talk about some of the perhaps negative repercussions of franchising historically. It accomplished something remarkable in terms of 92 percent of Americans having cable services. Indeed

Will Rinehart: indeed. Yeah and I guess the point that I would that I would ultimately make with this is that there's obviously tradeoffs and there's always tradeoffs the situation. One of the things that I try to do and try to understand is well what are those tradeoffs. At the end of the day. And as you had mentioned and mentioned very specifically adding that was that seems to have been and continues to be the tradeoff that's made you know this is something that Google Fiber has been criticized pretty resoundingly for in the last couple of years. There's a lot to unpack there. The other part of it that I guess kind of I would say worries me but that really is kind of the opaque box which is the conversation that goes on and how these are you know in the kind of tit for tat that goes on with it within the city.

Will Rinehart: So that also to me is an interesting part of this as well that you have this kind of back and forth between the city and the provider it's like well you know your the you know your the provider you've been the provider for however many years you've been you know a provider for 30 or 40 years we've signed these contracts with you. Now you come back to the table and that also adds a very interesting tinge to the conversation back and forth and to a certain extent this is what Google is hoping to break up a little bit. Who knows if that's effective. Who knows if that tradeoff really is effective at providing a lower cost service to individuals.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And I salute you for discussing the tradeoffs because I try to do that as well as very much so. And I recognize you know and I've gone back and forth that people at Google about this because they are anti franchising and I would like to see everyone have access. And I also recognize that if you try to require a company like Google to require everyone of access they're going to go somewhere else and then you will end up with nobody necessarily having you know better access. So this is definitely something that's one of the reasons that I like pushing authority down so that communities can make those decisions on their own.

Christopher Mitchell: To some extent how they want to weigh the different tradeoffs. Yeah yeah. So let's talk about the the 25 3 because you've rightly noted that when I'm often criticizing the lack of competition it's based on this assessment of 2005 3 as the state level yeah.

Will Rinehart: So a couple of years back the FCC actually decided to to raise the level of broadband to 25 3 from a level I believe is for one previous. So I didn't have any criticism of the FCC raising to you know to a new level broadband service content continues to expand. Clearly the threshold levels and the determination of what at know what a broadband service should look like should expand over time as time goes on. The one criticism that I've had with this and my one worry that I've had with this is that when you get to a 25 megabyte level there is this other sort of technology that effectively is wiped from the map and it just doesn't exist anymore. And in fact you saw this you know one of my criticisms of the past FCC administration was very much aligned with this which is that the past administration really said there are two options either you get fibre to the home or you've got a cable service and that is it additionally fixed wireless. I

Christopher Mitchell: mean you can get significant 25 50 megabit even true in some cases 100 megabit fixed wireless now.

Will Rinehart: But if I if I remember correctly a lot of the a lot of the original CAF funding models didn't actually include fixed wireless so they only included effectively these two options.

Will Rinehart: And I guess my point is is that you know the United States is unique in its in its historical development in that we do have a lot as you noted we have a whole bunch of homes that are passed by cable franchise of some sort. That's interesting and really it's unique to compare to for example Europe which has a far higher amount of DSL related technologies and so that in the United States DSL even though it is potentially it potentially has growth and there's very specific features to American style telephone service that make it different than European which I will freely admit. But that is often discounted and that's DSL based or telephone based technology is constantly discounted. I think that's worrying is that especially in the last round of DSL and now we're getting to a new set of standards in DSL so that the VSL is at a 20 limit was twenty four point five mega video cell 2.0 which is up to 40 and then there are the original DSL was only its potential maximum was quite literally half of a megabyte shy of the 25 megabyte.

Will Rinehart: Which to me seems a little odd that in fact this technology which you could have a potential upgrade path if you had the right kind of incentives to develop out and there's clearly individuals wanting to switch that there's a potential upgrade path there but that isn't included if your threshold for broadband is 25 megabytes and the standard effectively maxes out at twenty four point five megabytes then you're not included within any of these models and therefore a huge amount of people who specifically in rural communities who actually do have service level at you know the 20 to 25 megabyte region that drops dramatically once you hit 25 hopefully in the end of the year I'll be putting out a paper on this and very early what I've found is that effectively when you look at rural regions that the changeover at least in the last and most recent updated FCC data is that the ability to get onto the internet when you look at this 20 to 25 megabyte region effectively almost adds 20 percent of the population.

Will Rinehart: So there is a very significant. There's something that's going on here and that's what I'm interested in is looking at an actual competition that exists in the market not just necessarily. This is what we think exists in the market. Here's a threshold in this the data has to be interpreted not just you know it doesn't exist without any sort of interpretation or reading bias and that's what I'm really interested in getting at.

Christopher Mitchell: It's interesting I feel like my position would not be significantly different if the standard was 23 23 by five for instance and so it would include the I mean I think the biggest challenge with this and I think we're running the risk of I would say nitpicking because given the nature of DSL when you have a theoretical maximum almost nobody achieves that because you have the distance limitations and so in some ways I might say that it would be appropriate to not be including those in terms of a future definition. I mean we kind of run through this odd thing in which some people consider 25 3 to be the sort of the threshold of high speed. The actual term is more like minimum broadband you know basic broadband I think is really the term. So I mean one thing that frustrates me and I'm curious how you react is that we see the federal government putting so much money into programs that are expanding DSL which means that you're giving a household right now or you're giving AT&T twenty five hundred dollars 22 hundred dollars to upgrade them to DSL and in five years we're going to be giving them X dollars more because DSL is already obsolete.

Christopher Mitchell: AT&T CEO has said this. I think anyone who actually looks at it recognises that to the extent that there is there are future upgrades it's not going to happen in these rural markets in particular that have longer runs all of the things you talk about like G fast which is what CenturyLink will often talk about. That's like inside a building. It's not it's not across town so in many ways I'm frustrated I feel like is a wasted investment to even be thinking about DSL when we need to be figuring out how to get people on a path where they'll be having faster speeds that are necessary down the road.

Will Rinehart: Again this is a very difficult problem and to say that there's any easy solutions here. You know I can understand the the well you would say is the other side on this which is that these technologies themselves are just absolutely effectively stranded. There's no reason why we should be supporting them anyway.

Will Rinehart: You know the G fast stuff which is what CenturyLink has been pushing there actually recently in the U.K. and this is very specific to the U.K. and obviously they have as you said they have shorter runs so the actual you know the actual loop is much much shorter. In Europe as compared to the United States which makes obviously the speeds at the at the consumer level much faster. If only we were destroyed in World War II we could. Yeah I know that and that's exactly the reason why is because I don't want to say they wired it completely. Greenfield after World War II bought a very significant portion of Europe did effectively do that. So the very first fast. I think the very first fast network is actually going into the U.K. right now which still you're talking about practically speaking even though the theoretical maximum is one gig you are still seen for them. They're projecting about 150 megabits per second which is really really really fast at least. You know within that region I'm hesitant necessarily to count out that technology.

Will Rinehart: You do see a lot of regions that are still very connected with it and there's a difference between and you know obviously there's a lot happening with both AT&T and Verizon because you know Verizon has been effectively been exiting the fixed broadband market that Verizon and AT&T each have their own different paths you have Verizon has been getting rid of or even selling an awful lot of their DSL assets and it has been giving it has been going that route frontier and so frontier so there is clearly a lot still happening within within these markets which I think need to be looked at a little bit more. I

Will Rinehart: do wonder specifically about this about the AT&T president in which he specifically said that he thinks that DSL is a in technology I guess I guess I'm maybe I'm a little more optimistic than he is of his own base technology but I still think that there's probably something you can that you can do with this and there's still you still effectively have a whole bunch of wires in the ground. You still have a lot of assets that are out there and if you can recycle the copper. Yeah but you can also. You also have put there's clearly technology that for example the way that DSL works you have to get. You have to get relatively fast speeds the office even serve it. So there's clearly developing development of the network that exists within there within there and I think that enterprising people and indeed maybe other companies could repurpose that. And again it's a tough business. This is not an easy business to get into.

Christopher Mitchell: No I definitely agree. I want to come to the final point though which is one of preemption recently in a newspaper URL you and I are both quoted here and I praised you afterward because we went through this issue several years ago of of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance was on the position of encouraging the FCC to preempt states that had preempted local communities. Our rationale is we're an organization that's against the preemption and oddly enough the FCC preemption would have removed preemption. So we ordinarily we're not supporting any kind of preemption. You were against preemption then. Now we find ourselves with Verizon and Comcast saying yes we want the FCC to preempt local laws and states even on a variety of issues regarding regulating privacy and net neutrality and 5G and things like that small cell deployments. You had the same position which was to point out that preemption was not very wise.

Will Rinehart: I wouldn't necessarily it's not very wise. It's not within the FCC gambit. I mean you look at their legal authority and it stops it preemption there isn't. They don't have the preemptive rules at least in the way that it was interpreted under the municipal preemption order and I don't think they really I don't think there's a good case to be made here either. Right

Christopher Mitchell: . I mean to be clear let me know if I'm mischaracterizing this. What we're looking at is a section of law which is largely unexplored in which the FCC basically is supposed to remove barriers to investment and Comcast and Verizon had previously said that that was a very narrow scope or even not.

Will Rinehart: Yeah. It was they said it was deregulatory which I actually tend to agree with him on that it was a deregulatory when you 7 0 6 8 7 0 6 7 0 6 in the reporting in the 7 06 a bean you know I certainly to talk to people who actually wrote that section which because it seems a little it seems to be this kind of interesting addendum an afterthought it really yeah. Maybe there was something else there. Because it actually also gives power to the state. And no one has any idea how that would be exercised. Yeah and there is there's a lot of really interesting legal questions here. I'm positive about federalism I do think that obviously the states and municipalities really should be you know in all sorts of ways be involved in this. And I do think that the power at least that Congress had given the FCC doesn't really extend to this question of you know preempting preempting states on on this issue of privacy because you know AFACT effectively you know the FCC and the way that Congress has has gone in the last year in this last Congress is saying something to the effect of you know I mean privacy is kind of off the table we're not.

Christopher Mitchell: We're not going to deal with. So let me let me see if I got this right because I don't know as much about this as you do. But Congress uses the Congressional Review Act to nullify FCC privacy regulations which also says not just were getting rid of those but the FCC has no authority to regulate on privacy until Congress gives it new authority to do so. Exactly. If the FCC were to preempt states then theoretically the only other entity that could regulate privacy might be the Federal Trade Commission. But there are also limited from not being able to regulate common carriers. So theoretically no one can regulate privacy anywhere. The

Will Rinehart: states still have a lot of power in this and this is the reason why there's obviously a lot of the state state measures and say bills the state AGs and I do think that state Agee's probably need to be getting involved in this in this space. And they have in the past I mean New York obviously has gone through a lot of this. You know some of them or some of the more active Agee's and there are a number of state AGs that have taken this upon themselves and taking this as a mantle the common carrier exemption for which effectively bars the FTC from from going after common carriers. That's still kind of an interesting question because from my understanding it's only really been determined in the Ninth Circuit which is out of California and whether or not the interpretation within the Ninth Circuit really would apply writ large the rest the United States is is a really big question.

Will Rinehart: Again I'm not a lawyer so I it's just interesting for me to see all these kind of jostling occurring. Still there's only a couple I think only two or three of these bills actually got passed and Hawaii was one of them. I mean I have concerns for the bills for other reasons as I have been saying a number of times I would hope much more for an opt out system instead of an opt in system because that is kind of the you know the privacy standard that we've talked a lot about in the FTC has talked a lot about. So I have criticisms for the local bills on that angle but whether or not the FCC can really go in and do anything I don't think that they have the authority to do that and in fact to be very very blunt Congress probably needs to reengage in this and this is something I've been almost all of my work.

Will Rinehart: You should see something on these lines. Congress needs to reengage with these questions because these are very tough questions that in fact in the 96 act the Congress kind of left to the FCC. And so the FCC had to deal with these very tough both political and legal questions. And this is the reason why is either loved or hated depending on you know whatever issue you're talking about with the FCC. I would again like the Congress to actually kind of again kind of comeback think again about what privacy should look like. Who should be the arbiter of this. I think there's a potential for a kind of like a memorandum of understanding which is something I've also said about net neutrality.

Will Rinehart: You know you'd have kind of this better relationship between the FCC and the TC which they've done in other spaces. The understanding being that both of these agencies would come together on very specific issues they would have kind of a you know a working group they would they would work with economists and they'd work with consumer groups they would work with engineers and they would figure out what the issues are and start kind of bringing them to the forefront. The FTC has done a lot of really great work on this. I would like to see the FCC kind of get reinvigorated in that way and it's possible a lot of other countries have done it but it needs to be done in the United States.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you for coming on the show. It's really great. I mean we often get requests from people that have differing points of view. So appreciate you coming in the lines then.

Will Rinehart: Yeah of course. And I'm on Twitter. So if you want to tell me how I'm wrong that's the easiest way to let me know how I'm wrong.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Thanks.

Will Rinehart: Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum. We have transcripts from this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcsat@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow me and the networks dot org stories on Twitter were 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 original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 281 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: regulationstate policyfederal governmentstate lawsfranchisecompetitiongoogleeconomicsruralconnect america funddslFTTHfixed wirelessdebatebroadbandfcccongresslow-incometranscript

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 280

December 4, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 280 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christa Wagner Vinson, Deborah Watts, and Alan Fitzpatrick join Christopher Mitchell at the Atlanta airport to discuss the work of NC Hearts Gigabit and how they're organizing for local choice and better connectivity. Listen to this episode here.

Deborah Watts: And you know we need we need to get regulations in legislation that prevents local choice out of the way these people on the tractors the ones in the production rooms the ones in the businesses that can go to their representatives and say You all need to do something about this because I'm having difficulty running my business. I can't be competitive.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 280 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher recently attended the broadband community's economic development conference where he was able to connect with this week's guests from North Carolina Christa Wagner Vinson, Deborah Watts, and Alan Fitzpatrick from the group and NC Hearts Gigabit joined Chris to talk about local choice and better connectivity in North Carolina and how they're using technology to bring people together. Catharine Rice from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice was also there in this conversation. You'll learn how and see how it's gigabit began. Who's involved. What they've accomplished their goals and you'll also hear some tips on the best way to get the word out and get organized. You can learn more about the group. Check out the collection of resources and even join up at their website and see hearts gigabit dot com. Here's Christopher with Christa Wagner Vinson, Deborah Watts, Alan Fitzpatrick, and Catharine Rice.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Atlanta sitting on the runway of the Atlanta airport at the Broadband Communities Conference talking to you now with three folks from an organization called NC Hearts Gigabit I'm going to start by introducing Christa Wagner Vinson, the economic development consultant of the group. Welcome to the show.

Christa Wagner Vinson: Good morning Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm also going to plug Deborah Watts the Partner of Broadband Catalysts.

Deborah Watts: Good morning.

Christopher Mitchell: And we have with us, as well, Alan Fitzpatrick, the CEO of Open Broadband.

Alan Fitzpatrick: Great to be here Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: And you can't see her but longtime friend of the show Catharine Rice off in the wings making sure we don't screw up too much. So let's start with just what is NC Hearts Gigabit. Sounds like a very, I guess, Web 5.0, now kind of millennia kind of named organization.

Christa Wagner Vinson: Yeah absolutely. But we want to reach a large community that cares about connectivity and the ability to network local communities to move forward and prosper in the global economy.

Christopher Mitchell: So in case anyone's listening to this early in the morning the 'NC' is for North Carolina the idea of the name really comes from Charlotte, and Alan you're involved with this. Where does that come from the idea of Charlotte Hearts Gigabit.

Alan Fitzpatrick: Four years ago Google Fiber announced that Charlotte was being considered as one of the next Google fiber cities. And at the time there were only three cities in the country that had Google Fiber and a couple of us saw the announcement and decided this would really be good for Charlotte and no one had been talking about high speed Internet in the community at all. None of the carriers none of the entrepreneurs just wasn't a topic of conversation. But when Google Fiber announced they were considering, then people started to get excited. So a couple of us decided we needed to promote this. We need to advocate to try to attract google fiber. And then the conversation quickly generated to well you know we really just need to advocate for high speed Internet in general.

Alan Fitzpatrick: Well none of us worked for Google Fiber and what we're not trying to be a company specific advocacy group. So we formed a group called Charlotte Hearts Gigabit and the whole purpose was to educate people on why gigabit internet would be good for us. And then what you would do with it once you had it and then we started looking at gigabit applications and seeing what Mozilla was doing and US Ignite and some other organizations and we found that we really had to educate people on the use cases so we had to bring people together. And surprisingly enough the techies were one of the hardest groups to win over because a lot of them would say well why do we need this speed.

Christopher Mitchell: You know and there's a fair amount of just natural antagonism. I know more about technology than you do in that community maybe. Let me just ask you one other thing though and that's it comes out of a question that we had yesterday on my panel which was what do we need to do to get better broadband in this country. And my answer was that we need more people stepping up as citizens of communities. You're not the mayor of Charlotte. I don't think.

Christopher Mitchell: No I'm not. I'm just as it is. But you stepped up and did something. I'm just curious. You have a history of doing this. How did you get into it.

Alan Fitzpatrick: It was the first time advocacy ever myself I'd always been you know in corporate America. I was just passionate about the topic. I found some other people that had like mind. And we decided just to start holding conversations and holding events. And then one thing led to another and we ended up getting Google Fiber which is great. And then even better than that is we attracted other carriers to do the same thing.

Alan Fitzpatrick: AT&T fiber came into Charlotte as well Camporeale which is a carrier just south of Charlotte and Rockhill they started offering gigabit speed. And miraculously enough time warner cable suddenly increased their speeds at the same prices so consumers won because there was competition. And all this was happening. But your point Chris this is the first time I've ever done this as a consumer advocate. I really enjoyed it and we made a lot of progress and now we're trying to take it to the next level for North Carolina. So

Christopher Mitchell: let me bring Deborah in. I'm curious how you got involved with this this ragtag group. Were you involved with started it all just jump in with and see how gigabit.

Deborah Watts: No I think my links are are the opposite of Charlotte. They're much more rural because I come from a huge family and my husband does as well and that means that probably a third of the States related to me but there are all in the country and I have a visceral level. I am aware of what they're missing. You know the kids who can't get the AP courses and can't apply to the best colleges not because they're not bright but because they don't have the credits in the right courses. You know that's just one thing where the hospitals that close. I spend a lot of time running around rural North Carolina and the reality of what isn't there but could be if the technology enabled it is very personal. And so that's that's really the motivation behind why I'm doing this and why I have been working in getting broadband into rural and disadvantaged communities for about 20 years. Now this has been a very long struggle.

Christopher Mitchell: When my colleague Hanna Trussel with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance analyzed North Carolina on a report. One of the things that we observed from afar is North Carolina's cities seem to be above average with regard to gigabit investment. But the rural areas seem to be considerably behind compared to others. There was one of the greater divides with notable exceptions with some of the co-op co-op that have done investments and we of course know that some of the municipalities like Wilson would do more in rural areas but they are prevented from doing so. So I'm just curious is that your impression as well that the rural communities in North Carolina are particularly left behind.

Deborah Watts: It's not just my impression that's borne out by the FCC statistics and we worked really I worked with the NC authority and Jim Patterson for a couple of decades and we worked really hard to get internet across the state and it was successful. We have some of the highest DSL coverage of anywhere in the country. And then the EOC authority and the organized operations to try and move things forward went away for lots of reasons not the least of which were political. And as a result we still have really good DSL coverage in rural areas but very poor high speed we're down near the bottom in the high speed is like providers said we were there. We've done our job. And that's the end of it and it isn't the end of it it's a moving target and we haven't been on that road in a while.

Deborah Watts: And just to clarify when you say good DSL coverage I suspect you mean widespread widespread widespread speed hardly adequate and in still way too many places just nothing. You know it's in and out. It's not reliable. You can't do the things you need to do in terms of coursework in terms of telehealth in terms of public safety. I was in a community this week on the coast and it's a very upscale community and the police chief and the fire chief carry two separate telephones so they can maybe get connection depending on where they are in their county and that's what they're reduced to doing. And it doesn't always work. So it becomes a life or death issue. And that's that's reality.

Christopher Mitchell: So Christa I'm curious how you fell in with and hearts gigabits and what's motivating you to poor time as a citizen into this.

Christa Wagner Vinson: We love get out of it. We want to get out of it. We want everybody to have access to gigabit. And our message is ultimately hopeful. I think the realities on the ground are stark but our opportunity is great and we know that coming together engaging communities coming to consensus about a path to move forward is our best way to move forward. Part of our heritage as we are a project of click and see the first state chapter of the National Coalition for local Internet choice and great work had gone into bringing people together for several years. Talking about how to help communities move forward communities like Wilson that had moved forward being an example to others. Wilson North Carolina the first gigabit city in the state.

Christa Wagner Vinson: And after several years of talking to one another we realized we have a broad based message a message that we needed to get out there and engage others. And that's the stage of work that we're in right now.

Christopher Mitchell: And so what does that mean on a daily basis. What are you doing to get the message out there.

Christa Wagner Vinson: We continue to have meetings with one another we have about 150 people from across the state are convening are called fibre lunches. And it's a community of technologists of local officials of small business owners of the entire spectrum of community that needs to be engaged not only in a broadband agenda but what can you do with broadband to advance your community's goals around economic opportunity job creation global competitiveness and our convening happened over lunch. We want people to have more fiber in their diet. That's sort of part of the subtext. In April we're looking forward to doing a statewide convening where several hundred people will attend. We'll talk about how to build broadband how to finance it and how to use it.

Christopher Mitchell: So I'd love to ask an ambassador who's going to grab the microphone on this one. I'm just I'm curious how you've gone about getting the word out. I mean I think a lot of times for instance we have an idea we want to try and contact with people. It's hard to even figure out who to talk to. How do you go about you know reaching out to people that might be living several hundred miles away.

Alan Fitzpatrick: I'll start with this answer when we started Charlotte hearts Gega. We started get a known across the country for our community advocacy efforts because early on in the day of Google Fiber and rollout of gigabit. So I went to the national gigabit City Summit that Casey digital drive held in Kansas City and met like minded folks across the country. So the first time I went to that event I was a participant in my eyes from just openness to wow this is not an issue just for us but it's a nationwide issue. The second year I was asked to speak. So we got more visibility for Charlotte in particular and as we were going forward along with the efforts that Christa was just describing we started hold a gig. Wow. It's literally show the WoW behind what the power is the high speed Internet and we got involved in a multi city hackathon gigabyte hackathon was San Francisco Burlington Kansas City in Chattanooga. So we started to build those international connections and as we were doing this other areas in North Carolina we're hearing about it. Started asking us to participate. So Gaston County was the first group the Gaston County Commissioner said We don't want to be in the shadow of Charlotte we want to have gigabit internet too. So they appointed a committee the committee chairman reached out to us and said hey what you're doing in Charlotte we want to do it Gaston County. So still today there is a page on our website forecasting county that you'll see and then Greensboro found out about it as well. So Greensboro wanted and on hardscape about effort.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say Greensboro found out about the Mayr citizens there are businesses like.

Alan Fitzpatrick: Who in Greensboro is actually the CIO of the city of Greensboro. Jay Nichols and she had been involved in the fiber launches that Christa was describing earlier and she said you know Greensboro wants to be part of this initiative as well. So she was leading that from a city technology group perspective.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Deborah I'd love to get a sense I mean I feel like one of the things that's been a lot of time worrying about lately is the divide between rural and urban areas and I'm curious if there is any challenge of having a coalition that's kind of focused on everyone as opposed to where I might think the need is greater in terms of just focusing on rural alone.

Deborah Watts: Yeah I think we're all worried about that and it is a challenge because it's a capacity we have some counties in the state that have about 5000 citizens. And when you start trying to identify leaders and generate energy they're focused on more basic things in Internet substance is substances are focused on survival. And it's it really is a big challenge. So having a coalition is an effective way to try and supplement what might be missing in terms of actual on the ground people who could who could take it and run with it. I think part of what we have to realize is that the solution and the involvement you can take it down to the individual person level or to the city or to particular offices or agencies in a lot of cases of rural America is used to be a regional approach. So you scale your effort and your outreach appropriately. And I think we're going to be working with a lot of regional leaders who then go back and work with the grassroots people in the different committees and commissions and their particular geographic area. That's that's got to be the way to go with it. You know I think one thing that we're trying to do and we're hearing it at this conference is just when you talk about broadband and you talk about using it a lot of times people throw out numbers. It's very data driven because we think data is going to prove the case and it may prove the case. But in terms of reaching people and getting them engaged and involved in stories it's making it personal. You know I. You need broadband because your niece can't do this she can't go to school here she can't do what she needs to do. Your grandmother's going to have to take a two hour drive to get to the doctor when she could sit in her bedroom and hook up with her phone. You know making it personal is part of what we're about to work storytelling platform because we've talked about being education oriented and it is education oriented. Some of that's facts and figures. You target your message and package it in the most powerful format you can put together for the particular audience and for a lot of the grassroots audience it needs to be visual and to be graphic and personal. And that's part of the reason we launched the. It's a big part of the reason we launched the Web site and that we're actively engaged in gathering those stories and formulating things and packaging them in the most powerful way we can. Now

Christopher Mitchell: when you say educating kids like good two ways. One of the criticisms I've often heard about people like me is that too many people in rural areas just don't think broadband is relevant to them. Right. Or you could be making the case to state officials that there's plenty of people who really want or they just can't get it. So how are you dealing with both of those dynamics resolutely.

Deborah Watts: I mean those those are not disconnected. I mean all the research that Pusey relevance is either number one or number two as to why people don't get connected you know then once they understand why they need it and they're still not connected. You had the challenge of educating legislators about how big this issue really is. You know so it's personal it's political it's financial there's it's a multi-dimensional problem and you have to attack it on all levels to to move the needle.

Christopher Mitchell: So Christa I want to pick on your age for a second. You're the youngest person in the room. And and my impression is is that people coming out of college are people going into college they can't conceive of living in a place without high quality connectivity. Are they getting involved in this to try and push people. Are they content to just stick around in the metro areas and build their lives there.

Christa Wagner Vinson: Well I'd say the audience of gig wow skewed younger than what was gig. Wow. That was the event Allen described earlier and Sharla. Well the Charlotte region that brought people together to talk about what I get get back Carindale. Yeah I mean our objective is to reach all those audiences including young people. And part of our message was that there's opportunity for you in the Research Triangle and in Charlotte or if you want to choose to return home that there will be opportunities all across the state for you to have the life and career that you want. So North Carolina has a long history of technology leadership and looking forward and attracting the industries that millennials want to work in as technology industries. Our objective is to make sure that the rewards are shared across a state that the opportunity is there.

Deborah Watts: I just want to throw in there that part of the answer and I think part of the question when you're talking about Millennials and educated people getting jobs we need to remember that it's really only about 25 percent of the people who have a college education. So the majority of young people young people at any age but even the younger millennial group they are part of the challenge to educating them as to the potential that the Internet and broadband has for delivering services assets applications that could help them have the quality of life they want. It's not just about a tech grad from N.C. State choosing to live in Charlotte or or Raleigh. It really is a much bigger issue than that.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I feel like a person listening might be thinking is Well I want to do something like this but Google's not coming to my community. I'm going to organize around that obviously and see heards gigabit it was also not organizing around Google. You had something to build on but what do you recommend a community do or a person do in Virginia or Nevada or something like that.

Christa Wagner Vinson: Well start with meeting for lunch. That's certainly worked well for us and build from there.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let me let me just ask you very quickly I mean how do you let people know. I mean you know I'm I'm a I'm a technical connected person I'm relatively social. I don't actually know how to go about letting people know that I wanted to talk about this at lunch. When

Alan Fitzpatrick: we started this in Charlotte we had the personal connections like you were just describing and we found that if you start off with those strong nucleus of avid supporters that they'll spread the word. So if you start off with 10 people and they go from there.

Christopher Mitchell: So yeah I guess I'm on Facebook put it on Twitter things like your own social circle and expect them to spread the message.

Alan Fitzpatrick: Yes social media was definitely helpful but I think the person events were the most effective. You actually had to get people in a room and we found one of the most valuable things was showing people you could talk about high speed all you want but until they sat down in front of a device and actually sent files back and forth or tried videoconferencing or whatever they didn't really get it until they put their hands on it. So one of the effective approaches we started out with was going to a data center that had gigabit speed. And we sat down with laptops and we showed people how to do it. One of the events we held we were remotely controlling robots in Kansas City. We were driving them around in real time and the latency was so low that you know you turn the robot to the left turn to the left. You can see people on the other side.

Christopher Mitchell: Wow OK. That seems pretty great.

Christa Wagner Vinson: Another example all the way across the state and Wałęsa and we just had the city's first hackathon. And you know high school teachers other mentors encourage students to come out. Students invited their friends. I mean in a way it's community engagement. When I won it there's nothing special about the way that we're engaging and other places can do it.

Christopher Mitchell: You my message often. I wouldn't think of it as divisive but incumbents find me divisive because I'm generally looking for others to come in and provide competition to them. I'm guessing I'm hoping that you have more of a friendly relationship with incumbents and that you're promoting better broadband connectivity from anyone that'll do it. Is that been your experience.

Alan Fitzpatrick: We kind of ran into this when we were promoting Google Fiber selecting North Carolina cities. But we found that the real benefit was just having choice that we needed to have multiple choice as with high speed capacity and when there's choice consumers when so where we are vendor neutral we're looking for providers that can roll us out across North Carolina. It's not going to be a single provider. You know be a small co-op it will be small towns. It might be an independent ISP it could be a large ISP. But what is happening is people are getting better service for lower prices. So if we focus on competition and including all the carriers we're going to achieve that result. So

Christopher Mitchell: what else should we know what haven't we covered so far.

Alan Fitzpatrick: I would add entrepreneurship is a core value of North Carolina kind of from the history of the state. And that may want to weigh in on. But entrepreneurs are one of the first early adopters for technology. You can start a software company anywhere in the state anywhere in the world. If you have the tools like high speed Internet and there's no reason why we can't promote and foster more entrepreneurship in the state by having better infrastructure.

Deborah Watts: And I would take it to the other end some of the traditional industries of the state that are very important like agriculture and textiles and furniture manufacturing are the one to the extent that they're continuing to thrive and grow. It's because they're starting to use the better applications of the Internet to reach markets to run their operations to run their production. So in a sense there are missionaries and we have missionaries in different sectors all across the state. And so what we need to do is to get them on board and give them a mechanism for coalescing and speaking powerfully to the forces that are that are in charge. And you know we need to get regulations and legislation that prevents local choice out of the way. And this is an advocacy group would have limited power but these people on the tractors the ones in the production rooms the ones in the businesses that can go to their representatives and say You all need to do something about this because I'm having difficulty running my business. I can't be competitive without without this, going away so we can speak with a stronger voice. The more people they get on board. And we're just trying to get the need to get the message out in front of more people.

Christa Wagner Vinson: You know we celebrate entrepreneurship as something that's not just high tech you know really a part of our mission is to help uniquely local small businesses thrive. And when they can connect to global markets that will happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Now let me just plug that I love hearing that businesses are moving more and more to the cloud. Right

Alan Fitzpatrick: . So you're you're working your software and your tools and your systems are all remote and you have to access them over the Internet. That makes an internet connection even more powerful. The servers are not down the hallway and in telecom from the servers out in the cloud. So that Internet access is so importantChrista. So we're working with a peanut processing plant in eastern North Carolina that has moved to the cloud. So now their number one issue is faster Internet access. So this applies not just to software company but to a peanut processing plant. So it's a real life example.

Christopher Mitchell: That's great. Thank you all for coming in. Joining me here on the runway to do the interview.

Christa Wagner Vinson: Thanks Chris.

Alan Fitzpatrick: Thank you.

Deborah Watts: Good bye.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Christa Wagner Vinson. Watts Alan Fitzpatrick and Catharine Rice about NC hearts gigabit. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks dot org slash Broadband Bits email us at podcast at MuniNetworks dot org with your ideas for the show. Follow us on Twitter. His handle is at community nuts. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is at 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 by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter and ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 280 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcriptnorth carolinanonprofitcharlotteruralorganizinggrassrootsgigabitdigital divideeconomic development

Community Broadband Media Roundup- December 4

December 4, 2017

California

Gigabit-speed internet in San Jose? Facebook pilot brings high hopes, despite delays by Queenie Wong, Mercury News

“Facebook is a company that will make money if people are on the internet constantly, and so they’re trying to find a way to get around the cable and telecom company monopoly without going directly to war with them,” said Christopher Mitchell, a community broadband expert at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Manhattan Beach contemplates municipal broadband service by Mark McDermott, Easy Reader News

The San Francisco Broadband Experiment by Doug Dawson, Pots and Pans

 

Colorado

In Colorado, do more votes for municipal broadband networks mean instant internet access? Not so fast. by John Aguilar, The Denver Post

With Voter Approval for Municipal Broadband, Colorado City Asks Citizens How to Proceed by Tyler Silvy, Gov Tech

Fort Collins broadband plans start to take shape by Nick Coltrain, The Coloradoan

 

 

New York

North Country broadband is a patchwork quilt by Glynis Hart, Adirondack Daily Enterprise

 

North Carolina

Greenlight fuels Wilson’s growth, development by Doug Dawson, The Wilson Times

 

Tennessee

The New Sewer Socialists Are Building an Equitable Internet by Evan Malmgren, The Nation

“I find that infuriating,” Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told news site Next City. “Chattanooga has not only one of the best networks in the nation, but arguably one of the best on Earth and the state legislature is prohibiting them from serving people just outside of their city border.” Even more recently, the Tennessee state legislature passed the Broadband Accessibility Act, effectively a $45 million tax break for private telecoms like Comcast.

Grant funds could expand broadband by Elena Cawley, Tullahoma News

 

General

Whose Internet Is It? by Laurie Stern, Public News Service

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says most Americans have only one or two Internet service providers to choose from.

"The official United States policy is that we're supposed to have a lot of competition in telecommunications networks,” he points out. “But every time the state or the federal government try to do something to actually encourage competition, the big cable and telephone companies say, 'Oh, that's not fair. You can't do anything to encourage competition. That would be bad for us.'"

The FCC is Lying When It Claims Net Neutrality Hurt Investment by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Cooperatives Embrace Fiber Broadband: ILSR Finds 87 Cooperative Gigabit Deployments Nationwide by Joan Engebretson, The Telecompetitor

Telecom and electric cooperatives are playing an important role in bringing high-speed broadband to rural America, according to a new report from the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). Using FCC data, researchers identified 87 cooperative gigabit deployments as of December 2016.

Broadband cooperatives could be the overlooked solution to rural America's internet woes by Jason Shueh, State Scoop

“Over the long term, we will benefit tremendously by switching the big telephone companies like AT&T and CenturyLink out and replacing them with cooperatives in many of these rural areas,” said Christopher Mitchell, the report's author and director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. “Those companies don't want to invest in rural areas and we are over-subsidizing them.”

Investigation of fake net neutrality foes has been stymied by the FCC, New York attorney general says by Eli Rosenberg, The Washington Post

FCC Releases Net Neutrality Killing Order, Hopes You're Too Busy Cooking Turkey To Read It by Karl Bode, Techdirt

How Internet Co-ops Can Protect Us From Net Neutrality Rollbacks by Sammi-Jo Lee, Yes! Magazine

Two, these small operators can protect open internet access from the handful of large ISPs that stand to pocket the profits from net neutrality rollbacks that the Trump administration announced Nov. 21. That’s according to Christopher Mitchell, who is the director of Community Broadband Projects, a project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell, who has been tracking and advocating community-owned broadband networks for a decade, hopes that this will be the moment when people rebel against the administration’s attack on net neutrality and expand rural cooperative and municipal ISPs.

“The FCC is basically taking the regulations off of big companies, but local companies can still offer high-quality internet access at good prices,” Mitchell says.

Column: Municipalize the Internet by Claude Wilson, The Daily Tar Heel

Time to release the internet from the free market – and make it a basic right by Ben Tarnoff, The Guardian

To democratize the internet, we need to do more than force private ISPs to abide by certain rules. We need to turn those ISPs into publicly owned utilities. We need to take internet service off the market, and transform it from a consumer good into a social right.

Save the internet! by Ryan Cooper, The Week

Ajit Pai’s Shell Game by Susan Crawford, Wired 

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 279

December 4, 2017

This is episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Russ Brethrower, a project specialist at Grant County Public Utility District, discusses how Grant County, Washington, pioneered open access infrastructure in the United States. Listen to this episode here.

Russ Brethrower: Our commission, management, everybody's made it really clear. Our capital is an investment in the future of the county up and down the food chain. It's -- it's a given that it's an investment and the capital is not expected to be returned.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for local self-reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher recently attended the broadband community's economic development conference. He attends every fall and if he's lucky he's able to record interviews with people from some of the communities we're curious about. He also makes the trip to each Broadband Community Summit the spring time event. While he was at the November event in Atlanta, he connected with several people including this week's guest Russ Brethrower from the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington Grant County PUD has one of the most established and geographically largest open access community networks in the US. The rural communities population is sparse and widely distributed but community leaders had an eye toward the future when they decided to invest in fiber infrastructure. In this interview, Russ shares the story of their network and describe some of their challenges. Here's Christopher with Russ Brethrower from the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today I'm in Atlanta sitting on the runway of the Atlanta airport at the Broadband Communities Summit which is focused on economic development here. And today I'm talking to Russ Brethrower Project Specialist for Grant County Public Utility District in Washington. Welcome to the show. Thank you very much Chris. So Russ I've been trying to get you on for a long time. You are one you're coming from one of the communities that has the oldest municipal fiber networks in the nation.

Russ Brethrower: Yeah, we actually started back in 2000 with a pilot [project] and have been building part of the home off and on ever since.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. For people's contacts in the late '90s early 2000s was that transition and so you were actually building some fiber to the home when the last HFC [hybrid fiber coax] networks were still being built and it was that transition you figured out how to make it work at a time when nobody else was doing fiber to the home.

Russ Brethrower: We actually bought a lot of equipment replaced a lot of equipment based on promises not coming true. So we were definitely one of the pioneers when it came to fiber to the home.

Christopher Mitchell: And I am always curious about this because I feel like people always assume that the large companies are the ones out there trying new things and I think in some fields they may be I'm not as I don't believe that as much but I don't research it as closely as I should maybe. But you know were there other private companies like local firms around the nation that you were in touch with like how what was that ecosystem like then?

Russ Brethrower: It kind of started it in Grant PUD with a visionary and we happened to have a nice cash register on the Columbia River that had us a little bit of extra cash in our pockets so the commission they were really the visionaries. But they ask what they could do to better the community. And so one of the engineers on staff happened to have been doing research and in contact with other folks and said yeah fiber to the home is the future.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say a cash register we can step back for a second. I remember when I was first getting a sense of what it's like in Grant and Chelan and other public utility district that also has activities that Douglas was active then as well just to give them their due. Absolutely. It was maybe five or six years ago I saw it as an argument in Chelan I think it was about electricity prices going up to 3.3 cents a kilowatt hour and people were frustrated.

Russ Brethrower: Yeah we struggle with raising our rates. You know we make some commitments not to raise them very high but there's still someone the cheapest in the country. I mean Chelan's normally the cheapest or Douglas or us and it depends on the year.

Christopher Mitchell: Right and so there's a couple of things to keep in mind when the rates are that low. People use electricity heck of a lot more. So I don't think they don't think they're -- you know, I don't think it's a total free ride. And you get a lot of that revenue from the reason for that. The reason for that is that you have these dams on the Columbia which are a relic of how we electrified the nation.

Russ Brethrower: Absolutely, some other visionaries you know 50 60 years ago in Grant County took it upon themselves to actually invest in dams on the main stem on the Columbia. And there's a lot of you know ecological issues that go with dams on the main stem of the Columbia these days. But we've got we and our partners have 2000 megawatts of generation on the Columbia right. That's a that's a decent sized nuclear reactor but it can run a few cities this the size of Seattle. Now

Christopher Mitchell: let's fast forward 17 years into the future to today. What does the fiber footprint look like in Grant County?

Russ Brethrower: Right now we've actually got it about 7 percent of the people in Grant County as an electric utility we look at it as you know the number of electric meters that were in front of and we have very close to 50000 electric meters and you know we've got 30000 fiber passings. But when I say we've got 50000 meters about 10000 of those are actually irrigation meters that aren't going to use fiber to the home

Christopher Mitchell: at least not right now.

Russ Brethrower: Well and agriculture. I mean it's a huge user of broadband and it's getting more and more so. But we know we won't have to build fiber to the pump because the the farmers the irrigators already have connectivity to their pumps otherwise they go out of business.

Christopher Mitchell: and just to give one other context of scale I mean you're a large county but you're not very dense and some people think County and I have to remind people that counties out west are the size of state south east

Russ Brethrower: I told someone the other day that size and I said Well we're about 3000 square miles and the jaw just dropped because you know we are a fairly large county even for out West. And when you compare it to what people call rural here around Atlanta we're desolate. Population is dense in a few little towns around. We call them cities. You know the largest town in our county is Moses lake and it's got I believe 26000 population right now and we're not talking about nice easy to plow underground fiber paths. You got some rock here depends on where you're at in the county actually. Some parts of our county people almost pay us to plow because it's so easy. Other places you actually get out a hammer and hammer to get any sort of a trench.

Christopher Mitchell: So as we're talking about the modern day what kind of impact I mean if you can imagine what Grant would be like without these investments. You know what's the difference.

Russ Brethrower: We get to have lots of discussions because it's always political around building fiber to the home.

Russ Brethrower: But right now we have data centers large data centers locating in Grant County cheap power absolutely is important. Cheap land. The state of Washington giving tax incentives for them to show up. But without the fiber there wouldn't have been there either. So it's not like the fiber brought them but the fiber was the key infrastructure for them to land there.

Christopher Mitchell: And I imagine I was just recently talking with a small community in eastern Oregon. I would imagine you have a fair amount of people who live in more of their time in Grant County because it's a pretty active place to be than they might otherwise you know Grant County is an interesting location.

Russ Brethrower: It's got over a billion dollars of agricultural revenue number one potato producer in the country. So big farms and sagebrush and you know it's a high desert environment. So for some people that's very attractive.

Christopher Mitchell: People with arthritis.

Russ Brethrower: And for other people it's not that attractive.

Russ Brethrower: You know it's it's individual taste but it's very attractive for the data farms and data farms actually even though they pay what most people in the country would say is a very low electric rate. It's more than our cost to serve them. So they're actually a very good source of revenue for rent beauty.

Christopher Mitchell: So how does how is the discussion going about connecting the 10000 or so additional electric meters that I may want to be connected in coming years.

Russ Brethrower: Right now our commission has made it clear to the management that it's the most important thing is maintaining reasonable electric rates. There's no longer a big market to sell excess generation to California. We don't make money on that anymore. There's days where we actually pay people to take the power because we have to move fish. So as with anybody. Times are a little bit tight from a capital perspective. So there's a lot of discussion around it right now of what's more important. Finish Out the broadband or keep all electric rates low. And honestly it hasn't been completely answered yet. Our commission still chewing on that one because they're getting chewed on very hard by the we call it 30 percent of our county that doesn't have the fiber but we've supported this by you know having electric rates a little bit higher than they would have been if we hadn't built fiber. So everybody's really comfortable that they've been paying for the fiber even though 30 percent of them don't have it.

Christopher Mitchell: I can imagine that that can be frustrating for those who want it in particular the one of the interesting things is that you have possibly the largest open access network in the country or close to it.

Russ Brethrower: Geographically I guarantee you it is. But you know as far as users We've got about 16000 users on the network and it's wide open access. The cost to become a service provider$500 set up fee a$2500 deposit and a million dollar liability insurance policy. And you too can be a service provider on our network.

Christopher Mitchell: And let me just I'll just jump in for a second. Longtime listeners know I'm a photographer I carry a million dollar liability policy. It is not a barrier it's reasonable insurance costs. Thank

Russ Brethrower: you. Yeah it sounds like a lot but it's actually very inexpensive but it gives us a little bit of protection as the network operator. So you know today we have been saying 23 all week to folks who ask but I actually look back and count them we have 24 different service providers on our networks. Some of them you know revenue off of those folks maybe a couple of thousand dollars a month. And some of them it's hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.

Christopher Mitchell: So it's working for those service providers because we've had 20 plus service providers for years and years and this is one of the concerns that I've amplified that I thought was actually happening reason nobody should ever listen to me apparently is that with you have when you have such low cost of entry for a service provider to come in there has been a concern that you would not be profitable as a service provider you'd end up losing all that competition but you're not seeing that. And you I mean it's like three or five years of data. You have 16 years of data.

Russ Brethrower: Exactly and you know we kind of expected them to sort it out sell out to each other. And then there's been a little bit of consolidation. Don't get me wrong. You know some of the bigger ones do take over some of the smaller ones that want to get out of the business but we still have twenty four almost 23 again. So it must be working for him.

Christopher Mitchell: Right and you said that I asked you if one of them has like 90 percent market share and he said absolutely not one of them.

Russ Brethrower: I was looking to prepare for this. And one of them has about 50 percent of our revenue and then it's scattered across the rest and that the one that has a 50 percent they're very aggressive. I mean they market they market more than we do. They have a triple play. There is no head end on our network but neighboring utilities have had ins ones in IP and ones not as a standard cable TV had in all that video can come down on our network. So

Christopher Mitchell: they are offering triple plays across and that's that's beneficial to them obviously well and we noted that you were able to fund this without having to go out and get big loans or anything like that because you have all this revenue coming in.

Russ Brethrower: That's another fun political argument. Our commission very much was of the perspective that our surplus revenues from again selling power out to California is what we use to build a network. So in their minds we really weren't incurring debt for the network but the district as a whole has debt. We have dams on the river where refurbish the dams. We have a lot of debt so it's a politically arguable point as to whether any debt was used on the fiber network and I bring that up because it's not expected that revenues from the network will cover the cost of having built the network our commission management everybody's made it really clear our capital is an investment in the future of the county and being a desolate County. You know kids were leaving farms no matter how big they were. We're going to have trouble staying in business so everyone wanted to keep people there at least afford them the opportunities to stay there.

Russ Brethrower: If that worked for him. So up and down the food chain it's it's a given that it's an investment and the capital is not expected to be returned. I

Christopher Mitchell: always want to remind people that we're talking about this I think there's a little bit of a lack of sophistication among some people in terms of understanding that a one time capital investment is a brilliant way to do a subsidy whereas there are some that works that are running negative operating and then recurring subsidies. I'm I'm so thrilled to see local communities that embrace this approach voting to do that so leveret Massachusetts recently chose to raise that property tax to pay for the one time capital cost of the network. Linda in Michigan just so in some ways you're again we're ahead of the curve. I am I would love to see more communities deciding that it would be appropriate for them to tax themselves for a one time cost of building fiber and keeping it open to multiple providers. I

Russ Brethrower: am a big proponent of open access because it is working and it allows small local businesses to grow if they want to and make a living in you know in the high tech world. But it's more important that it's local control what works for the locality we happen to run an electric utility. So

Russ Brethrower: we happen to have some high tech people. Yeah we can run a network and you know set up. The logical networks across to allow 24 different service providers to be on our network. Not every municipality. Has that. So it's like what works for them.

Christopher Mitchell: So one thing that we see often in Washington and in talking to different public utility districts across Washington I recognize there's a variety of opinions is we're seeing more of user financed where you set up a local improvement district or whatever you want to call a local utility district. You know someone who must pay close attention to this you know what kind of prosing columns do you see with that kind of approach to expanding access.

Russ Brethrower: The pros and cons it bothers me to see winners and losers and you know local improvement districts are great for people who are frustrated that they're not getting the infrastructure. OK so what should that actually tell the local elected officials. It's like no it shouldn't be telling you that oh the ones who can afford it should have it and the rest of them shouldn't. It's like no it's a required infrastructure. Let's take a look at how to actually fund it broadly. I mean I applaud the people who step up and actually go set up a tax on themselves to pay for this infrastructure. But it really kind of hard hides the main argument right.

Christopher Mitchell: It's in some ways. I mean what I'm expecting is that this is a good way for utility district that hasn't been involved with this before in terms of publicly provisioning fiber to maybe get their toes in the water. And then I would expect to see more demand over time and not the not to be using that model necessarily in five years. You

Russ Brethrower: would hope so. But I chatted with the gentleman from Minnesota yesterday and it's like asking him how many conferences have you been to where people are arguing about how to pay for the highway. The answer was zero.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let's just hold on for a second there because people talk about fiber is so expensive in rural areas. How much does it cost to run a road County.

Russ Brethrower: And nobody even ask and most of them are paved. And most of them require annual maintenance and there is no revenue. You know it's a tax base to support that. This is a network that will actually once you've made that initial investment it will actually support itself as far as ongoing operation and maintenance.

Christopher Mitchell: Right now I just I always I always appreciate the reality check because I mean we're we do comparisons you know Seattle's thinking oh man we can't possibly even do a fiber network citywide. And I think there are reasons for them to consider certain models and this and that. But at the same time you're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars they're spending$4 billion on one bridge. It's an important bridge but people people get obsessed about the costs of fiber. It's one of the cheaper municipal investments we see made absolutely and it's a long term investment.

Russ Brethrower: The fiber you know we argue all the time about what the right architecture is for the network but bottom line is once the fibers there you can architect your next work any way you need to. It's it's very easy to get caught up in the small percentages of increases in revenue that you have to have as a municipality or you know a governmental entity to fund the network. But. If you look at it from the perspective of your overall cost and your overall tax base like we looked at it on the electric side and we'd have to the most pessimistic studies we'd have to raise our electric rates 3 percent to go build the rest of the network with 3 percent of a flow rate is still a low rate right.

Russ Brethrower: I mean Xcel Energy my service provider just raised our rates four and a half percent and I'm not getting anything for that. You're getting electricity right. I mean continued electricity. Yeah that's important. But absolutely right. It's a good reminder.

Russ Brethrower: I love to say and come from the public side you can do better. I mean if you didn't talk about nobody would notice but obviously you have to talk about it. And full disclosure and wide open. But at the end of the day and that's what we had focus groups and a lot of the folks once they understood what the monthly impact was on their electric bill it's like there Bill is more than that based on what they were pumping water that month or not.

Russ Brethrower: So it's like you know they didn't even notice. Right. Go out and buy a few Ltd's and it may offset it.

Russ Brethrower: Absolutely. And I mean it's it's it's getting to be more and more critical infrastructure and people. I mean that's the fun part about a conference like this is it's obvious it's it is the infrastructure of the future.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let me ask you as you've been doing this for 15 years. Yes. How how have things changed in that. I think people are getting I think in fact a lot more people get it than elected leaders and the elected leaders are lagging the sense from people that it's utility. But how how have things progressed did you think that by 2020 we'd have a lot more fiber or a lot less fiber than what we're looking to have.

Russ Brethrower: I actually figured that we'd be done having the discussion honestly because there's so much that can be done across. We have we have people that are working in San Francisco that live in Grant County because they have fiber to their home and they can do home network. So it's like you know it is still frustrating that it's even a discussion but it is encouraging that it's getting to be less and less of a discussion. It's just around you know what are the most important municipal services to offer. And it's definitely coming to the top.

Christopher Mitchell: So last question in all of this time how many times have you been told that fiber is not the future that wireless is the future.

Russ Brethrower: About weekly and you know it's proven wrong just about every time but you know it's not an either or. The wireless is absolutely a critical overlay. People want that mobility and it's all going to the smartphone or tablet. Absolutely. That's what you want. But as we've seen at this conference it's like even if you go to 5G it's like OK best range is a thousand feet and you've got to have a fiber connection to be able to support it. So it's like everybody there is no argument about what the technology is going to be it's going to be fiber.

Russ Brethrower: At least to the curb if not to the home.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you so much for coming up. I've been wanting to pick your brain for a while really appreciate the chance.

Russ Brethrower: Thank you very much. It's fun to talk.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Russ Brethrower Project Specialist from Washington's Grant County Public Utility District. We have transcripts from this and other podcast available at Union networks dot org slash broadband bits. E-mail 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 all 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 original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at eyeless dot org. Thank you to Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks for listening to episode 279 at the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcriptgrant countygrant utility districtpublic utility districtruralhistoryelectricityutilitywashingtonfinancingelectrificationopen accesscompetition

Sage Advice On Growing Your Grassroots Group

December 4, 2017

As the threat to network neutrality seems imminent, an increasing number of local people are organizing grassroots groups and are looking for the best steps to start local initiatives. When you decide that your community needs to make a change that isn’t happening organically, it’s time to nudge that change along. Starting a grassroots movement with like-minded citizens will help educate the community, build support, and generate ideas as you all consider what is the best solution for your unique situation. We’ve talked with local folks over the years who have shared lessons learned with us and we’ve gathered together some of the best grassroots stories with resources to share. 

Seek Out The Masters 

Of course, there’s nothing better than getting tips from some one who’s already climbed the mountain. John St. Julien from Lafayette passed away in 2016, but his voice and work lives on. We interviewed him in the early days of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for episode 94 in 2014and he had some great advice on engaging other people in the community and keeping the momentum positive.

We also obtained permission to archive and preserve some of the writings on the Lafyette Pro Fiber Blog, John’s brainchild he developed as Lafayette struggled against the many challenges by incumbents who wanted to preserve their monopoly.

Hanging’ With Buds

Often it is a mutual and familiar need that brings grassroots organizations together. In North Carolina, NC Hearts Gigabit started as a way to connect to each other when they don’t feel connected to the current political process, want better Internet connectivity in North Carolina, and need to get out from behind a desk. They organize their meetings around lunch and, hey, we all need to eat amiright? Christopher spoke with the people who got the group off the ground, with Economic Development Consultant Christa Wagner Vinson, CEO of Open Broadband Alan Fitzpatrick, and Partner of Broadband Catalysts Deborah Watts. Listen to episode 280 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Necessity Is The Mother of (Grassroots) Invention

In Lyndon Township, Michigan, organizers took the reins out of the own need for better Internet access. This community isn’t far from Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan drives the economy. Even though they are so close to an academic center, Lyndon Township’s rural character put off incumbents. Ben Fineman volunteers as the president of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, Marc Keezer is the Lyndon Township Supervisor, and Gary Munce who is also a board member of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative spoke with Christopher about their education campaign which eventually led to a ballot initiative that passed 2 to 1. The campaign received significant support from the Cooperative, which is a regional grassroots group. Listen to the conversation in episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

Keeping Your Group Motivated

Once you've formed your group, you'll need to stay diligent, possibly for an extended period of time. In Episode 153 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, a group from Upgrade Seattle, who's been working on better connectivity and reducing the digital divide for several years now, offer advice on how to stay on track. Sabrina Roach, Devin Glaser, and Karen Toering discuss their strategy, reactions, and what motivates them. More Seattle stories here

David And Goliath

In Fort Collins, Colorado, Comcast feared competition from a municipal network that might emerge if the city changed its charter to allow Internet network infrastructure investment. Comcast invested $451,000 into efforts to buy the results they wanted but lost anyway. Glen Akins and Colin Garfield, who headed up a local grassroots group to pass the initiative, joined Christopher for episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to describe the referendum and how they managed to beat the giant ISP with just a fraction of the resources. 

For another David vs. Goliath broadband story, one must consider Lafayette, Louisiana. John St. Julien was one of the primary movers and shakers in the local movement that started their municipal network. They recently reported take rates of around 45 percent, which reveals how the network is revered in the community. Without successful grassroots organizing, LUSFiber would not have happened. John visited with Christopher in 2012 about the network and the grassroots movement in in episode 19 of the Community Broadband Bits.

Host A Screening

The communities of Wilson and Pinetops in North Carolina have worked together over the past few years to expand high-quality Internet access from Wilson's municipal network, Greenlight, to Pinetops small population. It was a difficult journey and in order to preserve service from Greenlight, residents and businesses had to organize and present their case to the state legislature. You can schedule a screening of Cullen Hoback's documentary Do Not Pass Go in your community. Watching this story together will give you group inspiration. Contact Deb Socia at Next Century Cities to schedule a screening in your community. Check out the trailer:

Do Not Pass Go from Hyrax Films on Vimeo.

 Education Is Key; Press Is Powerful

When your group is ready to start getting the word out, whether you want people in the community to contact local officials or to spread education, the press is one of the strongest tools you have at your disposal. When the Friends of Municipal Broadband needed to get the word out about a bad bill in the state capitol, they developed a press kit, which included a list of supports, bill commentary, and “Fast Facts” sheet. This is a great example of education and action in one package. 

Get Creative, Get Social

Social media as emerged as a powerful organizing tool for ending the reach of grassroots organizers. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, organizers are thinking outside the box with other forms of media, including online town halls like this one from MAG-Net.

MAG-Net also hosted this community conversation online about broadband back in 2014 and it still rings true.

We’ve also created a Social Media Hotlist on Twitter. Follow the lists to get the latest from the sources we think are worth following.

More than ever, local residents, businesses, and elected officials are banding together to create stronger groups and emphasize their policy concerns at the state and federal level. If you've considered establishing a local group to support network neutrality, convince your state lawmakers to better support local broadband infrastructure investment, or dig deeper into the possibilities of a publicly owned network, use these resources to help get started.  

Tags: grassrootsmedia action grassrootsnetwork neutralityorganizingaudiopodcastlessons learnedpresssocial media

Organizing For a Community Network, Against Big Cable - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 282

November 30, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 282 - Glen Akins and Colin Garfield, Grassroots Organizers for Fiber in Fort Collins

Fort Collins, like more than 100 communities in Colorado, had already opted out of the state law that requires a referendum prior to a city or county investing in an Internet network, even with a partner. But it went back to another referendum a few weeks ago to amend its city charter to create a telecommunications utility (though it has not yet decided whether it will partner or operate its own network). 

After years of sitting out referenda fights in Colorado, Comcast got back involved in a big way, spreading money across the Chamber of Commerce and an astroturf group to oppose the referendum. And just like in Scooby-Do, they would have gotten away with it... but for local grassroots organizing. 

We have a special second podcast this week because we didn't want to wait any longer than necessary to get this one out in the midst of frustration around the FCC bulldozing network neutrality. Glen Akins and and Colin Garfield were both campaign leads for the Fort Collins Citizens' Broadband Committee

They share important insights to organizing around broadband Internet access and a strategy for success against hard odds. They had very little experience organizing and were up against a cable industry willing to spend more than $450,000 to defeat them, setting a record in Fort Collins elections. 

For people who feel frustrated by the federal government handing Internet access regulation to the big monopolies, Glen and Colin offer hope and a roadmap for better Internet access. 

All of our Fort Collins covereage is here. This is a previous interview with the Mayor of Fort Collins

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 27 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.

Want to hear more from Glen and Colin? They recently spoke with Robert Bell from the Intelligent Community Forum on their podcast, The Passing of 2B - A conversation with Glen Akins and Colin Garfield of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Tags: coloradofort collinsgrassrootsorganizingcomcastlobbyingreferendummuniFTTHadvertisementmisinformationchamber of commerceaudiobroadband bitspodcast