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FiberNet Brings Better Connectivity to Marshall, Michigan

January 25, 2019

The town of Marshall launched its FiberNet Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service in 2018 and has rapidly blanketed the community with some of the best connectivity in south central Michigan. They’re proving, once again, that it isn’t only the urban areas with a thirst for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity and that local communities know the best way to meet the demands of their residents.

Quaint, Historical, Great Connectivity!

With a population of about 7,000 and located in south central Michigan, Marshall is also the seat of Calhoun County. The small town is steeped in interesting history, including an 1843 incident in which the community rallied around escaped slaves leading to the Fugitive Slave Law. The town is also home to an historic district considered one of the most architecturally significant in the U.S. It's part of the Battle Creek statistical area, but until local leaders decided to take matters into their own hands, connectivity for businesses and residents was inadequate for today’s needs.

Customer Service and Marketing Manager Jessica Slusarski took some time to fill us in on how Marshall developed their network. In 2015, community leaders decided to address one of the major issues within Marshall: poor Internet access and low satisfaction with current providers. One of the most important elements that community leaders sought was simple pricing with no hidden fees without high installation costs for subscribers. The city council began investigating ways to improve connectivity for both residents and businesses to ensure the town would remain competitive. Most neighborhoods had to make do with DSL from AT&T and, while a few areas could obtain cable service from WOW, there were still premises with only dial-up as an option. 

On average, Marshall folks could expect 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and much slower upload speeds — growly inadequate for businesses, homework, and the increasing needs of the 21st century family. At such speeds, kids aren't able to efficiently complete homework, telehealth is not an option, and home-based businesses barely limp along. For many brick and mortar businesses in Marshall, services were unreliable, slow, and peak times were especially crippling.

In keeping with state restrictions, the community was required to seek bids from the private sector before they could develop a municipal network. They received no responses, probably due to the fact that the low population wouldn’t prove profitable enough for one of the larger ISPs to justify investing in Marshall. With no interest from the provate sector, the town was free to develop their publicly owned utility to bring Internet access to the general public.

The town has owned and operated a municipal electric utility since 1893 and, while Jessica says that the electric utility has helped out with the development of the network, the electric utility and FiberNet are two separate utilities. Personnel from Marshall’s Electric Department have offered advice, and one engineer has transferred from the electric utility to FiberNet, but the two remain completely separate.

Marshall’s network cost about $2.5 million to deploy and they expect to spend approximately $1 million per year to operate and maintain the investment. They’ve used interdepartmental loans and helped fund the construction through the community's Local Development Financing Authority (LDFA). LDFA funds are generated from tax increment financing or through other instruments, including revenue bonds. Learn more about Michigan’s LDFA here

By the end of 2017, the city was connecting subscribers to FiberNet and now construction, both aerial and underground, is almost completed; only two streets need to be connected when spring weather arrives. The city owns a plow, which has helped keep costs downWhile considering neighborhoods with intense interest as they built out the network, Marshall also weighed the areas of highest population in determining their deployment strategy. 

Growing

Marshall intends to pay off their network deployment loans within five years, partly because there’s heavy demand for services. They only need a 38 percent take rate to meet that goal; they began connecting residents in March and are at 20 percent while connecting new subscribers on a daily basis. Jessica recalls that one of the challenges the community faced was an overly ambitious deployment schedule; when word got out that Marshall was investing in the network, potential subscribers called to be connected before they had time to deploy the backbone. Residents and businesses call each day as they shed their contracts with the incumbent DSL provider, indicating that FiberNet still has room to increase its take rate.

Rates are all symmetrical and subscribers pay no installation fee. Resident can choose from four tiers:

  • 50 Mbps  - $40 per month
  • 150 Mbps - $60 per month
  • 250 Mbps  - $99 per month
  • 1,000 Mbps (1 Gig) - $200 per month

Check out their commerical rates here.

Municipal facilities, which pay the same rates as commercial subscribers, have reduced Internet access costs in half by switching to the fiber network while also increasing speeds. Past connections to incumbent providers were around $300 per month per facility with slower upload speeds; now each facility pays $150 per month under the FiberNet commercial tier 2 plan, which offers 150 Mbps symmetrical services. 

As in other communities that develop their own network, the presence of symmetry was a critical feature of Marshall’s plan. They wanted to encourage subscribers to be able to participate in the online economy beyond the role of consumer. 

Marshall has been attracting new businesses in recent years and, while FiberNet isn’t the only reason, when recent additions have come to town, they request the service. There a number of entrepreneurs in Marshall, including well-known YouTubers such as Sam Rodriquez, who now posts content in minutes instead of days. His old AT&T DSL service often required 48 hours to upload one of his five-minute videos.

Dealing With Discovered Challenges Moving Forward

The deployment process has also been a process of discovery and Marshall is addressing challenges and tweeking their services as they find out more about what potential subscribers want, says Jessica. Not all premises need the level of service that they offer at the price they charge. Some of the small businesses don’t take the service because they only use Internet access for low bandwidth applications, such as credit card processing. Some residents only use Internet access for email or social media and want to keep their connectivity costs as low as possible. In order to capture these subscribers, FiberNet is working on a pricing structure that includes a very low cost, low bandwidth tier.

While the municipal utility isn't in the business to maximize profits, they're aim to be cost-neutral and to serve the community, and if providing a low-cost option is something the community wants, they want to provide it if they can.

Director of Electric Utilities Ed Rice commented on the situation Marshall faced before FiberNet and explained why the town decided to take on the project:

“Really, Marshall is under served for high-speed Internet.”

...

"We are in it to provide good service to our residents and our business and commercial customers.”

Photo credit by Andrew Jameson [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: marshall mimichiganFTTHtax increment financingsymmetry

Jacksonville Daily News Op-Ed: Our Region Needs a Broadband Boost

January 25, 2019

An op-ed written by Katie Kienbaum, Research Associate at ILSR, was published by the Jacksonville Daily News. It discusses the need for better broadband access in North Carolina, and the upcoming series of community meetings on the subject organized by NC Broadband Matters, the NC League of Municipalities, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Find the full piece below: 

 

When you think about the Internet, what comes to mind might have a lot to do with where you live.

For North Carolinians with good connectivity, the Internet signifies endless opportunity and access to information. But if you live in an area with limited broadband availability or high subscription costs, you may feel more frustrated than excited.

Broadband in North Carolina is a patchwork quilt of quality and availability. In the big metro regions, some neighborhoods are getting high-speed fiber networks from major companies like AT&T and Google. Other communities have partnered with new providers, such as Ting and Open Broadband, to improve local Internet access. And in Wilson, the city built its own fiber optic network, delivering the fastest speeds in the state, attracting new business, and offering affordable access to public housing units.

Even some rural communities have access to the highest-quality connectivity. Cooperatives like Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks are building first-rate broadband networks that will help improve the quality of life for their rural members. In each case, community members worked together to encourage investment in better options.

But many communities are stuck waiting for new investment. Wired broadband is unavailable to at least 500,000 North Carolinians, according to BroadbandNow’s analysis of federal data, while nearly one million others only have access to broadband through a single monopoly provider. Families in these under-connected and often rural communities struggle with everyday tasks, such as completing homework assignments, filling out job applications, and accessing online healthcare.

State policy needs to recognize these shortcomings and better enable investment in local networks. Still, there are ways for communities to take action. With the combined efforts of elected officials, local leaders, rural cooperatives, Internet service providers, and engaged residents, communities throughout the state can make sure they aren’t left behind in an increasingly connected world.

To start the conversation on improving local Internet access, NC Broadband Matters, the NC League of Municipalities, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have organized a series of community meetings called Let’s Connect. The events will feature discussions with local and national experts, elected officials, and community leaders on potential strategies to improve broadband access. They will also provide the opportunity for interested community members to share their stories and network with each other.

A Let’s Connect community meeting will be held in Jacksonville on January 30 at 6:00 p.m. in the Youth Council Youth Center. More information is available online at bit.ly/LetsConnectNC.

There’s a way forward for communities with poor connectivity, but we need everyone at the table to make it happen.

 

Katie Kienbaum is a Research Associate with the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She researches and writes about rural Internet access

Tags: press centernorth carolinaruralstate policy

Port of Ridgefield, Washington, Issues RFI for Partners; Responses Due March 15th

January 24, 2019

For more than two years, officials from the Port of Ridgefield in Washington have planned for better connectivity by deploying dark fiber. This month, they took a significant step by issuing a Request for Information (RFI) for Partnership as they search for entities interested in leasing dark fiber to bring services to the community. Responses are due March 15, 2019.

Read the RFI.

Rural or Not

In the spring of 2018, Washington’s elected officials eliminated a barrier that prevented the Port of Ridgefield from taking the final steps to completing their vision by passing HB 2664. The legislation removed a restriction that only allowed rural ports to use their fiber infrastructure for the types of partnership agreements that the Port of Ridgefield is now seeking. The “rural” limitation meant that Ridgefield and more populous ports could not use their fiber infrastructure to enter into partnerships for service to people or entities. With approximately 7,000 people in and around the city of Ridgefield, the Port of Ridgefield was not considered “rural.”

Officials from the Port of Ridgefield, the city of Ridgefield and other ports in Washington lobbied to have the law changed so they could provide wholesale services to interested Internet access companies. Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill in March 2018. While the primary goals of the RFI focus on improving connectivity within the port district, the Port also prominently includes, "The Port hopes this initiative will support and accelerate private providers’ efforts to improve broadband service options in the County."

The Port and the Plan

As part of the Discovery Corridor, Ridgefield has experienced rapid growth since 2000 and community leaders anticipate that trend to continue. Within the Discovery Corridor, the communities of La Center, Salmon Creek, Battle Ground, and local utilities have been involved in developing the plan. The Port of Ridgefield, like other ports in the state, are municipal economic development organizations; their function is to encourage the growth and economic vitality of the communities they serve. One of the areas that the Port of Ridgefield has found lacking and foresee as a potential problem, is poor connectivity.

New infrastructure is planned, including highways, sewers, and other roads, and developers are planning high levels of residential and commercial construction in the next few years within the Corridor. Clark College will be investing in a local campus and Washington State University Vancouver has announced plans for a medical in the area. All of the planned growth requires high-quality connectivity, which according to a 2017 Needs Assessment, is already lacking. According to a survey conducted as part of the Assessment, 76 percent of local organizations believe that they will need better connectivity within the next three to five years for business applications. More than half of the organizations that responded to the suvey indicated that they would be willing to pay more to get better services.

Local officials intend to satisfy the intense demand for better connectivity with the 42-mile fiber loop within the Discover Corridor. The primary goals are:

Enable the private sector to provide business-class data transport services at a competitive price to tenants of existing and planned economic development target areas in the Port District 


Enable the private sector to provide competitive broadband service offerings to community anchor institutions (CAIs) in the Port District 


Create opportunity and incentive for private entities to invest in last mile broadband infrastructure in the Port District to serve a wide range of residential, business, and institutional customers 


Enable private sector broadband opportunity in the region, while securing sufficient dark fiber lease revenues from private sector fiber lessees as to enable a return on the Port’s fiber investment over a reasonable period of time 


The network will pass planned economic development areas and many CAIs, but officials want to be flexible and encourage respondents to share specific needs or ideas for suggested route segments.

Important Dates:

Friday, Feb. 1, 2019 – Deadline for submitting LOI to respond to RFI


Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 – Deadline for submitting questions regarding RFI

Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 – Port posts responses to questions regarding RFI 

Friday, March 15, 2019 – RFI responses due to Port
 

Check out the full RFI.

Port of Ridgefield, Washington, Request for Information for Partnership for Leasing of Port-Owned Optical Fiber InfrastructureTags: port of ridgefieldwashingtonrfidark fiberpartnership

Applying for ReConnect Funds? Check Out This New Mapping Tool

January 23, 2019

The federal government shutdown continues to drag on, but people heading up rural broadband projects are not waiting until it’s over to investigate federal funding sources. Tools like the ReConnect Opportunity Map from Cooperative Network Services (CNS) will help reduce some of the uncertainty and time required to prepare an application for this and other funding opportunities.

The GIS tool focuses on the ReConnect grant program’s criteria, which will allow users to quickly identify census blocks across the U.S. that are eligible for funding. CNS has also added special color-coding to display density of households and included information about those census blocks to help complete the applications. Examining density of households per road mile allows planners to more quickly prepare an application and establish a cost estimate. The map digs down even further to give information on housing units, which will help with refining deployment costs.

The tool also allows users to define deployment areas on the map and run reports that include census block identifiers, households, and populations per mile. Even if the specific identified area doesn’t qualify for ReConnect funding, the information can be used for other purposes, such as for a potential project that might qualify for other funding or might be of interest to an Internet access provider looking to expand in the area.

Check out this sample screenshot and the explanation below:

View a larger version of the screenshot.

This image of an area in Minnesota indicates census blocks that do not currently have broadband speeds over 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. The blocks are color-coded based on the number of housing structures per road mile (darker = more housing units per road mile). Small dark spots are structures. The number of households per road mile shading allows users to quickly identify areas that may make the most sense to target since road miles generally equate to fiber construction corridor miles.

More Than ReConnect

Another feature, the ability to reveal telecom exchange boundaries, can help applicants get a picture of what other ISPs operate in the area. Whether an applicant is a municipality, a local ISP, a tribal Internet access provider, or any other entity, understanding what other services are available in the region is critical. Different companies respond differently to local competition and a frank evaluation about whether or not it’s worthwhile to compete with an incumbent in nearby areas is an important discussion. 

ReConnect funds cannot be used for infrastructure in areas where the FCC is already funding broadband infrastructure, such as CAF II projects; the Opportunity Map also pins down that data. 

While the map has been formatted to work with ReConnect grants, it can also be used for other applications, such as Farm Bill, Community Connect grants, A-CAM, or possibly state funding opportunities. In addition to planning for grant applications that will be submitted to deploy broadband in areas where it makes sense to build, this tool can help by eliminating areas where deployment might not be feasible.

For a quick demonstration of the ReConnect Opportunity Map, take a peek at this 4-minute video from CNS:

 

Learn more at the CNS website

Who, What, When 

The Reconnect Program is making $600,000,000 in funding open to a broad range of entities that might be in the business of providing high-quality connectivity in rural areas. Eligible entities include:

  • Non-profit entities;
  • For-profit corporations;
  • Limited liability companies; 
  • Cooperative or mutual organizations;
  • States, local governments, or any agency, subdivision, instrumentality, or political subdivision thereof;
  • A territory or possession of the United States; and
  • An Indian tribe (as defined in section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. § 450b)).

Application deadlines vary, depending on the type of funding requested and applicants can request grants, loans, or a combination with $200,000,000 available within each category. There are specifications for each category, including the amount requested, required matching funds, and the percentage of premises that are considered unserved. 

Details are available at the FCC’s ReConnect website, but here are the application headlines:

April 29 for the 100 percent Grant funding category

May 29 for the 50 percent Loan / 50 percent Grant funding category

June 28 for the 100 percent Loan funding category

Sample Minnesota Map of Reconnect Opportunity Map - Large VersionTags: fundingfccmappingfederal grantloan

Oregon's MINET: New Approach, New Expansion - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 340

January 22, 2019

Before the Oregon communities of Monmouth and Independence banded together to form MINET, many people in the community were accessing the Internet via old dial-up connections. This week, MINET’s General Manager Don Patten comes on the show to discuss the past, present, and future of the network that has revolutionized connectivity in the far western cities near Salem and Portland.

During their conversation recorded in Washington D.C., Christopher and Don review some of the difficulties that MINET has had and the changes that have helped the organization overcome those challenges. By adopting an approach that embraces the competitive spirit, MINET has achieved a take rate of more than 80 percent.

Now, MINET is venturing into another community as they expand to nearby Dallas, Oregon. Working with atypical investors and private sector entities, MINET will be bringing service to a community that has been actively seeking connection to MINET. Don shares some details of the plan.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

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

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

Tags: minetoregonMonmouth ORIndependence ORFTTHexpansionruralaudiopodcastbroadband bitstake rate

"Fiber" Freshens the Soul: Susan Crawford's New Book Delivers More Than Data

January 22, 2019

Susan Crawford has published the right book at the right time. Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution -- And Why America Might Miss It, makes a compelling case for local organizing around better Internet networks upon which the future will be written. 

The book revolves around several communities that will be familiar to anyone following community networks - cities like Chattanooga and Wilson, many of whom are members of Next Century Cities. Even people with only a casual interest in how to achieve the best Internet access will recognize some of the community names in Susan’s latest book. 

As someone who has tracked these networks closer than most, several of the anecdotes were new to me and sufficiently powerful that I - literally - had to restrain myself from cheering while finishing the book on a flight. So it works well both for someone unfamiliar with the technology or movement as well as for those of us who have worked from within it for many years. 

Susan dives right into the tech and marries it to the purpose:

Those hair-thin fiber strands, capable of carrying billions of phone calls simultaneously, plus advanced wireless communications that depend on that fiber extending into the last mile, will make possible virtually unlimited, cheap communications capacity wherever you are—which in turn will give rise to new businesses, new transport capabilities, new ways of managing our use of energy, new forms of education and health care, new ways of earning a living, and new forms of human connectedness. For these things to happen, both fiber and advanced wireless technologies need to be widely and competitively available. Without these basic pieces of open infrastructure in place, your country will be missing out on the future being lived and built elsewhere.

Speaking of purpose, this next paragraph is the type of prose that I think sets Susan apart from other writers on these issues.

There is a fundamental link between the school’s abundance of data connectivity and its nontraditional educational model. Upper-level students these days don’t want to be talked at, but they do want to learn. Teachers can no longer hide facts—because everything can be found online—but they are still needed as coaches and mentors. An enormous amount of learning and mentoring goes on at the STEM school every day.

I love that phrasing that teachers cannot hide facts. Not out of any anti-teacher bias but because it recognizes how the Internet so significantly complicates what it means to be a teacher. I was one of the few kids in my high school on the Internet regularly in the mid 90's and I remember how wide open, liberating, and yet intimidating it felt. Many teachers today must watch as some kids have unlimited access to unlimited information (for better and for worse) while others are squeezing in access from a park bench outside the library one night and a fast food restaurant the next if they are lucky enough to have the freedom and capacity to leave their unconnected home. 

Use Cases

Then there are the anecdotes. We are just at the beginning of what unlimited Internet access can do. Susan artfully uses an example that many of us take for granted and that few of us would not link to better connectivity -- dental care. One of the many factors external to school that, when it goes wrong, seriously harms the capacity of any student to learn. 

A one-way use of fiber is already in place in the small town of Independence, Oregon, about an hour south of Portland. It’s a “store-and-forward” teledentistry program, possible only because Independence built a gigabit fiber network ten years ago. ... Independence is a “poverty hot spot,” according to Linda Mann, director of community outreach for Capitol Dental Care. Few dental offices nearby will take Medicaid patients, and parents have to drive their children thirty miles for an office visit. As a result, many of the kids in Independence have never seen a dentist, and they all need preventive care. With a grant of $112,000 from the Oregon Office of Rural Health, the hygienists were able to go right into classrooms and cafeterias with a laptop, a portable X-ray unit, and a camera. Dentists in Portland could then see whether a particular child had a cavity; most of the children’s cavities could be treated at the school by the hygienists using “scoop-and-fill” procedures with fluoride-releasing fillings ... A major consequence of the pilot is that the local dentist offices that do take Medicaid are freed up to provide restorative care rather than routine prevention. 

Again, some smart government investment making markets more efficient and dramatically improving quality of life for local residents. 

We have recognized Wilson's muni fiber network Greenlight time and time again for its work to make the highest-quality Internet access available to low-income households. Susan reminds us how that changes lives. 

Tiffany Cooper, an African American single mother of three teenage boys living in public housing in Wilson, could not wait to tell me how excited she is about having a city fiber connection to her unit. The $10 monthly price of her subscription is added to her rent bill. “It’s the best thing that could have happened to me,” she said. Cooper is working several jobs. Already a certified nursing assistant, she’s been able to work toward certificates in medical technology and phlebotomy, all using the fiber connection that was turned on a few months before I met her. “And I’m not going to stop,” she told me. Her next online program will certify her to read electrocardiograms (EKGs). Before Cooper got her fiber connection at home, she had to go to the library to do her weekly homework assignments; the community college used Blackboard course management software that could be accessed only with a high-speed connection. And getting to the library was hard: “I don’t have any transportation,” she pointed out. Now she can look up new programs and participate online, from home. The best part, the really important part about having this connection at home, is that her sons’ grades have improved. “I noticed it and I couldn’t believe it!” she told me excitedly. Before she got fiber, “I was getting phone calls from teachers, and letters, because there were a lot of things they could not do at school because we didn’t have access to the internet.” She was emphatic: “Their education comes before anything.” The fiber connection “is doing a whole lot of good in our home.”

Getting it Wrong

When looking at the stirring successes of Chattanooga and Wilson, among many others, these projects may start to seem obvious and even easy. But Chattanooga and Wilson's success came from years of preparation and elected officials that had done their homework. Susan includes a discussion of a community where the local officials just didn't prioritize solving the lack of modern Internet network investment. 

At the time of my visit there, I had just read George Packer’s The Unwinding, a set of essays that focuses in part on the Piedmont region of North Carolina, where Greensboro is located, and how the collapse of the textile industry here affected people's lives. I wanted to be able to report that Greensboro’s region was raising itself up in part by focusing on fiber. The story I found did not fit my narrative plan. Instead, it illustrates what can happen in places where both the state government and local inertia, intentionally or accidentally, support the incumbent-controlled status quo.

You can listen to an interview I did with Susan in 2017 when she was bullish on Greensboro or read the transcript of our podcast. The optimism from that project evaporated in the absence of local leadership... which itself was hamstrung by state policy written by the big cable monopoly to prevent any local Internet choice threatening their revenues. 

But no one seemed willing to make city money available for any of this. The city council and mayor knew about the projects but weren’t sure whether to support them. “This is more like a grassroots initiative,” Nickles said. She pulled together a draft summary of all the benefits of her proposed pilot projects for her city council. She got the council’s support. In April 2017, Greensboro’s city council approved Nickles’s pilot project. The grand aspiration of leasing dark fiber throughout the city was substantially narrowed: now the plan was to wire up a single Family Success Center that would serve as a hub for high-speed Wi-Fi in one low-income neighborhood.

A key lesson of Susan's book is that local leadership matters. From elected officials, city staff, business leaders, and local engaged citizens. These projects are very challenging, from the technology to the politics to the economics. Communities need strong bonds to build successful networks. 

Historical Context

Fittingly, Susan goes back to electricity for parallels, reminding us of some of the details most have forgotten. Electrification wasn't just rural cooperatives distributing power created by new federal dams. It was building a market for devices by extending credit to low-income households that would not have adopted that new technology without assistance. This is market-building infrastructure investment policy at its best. 

The federal effort was not limited to rural areas: the Roosevelt administration expanded consumer credit to low-income houses to advance electrical modernization. With no down payment, homeowners could buy a refrigerator using low-interest loans for as little as three dollars a month—thus bringing refrigeration, the essential ingredient of a modern kitchen, into the lives of millions. The private utilities had thought of their market as consisting only of the one-fifth of American households that were already modernized, but the use of electricity ballooned. Where the average early 1920s household had been using 30 kilowatt-hours or less each month, by 1950 most households had modern electrical services and were using more than 150 kilowatt-hours monthly.

And 

The same was true in Chattanooga: in 1933, nine out of ten families didn’t have electricity. “There was not much of a middle class in Chattanooga,” Jim Ingraham of EPB told me. The rich families had electric refrigerators, but if you were a factory worker you were still lighting your house with oil or kerosene. Six months after EPB was chartered in 1935, as a public distributor of electricity with a mission to keep prices low and act like a utility (following the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority as a generator of electricity in 1933), rates came down enormously, and “everyone in our 600-square-mile service area had signed up for electricity,” Ingraham said. Everyone had it: all the factory workers, all the African Americans. “We offered refrigerators out of our office,” he said, “and we had a kitchen. We showed people, here’s what these appliances can do for you.”

That government policy to build these markets for electricity wasn't popular with everyone - especially the companies that ultimately gained tremendously from it as electricity went from novelty to omnipresent in modern life. Much like the famous Hollywood effort to kill the VCR because it would be the end of the entertainment industry, the big monopolies fought to preserve the status quo rather than recognize how it could benefit from policies to broadly improve access to modern technology. 

But it’s not easy: the incumbents go after them systematically, hiring academics and “experts” to attack these city planners as socialistic and mounting epic campaigns in state legislatures to block cities with legislation. Meanwhile, rural areas are unconnected and out of touch. The only thing we are missing is widespread public recognition of the depth and significance of the last-mile fiber problem—and either a young LBJ or a more seasoned FDR to address it.

Conclusion 

I finished this book reinvigorated. We are seeing record numbers of cities study, build, and expand networks. Communities are iterating on approaches across the country. We are seeing new opportunities in municipal finance. Whether motivated by a lack of access or frustration with existing services, this book provides the background and motivation for communities to restore their self-determination over their economic future and a key aspect of quality of life in the modern era. 

Susan recently appeared WGBH Boston to discuss her book:

Image of Susan Crawford by Joi [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: susan crawfordbookwilsongreenlightfiberFTTHnext century citiestechnologylow-incomelow incomevideo

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 21

January 21, 2019

Colorado

Loveland will officially bond about $97 million for broadband by Julia Rentsch, Reporter Herald 

"We're not building this for the people in this room," Fogle said. "We're not building this for people our age. We're building it for the next generation of Loveland citizens ... because while we WANT faster broadband, they are going to HAVE to have it.”

 

Georgia 

Internet service for rural Georgia could come from power companies by Mark Niesse, AJC

Rural Fulton County offers glimpse of Georgia’s digital divide by Tasnim Shamma, WABE

“Those who are going to wait for the federal government to get it right in 10 or 15 years will find that the population in their regions has dwindled so significantly that it may not be able to recover just from finally getting broadband,” Mitchell said.

 

Mississippi

Mississippi House advances bill to allow electric co-ops to build broadband networks by Steve Dubb, Nonprofit Quarterly

Will co-ops really provide high-speed Internet to rural Miss. if Legislature changes the law? by Luke Ramseth, Mississippi Clarion Ledger

 

North Carolina

Jacksonville to host broadband access meeting, Jacksonville Daily News

 

Oregon

Oregon communities continue slow-speed pursuit of high-speed Internet by Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian 

 

Washington

Inslee proposes broadband access for all, Washington Governor’s Office

 

General

Broadband expert says USDA shutdown is hurting rural Internet expansion by Ryan Johnston, StateScoop

“Having broadband in our communities is going to create an environment where our young people aren’t leaving the communities,” Patten said.

How bad is the digital divide? By Doug Dawson, POTs and PANs

Rural broadband deployment ideas: Panelists offer some new thinking by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

Nonprofit releases guidebook to help cities become 'broadband ready' by Jason Plautz, Smart Cities Dive

 

Tags: media roundup

"I Have A Dream" Brought to You Over Time and Space Via The Internet

January 21, 2019

Today, the U.S. pauses to remember one of the greatest people in our modern history, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His work to inspire and organize civil rights warriors changed the path of our country and bettered the lives of countless Americans living during his time and moving forward. 

The Internet wasn’t a thing in 1963, and we wonder how such a tool might have changed his work. He passed many years ago, but he’s still able to use the Internet as a tool to spread his message. Today that message of ending division seems just as relevant.

In honor of Dr. King, the people who marched with him, those who continue to work to advance civil rights and social justice today, we want to share the full audio of his “I Have A Dream Speech” from August 28, 1963. 

If you’d like to read the speech, you can access it in the National Archives.

 

Tags: videoaudiograssroots

Getting Your Community Broadband Ready Just Got Easier With Toolkit From Next Century Cities

January 18, 2019

On January 16th, Next Century Cities (NCC) launched a resource that will help communities of all sizes prepare themselves for the future. NCC's Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for Communities combines best practices and experiences from places across the country to assist local communities as they begin broadband projects.

Download the toolkit.

Ready, Set, Launch

In order to celebrate the new resource, learn about the content, and discover how the toolkit can be relevant to a range of projects, NCC hosted a launch event on January 16th. In addition to providing a demonstration that revealed the ease of using the toolkit, NCC brought community leaders to the event for a panel discussion. Dr. Robert Wack from Westminster, Maryland; Dan Patten from MINET in Oregon; and McClain Bryant Macklin from Kansas City participated on the panel hosted by ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell.

Panelists discussed the unique challenges they had encountered in their communities and how they overcame them along with the ways they addressed those challenges. In addition to issues that surrounded how they educated the community, panelists also talked about matters that influenced their choices of model, financial problems, and other issues. Below, you can watch the panel discussion, which include conversation on collaboration, information sharing, and other matters.

The Toolkit

Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for Communities is a comprehensive resource that covers considerations from early in the process to determining success throughout implementation. In addition to offering guidance with examples from across the country, the toolkit offers links to other resources, such as model ordinances, reports, podcasts, and organizations laser-focused on specific and relevant issues.

The toolkit organizes material into overreaching themes, such as building community support, establishing policies to encourage investment, and the pros and cons if publicly owned models, among many other considerations. Within each broad topic, however, NCC has dug deep into specifics, such as addressing simplified permitting practices, creating digital inclusion plans, and ways to work around legislative or regulatory barriers. Throughout the toolkit, NCC turned to the many members of the organization for real-world examples of workable solutions.

Download Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for Communities

Watch the launch event:

Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for CommunitiesTags: toolkitnext century citieschristopher mitchelldeb sociaeventvideoresourcewestminsterminetkansas city

Anacortes, Washington, Solidifies Plans for Better Connectivity With Muni Network

January 17, 2019

Last spring, we reported on Anacortes, Washington’s efforts to evaluate private sector partners to deliver high-quality connectivity via their publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure. After examining their financial position, the desires of the community, and considering the pros and cons, the community has decided to offer services directly to the public. The island community will start deployment in 2019 and plans to have the network completed within four years.

Moving Along

Director of Anacortes Administrative Services Emily Schuh reached out to us to let us know that the city will be expanding from their fiber back bone to serve businesses and households in the community and to update us on the project. She also wanted to let us know that Anacortes is actively recruiting for a Municipal Broadband Business Manager.

Anacortes (pop. approx. 17,000) lies off the coast of Washington on Fidalgo Island, connected to the mainland via two bridges and ferry. Regular readers of MuniNetworks.org will recognize Mount Vernon on the map, located east and operating a municipal open access network for decades. Comcast offers Internet access throughout Anacortes and DSL service is available from Frontier, but businesses and residents want access to more reliable connections and faster upload speeds, which are not forthcoming with the incumbent ISPs.

In 2016, community leaders chose to work with the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) to replace an existing radio-based system they used to monitor water and wastewater utility systems. There were dead zones that could not receive signals, Schuh told us. Anacortes became the first municipality to use active water infrastructure to house fiber optic conduit in the U.S. The city’s municipal utilities use the network to monitor the water treatment plant, wastewater treatment plant, sewer pump stations, and other facilities. While the primary intention of the infrastructure centered on utility monitor and control, expanding use to better connectivity for homes and businesses has always been on the table.

Before making the final decision to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), the city surveyed the community. They received a strong response and the results were more encouraging than they expected. Schuh told us that, out of the city's total 5,500 total utility customers, more than 1,600 responded and were interested in signing up for Internet access from Anacortes when it becomes available. Dozens of people in the community have also signed up to be “fiber champions” to get the word out about the project.

Taking Off With A Pretty Big Pilot

Bringing FTTH to the entire community will cost approximately $15 million over the next four years and will connect approximately all utility customers. Anacortes has decided to begin with a $3 million pilot project that they will complete over the next two years with funding from utility reserves. The city also received funding from the Port of Skagit to deploy the original fiber ring.

The pilot program, which Schuh also refers to as a “network trial,” will connect approximately 3,000 buildings within the Commercial Business District and nearby areas. In addition to local businesses, Anacortes will connect schools, healthcare facilities, homes, and other premises. The first year of the pilot will require aerial connections and later phases will include areas that need underground placement of fiber.

They'll use a fiberhood approach to determine the areas of greatest interest to help guide specifically where future fiber will be deployed. Schuh said that neighborhoods with high sign-ups have been in the more affluent areas that are also the most difficult to deploy. “Rockridge” is an area in Anacortes that is “on a rock.” While they still plan to employ the fiberhood approach, Schuh says that they will need to finesse deployment to contend with the difficulties of the geography.

They’ve calculated that a 35 percent take-rate, or 1,925 premises, will provide sufficient revenue to meet their goals. Anacortes has chosen a quick deployment schedule in order to take advantage of existing enthusiasm and momentum.

Funding Challenges

The city looked at potential grants or loans for broadband infrastructure, but they didn’t meet criteria because available speeds in the city meet the FCC’s defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. With Comcast serving much of Anacortes, and most funding aimed at communities that don’t meet that threshold, the city needed to rely on their own resources.

Anacortes’s pilot will serve a multi-pronged purpose of bringing better connectivity to the community, helping the city learn the ins and outs of delivering services, and spreading the word about the services available. After the first two years, the city council will also examine the network’s progress to determine how best to fund the remaining deployment. Schuh says that they will likely combine loans, bonding, revenue from services, and revenue they earn from leasing excess dark fiber capacity.

Internet access providers in the area that want to reach some of the San Juan Island communities will be welcome to lease dark fiber, says Schuh. They haven’t firmly established rates for residential service, but anticipate offering symmetrical Internet access with 100 Mbps for $40 - $50 per month and 1 gigabit service for $70 - $80 per month. 

Anacortes is set on establishing themselves as a municipal Internet service provider and remain committed to economic development and excellent customer service.

Check out their fact sheet on the project.

Looking for A Leader

The city is actively recruiting a Municipal Broadband Business Manager until January 24th. Could it be you or some one you know? Review the employment posting to learn more.

Image Looking North from Anacortes courtesy of Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL]

 

City of Anacortes Overview and Business Plan Fact SheetTags: anacorteswashingtonFTTHretailislandmunigigabitsymmetrysurveypilotpilot project

Reaching Across the Aisle on Tech Policy

January 16, 2019

Despite the ongoing saga of what has become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, elected officials and policymakers still managed to gather at Google’s Washington, D.C., office yesterday for the Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy conference. The half-day conference, hosted by Next Century Cities, the American Action Forum, and Public Knowledge, aimed to identify areas of bipartisan consensus in the issues of rural broadband, data privacy, and spectrum policy and to discuss potential priorities for the new Congress.

Read about some key takeaways from the conference below. For the full experience, watch the video archive of the event.

Keynote Highlights

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s opening conversation with Deb Socia of Next Century Cities touched on many of the topics that would be discussed throughout the day, including rural and tribal broadband access, data privacy and consumer protections, and efficient allocation of spectrum. Commissioner Rosenworcel also pointed out the importance of working with states and localities to improve the accuracy of federal broadband availability data in order to better direct resources to underserved communities. (Learn more about how the FCC data overstates broadband access.)

In the second keynote discussion, moderated by Will Rinehart from the American Action Forum, Robert McDowell, former FCC Commissioner and Partner at Cooley LLP, and Blair Levin, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, spoke about the future of 5G and how to measure the success of broadband subsidy programs. When asked what his priorities would be if he were an FCC Commissioner, Levin replied:

“What I would do is free up the cities . . . I do think that city officials — they know more, they have the right incentives, and we’ve got to free them up. And the FCC is doing exactly the opposite"

Panelists Find Some Common Ground

Community Broadband Networks’ very own Christopher Mitchell moderated the first panel of the day, which grappled with the issue of broadband access in rural areas. For the most part, panelists agreed that the problem of rural broadband isn’t inadequate demand for connectivity. Instead, they pointed to the high costs of deploying broadband networks in rural areas. Jon Chambers from Conexon also nodded to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” as a factor dooming rural America to poor Internet access.

Panelists agreed as well on the need to reform how the FCC funds rural broadband, though ideas on how to do so varied. Some noted that the federal government tackled a similar issue when it ensured rural communities got access to telephone service. As Harold Feld of Public Knowledge put it, “We’ve solved this problem before.”

The following panel, moderated by David McCabe from Axios, addressed data privacy and security. Speakers noted that the policy conversation has expanded from a strict focus on individual privacy to also include broader questions around data use and the impact on society. With big data, there’s “enormous potential for systemic discrimination,” explained Ryan Clough of Public Knowledge. Laura Moy from Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology later added, “I think that some of the problems that we’re starting to notice . . . are really societal harms."

However, when asked about areas of potential bipartisan consensus, Neil Chilson from the Charles Koch Institute identified the traditional privacy concerns around safety and personal financial data as easier issues to compromise on. Francella Ochillo from the National Hispanic Media Coalition also saw some future for bipartisan agreement, saying, “It doesn’t really matter what community you come from. We all want our data to be protected.”

In the final panel, Austin Bonner from Harris, Wiltshire, & Grannis LLP moderated a discussion with “the nerdiest spectrum nerds” on spectrum allocation and 5G. Panelists explored ways to open up more spectrum for use by rural WISPs, among others, and to enable more innovation. On 5G, Michael Calabrese from the Open Technology Institute reminded the audience that “5G isn’t just, or perhaps primarily, a mobile technology” and that high-capacity, wired networks will be essential for deployment.

Overall Themes

Throughout the conference, speakers brought up the role of states and localities in addressing these issues, through efforts to bridge digital divide, regulate 5G installations, or guarantee data privacy, as examples.

Also, in an industry as quick moving as tech, many conference attendees agreed that it’s difficult to predict exactly what the future of 5G technology is or how concerns around data privacy will evolve. This element of the unknown has huge implications as policy makers consider how to regulate — or not regulate — emerging tech issues.

Watch the full event:

Tags: next century citiesvideopolicychristopher mitchellrural

Getting Your Community Off to A Quick Start With CN Quickstart - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 339

January 15, 2019

In September 2018, we announced that we would begin working with NEO Partners LLC to bring the Community Networks Quickstart Program to local communities interested in exploring the possibilities of publicly owned broadband networks. For this week’s podcast, Christopher talks with the people behind the program, Glenn Fishbine and Nancy DeGidio.

Glenn and Nancy have combined their talents to create the CN Quickstart Program as a way for local communities to focus on realistic possibilities early in the long process toward better connectivity through public investment. Christopher, Glenn, and Nancy discuss some of the insights communities gain with the program. In addition to discovering which incumbents already operate in the region and where, Glenn and Nancy have the data to provide information about what fiber resources are already in place. Both elements help communities considering networks look at the possibilities of competition.

With data from each unique community, the CN Quickstart Program can provide information about potential fiber, wireless, and hybrid community networks and where those routes could travel. The program can provide cost estimates to help local leaders determine which options would be affordable for their community. Not than a replacement for a feasibility study, but a complement, a community that begins their feasibility study with results from the program will be able to direct a consultant toward the vision that they’ve been able to more accurately fine tune.

Glenn and Nancy also talk about why they decided to develop this tool and what they hope to accomplish, along with hopes for communities that use the CN Quickstart Program.

Learn more at cnquickstart.com or email info@cnquickstart.com for more details.

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

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

The transcript for this episode is available here.

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

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

 

Tags: audiobroadband bitspodcastconsiderationfeasibilityruralplanningFTTHfixed wirelessneo partnerschristopher mitchell

Midwest Energy and Communications Finishing Up the Job in Milton, Michigan

January 15, 2019

Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC) offers Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in large pockets of southeast and southwest Michigan, north central Ohio, and a sliver of north central Indiana. Recently, the small rural town of Milton, Michigan, awarded the cooperative $75,000 to deploy fiber to approximately 80 homes in the community.

That Last Five Miles

According to the South Bend Tribune, the funds are being used to install the last 5-mile stretch of fiber that will complete a larger vision to connect the township’s entire 3,800 residents to high-quality Internet access. Mostly agricultural Milton Township is located in Cass County along the Indiana border. Construction is underway and may be completed as early as this spring.

Rates from MEC include:

$49.95 per month for 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) upload and download

$59.95 per month for 50/50 Mbps

$79.95 per month for 100/100 Mbps

$119.95 per month for 1 gigabit upload and dowload (1,000 Mbps)

When the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and Connect Michigan assessed connectivity in the region almost seven years ago, Cass County was considered “below average” for Internet access in Michigan. Since that time, the Planning Commission has provided resources and information for local communities interested in taking steps toward better local connectivity; working with electric cooperatives and providing grants and loans have helped over time.

Midwest Energy

In addition to providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access for members in their service area, MEC is also working with Lyndon Township by providing Internet access over the town’s publicly owned fiber network. MEC also offers propane, a popular form of household heat in rural Michigan.

The cooperative begin in 1937 as one of the many rural electric cooperatives formed by locals to bring lights to the families in areas unserved by private sector electric providers. The cooperative added propane service in 1998.

Check out this short video on the history of MEC:

Listen to Christopher interview MEC’s Bob Hance and Dave Allen for episode 225 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: midwest energyrural electric coopFTTHcooperativemichigan

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 339

January 15, 2019

 This is the transcript for episode 339 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher Mitchell speaks with Nancy DiGidio and Glenn Fishbine from NEO Partners LLC about the Community Networks Quickstart program, which is a collaborative project of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative and NEO Partners. Listen to the episode here.

 

Glenn Fishbine: And when you engage with that consultant, at the end of the day, after we've presented you these results, you're not going to waste the consultant's time by asking for something that you can't afford. You'll be focused on a real practical, doable system that is affordable by the standards that you bring to this project.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 339 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When local communities decide that it's time to investigate ways to improve local connectivity, they're at the beginning of a long and complicated process. If they're considering a community network, more possibilities are available today than ever before. In order to get a realistic idea of potential models, costs, and the competitive local market, a feasibility study is typically an early step in the process. In 2018, we began to work with NEO Partners, LLC, on the Community Networks Quickstart program. In this interview, Christopher talks with Glenn Fishbine and Nancy DeGidio, the brains behind the program. The CN Quickstart service allows local communities to approach the beginning of their journey with a headstart. The service isn't a replacement for a feasibility study, but it is a compliment. Glenn and Nancy are able to use their sophisticated program to determine what services are already available from incumbents, reveal where potential fiber resources are in the area, and provide cost estimates and relevant information for different publicly owned models. Coupled with the results from feasibility studies, communities are now able to make knowledgeable decisions about how to move forward. In this conversation, Nancy, Glenn, and Christopher discuss the benefits of the CN Quickstart program and what communities can expect from the service, along with the ways local leaders can apply their newfound knowledge to start their journey strong. Check out CNQuickstart.com for more information. Now, here's Christopher with Glenn Fishbine and Nancy DeGidio discussing Community Networks Quickstart.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, I'm speaking with Glenn Fishbine in studio. Welcome to the show.

Glenn Fishbine: Thank you very much.

Christopher Mitchell: And on the line we have his partner, Nancy DeGidio. Welcome to the show.

Nancy DeGidio: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: And they are with Breaking Point Solutions representing NEO Partners, which is actually working with us at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on a little product we're calling the Community Networks Quickstart. We're going to tell you a little bit about that. I think the best way to jump into it would just be to ask Nancy first, what are we doing here? What is the Community Networks Quickstart? What problem are we trying to solve?

Nancy DeGidio: We are trying to bring broadband to rural America and the underserved.

Glenn Fishbine: The way in which we're trying to do this is by providing communities with a very inexpensive, iterative means of finding what is affordable for broadband for their community.

Christopher Mitchell: We're aiming to work early in the process, right? I mean this is — we call it the Quickstart, not the Quickfinish, right? So Glenn, do you want to talk a little bit more about how exactly we're doing this?

Glenn Fishbine: Well, this is based on software development that started back in 2011 and has gone through many years of iteration through major telco providers, such as Samsung, Sprint, various wireless Internet service providers, and so on. And the software has been iterated to the point where we can take a community of any size, any place in the continental United States, analyze the population, households, geography, terrain, ground clutter and come up with a means of iterating any mixture of fixed wireless or broadband technologies or fiber technologies, and end up with whatever type of model you think is appropriate for that community in the price range that will work for that community.

Nancy DeGidio: The cost of doing the Quickstart program is at a fraction of what companies or cities would already pay. Right now, many are paying $50,000 more for a study of this, and it takes six months to do these studies to figure out what kind of network they can even put in place to support broadband.

Glenn Fishbine: For example, in one of the studies we just recently computed, which took us approximately two weeks to provide the study for that community, we were able to look at 44 different network designs and guide the community towards the one that would work best for them. A normal study would be a design and would take probably three to six months to accomplish.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. So we're going to talk more about this over the course of the next 20, 25 minutes or so, but I wanted to step back in time briefly and talk about where you're coming from. And so maybe Nancy would be a good place then to start. What were you doing before we launched the Community Networks Quickstart?

Nancy DeGidio: We were fumbling around trying to figure out how to bring broadband to rural America and how to help the underserved. Working with companies to try to bring that to them. Struggling a lot with the designs and getting that infrastructure in place.

Glenn Fishbine: Yeah. We came out of a very large infrastructure build out project for Sprint, which was 18,000 cell towers throughout the northern part of the United States.

Christopher Mitchell: And I thank you for every one of them, as a person who uses a Sprint reseller that I love.

Glenn Fishbine: Ok. I'm sorry, I'm a Verizon guy myself. Anyway, as part of that, we saw a tremendous amount of inefficiencies in the Sprint and the Samsung development team process. We would see engineers, hundreds of engineers, doing RF studies that would take them perhaps three to four days to complete for a tower, and we realized that if they'd automate this and get out of the spreadsheet mode, they could do much better. And that was the one of the major incentives for the system that we started developing.

Nancy DeGidio: The interesting thing is that I think a lot of people do use those spreadsheets, and the spreadsheets are very inefficient no matter what way you look at it. These projects are very complicated and they have a lot of different angles to them, and to use a spreadsheet for such a complicated project is just insane.

Christopher Mitchell: I've certainly seen how you use spreadsheets to keep track of individual fibers in a much larger build. I can't even imagine the challenge of using spreadsheets to do all the different possible variations in how you might build a network, and that's one of the things that Glenn mentioned, was the many variations that can be done. But I wanted to jump in for a second and talk just briefly about what we at ILSR, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, bring to this because you've talked about the software solutions that NEO Partners brings in, in terms of the network design. The other piece of it that when you approached me I thought would be useful was a little bit of guidance in terms of what other rural communities have seen, or even urban cities, where we've learned lessons along the way — in terms of, if you pick a favorite design that you like, how are you going to make sure that you can communicate to the public the vision? How are you going to make sure that you're avoiding problems that others have had in terms of getting support? And then once you're actually building, having anticipated common problems — even things like are there nearby Internet service providers that might want to work with you as a partner that if you just looked at a list of ISPS, you might not know which ones are good potential partners in which ones are not likely to return your phone calls. So, you know, I think one of the things that we envisioned for the Community Networks Quickstart that goes with all the software is a little bit of handholding. And I wouldn't say a lot. You know, we're not consultants that are going to spend months and months with you. We're going to help you get out to a quick start. [laughs] I think a lot of people saw that coming.

Glenn Fishbine: Yeah. One of the first things we do, even before we're engaging in contract discussion with the perspective client, is we bring up a competitive analysis show who is presently there in the community. And the first question I always ask is, okay, you got Comcast on this part of the community. You've got AT&T in that part of the community. You have got Frontier over there. Do you intend to compete with these companies if you move forward, and if not, do you want these areas included? And if you do, do you know what it's like to compete with the big company? Because the very first thing you need to know as a community is what services you have, and if you're going to build a network of any kind, you need to know that you're not going to get everybody because nobody's switches from Comcast simply because they can or —

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I guess a different way of saying that would be 10 to 20 percent will reliably switch away from Comcast the second they have another option, but you're probably not going to build a network on that 20 percent or 15 percent. You're going to need a lot more folks.

Glenn Fishbine: Right. And then, you know, knowing who the competition is, knowing what their capabilities are is the first step in considering whether or not it's worth moving forward to do a real network. The next thing that we do is we try to find out, okay, if you build a network, do you have a backbone that you can connect into? Is there anybody who provides dark fiber services out there or that you can purchase? So we maintain a library of who is available throughout the United States, and if we can find an appropriate backbone provider, then we can go forward with the network design.

Nancy DeGidio: I think the cool thing too is identifying the providers in the area. It's not just the big players; it's the small players to. Because [in] some of these rural areas, the bigger players don't want to be there. So this allows some of the smaller providers to step forward and possibly expand their footprint as well in the community.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I think that's one of the things that I would expect to see. In our beta clients, we certainly saw that. And I think with folks that you worked with before we started working together on this particular product, I think you saw that also. People that are coming forward and want to find a solution for their communities don't necessarily want to create a brand new service company. They may be interested in building infrastructure that would allow an existing independent Internet service provider to come along and offer services.

Glenn Fishbine: Well, that's one of the things that your organization provides, which is not necessarily something we provide, is many options you have for integrating your network intentions with your local providers, with your local units of government to figure out how to get the alliances within your community to work together to make this something real.

Nancy DeGidio: And understanding that doesn't happen overnight. The study can happen rather quickly. That's why, again, get back into the Quickstart. We can do this Quickstart rather quickly, so you can get to those discussions to figure out who you need to align in your community to get things moving.

Christopher Mitchell: This is where I think it might be useful to note that we don't see ourselves as replacing the consultants that Glenn talked about a little bit at the beginning, that are going to be charging higher fees and working with the community over a longer period of time because although one of the things that they provide is the cost of building a network, the thing that I think consultants really are essential for is walking the community through a process and doing some handholding in terms of, okay, you know, you're going to need these meetings to engage the public. You're going to want to talk about these sorts of things. The consultant's going to help you know what questions are commonly going to be asked. They may be doing a survey of the community that will give you some information about how it's leaning regarding its feelings about existing providers and in the city getting involved, or the county or the township or you know, whatever — I'm just using city as a little bit of a shorthand there. And they're going to do a lot of other things in terms of maybe going out and talking to some of those ISPs that you may want to partner with. And so, you know, I don't think a community that works with us, will forego a more traditional consultant. I think they're going to go to that consultant better prepared, and they are going to be able to get more out of that consulting contract.

Glenn Fishbine: I definitely agree with that. One of the things that we do when we iterate, I'll typically try about 10 iterations for a particular community. And we're going to start with a very inexpensive model, and we're going to run that all the way up to everybody is connected by the best possible technology.

Christopher Mitchell: Now let's just talk about that for a second because what you're talking about is, is that you can show a scenario in which everyone's getting fiber in the target area and a scenario that's — what you're talking about in terms of the more expensive one — in an area in which everyone's getting a fixed wireless product.

Glenn Fishbine: That's correct. We can iterate any number of variations on that and the idea is to find a point whereby the network implementation is going to be cost effective and most cost effective for the homes or the community that's using the services. In most cases there comes a point where, boy, you just can't afford it. But the way we start it off is, here's something that's affordable all the way up to the one that you can't afford, and now you the community have a range of choices there. And when you engage with that consultant at the end of the day after we've presented you these results, you're not going to waste the consultant's time by asking for something that you can't afford. You'll be focused on a real, practical, doable system that is affordable by the standards that you bring to this project.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that as we're going to talk a little bit more about how we go about doing that, I did want to note for people who are really curious about the cost of it. Can you describe the cost structure, Nancy?

Nancy DeGidio: We're looking at a thousand dollars plus forty cents per household, which still is way under pricing that you will find out there from companies that are spending six months plus putting people on the ground to actually figure out how to do these studies.

Glenn Fishbine: Now when we talk per household, we are using 2016 census estimate household data. The 2018 data will be coming out shortly, as soon as the government reopens, and we'll switch to the 2018 data.

Christopher Mitchell: So as you can tell, Glenn is pretty — he's a little bit specific. A little bit of a technical kind of guy. Glenn, one of the things that I was curious about and nervous about when you first did your demo is a sense of, you know, it's really nice to look at this in software, but have we had any kind of a reality check in terms of how close our numbers are in terms of this automated system versus some of the consultants actually going out there and walking the roads to see what the costs are.

Glenn Fishbine: Well generally, a consultant doesn't want another consultant to look at their final studies, so we've only had a very few sent to our path, and what we're basically seeing, in the studies that we can directly compare, we're within two to four percent of what the consultant final price project model would be. Now statistically, we believe that we're going to be within about 10 to 15 percent, but we think that essentially our methodology is a pretty uniform methodology throughout the industry. So saying a two percent variation from what a consultant producers is not bad, but I would make the point that they're probably within 10 to 15 percent error as well.

Christopher Mitchell: I would strongly encourage anyone that was planning on definitely building a network to use this service to get started, but to do much more fine grain engineering to make sure that the bids that they're going to get for actual construction will be more precise. There is no doubt in my mind that it's always going to be worth it to get a more precise engineering layout at the end. We are aiming to provide a ballpark figure, and at the costs that we're charging, I think it really doesn't impair the ability of a community or an ISP to do both.

Nancy DeGidio: To that fact, like you said, that ballpark figure, but that base structure, it's like the layout of your home. You get that base structure, and then you bring the engineers to add all those fine tuned touches, which may adjust the cost to some degree. But generally you will know going forward what those big costs are going to be.

Glenn Fishbine: And one of the things that we generally do before we get to a final agreement with the customer is we give them a demo of what we're doing and how we're doing it. It's an interactive screen sharing demo. We take a community, maybe even their community, and we show them the detail, the granularity that we can get to from an automation point of view. The accuracy on a lot of our geographic information is within a few meters of actual. Our elevation data is within a meter of actual. Our ground clutter data is within about three meters of actual. And although you may not know what those terms mean, these are the things that determine whether it's feasible to put in, say, a fixed wireless solutions that's inexpensive or if your only alternative is fiber. This type of demo is available, generally takes about 30 minutes, and if you're curious, you want to kick the tires, give us a call. We'll give you a demo.

Christopher Mitchell: Nancy, can you tell us a little bit more about what a community walks away with. Like, we can give them a presentation and describe these things to them, you know, as we're talking, but what sort of information do they have then to present to the community and to use moving forward?

Nancy DeGidio: They will have a map. They will have actual numbers, a layout. They will be able to actually go in and drill right into the map by address to see what that particular address would be covered by, whether it would be satellite or what have you. It's way more information than they would ever receive from any other study that we've seen.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say a map, anyone can go to a website and enter in their address to see the network layout that the cities have gotten to have a sense of what's available to them in that scenario. So when you said a map, I want to be clear, it's an interactive online map,

Nancy DeGidio: Exactly. So if they choose, they can allow that map to be visible to the citizens, where they can go in and actually view what kind of service would be available to them.

Glenn Fishbine: The engineering details are probably more than most people would want to have. But for example, if there's a fixed wireless component, what we do is we calculate for each sector of the fixed wireless element, how many households are in that direction, which helps us do the load balancing calculations. If it's a pure fiber network, of course you won't want any fixed wireless, but if you do have some, this is engineering details specific to the actual tower installation. Most communities won't want to go there, but if they do, it's there.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and so I think one of the things that we found interesting and that you've added, Glenn, is — and I think you do it through your iterations, but there's a sense of if a community was to say, you know, we know that we can find $6 million to connect people in this territory, we can give, using this software, a sense of, okay, well the way to stretch that the furthest is to do a certain percentage in fiber and the rest in wireless and if you can get the towers in these locations — and you identify existing towers as well — but that's the sort of information that we can provide. And so it's a little bit different from the conception of saying how do we get everyone connected with broadband? We can actually take a given dollar figure and try to figure out how to maximize the fiber versus the wireless investment.

Glenn Fishbine: Yeah. The granularity also — you know, if Joe Blow down the street, he's got his Comcast cable and that whole block is fully covered with Comcast. If you want to exclude that block from the study, you just tell us we don't want to go there and we'll get your granularity down to about, oh, I think it's a 0.8 mile accuracy for knocking blocks out of the study.

Nancy DeGidio: There is a lot of data that is received from the study. A large portion of it, you know, citizens probably wouldn't be concerned with. But engineers, you know, the people running the broadband committee, those are the people that will delve into different parts of the data depending on their role in the project.

Glenn Fishbine: There's even a set of spreadsheets that's designed specifically for the bean counters within the community, which shows if you're working with an ISP, the type of return on investment the ISP would expect. It shows us how we come up with the different cost models and recommendations and what constitutes an affordable versus a not affordable network. And that's something that you can take to the city council or to your finance committee or whatever and use this as part of the justification in moving forward.

Nancy DeGidio: Well, and the nice thing about the studies is we don't make up the numbers. [laughs] The communities actually feed us information to put into the software. We're getting that information actually from the community before we do a study and then putting those numbers into the software. That to me is powerful. You know, you're making the decisions as a community as to where you want to go with the study?

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I wanted to jump in, is something Glenn said earlier. I cringe at it every time that he says it. He knows it. And that's the finality with which he sort of says, you know, we can't do fiber everywhere. And I know that Glenn actually agrees with what I'm about to say based on past conversations, but it's more a sense of, you know, in the immediate future it is not likely that you'll be able to justify spending the kind of money that would be necessary to get fiber out to everywhere. And so over the next five years, the question is how much would it cost to get fiber out to the places where it's possible to pay for itself reasonably, get wireless out to the rest of the folks, and then reevaluate in five years and figure out how to expand around the time that the fixed wireless might be coming due for a replacement. And so, one of the things that I'll say candidly, I'll give away a secret in the Community Networks Quickstart package that we'll give you information that provides some guidance, is this sense of you're not making the decision here that's final. This is the first step in a multipart process, and one of the things that's really useful about getting the wireless out there, is it starts a revenue stream that can be reinvested in future years to connect more people. If you're in an area that has limited economic opportunity today, doesn't have millions of dollars lying around, you can still do something and then be able to expand that over time. And perhaps there's government grants that come available, there's foundations that want to support it, or whatever. You have planning documents, you have all kinds of information that you would need then to expand the network over time.

Glenn Fishbine: Yeah. One of the things that a lot of people don't understand is that the wireless technology does not stand still. If we were say, recommending wireless technology five years ago, I would be ashamed of the technology that was on the market then. What is available now is decent. It gives you a good quality broadband well above the FCC minimum daily requirements, as I guess I call them, and it's not atypical to get a download speed upwards of 80 megabits per second off of some of the newer wireless technologies. Those will continue to improve. Now they're not going to go through trees, they won't go through buildings, they won't go through mountains, they won't go over mountains in most cases, but for those sparse areas where it's too expensive to put in fiber, they're adequate now. So using a mix, a hybrid of both fixed wireless and fiber is a viable solution to many rural communities.

Nancy DeGidio: Yeah, I would agree with that. You can't go through certain things now, but putting in the most cost effective solution in those areas is what we're going for. We're not gonna do any miracles. We're just looking for the best possible solution for your community.

Christopher Mitchell: Glenn, as you've been working on this, is there any kind of baseline numbers of what a community might expect to spend in building a network that you would be modeling for them?

Glenn Fishbine: I can give you a range of numbers based on studies we've done. Assuming this is a brand new build out, there's no preexisting infrastructure, the way we think about it is the cost per household: how much does it cost to bring one house into the broadband network? And generally there's two ways of thinking of it. If this were for example a tax levy, how much would it cost that family per month to be part of a broadband network infrastructure? And what we're seeing is numbers as low as $15 a month for some technologies, depending upon which ones you're using, and they can get well above $300 a month, which is another way of saying it's time for a tax revolt. But another way of thinking of this is in terms of just the total dollar cost per household. If you're looking for a grant or if you're looking for, I guess, a community financing project, municipal financing or self financing, on a cost per household basis the ranges we're seeing are somewhere at the low end around $800 per household, which will be largely a fixed wireless implementation, and they go as high as $9,000 - $10,000 a household for a full Fiber-to-the-Home solution. The key thing is realizing it's an order of magnitude range in cost. You need to see the alternatives and know which one you can zero in on.

Christopher Mitchell: So if people want more information, one of the best places to go is the website we have set up, which is CNQuickstart(as in Community Networks Quickstart).com. And there's more information there about how to reach out and contact us, but [we're] happy to do a demo, happy to, you know, give you a sense of if you want to describe your situation, if it seems like something we can be assisting in. And bam, please feel free to reach out. Is there anything left that you want to share, Nancy, before we hang up the microphones?

Nancy DeGidio: Yeah, I'd like to say that the studies that we've done, people are amazed at the data that they're receiving and the information they're receiving. I just can't reiterate that enough that the data is very extensive and it's real. It's real data. You know, we're not making stuff up so getting right back into the community, you know, real solutions that could be implemented in your community

Christopher Mitchell: And Glenn, any closing thoughts?

Glenn Fishbine: I guess as the primary geek here, I have wonderful Chris and Nancy to translate the things I say into normal English. Count on them to guide you through.

Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. Well thank you for coming in. I mean, this is something we've been working on for six months, so it's really exciting to talk about it publicly and I look forward to sharing it. And in case people are curious, we do see this as something that's a newer product that can add to the market. We do plan to continue offering the same [news] coverage that we do, looking at all municipal network issues. We're offering this product now, although it's something that I primarily work on. Lisa who continues to edit MuniNetworks.org will not let, you know, any of our kind of motivations in terms of trying to work with clients on this get in the way of our coverage, so... But if you have any questions, feel free to let us know. I'm incredibly excited about this because I think this is a very valuable tool for communities just when you're getting started to get information that's really essential quickly into your hands so that you can make really more targeted decisions moving forward and make this happen a little bit more rapidly. Because I'm always concerned that, you know, if it takes too long to get basic information, people might lose a little bit of interest or lose hope that they can actually take action. And so let's hope that this Community Networks Quickstart helps things move along a little bit more quickly and helps communities make smart decisions.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Nancy DeGidio and Glenn Fishbine talking with Christopher about Community Networks Quickstart, the new service that launched in 2018 to help local communities get a headstart as they investigate possibilities for publicly owned infrastructure. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. And thank you for listening to episode 339 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Community Broadband Media Roundup - January 14

January 14, 2019

Florida

Commission candidates talk broadband, Bonnet Springs by Mike Ferguson, The Ledger

 

Michigan

Portland ready to measure interest in citywide Internet service by Mitchell Boatman, Sentinel Standard

 

Minnesota

Is there a cable company worse than Comcast? Meet Frontier. By Hannah Jones, City Pages

 

Mississippi

Digital divide: Plan to expand Internet access proves popular in House and with Mississippians Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today

“The lack of affordable, reliable and adequate Internet service in Mississippi is a crisis and is one that we had better fix, if we want our children and grandchildren to stay here”

 

Missouri 

Rural business works with city to bring fiber Internet to Perry, Missouri by Frank Healy, WGEM

 

New York

Saratoga Springs, N.Y., advances fiber network project by Wendy Liberatore, Times Union 

New deal to govern how broadband providers market speeds by Pete Demola, The Sun

 

North Carolina

Rural surveys help identify need for broadband by Valerie Crowder

Albemarle will host broadband event Jan. 28 by Chris Miller, Stanly News & Press

 

General

America desperately needs fiber Internet, and the tech giants won’t save us by Eric Johnson, Recode

Telehealth changes will increase rural broadband demand by Craig Settles, Daily Yonder

State laws slow down high-speed Internet for rural America by April Simpson, PEW 

"Electric cooperatives are simply the single greatest hope for most of rural America to have really good Internet access."

 

Tags: media roundup

Don't Miss These Livestream Events from DC January 15th, 16th

January 14, 2019

As you plan your week, make sure you have access to YouTube early so you can livestream the "Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy" from 9 a.m. - 12:30 EST. The event, which will be streaming from Washington, D.C., is sponsored by Next Century Cities (NCC), the American Action Forum, and Public Knowledge

Check out the agenda for the event.

Distinguished Guests

In addition to keynote conversations from FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Blair Levin, our Christopher Mitchell will moderate a panel on rural broadband. The discussion on rural broadband will include input from:

 Other panels will cover the topics of data privacy and security, and spectrum. Representatives from institutions such as the Georgetown Law Center on Privacty and Technology, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and ALEC will also be attending; expect a spirited event. It’s a half-day filled with policy, described by Next Century Cities as: 

[B]ringing together members of Congress, community leaders, and policy experts. Keynote conversations and panel discussions will work to determine key policy goals and action steps for the new Congress, with a specific focus on rural broadband, digital privacy and security, and spectrum legislation.

You can watch the livestream here and follow the conversation on Twitter: #BipartisanTech

 

 

Toolkit on the Way

As long as you’re scheduling livestreams, make sure to also put January 16th on your list.

For months the folks at Next Century Cities have been working with member cities and policy experts to develop a resource that includes policies and best practices for local communities interested in better connectivity. On January 16th, NCC will hold an official launch event for “Becoming Broadband Ready,” to share their findings.

The toolkit will include policies to help identify needs and goals, grow support, simplify permitting and leasing practices, and additional resources. Check out the launch event on Wednesday, January 16th at 12 p.m. EST to see policy experts and community leaders discuss their findings and experiences with broadband readiness. 

Christopher will also be moderating a panel at the toolkit launch event. Watch here:

Tags: next century citieseventchristopher mitchelldebatedeb sociajessica rosenworcelruralpublic knowledge

Rep. Doug Collins Leads Charge for CAF Accountability

January 11, 2019

While 97 percent of Georgia’s urban population has access to broadband, the urban-rural digital divide in the state remains stark and only 70.9 percent of the rural population has that access. Considering estimates are based on self-reported data from incumbent providers and determined broadly by census block, the data overstates the reality on the ground. Representative Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th congressional district is now leading the charge to mitigate this disparity, not only in his home state but in rural regions throughout the country. In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee stated his intentions of introducing the CAF (Connect America Fund) Accountability Act at the start of the 116th Congress. Collin, a Republican representing Georgia's 9th District, introduced H.R. 427 on January 10th. If passed, the bill will create stricter requirements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband infrastructure funding under CAF.

Reaching for Accountability

CAF was designed to subsidize network deployments in unserved rural areas, which have often been overlooked due to the high expense of constructing infrastructure for few and scattered populations. While many providers that have received this funding have used it properly, as Collins stated, “others have taken taxpayer dollars but failed to fulfill their obligations to their consumers… instead using taxpayer dollars ineffectively or inappropriately – turning their backs on those families at the last mile.”

Currently, CAF recipients are required to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. While this threshold is well below the current FCC definition of “broadband” service of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, Collins noted that in his home district of Northeast Georgia, a region where a majority of ISPs are CAF recipients, consumers report speeds that are “consistently abysmal, sometimes not even reaching 3 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps.”

According to a fact sheet on the bill, H.R. 427 will require Internet access companies that accept CAF funding to routinely test the service the offer for speed and latency. They are required to send the results of those tests to the FCC on a quarterly basis. Testing must also occur in locations representative of residences and businesses areas in CAF service areas. CAF recipients must also include their method of testing and are subject to audit.

Read more of the details on the fact sheet for H.R. 427.

The Start of Something Better?

The CAF Accountability Act will attempt to ensure that CAF recipients report the speeds they actually provide subscribers and not just what they advertise. The adjustment in reported speeds can help the FCC more accurately disperse future CAF funds to only high-performing ISPs. As Collins stated, “the 21st century economy demands access to reliable broadband services.” If passed, the CAF Accountability Act will help bring Georgia and the rest of the country one step closer to ensuring that all residents have access to this essential resource.

Tags: georgialegislationfederal governmentcongressconnect america fundaccountabilityfederal funding

North Carolina Co-ops Merge to Connect Rural Communities Across the State(s)

January 10, 2019

Urban areas in North Carolina don’t have the same challenges obtaining high-quality Internet access as rural communities, but telephone and electric co-ops are taking more steps to change that imbalance. Cooperatives are filling gaps and finding opportunities where national ISPs don't see a high enough profit margin. Wilkes Communications/RiverStreet Networks and TriCounty Telephone recently merged to find those gaps and serve North Carolinians left behind.

Acquiring and Expanding 

In September 2018, TriCounty Telephone Membership Corporation merged with Wilkes Telephone Membership, the parent entity of Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks. The cooperative also acquired Peoples Mutual Telephone Company and Peoples Mutual Long Distance Company, which took Wilkes into southern Virginia. 

When they added several other smaller companies, the cooperative continued to implement their strategy to bring broadband to rural communities without limiting themselves to one region. In addition to counties in central North Carolina, the cooperative now serves people along the north border, in a few south central counties, and in three counties far in eastern North Carolina that brush the eastern shore.

President and CEO Eric Cramer told the Journal Patriot in September that, where national ISPs turn away, Wilkes sees opportunity:

“Larger companies have abandoned these areas, so we think there is an advantage to grow there. A number of rural counties are looking to partner with companies like ours to help bring broadband like we’ve done here in Wilkes. .... These buildouts are much harder and take longer to produce results than acquisitions.”

Merging with TriCounty made sense because TriCounty had reached its potential due to size and scale limitations. TriCounty’s Vice President for business development Greg Coltrain recently told WNCT Channel 9 that the cooperative was considering the quickest way to bringing high-quality Internet access to rural North Carolina and achieve long-term success when they chose to merge with Wilkes:

"Our goal and our initiative is to find those areas, come up with an adequate business case that makes sense,” said Coltrain. “And even if it takes us seven or eight years return some investment back into the company for it, that's what we're willing to do, so that we can make sure people aren't left behind."

Finding Funding

Now that TriCounty and Wilkes have merged, the resulting entity has more resources to develop networks and to seek sources of funding. Wilkes received approximately $21.6 million in federal stimulus funds in the form of grants and loans in 2010. This past summer, Wilkes received $32 million in Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) funding in order to connect some of the most rural and unserved areas. With the announcement that the USDA plans to provide $600 million in grants and loans for broadband deployment, the cooperative anticipates applying for more.

"We've put people on the moon,” said Coltrain. “But we're still trying to get rural broadband developed across our country. And the reason for the delay is the sheer cost of getting it out."

Co-ops Are "Getting It Out"

Co-ops across rural America are taking the initiative where national Internet access providers don’t see large profit centers. North Carolina is one of the states where urban dwellers typically have decent services and may even have choice, but folks living outside of the larger cities often consider themselves fortunate to have access to DSL, which is unacceptable. Cooperative board members who are part of those less urbanized communities don’t want their local economies to dwindle and disappear. They also hear cooperative members express a demand for connectivity in order to pursue better educational opportunities, entrepreneurship, and telehealth options. 

Co-ops already have infrastructure in place, along with personnel and equipment that can facilitate deployment and operation of broadband networks. And rather than run by distant companies with headquarters across the country, rural electric and telephone cooperatives answer to member owners. Board members typicallly interact with subscribers in the communities they serve; they have personal reasons to take steps to build up their communities.

Read more about how cooperatives are bringing fiber connectivity to areas left behind in our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era.

We also interviewed Eric Cramer back in 2016 for episode 188 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Have a listen to learn more:

Photo credit Wilkes Communications.

Tags: cooperativenorth carolinamergerruralwilkes communicationsriver street networksfederal fundinggrantloan

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 338

January 10, 2019

This is the transcript for episode 338 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Jeff Christensen from EntryPoint about software defined networking and how to change our current telecommunications models to promote innovation and subscriber control. The audio for the episode is available here.

 

 

Jeff Christensen: Around 2003, cloud computing changed. The data center changed, and cloud computing changed. And that's when we got automation, software control, virtualization maturing, and then a few years later we got software defined networking. The convergence of all those technologies changed the data center, the cloud, and the Internet — changed the way we experience the Internet.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 338 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, we bring you a conversation with Jeff Christensen from EntryPoint Networks. EntryPoint develops software defined networks, also known as dynamic open access networks — an approach with the potential to redefine the municipal open access model. Regular listeners will recognize Ammon. Idaho, as a software defined network, and Christopher and Jeff discuss Ammon during the interview. Jeff describes a model where municipalities fill the role of infrastructure provider while services are handled by the marketplace. Innovation, security speed, and individual choice, not only of provider but also of how a subscriber uses the infrastructure, can reverse the negative impacts of a model that we've all grown accustomed to. This focus on control for users rather than technology from ISPs allows innovation without constraint, which ultimately benefits everyone. Christopher and Jeff also discuss how cloud computing has affected software defined networks and reimagine the way we use the Internet. They get into cloud edge computing and discuss how future trends show users defining technology needs. Be sure to watch Jeff's TED Talks and check out more about how EntryPoint is helping to redefine open access at entpnt.com. We have links and embedded videos on the podcast page. Now, here's Christopher and Jeff Christensen from EntryPoint Networks.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. It's 2019 and we're starting off pretty strong. I'm Chris Mitchell up here in Minneapolis with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in case you didn't pick up on that in the last 340 or so episodes, talking today with Jeff Christensen, the president of EntryPoint Networks, who I'm going to guess — you're coming to me from Utah today.

Jeff Christensen: That's right. Salt Lake City.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I was hoping that you'd be home. I know you spend a lot of time on the road. Actually, several of my listeners may be familiar with your TED Talk videos that we've tried to promote over the years. Before we talk about EntryPoint, I'd just curious if you'd give us a little sense of your background.

Jeff Christensen: It's sort of an unintentional history of startups. I did my schooling — I did my undergraduate here at the University of Utah, and then I did a master's degree back at Purdue in Indiana.

Christopher Mitchell: Big Ten.

Jeff Christensen: Big Ten. Yeah, that's right. After graduate school, I went to work for a boutique consulting firm. Through that, [I] met Brad Banyai, who became now a 30 year business partner. Together we started three companies. After the consulting firm, we purchased a software company that converted paper data to digital data, primarily for the healthcare industry, and we grew that company from four employees to 500 employees and then sold it to a company in Nashville in 2010. And as we got to the point where we thought we would sell that company, we invested in EntryPoint. That was in 2008. We knew about software, we knew about managing development teams, but we didn't know anything about networking, and really we invested because we believed in Robert Peterson, who we had met sort of on a chance meeting. So Robert really is the founder of EntryPoint, and he's our technology strategist.

Christopher Mitchell: And Robert is someone who — anyone who's watched the video we did, the 20 minute-ish video on Ammon, Idaho's approach with software defined networking and their whole financial model — and we're gonna talk about how EntryPoint is very involved in that — but people may have seen Robert Peterson in that video.

Jeff Christensen: We met Robert [and] invested not from a position of understanding but from really a position of faith in his intelligence and grasp of the issues, and once we sold the other company that we had built, we turned our full attention to EntryPoint. And it's been a long research and development cycle, really fulltime efforts since 2012, but I think the platform that we've built is right for the times. I think there's a lot of convergence going on that gives us some real competitive advantages and opportunity to make a difference.

Christopher Mitchell: Jeff, you've done, like I said, several TED Talks, and I'm curious if you can just tell us a little bit about what's broken in terms of the telecommunications networks that we all depend on.

Jeff Christensen: Yeah. The first TED Talk I gave really was focused on what's broken. I think most people think about what's broken in terms of paying too much and getting too little back, and that's certainly part of the issue, but fundamentally, what we think is broken is the way the whole system is structured. And the way we say it — and I've got to credit Seth Godin because we kind of took something Seth Godin had written and modified it for our own benefit — we say that incumbent network operators want to serve just enough to make the maximum profit and cities are incentivized to build networks which profit just enough to provide the maximum service. So it's flipping really the whole model upside down. Right now, the incumbents have total control because they control the infrastructure and the services, and by breaking that up we can build networks that are really designed to serve subscribers. And so, that's fundamental for us, is breaking up that control and organizing systems in favor of consumers.

Christopher Mitchell: What I really like about that, what really appeals to me is that that problem statement makes it clear that our problem is not going to be solved just with better technology. And this is one of those things I think sometimes people get hung up on when they're trying to improve Internet access or network access more broadly in their community, is they start thinking "fiber, fiber, fiber." And your focus is on who controls it as opposed to what the technology is. I think we all agree that we're looking at a fiber optic technology ideally, but who knows where that'll go over the next several decades. And you're focused on kind of who controls the technologies and what incentives they have.

Jeff Christensen: Yeah. Yeah. We're very much focused on the control issues and the incentive issues, and ultimately we think this area is open to disruption because the systems aren't set up to serve customers. They're set up to serve the profit interests of the large incumbents. And that's not immoral; it's not unethical. It just doesn't work for consumers, and it will continue not to work until we fix that problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, it's kind of like saying, you know, on the Savannah, the lion eating its prey is not immoral, but it is inconvenient for the antelope and those kinds of animals.

Jeff Christensen: That's right.

Christopher Mitchell: So what are we doing about it? Let's get into this. I mean, I think we can't assume that everyone who is listening is familiar with Ammon, no matter how many times I talk about it. So how do you want to explain what Ammon's doing and how EntryPoint figures into that?

Jeff Christensen: To keep it simple, Ammon is really two things. The way we look at it, Ammon is a financing mechanism and it's a technology platform. And I think both of them are innovative, although we've seen hints of both in different places, but what's core to the financing mechanism is that risk is distributed to the subscribers. So rather than the city itself taking on the risk, Ammon has distributed that risk to the people who voluntarily participate in the network. There are quite a few moving parts on the technology, but fundamentally the technology separates the infrastructure and the services, and that separation allows us to solve what we think is broken with the current model. So we talk about it as open access, as cloud. In our world, we're moving all the service providers, including the ISP, to the cloud, and we're leveraging advanced networking tools to make access look like the Internet. So what's really broken technologically is access because access is a siloed system; it's a closed system controlled by the incumbents. And so we're opening that up, moving services to the cloud, moving control of the infrastructure to the city — or could be a utility, could be a cooperative — but we're moving control so the control can be shifted to the consumer or the subscriber.

Christopher Mitchell: So before we lose people who might start to be intimidated, let's unpack what it means to separate the infrastructure from the services. You know, I think maybe it's useful to think about this in terms of our own homes. You know, I have ethernet cords running throughout my home. How do I separate the services from the infrastructure conceptually in that environment?

Jeff Christensen: So if we think about infrastructure, let's stay with fiber optics since that's our most robust media. To keep it simple, let's ask who controls the fiber optics? Right now that's the large incumbents in 99.x percent of the country. And then let's say who controls the services? And again, it's the same answer for 99+ percent of the country: it's the large incumbents. So rather than explaining it technologically, just think about the group that owns the infrastructure is different than the group that controls the services, and technologically we've created a system that allows those to be independent of each other — to leverage each other but to interact independently of each other. And the services all get pushed to the cloud, which means all service providers, including ISPs, are software companies, and once we get to software, we know that we've got a lot more flexibility. It's a lot more dynamic, and the magic is that real competition can happen. And a bunch of other things can happen. Innovation can happen. Whereas in this siloed system we live in today, innovation really cannot happen in the access space because it only happens at the speed of the incumbent, so the incumbent has full control over all of that.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's think about this back — as you were describing it, I was thinking back to when dial up was exciting, not to when it was depressing, but back in the early and mid nineties when many of us were just thrilled to be using dial up to get on the Internet. At that point, almost anybody could create an ISP because the phone service allowed you to use their lines. And so an ISP didn't know how to connect people to homes. They didn't have to worry about dialing, how the phone system really worked. They just answered phone calls with a modem bank, and then they put people on the Internet. So all of the physical stuff was just abstracted away in the sense that if you wanted to be an ISP, you didn't have to know how to construct a physical network. In some ways, that's what you're replicating now, and in doing that, you're removing barriers to entry for all kinds of companies that then can specialize in software, in working with users and providing them services without worrying about how to build a physical network.

Jeff Christensen: Exactly, and that's a critical piece. So on the EntryPoint side of it, we see our job to be to make it easy for the stakeholders of the network to do their thing and then to interact with each other. So, our job is to make it easy for a new ISP to come onto the network. Our job is to provide an interface that's intuitive, that makes it easy for the subscriber to switch ISPs. In Ammon, we've sort of built a lot of stock around the idea that they can switch their ISP in 30 seconds. But also, our job is to make it easy for the network operator to see what's going on in the network. In the next month, we will roll out in Ammon some tools that allow all three stakeholders to real time identify where an issue is. So if there's an outage, all three stakeholders — the subscriber, the service provider, and the network operator — simultaneously will be able to get an alarm and say, "This is where the problem is."

Christopher Mitchell: And that's different from the majority of open access networks today, where I think if there's an outage, of the three stakeholders: the ISP, the network operator, which we'll assume is the city for this purpose, and the subscriber — in most of those open access networks today, if there's an outage, only the operator, the city, could really know where that is most likely today. Right?

Jeff Christensen: Yeah. I think that's true. Not only in open access, but I think it's true everywhere. I mean, we just had that big CenturyLink outage and it was a couple of days before we got an explanation on what happened. Our goal is to make that obvious real time. And to tell, we're actually going to prompt consumers. We're gonna send out text messages, before they know it, that there's an outage, and then if they should call someone, we're gonna tell them who to call by identifying where the problem is.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that I think is interesting is that both with your problem statement and with the tools that you're building, I think you will not be successful if the only thing that results in Ammon or in other cities that you're working with is lower prices for Internet access. And I want to get into that in a second. I just wanted to first note that I am just going to skip all the ways in which Ammon's financing model is brilliant and really avoids a lot of the challenges focused with building these networks because we've done several shows on it. We have a video about it. So I'll encourage people if they want to learn more about that particular angle, which would be a natural thing to talk about, to check out some of those past shows. We'll have links to that stuff in the podcast page that is associated with this. But tell me, you know, would you regard it as a failure if the only result in Ammon that sets it apart from other places is a lower price for the same kind of services?

Jeff Christensen: It's great question and something we struggle with because we sometimes are too focused on the future, where what consumers understand today is lower cost.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Jeff Christensen: Or bandwidth. We're actually going to a city council meeting tonight here in Utah where a good percentage of the residents have less than one meg and many of them are on a point-to-point wireless network because there is no alternative. So you know, there is a segment of the country that still is either not served or vastly underserved, and the problem they see in front of them is clearly an access at all — a zero access problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's a good reminder and a note that you're not just sort of focused on the areas that already have good service and figuring out how to make it better. Your solution certainly will apply to areas that have nothing as well as those that are more advanced, but I think it's worth noting that Ammon has by FCC standards pretty modern connectivity in the absence of this network that your technology is enabling. So I just want to get back to poking you on this issue of exactly what is success for EntryPoint.

Jeff Christensen: So given that what consumers understand today is faster speed and lower costs, and that's certainly part of the equation. But the question we ask ourselves is how can municipal broadband move from being somewhat marginal in terms of just sheer numbers — although it's growing — but how does it move from being somewhat marginal to being real disruption, to being something that every city is thinking about and eventually every city is doing something about. So I think that's the way we frame it, is what problems do we need to solve so that every city is focused on this and doing something about it. And I think there are real reasons to be optimistic on say a 10 to 15 year view, and that's because cities can solve the fundamental problem which is paying attention to what the subscribers want, but there is really tight alignment between the interests of the city and the interests of the consumer. I mean, they both want the same thing from the network. And many of those things are things that the cities aren't paying attention to today and subscribers aren't thinking about today, and so that has to do with what does the future look like and what will the network have to be capable of doing in order to check those boxes. And you know, there's a lot of hype around 5G right now, and 5G is being presented as sort of this knight riding in on a horse that's going to solve all the problems. But it's not going to solve the fundamental problem, which is 5G is still going to be designed for the benefit of the network operator and the service providers — the incumbents — and so it's still not going to solve the fundamental issue.

Christopher Mitchell: Which is one of control, which is one of the things that we're excited about in Ammon is this idea of what if somebody has a really good idea? Does the network allow them to do that? And that's where I think to some extent we're putting our hopes that the future is not just one of streaming video over the Internet from centralized sources that are kind of distributed but centralized, you know, in terms of who owns them, but as much more of local companies doing interesting things with local clouds, right?

Jeff Christensen: Yup. Yup. That's right. And so, one way to think about it technologically is that around 2003 cloud computing changed. The data center changed, and cloud computing changed. And that's when we got automation, software control, virtualization maturing, and then a few years later, we got software defined networking. All of the convergence of all those technologies changed the data center, changed the cloud, and changed the Internet — changed the way we experience the internet. And we see those same things now pushing out into, you know, let's call them wide area networks, those same technologies. And that's really technologically what we're doing is applying all of those technologies that changed the data center. We're now applying them to a wide area network and making the networks more flexible, more responsive — really making the access space look like the Internet itself because we're applying all these technologies to access.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, I like to be specific wherever possible. And so, you know, when I'm imagining as you're talking about that switch over in 2003 is prior to 2003, if you had a company that suddenly had thousands of new potential customers that wanted to use its online service, they'd probably have to put a whole bunch of new physical machines together. They'd have to put software that would be an operating system on those machines. They'd have to do all this work — you know, physical cards. And now, they've virtualized all of that, and so it's just kind of like a computer basically makes decisions as to how to allocate space on a vast server farm and there's a lot less human intervention involved. That's more or less the story, right?

Jeff Christensen: Yeah, that's exactly the story. I think what the industry (and I would say it's more the data center industry that's focusing on this but more and more telecommunications) is calling it is cloud edge computing. One of the founders of software defined networking is Scott Shenker out of Berkeley, and one of the things he said that we've paid a lot of attention to is that everything interesting will happen in software at the edge, and by the edge we mean the consumer edge.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and in some ways it means I decide, not AT&T decides, right? That's what the edge means.

Jeff Christensen: Yeah, that's exactly right. It's "what do we need to have happen out there on a light pole by a security camera in a school that's intelligent, that's automated, that's software mediated?" What has to happen there and what does the network have to look like to make that possible? And so technologically, that's what we're focused on.

Christopher Mitchell: And this all gets back to — and I don't think we've done a good enough job of hammering it home — something that's often called permissionless innovation. And I think one of the things that I just love about your view of how we should build networks is that, you know, if a school has an interesting IT idea, they should be able to implement that. And maybe they want to coordinate with the city who owns the network, if that's the case, but maybe they don't have to. But if they're in a situation in which, for instance, CenturyLink owns the pipes, they would have to probably go to CenturyLink and ask them because it's a different paradigm of how the network is operated. And we want to avoid that situation because the school's not going to be able to get CenturyLink's permission to do something innovative and different.

Jeff Christensen: The permissionless part of it is very important and it's subtle. The structure of the incumbent model prevents a whole bunch of things from happening because, you know, the example you gave. Because the incumbents want to monetize everything that happens and because they want to treat bandwidth as a scarce resource for monetization reasons, there is a whole bunch of stuff that doesn't happen. And so, you know, go back to the Ammon model. Part of the genius of Bruce Patterson was, once you pay for your infrastructure, you're really liberated to do what you want to do with the network. As long as you behave inside the rules of engagement, you do have a lot of freedom to use that infrastructure in really open ways. And then technologically, our job is to make it easy, to give interfaces and automation that makes it easy for interesting things to happen at the edge.

Christopher Mitchell: So what does a city think about today as they are sort of unaware of where the network's going to go, but they want to be enabling as many opportunities as possible for the next 10 - 20 years.

Jeff Christensen: The cities that are working with EntryPoint today are cities that have somebody like Bruce Patterson. They have somebody who's actually thinking about not just the fast internet, low cost problem, which is a problem in every city, but they're actually creating a strategy for 10 years, 20 years from now, and as technology impinges more and more on the operations of the city, they're actually thinking about it. And we understand that not every city is going to have a Bruce Patterson.

Christopher Mitchell: This is one of those inconveniences of history, but so Bruce Patterson is the IT director for the city of Ammon and a close partner, effectively and at least ideologically and spiritually, with Robert Peterson. For people who are unfamiliar with both of these names, we're kind of going back and forth, but the two of them, I hope, will end up in some history books as this model changes the world in the best of all possible universes. But for people who aren't familiar, go back and check out the videos we've done [and] the podcast interviews we've done with these folks.

Jeff Christensen: In terms of the cities and how they're framing the problems, [in] part of the work we do, we've found that the municipal broadband as a whole hasn't been focused enough on strategy, and strategy by definition means that we're thinking about why we're solving the problem. We're thinking long term and short term. And so part of the work we're doing is really trying to get the cities to invest in strategy and think through — you know, there are places we can go to look and find out where are the trend lines for technology, and what do those trend lines mean for cities? What are the implications? And really as a city, are you comfortable outsourcing your digital future to a large incumbent and letting them set your strategy, letting them set what's possible for you? Or do you have to get serious about thinking about the future and thinking about what the network that is so fundamental to life now, thinking about what that network has to do?

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the challenges that you pose, is that cities getting into this space, it's always going to be a challenge. If you're going to get into it with the mindset of a Wilson, a Chattanooga, a Lafayette, and many others who have built very successful triple play networks in which they are the only operator and they are hitting their metrics of success — you know, that's challenging on one axis. On a different axis is saying we're going to try to move ahead and not just be successful within the framework of kind of historic incumbent cable and telephone models, but in a new way of enabling all kinds of innovation and thinking outside the box in ways that could have repercussions that are unpredictable today. And that I think is less challenging from a sense of how do we compete with the cable company, and it's more challenging in a sense of "What technological decisions are we making? Who are we hiring with what job description?" Those are the sorts of harder problems you have in that scenario.

Jeff Christensen: That's right, and you know, as we think about the potential disruptive capability, not just of EntryPoint but of the convergence of technologies combined with cities taking these issues seriously, so I think the convergence — and I'm going to add in the Ammon model. The Ammon model is the financial model that Bruce Patterson developed because really what he's saying is that a city can build this network for zero municipal debt. In Ammon's case, the city did contribute, but they could have still been successful if they had distributed all of the debt to the people that opt in. And so, the message of the Ammon financial model is every city can do this without any municipal debt and you can still lower the costs for consumers. You can still increase the speeds. And in addition, you can build a network that's future proof, meaning the network is evolvable and it's flexible and it's resilient and it's scalable and it's repeatable city after city. So you know, the financial model is critical because it's such a big boulder for cities to crawl over, but we can achieve everything that's been achieved in Lafayette, in Chattanooga, meaning lower costs, more value, a successful network. And by adding in these technological attributes, we can also give cities something that really has an economic development impact and really enables the future because they control this essential infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: The financial model from Ammon frees you from the debt, and it frees you in the sense that you're not making decisions as to, "Oh, how do we make sure we make our next month's debt payment? Can we really enable this or do we need to figure out a price to put on it?" You're free from that because the debt has been taken care of by the subscribers and the enthusiastic supporters [of] the system.

Jeff Christensen: Yeah. And it's in your other podcast, but fundamentally we're going to the homeowner and we're saying, look, we want to cut a deal with you. We want you to treat your broadband connection like your sewer and water connection, as an improvement to the property. Because of that, you can either pay for that connection up front or we'll give you a financing mechanism. In return, you're going to be an owner of that infrastructure, which means you can pay it off. You know, we believe that we can go into any city and drop the average price 20 to 30 percent, and then once they pay off the infrastructure, we can drop it another 20 to 30 percent. And so the deal is, you take ownership of the infrastructure, Mr. Subscriber, Mrs. Subscriber. In return, we're going give you a whole bunch of value. We're going to give you lower costs. We're going to give you faster speeds. We're going to give you new technological capabilities. And so, it's a deal between the city and the subscriber, and the city really becomes an enabler of this. And by becoming an enabler, the city gets all this value back because they really become a connected city and they've got this robust network that they can now do a lot of interesting things with in public safety, telemedicine, emergency communications — you know, everything that cities care about.

Christopher Mitchell: As we wrap up here, I feel like people listening to this might be thinking, well, okay, EntryPoint provides sort of both some leadership on this and the software that enables the network to operate. But you're actually helping cities at a very early stage to understand this and to move in this direction. In some ways, you're consulting as well with cities that are interested in this approach.

Jeff Christensen: We are. We don't intend to become a consulting firm, and we don't describe ourselves [as one]. We describe ourselves as a software platform, as a service. But to shift from what we know today to what we have to be in the future, it does require consulting and so that is the first phase. The cities that we're working with that are actively implementing networks, the first part of that is creating a broadband plan which includes a strategy and then an execution plan and then a project plan. And so that's all sort of a consulting role even though we don't see ourselves as a consulting company.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, but we'll be seeing some more announcements over 2019 of more cities that are moving forward. I guess the last question is just, you know, how many cities are already adopting the Ammon model that you can speak publicly about?

Jeff Christensen: We've learned that it's not necessarily — while it would be good from a PR point of view to fuel the momentum, we've learned that as soon as word gets out that cities are moving this direction that the flood gates open up on opposition. And we had a city just recently that was a done deal [that] got strong incumbent pressure and strong legislative pressure, and they backed off their plan because of that. And so, we probably will be slow to announce. I think I'm comfortable saying that we're going to have 15 cities in 2019 moving forward with this model. We'll be slow to announce those cities just because we don't think we do them a favor. We create more burden and hurdle for them by putting it out there. So we'll let them announce their news, and once they announce their news then we'll publicize it as well, and I know you will.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely.

Jeff Christensen: But we'll probably be slow to release that information.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. Well thank you, Jeff, for coming on the show. You've been a friend ever since we met on a flight on the way to Ammon. Delta sat us next to each other. And I was at first a little skeptical [of] this person who just sort of knew a lot about me and where I was going, but it's been a pleasure getting to know you and seeing what EntryPoint's doing.

Jeff Christensen: Likewise, and EntryPoint certainly appreciate everything you're doing, Chris, and your organization does.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Jeff Christensen, president of EntryPoint networks. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research from all our initiatives. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org, and while you're there, please take a moment to donate. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 338 — the first of 2019 — of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

Colorado Map: Local Authority Expanding Across the State

January 9, 2019

A total of 40 counties and 102 municipalities have now chosen local telecommunications authority by passing ballot measures to opt out of restrictive state law. Last November, 18 counties, cities, and towns voted to join the expanding list of communities opting out of SB 152, which revoked local telecommunications authority in 2005. We decided to update our map to get a new visualization of what the situation now looks like in Colorado. 

Take a gander:

Moving Across the State

The map, updated by Intern and Mapping Maven Hannah Bonestroo from an earlier version created by former Research Associate and Visualization Virtuoso Hannah Trostle, shows how the decision to opt out is sweeping from region to region. Earlier referendums centered in the Mountain and into the Western Slope and San Luis Valley communities. During this past election cycle, most of the counties bringing the issue before voters were in the Plains region.

In past years, mountain towns, often resort communities, were looking for better connectivity when big ISPs considered deployment too challenging and expensive in their geographies. Now, it appears that the rural and less populated Plains communities are seeing value in reclaiming local authority.

With fewer population centers in the Plains region, farms and ranges fill much of this section of the state. Large, corporate ISPs don’t consider this type of landscape profitable due to the lack of population density, however, farmers and rangers require high-speed Internet access for various reasons. Crop and livestock monitoring and realtime reporting are only a few of the ways 21st century agricultural professionals use broadband.

Colorado’s Free Communities

In Colorado, there are 271 active incorporated municipalities, 187 unincorporated Census Designated Places (CDPs) and other small population centers that are outside of CDPs or municipalities. To date, the 102 municipalities that have elected to opt out of SB 152 have all been incorporated municipalities, or approximately 38 percent.

The 40 counties where voters have chosen to opt out make up 62.5 percent of the 64 total counties in Colorado. One glance at our updated map confirms that almost 2/3rds of the state now shows the colors of reclaimed local telecommunications authority. 

Some of those communities chose to opt out this past fall in order to move ahead on planned projects or get started with feasibility studies, including Cañon City and Fremont County. Most who chose to put the issue on the ballot had the same sentiment as communities from past years — voters simply feel that options should remain open and that local folks should be the ones to make the decisions on how best to improve connectivity.

Tags: coloradosb 152referendumelectionlocalmap