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Fibering Up Emmett, Idaho - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 296

March 6, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 296 - Mike Knittel, Systems Administrator of Emmett, Idaho

Emmett, Idaho’s Systems Administrator Mike Knittel joins Christopher for episode 296 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast this week. Mike explains how the city of about 7,000 has taken a similar approach as other municipalities by first investing in Internet infrastructure to unite the city’s needs. We get to hear their story.

Emmett, however, has taken advantage of its self-reliant can-do attitude to collaborate among departments and build its own network. Mike explains how working between departments reduced the cost of their deployment, has helped them speed up their construction, and has created groundwork for future expansion. Mike also shares some of the ways that Emmett is discovering new and unexpected ways to use their infrastructure and how the community has supported the project.

Mike has some plans for Emmett's new infrastructure and we can't wait to check in with him in the future to find out all the new ways they're using their fiber.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: emmett ididahomuniruralaudiopodcastbroadband bitsfixed wirelesscollaborationdig onceincremental

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 5

March 5, 2018

California

San Francisco: Building Community Broadband to Protect Net Neutrality and Online Privacy by Katharine Trendacosta, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Mayor Farrell Advances Plan for Municipal Fiber Internet by Ellen McGrody, Bay City Beacon

This week, the San Francisco Municipal Fiber Blue Ribbon Board released a report recommending a set of provisions that ISPs using the city’s infrastructure will have to follow, the latest in a set of recent moves towards to the rollout of municipal fiber in San Francisco. Since taking office last month, Mayor Mark Farrell has overseen significant commitments toward the rollout of the proposed fiber optic network.

San Francisco Internet Challenges Feds, Major ISPs by Garrett Bergthold, San Francisco Weekly

 

Colorado

Longmont officials, low-income housing residents grappling with property manager to get NextLight by Sam Lounsberry, Longmont Times-Call

Stalled negotiations between the property manager of Longmont affordable housing complexes and officials with the NextLight municipal high-speed internet service have confused residents about their potential access to the broadband network.

Mission Rock Residential manages both Quail Village and Cloverbasin Village low-income apartments, and has left residents to choose between private-sector internet providers such as Comcast — which has an exclusive marketing agreement with Mission Rock — by shunning proposals from the city to install NextLight.

While Mission Rock is far from the only property management company or landlord to stay off the award-winning NextLight fiber-optic network, some Cloverbasin residents say its deal with Comcast and exclusion of NextLight contradicts its business model of providing affordable housing; the city's internet service offers speedier connections often at lower rates than private providers.

 

Georgia

Senate unanimously passes bill encouraging broadband internet expansion by Nick Bowman, Gainesville Times

 

Massachusetts

Quincy officials eye municipal internet network by Sean Philip Cotter, Wicked Local Quincy

A municipal internet network would give people an alternative, and, hopefully, one that is less expensive, Cain said.

Cain’s resolution specifically mentions broadband internet, which comes to homes via landlines. In Braintree, the Braintree Electric Light Department has provided municipal broadband service for years.

Cain said he’s open to exploring any way of providing internet service.

“Let’s put together a plan and an assessment,” he said.

  

New York

North Country hungry for broadband details by Pete Demola, Sun Community News

Rural New York Communities Prepare for High-Speed Internet by Chris Potter, Government Technology

Bad Internet in the Big City by Susan Crawford, Wired

 

Oregon

Could Portland Adopt Municipal Broadband? By Christen McCurdy, The Portland Skanner

According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Networks page, more than 750 American communities have built publicly owned broadband networks.

“When a community is served by a municipal network, the infrastructure is a publicly-owned asset, similar to a road or an electric utility. There are a variety of models from full retail, in which the city takes on the role of an Internet Service Provider like Comcast or AT&T, delivering services directly to residents and businesses, to Institutional networks in which only municipal facilities receive services,” said Lisa Gonzalez, a senior researcher for the institute’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

 

Virginia

Bringing broadband to rural Virginia by John Edwards, Roanoke Times

 

Washington

Washington State Passes Nation's Toughest Net Neutrality Law by Natalie Delgadillo, Governing

 

Wisconsin

Push for internet via TV airwaves comes to Wisconsin, despite broadcaster opposition by Erik Lorenzsonn, The Cap Times

Meanwhile, Mitchell said that the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is supportive of white space technology, although he said that the ultimate goal should remain a fiber-optic network — a more costly, but much more reliable and fast connection.

 

General

Internet Service Providers Systematically Favor White Communities Over Communities of Color by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard Vice

A 2016 report from Free Press, an open internet advocacy group, found that 81 percent of white Americans have access to home internet, compared to 70 percent of Hispanic Americans and 68 percent of African Americans. This gap is most severe at the lowest income level, according to the report, but that’s not the whole story.

“Even if you account for people’s income, there’s still a disparity in black and brown communities that can’t be explained by financial difference,” said Brandi Collins-Dexter, the senior campaign director for media, democracy and economic justice at Color of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group.

Bipartisan bill aims to prove the value of broadband access for all by Issie Lapowsky, Wired

Court Rules FTC Lawsuit Over Throttling Can Proceed by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

In short, the ruling means the lawsuit against AT&T for lying about throttling can move forward. It also means the FTC still has some authority to regulate broadband providers, of particular note given the success ISPs have had in convincing the Trump administration to gut the FCC's more comprehensive authority over ISPs.

The FCC’s New Broadband Map Paints an Irresponsibly Inaccurate Picture of American Broadband by Karl Bode, Motherboard Vice

The Problem With America's New National Broadband Map by Rob Pegoraro, CityLab

The map’s biggest downfall lurks behind its search-by-address function, which suggests a precision that its underlying data usually can’t deliver. The FCC data doesn’t get more granular than census blocks—statistical areas that can span a city block or several counties. Within census blocks, internet access can vary quite a bit. Just because your closest neighbors have broadband doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have any.

An FCC spokesman said the agency is considering asking for more detailed coverage data from providers, but warned that this could be “burdensome.”

The map also doesn’t cite prices. The FCC doesn’t collect that information, much less factor in complications like the discounts that cable firms offer for bundling TV, phone, and internet service.

Tags: media roundup

Taunton Pushes For More Residential Subscribers

March 5, 2018

Businesses in Taunton, Massachusetts, already have access to fiber optic connectivity offered by Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP). In an effort to bring better connectivity to the rest of the community, TMLP is now connecting residents through a “fiberhood” approach.

The Process

TMLP’s customer base already consists of about 20 percent residential customers; they now serve about 450 premises. When the community decided to invest in the infrastructure in1997, the focus was on bringing high-quality connectivity to local businesses. Now, TMLP hopes to expand its network to nearby communities’ residents with $69.95 per month symmetrical gigabit FTTH service. TMLP will also offer Internet access at $34.95 per month for symmetrical 50 Megabit per second (Mbps) service and voice services for $19.95 per month. They will not offer video service.

In order to determine which areas will receive service next, TMLP is asking potential subscribers to sign up at their website to express interest. Once a designated area achieves a 25 percent level of interest, residents can submit applications for installation at their homes. When applications have been approved, TMLP begins deployment in their neighborhood.

Time To Branch Out

Currently, TMLP offers FTTH to one apartment complex and a neighborhood near the high school. The city’s school system obtains connectivity from TMLP, as does a local hospital and its clinics. TMLP wants to expand to neighborhoods in Raynham, Berkley, North Dighton, and Lakeville. 

Officials expect brisk demand and comments from local residents confirm that expectation:

“Wish they’d come to the Whittenton area...(TMLP Online is) much more affordable, especially for those who don’t wish to have television and only want WiFi or for those who live alone and need a very basic, simple package deal,” said Michelle Gaoulette, a Taunton resident.

The small number of residential subscribers who live in the areas where FTTH is available seem to appreciate it:

“We have it and love it... it’s wonderful not having to pay a cable bill,” said Kevin Camara, a Taunton resident who currently receives TMLP Online service.

Tags: taunton mamassachusettsFTTHmuniexpansiongigabitsymmetryfiberhood

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 295

March 2, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 295 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Patrick Mulhearn joins the show from Santa Cruz County, California, to explain permit processes, local governments, and economic development. Listen to this show here.

Patrick Mulhearn: It's really going to come down to to local governments to to fill these gaps some way.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 295 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. California's Santa Cruz County is known for its bustling beaches and its natural inland beauty. It's within driving distance of Silicon Valley and offers a high quality of life for people who aren't interested in living in a large bustling city but still want the activities found in a coastal community. In this interview Christopher talks with Patrick Mulhearn from Santa Cruz County. He discusses how county officials turn to better connectivity as an economic development tool. And he describes the challenges they faced. He also talks about the policy change Santa Cruz County has adapted to encourage ISPs to improve services and the results of those changes. Patrick and Christopher also talk about what Santa Cruz County is working on next. Now here's Christopher with Patrick Mulhearn from Santa Cruz County in California.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis Minnesota. Today I'm talking with Patrick Mulhearn a policy analyst in the office of supervisor Zack Friend of Santa Cruz County. Welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. So let's just start with a little bit of Santa Cruz County, people may not be entirely familiar with your lovely little oasis south of San Jose. But what should people know about it who aren't familiar with it?

Patrick Mulhearn: We are the second smallest county by geography in the state of California around 250,000 people total in the unincorporated county. And in our various municipal jurisdictions about 150,000 just in the unincorporated county we are a coastal town. So there's a concentration of development along the coast by about 40 years ago. Locals put in a series of protective ordinances to maintain green space and agricultural lands protect them from development. So while we are pretty densely urbanized along the coast the interior is very rural and intended to be so for in perpetuity. It sounds like a lot of California. We are special in that we are also about 30 miles from Silicon Valley. So a great many of our residents here in the county commute everyday into Silicon Valley so they're engineers or employed by tech companies. Several of the major tech employers send buses down here to pick up their employees. So there are a lot of cars on our highway that are traveling north into Silicon Valley where we've become a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. So a lot of tech consumers here a lot of people that are very concerned about their access to the Internet

Christopher Mitchell: And you're on good terms with the city of Santa Cruz, right? and a fair amount of people live near the city but are in the county's jurisdiction. Realizing that the County of course has jurisdiction over the city but there's a fair amount of people. Despite the agricultural lands and whatnot that live outside of Santa Cruz, right?

Patrick Mulhearn: Yes, yes. Most of our unincorporated areas that are inhabited are what are considered rural residential areas so they are not concentrated aggregations of people but there are still aggregations of families and neighborhoods in fact on parcels ranging in size from from one acre to three acres. But will it'll still be a community of people all living together and all of those people are for the most part somehow involved in technology. So we have educators we have small business owners.

Christopher Mitchell: And as I said before a lot of commuters into Silicon Valley and I think it's worth noting that because of the nature of our conversation and talking about the kind of density and the the way that the population is distributed because both you and supervisors Zach friend have worked very hard to try to make Santa Cruz County as inviting to investment to improve telecommunications access as possible. That's my impression from afar.

Patrick Mulhearn: Yes yes absolutely that's that's been the plan.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's maybe start at the beginning. At what point did you come to realize that, you know, that at least the incumbents viewed some of the policies perhaps as restricting investment and that they would need to be looked at?

Patrick Mulhearn: This broad broadband policy was actually one of the positions that that Zach ran on. So we coming into office already had some idea of how he wanted to pursue this. But of course once we got into office we realized that things were a lot more complicated than they looked on the outside. Initially our goal was to improve economic development in the county by increasing the amount of broadband capacity so we can maybe lure high tech companies down here or even convince some of the larger tech companies who have a great number of employees down here to maybe create satellite facilities and then you know pipe in very high capacity high speed broadband into those areas so that it would be cost effective for them to have facilities down here. When we get when we actually started the policymaking process though we realized that like a lot of jurisdictions in California especially coastal jurisdictions the the land use ordinances and policies of the county were very restrictive designed to slow down and inhibit development and to preserve things the way they currently are. We also didn't have any money in the capital to actually build our own fiber networks or even to put in our own conduit. So we wanted to find a way to make it easier for other people to invest here. And we started our conversations with Comcast and AT&T specifically and then a couple of local Internet service providers. But our our initial focus was on the major international incumbent type facilities and asked them specifically well what is it that we're doing wrong. What is it that we're we're. What are our policies that get in your way. I mean they were they were very candid about the types of things that would make the Santa Cruz County more attractive. Now this is also occurring kind of at the same time as the Google Fiber craze was going on. And so we were also able to get a copy of the sort of the requirements that that Google had for their fiber initiative that the types of policies and ordinances that they would look for in a jurisdiction if they were to partner.

Patrick Mulhearn: And so we we also incorporated some of those ideas and to our initial policymaking. But the whole idea was because we had no public funding for it to find a way to encourage private investment. And so that that was our focus from the beginning.

Christopher Mitchell: And what kind of things were they noting? I mean did it have to do with taxes with no right of way permitting? What were some of their issues that they would like to resolve?

Patrick Mulhearn: Almost exclusively with the permitting process. The way things were set up before every every individual project had to have its own discretionary permit now. So we have two types of permits, you have discretionary permits and administrative permits and the discretionary type requires public notice. And it goes through a staff review process and at any point it could be derailed for any reason. It leaves a lot of a lot of opportunity for people to interfere with the development or to challenge it all the way up through this review process. While in administrative permit is basically if you take these boxes you if you meet these requirements then you are issued a permit. There's no discretion there's no public noticing requirement. Furthermore having to do individual permits for each of these projects required individual fees every time. And so it became quite expensive for anybody and time consuming to go through this process. So we initially focused on finding ways to aggregate all of the permits into one. So we were able to to able to streamline the process that way where you were you could provide all of your all the sites that are going to be working on. So for example AT&T if they wanted to put in 12 new boxes to serve their new fiber network they would just have to give us a list of all of all the boxes, meet all of the sort of the administrative requirements, and then we would issue them a permit that would be good for all of their devices. Initially we did a test run with their sort of their first round of permits to see how well it worked and whether it was going to work for them. And it seemed to. They were able to develop their infrastructure in about nine months. And that was all we heard from them. I should clarify that the projects that they were interested in working on were in areas that were already served by fiber. So they were improving at one point they had a fiber to copper to home system and they were upgrading it to fiber to home. So they were improving the, you know, their download speeds and their capacity but basically providing a product that was already available in the areas that they were working

Christopher Mitchell: Right in some ways it sounds like they had identified the audience that they felt they would get the most profit from and that they were the most focused on and they were you know just interested in serving that audience which is of course one of the critiques that many of us have which is that almost regardless of a permitting process that these companies are going to some of these companies are going to engage in some pretty significant redlining or a behavior that appears to be close to that.

Patrick Mulhearn: Yes unfortunately and it's, I mean, obviously for different reasons than we typically associate with redlining by the way. And they have a profit model that they intend to follow and they're going to go after the easy money which is high higher density areas just having more people per mile rather than miles per people. And that's that's the challenge for us.

Christopher Mitchell: And I think it's just worth reiterating I mean one of the concerns that any network builder has and a permitting process is that it be predictable and one of the biggest problems isn't necessarily the fee that's charged it's the amount of time it would take to go through it. So you took the you took that uncertainty out of it by finding ways of making sure that they'd be able to predict it. I mean you know when it comes down to filling out forms and things like that companies like AT&T have a million people that can do that. They have no problems with that. It's all about the predictability.

Speaker 7: Yes. And I think honestly that's has been part of the problem with development county wide in Santa Cruz County, California, is the predictability of the permitting process. Honestly, the pursuing reform just for broadband facilities has has opened up to include a wider discussion about permitting here for any project. And so I think that that's been kind of an unintended consequence of the conversation is that we were now also addressing how we process building permits for houses or for developments to to create. Like you say more a more predictable sort of arc.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. I think that's important. As someone who you know doing home improvement and things like that will have to be dealing with permitting. I hope all cities are are looking at that because it's a challenge. I think it's one of the bigger challenges that the young policymakers are going to have to deal with in terms of giving people faith in local governments. But I think the key lesson of what we're talking about here is actually that you addressed what is identified as the key bottleneck that large providers identify in terms of what discourages their investment. You remove that bottleneck and it sounds like the only thing that happened was areas that already had better access simply got much better access and the kinds of things that you wanted to happen which was far better access in the areas that had been left behind that those areas are still waiting for investment.

Patrick Mulhearn: Yes, that is 100 percent accurate. So now I mean we have gigabit speeds to people who had 500 megabit downloads previously and I still have 90,000 - 100,000 people who are scraping by with maybe they have a legacy DSL connection or they're using satellite or some other alternative or they're trying to negotiate with the incumbents to to run a line out to their neighborhood too. We've had we've had one neighborhood that's been successful with that.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. It's rough. And that's why, you know, most of the show focuses on what folks are doing to try to improve access because other they've given up on this sort of hope or or they never had it to begin with. So I think the second part of the show what I'd like to focus on is the sense of what comes next for Santa Cruz County.

Patrick Mulhearn: We have what we're calling a Broadband Master Plan and that initiative has been folded into a an inter-jurisdictional working group called the Fiber Initiative Team. And it's their job now and it includes policymakers from both the city and the county ,from our public works and planning departments, and our economic development department to try to flesh out our fiber map and to also identify areas where we think targeted investment should be made to improve broadband resources. The whole idea here is to act strategically find areas, for example, for economic development reasons could use better fiber access. We have, for example, a medical corridor with hospitals and doctors offices and medical imaging offices, and they're all concentrated in this area, and the fiber that is currently being sold, cyber access that's been currently being sold at these institutions, is kind of outrageously priced. And so we're wondering whether if we put in perhaps a municipal project or found some other way to to help someone else come into there, we might be able to leverage them a market environment that would allow for maybe lowering some of the costs and then we could perhaps attract some more startup type companies to come into that area. One of the nexuses that we're looking at is the University of California Santa Cruz. It's the home of the Human Genome Project. And so what are what are some ways that we can facilitate this nexus between the human genome project and our existing medical companies here. Maybe the catalyst would be better broadband access. So those those types of conversations that we're having at the fiber initiative team define better ways to utilize the existing network and to find ways to encourage economic development strategically from more rural areas though there there really isn't a lot of activity by the incumbents. Nor apparently any interest but we do have a local Internet service provider that is very interested in expanding their network. And about three years ago Sunesys has put a new four terabyte fiber trunk that goes straight through the middle of this undeveloped area in Santa Cruz County. And theirs is an open network so anybody can lease strands of fiber and run their own -- and run their own network off of that. And so this local ISP they're called CruzIO is looking to use that backbone to expand their network into the rural areas. And their plan is to use line of sight wireless broadband to beam their their product down into some of the topographically less accessible areas and then run fiber from nodes in those areas to the houses in the valleys and up on the hills. Right now it very much looks like a homebrew ISP. So we have one neighborhood where there is a guy who lives on a hill and he put a radio mast up there, catches the wireless signal, beams it down to another house below him, and then they are running their own fiber between the houses that way. So we're trying to find ways to facilitate that process make it easier for them again through permitting or land use decisions make it easier for them to expand on this. This very much homegrown Internet service provider that they're working on and we're looking to replicate that model in a couple of these these more, I won't call them dense, but there are rural residential areas with, you know, around 200 homes in the areas. And so we're trying to take this as a model and maybe we can reach these people that way. Doing it just sort of ad hoc homegrown network.

Christopher Mitchell: You know we've run across a number of these often actually in California or other western states where there's usually someone that's interested in figuring this out themselves sharing with their neighbors and see what's up what happens next. So it's it's great that that spirit is alive in your neighborhoods.

Patrick Mulhearn: Yes it's very exciting and they're very enthusiastic about it and honestly we have the right -- with the right people working on it because these people at their day jobs are our engineers for you know tech companies. So that's what they do.

Christopher Mitchell: People who you know if something doesn't work, they view that as a challenge, not a setback, right. Yes.

Patrick Mulhearn: Yes exactly, exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's terrific. I really appreciate you coming on to share information particularly about the actions you've taken and the results I'm sorry. You know as always that when you go through that kind of effort and you make something happen to find out that it's not generating the results you want. But I think it is it is good to have that hard evidence that some of the incumbents I don't want to paint with too broad of a brush. But no matter cities and counties do. There are a number of companies that simply will not solve the issue for low-income households or even people that just live in areas that might be a little bit harder to serve and we need to figure things out. So I'm glad that you're also working on that.

Patrick Mulhearn: It's really going to come down to to local governments to have to fill these gaps some way. It's often said that the states are laboratories of democracy and it really is the local government that are able to do these, pursue these harebrained policies to see what works. And so I think it's important that we all communicate with each other so we can see well this is working and this isn't working and maybe amongst all of us together we can create some kind of model policies that we can apply elsewhere throughout the country and maybe achieve some kind of success.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, definitely. And that's one of the things that I'm sure that you appreciate especially since you have such a county that has such varied density and geography, is that we need many models because there's different types of communities the different kinds of models. So absolutely. Thank you for taking the time to come on and share your experiences with us.

Patrick Mulhearn: Thank you for having me.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Patrick Mulhearn from Santa Cruz County, California. We have transcripts from 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 eyeless our podcasts Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcasts you can access them wherever you get your podcasts like Apple podcasts or Stitcher never miss out on original research by subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 295 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcript

More Kitsap Communities Connecting To Fiber

March 2, 2018

When the folks in Kitsap County, Washington’s Lookout Lane neighborhood banded together and used a Local Utility District (LUD) to get better connectivity, they were thinking about their own homes, not about setting a precedent. A little over a year later, other groups of neighbors are following their lead.

Sick Of Slow Connections

The Lookout Lane community formed their LUD and worked with the Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD) to expand its open access network to their neighborhood because they were stuck with slow CenturyLink DSL. Residents didn’t feel that they were getting what they were paying for at $60 per month and 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) on average download speed. Now they have options up to 1 gigabit symmetrical via the publicly owned open access network.

Forest Ridge Estates, which is adjacent to Lookout Lane, has formed an LUD and is already connected to fiber installed by KPUD, according to Angela Bennick from the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet). Bennick says that there are two other neighborhoods that are considering a similar approach. KPUD is a member of NoaNet, whose open access fiber infrastructure connects that of other public utility districts across the state so people, businesses, and institutions in Washington can have high-quality connectivity.

Property owners pay for the connections themselves, but can pay off the cost upfront, over a 20-year period, or a combination of the two. Connections were from $10,000 - $14,000 in Lookout Lane, but depend on a variety of factors; property owners usually consider the investment an added value to their home. In order to establish an LUD, a neighborhood needs a majority of homeowners to sign a petition to establish the LUD.

We spoke with General Manager Bob Hunter and Superintendent of Telecom Paul Avis last year about the network and the Lookout Lane LUD during episode 237 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. They explained how the LUD process works and how folks in the KPUD service area are sometimes beginning the process as a last resort. Avis described what some of the people in Lookout Lane experienced:

…[Y]eah, they had a problem there. The DSL service was inadequate for those that even had it. Some of them couldn't even get it. This is a little tangent here, but to go into the reason why this is happening right now, is that the current provider in the area has used the phrase, "Permanent exhaustion," and really what it is it's aggregation to the point of oblivion basically. If you have a box, from that box it serves multiple houses, you're all sharing that line. We all know that, we all have accepted the fact that, yeah, at certain times of the day, my service will be slower because everybody's on, everybody's trying to watch Netflix. It gets to a certain point though, if you have 20 people on there that's acceptable. If you have 4000 people on there, that becomes incredibly unacceptable at that point.

Avis goes on to explain that, rather than invest in upgrades that will allow more subscribers to use the infrastructure and keep users’ experiences acceptable, they use the concept of permanent exhaustion. When a property owner moves away and cancels their account, the ISP denies service to the subsequent property owner. 

…[W]hat they've done is they've reclaimed, basically, that one point is alleviating the pressure on their network to the point where they're just going to say, "No, it's not available anymore," until they can get back to an acceptable level.

Kitsap Public Utility District

KPUD began serving residents and businesses in the Puget Sound area when they heard complaints about how difficult it was to obtain access. Until the early 2000s, the entity focused on water and wastewater services. The fiber optic network first connected municipal facilities, schools, libraries, public safety facilities and community anchor institutions. They now use COS Service Zones software so potential subscribers can register their interest and neighborhoods like Lookout Lane and Forest Ridge Estates know when they qualify and can begin the LUD process.

KPUD has an informative page on their website that explains the process and keeps the community updated on KPUD expansion.

Paul Avis:

We need to think of it as a utility. It's exactly where we were 60, maybe 70 years ago with electricity. When we think about it, we think, "Oh, how quaint that people could even believe, 'Eh, we really don't need electricity that much.'" I think that's what we will look back on in 70 years at this period, too, in Kitsap County. I think what that means is the good and the bad. Think about how your utilities are served right now. Think about how you're billed for your utilities, how that all comes to play, and really think about it though. Do your electric rates go down every year? Are they steady? Do they go up? What does it cost to install that kind of thing to your house? That's really what it means to treat it as a utility. There's good, too, the service and all that things, but I think it's time to start, as a people, as a public, the people who are at the end of it, to just change our mindset, and once we all accept that, it will really push the ball forward and help us to all get the telecom as a utility in this county.

Tags: kitsap public utility districtpublic utility districtwashingtonfundinglocal utility districtnoanetrural

How This Small Oklahoma Town Improves Rural Connectivity; Sallisaw Road Trip

March 1, 2018

In rural northeast Oklahoma, the city of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, built a high-speed fiber network to their residents and then expanded Internet access their rural neighbors with fixed wireless. Sallisaw’s Internet department, DiamondNet, now serves about 2,600 customers in northeastern Oklahoma.

To learn how the city does all of this, I sat down with Keith Skelton and Robin Haggard in the City Manager’s Office in the heart of the small town in late November 2017. Residents of the city have had high-speed Internet service over a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for more than a decade, but city officials have not rested on their laurels. They jumped at the chance to bring connectivity to their rural neighbors.

We learned about the network’s history in 2014, when Christopher spoke with Skelton and Telecommunications Superintendent Danny Keith, for episode 114 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He described how much of the community relied on dial-up before Sallisaw invested in DiamondNet. The network began serving the community in the early 2000s. For more on the history of DiamondNet, including the challenges they overcame as a small community, check out the podcast.

Connecting Rural Neighbors

Across the country, many fixed wireless providers have attempted to bring high-speed Internet service to rural communities. Some have found success, while others have struggled. In 2015, a small fixed wireless provider decided to get out of the business in Oklahoma. The company donated the tower to Sallisaw, which took on the challenge of providing rural connectivity.

The main goal was to improve the service for the rural areas around the city of Sallisaw, Marble City and Brushy Lake Park, about 8 miles from Sallisaw. This wireless provider is the only Internet service available other than satellite Internes access, which has unreliable coverage in the woody and rocky terrain. Data caps and expensive overage charges make satellite one of the least desirable Internet access options. When city officials started providing fixed wireless service there in July 2015, they had fewer than 100 customers on the network.

Officials started by improving the equipment using Ubiquiti (the same technology used by Sandy, Oregon, for citywide fixed wireless service before they built a FTTH network). The new technology can support speeds of up to 10 Mbps download speed. It’s still not broadband, but it answers a large need in the community. In less than three years, the fixed wireless service has now gained more than 300 customers. 

Local Customer Service

Sallisaw’s DiamondNet has provided top-quality service to residents since it began serving the community with the FTTH network. The city has about 3,500 households (8,600 residents), and many subscribe to the service. The network’s 1,700 subscribers can choose from several residential Internet service options ranging from 20 Mbps download for $34.95 per month to 80 Mbps download for $99.95 per month. Upload speeds are about half the download speed. The network also offers bundled phone and video services.

Residents trust that the Internet service will work at home, and, when they have a problem, they can call the city to fix it. DiamondNet keeps the day-to-day tech support local. After-hours customer service support comes from a few DiamondNet employees who volunteer to remain on-call until 11 p.m. They take a cellphone and laptop home with them to answer calls and troubleshoot.

City officials are happy to provide high-speed Internet service to the 2,600 customers who take service. The network is not only financially solid (breaking even and on track to pay remaining debt), but also a model for how small cities can support their rural neighbors.

Tags: sallisawoklahomaruralfixed wirelessFTTHcustomer servicemuni

Washington Bill Precarious On Port Partnerships

February 28, 2018

PUDs in Washington have been developing fiber optic networks as open access infrastructure for decades. Even though ports have the same authorization to develop broadband infrastructure, their authority is limited. Currently, ports may operate telecommunications facilities for its own uses within and beyond its district, but they can only provide wholesale services within their districts. A bill in the legislature would remove the ports' geographic limitsand expand their authority, but amendments to the bill might cut into the measure's effectiveness.

Ports Want To Partner

HB 2664, which has worked its way through the state legislature aims to change the current situation by expanding a port’s ability to offer wholesale services outside of its district. The goal is to allow a port to use its infrastructure to partner with a private sector ISP to bring better connectivity to residents, businesses, and other entities in the areas around the port’s district.

HB 2664, which passed the House on February 14th, went on to the Senate and passed there, but was amended to require a project to focus on unserved and underserved areas. In places like Bellingham, where a city has grown up around the port and beyond its boundaries, the community could work with the port to make use of its fiber infrastructure to develop better connectivity for economic development, public savings, and better services for schools and libraries. A restriction forcing the port to prioritize on unserved and underserved communities, however, might thwart a project where DSL or cable now serves the community, even though the service is far below what the FCC considers broadband, expensive, or limited to spotty areas in town.

Putting It All Out There

Another amendment requires that any ports that decide to start using their infrastructure for wholesale service must first establish a business plan and have it reviewed by an independent third party consultant. Recommendations and adjustments associated with the review must all occur transparently. Often private sector partners shy away from working with the public sector when state laws put them in such a potentially vulnerable position.

HB 2664 started off as a promising piece of legislation but amendments may considerably limit its effectiveness.

The Process Continues

Due to the amendments in the Senate, the bill will go back to the House. The House can either concur with the bill as it is now, or they will assign a conference committee of members from both bodies to work through the differences and come up with a compromise bill.

Read the the bill here and the Senate staff bill report here. You can track the bill online at the Washington State Legislature website.

HB 2664 bill text HB 2664 Senate Staff Bill ReportTags: hb 2664 wawashingtonlegislationstate lawspartnership

Santa Cruz County Moving Beyond Incumbent Inaction - Community Broadband Bits 295

February 27, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 295 - Patrick Mulhearn, Policy Analyst for Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend

When community leaders in Santa Cruz County, California, decided to take steps to spur economic development, they knew they needed to improve local connectivity. For episode 295 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Policy Analyst Patrick Mulhearn from County Supervisor Zach Friend’s office talks with Christopher this week about the steps they’ve taken and their plans.

Santa Cruz County is a blend of beach activity, relaxing natural destinations, and inland rural areas. Silicon Valley is nearby and people who work in the tech industry live in the city of Santa Cruz or the rural areas around it and commute to work. Unfortunately, national providers have not kept up with high quality connectivity throughout the county. As is often the case, the incumbent providers have concentrated their efforts on specific areas, leaving rural Santa Cruz County behind. 

Patrick and Christopher discuss how the county took steps to accommodate the big ISPs and what happened next. They also talk about how some people in rural areas have taken steps to solve their problems despite the lack of action by incumbents and what county officials have in mind for the future.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

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

Tags: santa cruz countycaliforniaaudiobroadband bitspodcastincumbentpermittingruraleconomic developmentmaster plan

Central Vermont Communities To Consider Regional Fiber Initiative

February 27, 2018

Thirteen communities in central Vermont will ask residents if they want to authorize a communications union district, the first step toward a regional publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Which Towns Will Participate?

On March 6th, towns in Vermont will participate in Town Meeting Day 2018 when they’ll gather and decide a range of issues such as how to spend town funds, which policies to implement, and other choices that effect the entire community. For the past year, Berlin board member and computer science professor Jeremy Hansen has approached town officials from nearby communities to discuss the possibility of developing a regional network.

As an elected official, his constituents have made him aware of poor Internet access in central Vermont. Currently, much of the area relies on DSL from Fairpoint with maximum speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload, a far cry from the 25/3 FCC standard that defines broadband. There are also residents in the area that still use dial-up Internet access.

Local Jerry Diamantides, who works remotely for a company located in Virginia told Vermont Public Radio:

"It is DSL," Diamantides explains. "The ‘S’ certainly stands for slow. The ‘L’ must stand for low. And we’ll let the ‘D’ stand on its own, I guess. But, it’s barely sufficient for what I need."

Inspired By ECFiber

Hansen wants to improve connectivity in the region by establishing a communications union district, which is the model EC Fiber uses. The designation is much like a sewer or water utility, but focuses on delivering Internet access. EC Fiber began with a different model that relied on private investment, but when the state established the communications utility district designation, it was then able to seek financing from a range of other sources. That funding was critical to allow the network to expand, serve more subscribers, and continue to grow.

As he’s presented his proposal to elected officials in central Vermont cities and towns, Hansen has used EC Fiber as an example, using similar take rates. Currently about 2,000 subscribers in 20 towns take Internet access from EC Fiber. With a minimum of two communities agreeing to create the new entity, the next step would be a feasibility study, a business plan, and they’d try to draw in more member towns. Hansen has dubbed the entity Central Vermont Internet or CVI.

Hansen calculates that CVI would need to spend about $30,000 per mile to build the network.

“Speaking economically, we need to have about six people per linear mile,” Hansen said. “So, if there’s 20 miles of town roads, we’re going to need 120 subscribers on those roads to be able to pay for this and offer similar rates as other Internet providers.” 

A Growth Tool

The consortium of 24 rural towns began through an inter-local contract. The model worked, but it translated into slow development of a network; the organization needed some other structure that investors understood. Once Vermont created the communications union district, ECFiber was better able to raise funding in larger increments, which allowed them to build the network faster, take on subscribers sooner, and pay off earlier debt quicker.

Communications union districts aren’t allowed access to taxes to fund their project; subscriber fees pay the revenue bonds which fund the deployment. Hansen has pointed out to officials and potential voters that towns and cities will not have a financial obligation if they choose to participate in the communications union district.

More On CVI

In order to help explain the CVI proposal Hansen filmed a video and shared his presentation slides. He explains the advantages a publicly owned network will bring, including local control, economic development, and cost savings. Hansen also notes that the network would be dedicated to network neutrality and he also addresses common arguments against the proposal.

 

You can also listen to Hansen in several radio interviews with Vermont Public Radio about the initiative. He spoke with them in January about the lack of quality connectivity in central Vermont and more recently about the Town Meeting vote.

CVI Presentation SlidesTags: Vermontunion districtregionalecfibergrassrootseconomic developmentvideo

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 26

February 26, 2018

Alabama

City looking at broadband access models by Michele Gerlach, Andalusia Star News

The mayor made his comments before having council members review a 19-minute video chronicling the efforts of Ammon, Idaho, to do just that.

The city of more than 15,000 people “is taking its destiny in its own hands,” the mayor said. The city installed broadband infrastructure, and sold its excess capacity. It has built its network slowly, and has no debt associated with the infrastructure.

Ammon is using a Local Improvement District (LID) approach to connect premises to the infrastructure. The city determines the boundaries of where the project will occur and property owners have the opportunity at the beginning of the process to pay for connecting to the network by attaching the cost over 20 years to their property.

 

Colorado

Firestone ballot to include municipal broadband measure by Sam Lounsberry, Longmont Times-Call

Municipal broadband: Loveland council faces next step by Julia Rentsch, Loveland Reporter-Herald

Members of the Loveland City Council might decide Tuesday to finalize several measures that will allow city staff to move forward with developing a municipal broadband utility.

If adopted, the three ordinances scheduled for a second reading would allow city staff to direct time and resources toward fulfilling seven recommendations by the Loveland Broadband Task Force. Following the recommendations would result in the city having a build-ready network design, a detailed business implementation plan and the structures in place for governance of an enterprise utility, as well as a more accurate cost-to-build estimate, in the next four to six months.

Mountain Parks Electric to build fiber-optic backbone for internet service by Sawyer D’Argonne, Sky Hi News

Cortez, regional leaders search for solutions on broadband by Stephanie Alderton, Cortez Journal

Estes Park EDC Meeting to Discuss Fast, Affordable Broadband for the Estes Valley by Adam Shake, Estes Park Trail Gazette

 

Missouri

Missouri lawmakers push for better broadband internet by Justin Corr, KY3

It's something that can affect your healthcare, business opportunities, and more... it's broadband internet. More than one million Missourians don't have access to it. But, lawmakers at the state and federal level are trying to change that.

One report says 1.25 million people in Missouri, about 20 percent of the population, don't have access to broadband internet. Most of those people are in rural areas. However, getting broadband access to more people seems to be a priority for a lot of your lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans. That includes Springfield's-own, Representative Curtis Trent (R-Springfield). "It will enable economic development, telemedicine, virtual education. I mean, there are really limitless applications."

Cooperation brings broadband internet service to tiny Missouri town by Marty Smith, STL News

Tension between city, Fidelity over internet by Abby Hess, West Plains Daily Quill

 

Oregon

Oregon bill aims to restore net neutrality protections by Eric Tegethoff, KTVZ

Oregon's effort to restore net neutrality moves forward by Mike Rogoway, Oregon Live

 

Tennessee

Smart grid research on Chattanooga's muni-broadband network by GCN Staff, GCN

Cheatham County Democrats hosts broadband expansion forum by Kelly Fisher, The Tennessean

 

Vermont

13 Central Vermont Communities Look To Bring High-Speed Internet To Region by Amy Kolb Noyes, Vermont Public Radio

Vermont Protects Net Neutrality in Middle Finger to FCC by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

Virginia

CVEC seeks support in delivering high-speed internet access by Emily Sides, Virginia News Advance

 

Washington

KPUD extending speedy fiber internet connections to homes by Tad Sooter, Kitsap Sun

 

General

Communities can’t afford to wait for the federal government to obtain next gen broadband by Blair Levin, Brookings Institution

Since our team finished work on the 2010 United States National Broadband Plan, I have met with hundreds of local government officials to discuss their own broadband futures. The conversations usually begin with me asking, “Five years from now, do you think your community will have the bandwidth it needs to ensure continued economic growth and social progress?” No public official ever responded, “Yes.”

This answer made it easy to kick off a discussion about what each community could do to accelerate the deployment of next generation bandwidth for their residents and businesses. The most entrepreneurial communities followed through by organizing themselves to improve the math for private investment and were rewarded with improved local broadband networks. In contrast, the communities who waited for the market or the federal government to help are largely still waiting today for improvements.

Trump needs to do more to get more Americans online by Rob Pegoraro, Yahoo Finance

Chris Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, suggested more support for rural electric cooperatives, one plank of a Democratic infrastructure proposal.

“Rural electrics have tremendous potential to deliver the best internet access to rural America at the lowest taxpayer subsidy cost,” he said.

Charter fails to defeat lawsuit alleging false Internet speed promises by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Despite States’ Efforts to Protect Net Neutrality, Courts Will Hold the Real Power by Ethan Stoetzer, Government Technology

CenturyLink Loses Another 90K Frustrated Broadband Customers by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

To kill net neutrality, FCC might have to fight more than half of US states by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

The legislatures in more than half of US states have pending legislation that would enforce net neutrality, according to a new roundup by advocacy group Free Press. So far, the states that have taken final action have done so through executive orders issued by their governors. Those are Vermont, Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, and New York.

The legislative process obviously takes longer and is more uncertain because it requires votes by state lawmakers in addition to a governor's signature. Many bills are submitted in state legislatures without ever coming to a vote. But it wouldn't be surprising if some states impose net neutrality laws through the legislative process. The Washington State House of Representatives approved net neutrality rules by a vote of 93-5 on Wednesday, pushing the bill along to the state's Senate. In California, the state Senate passed a net neutrality bill last month.

FCC Broadband Availability Data Derided As Inaccurate, 'Shameful' by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Could The End Of Net Neutrality Mean The Rise Of Public Broadband? By Dan Seitz, UpRoxx

Building Fiber to Anchor Institutions by POTs and PANs Blog

Ajit Pai's plan will take broadband away from poor people by Gigi Sohn and Amina Fazlullah, Wired

The FCC's New Broadband Availability Map is a Misleading Joke by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

FCC's Final Rule on Net Neutrality Sparks Legal Challenges by David Jones, E-Commerce Times

Rural communities have not seen any additional investment as a result of the rule reversal, according to Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

CenturyLink last month announced plans to focus more of its future investments in high-speed, high density urban areas, he noted.

The ILSR does not plan to file a lawsuit, but it has pledged its support to other organizations that take the fight to court.

"We continue to work with rural groups to improve Internet access, but most of the hope lies with local groups and states -- not the federal government," Mitchell told the E-Commerce Times.

Tags: media roundup

Looking For Resources On Wireless? Look No Further

February 26, 2018

 

If you're looking for a resource that focuses on wireless connectivity, check out the MuniNetworks.org Wireless Page. Rather than an exhaustive list of every municipal wireless (muni-wireless) project, we've created an introduction to the potential of wireless technologies. Explore commonly held misconceptions about wireless, gain a better understanding of spectrum, and learn how cities have built wireless projects. 

Why Wireless

We invite you to use this resource when considering whether a wireless project is right for your community. Some communities have used wireless service as a temporary solution before building fiber networks while others have used it to improve connectivity in their downtowns or during special events. Wireless service has potential to provide needed Internet access, but it is still not a substitute for high-quality wireline service.

These technologies improve and change rapidly over the past decade, and we will update the page periodically as they continue to evolve. To that end, we have included boxes with links to more information for in-depth reading. In particular, we invite you to read the Moving Forward section, which highlights possibilities for the future of wireless in both rural communities and urban areas. 

If you have additions, corrections, or comments, please let us know at broadband@MuniNetworks.org.

Tags: Wirelessmuni wirelessfixed wireless5GWi-Fisuper wi-firesource

Ammon's Fiber Network Helping To Secure Schools

February 23, 2018

Ammon, Idaho, has received a lot of attention in the past couple of years for their innovative approach to improving local connectivity with a publicly owned fiber optic network. Back in 2015, the city received an award from the National Institute of Justice Ultra-High Speed Apps: Using Current Technology to Improve Criminal Justice Operations Challenge for their “School Emergency Screencast Application”. We covered the award and the application in detail but wanted to share the story once again.

Improving the ability to monitor what’s happening in our kids’ schools is only one factor that can contribute toward making them safer, but every step helps. Ammon’s application uses gunshot detection hardware and a school’s existing camera system. It reports gunshot fire and provides live video and geospatial information to dispatch and first responders.

Hopefully, Ammon first responders will never have to use the application in anything other than a test, but the technology can be shared with other communities and can potentially save lives and reduce injuries by quickly ending any incident. Without their top-notch fiber optic network, Ammon would not have this incredible public safety tool.

Check out this video on Ammon’s School Emergency Screencast Application:

Learn more about Ammon's fiber optic network and their strategy to improve connectivity throughout the community:

Tags: ammonidahopublic safetyschoolmuniopen accessvideoapplications

Back-to-Back Broadband Events Set For March In Des Moines

February 23, 2018

Iowa communities have invested in local municipal networks for decades. Across their state map sits rural communities where local residents and businesses can connect to high-quality Internet access that rivals urban centers. On March 20th - 22nd, two separate events in Iowa will celebrate local efforts to improve broadband.

Community Broadband Summit 2018

On March 20th at the Des Moines Holiday Inn and Suites:

The Community Broadband Summit brings together community leaders and activists from across the Midwest who want better broadband for their communities.

At the Summit, you'll learn how to advance community broadband from concept to reality and hear from people who've actually built and operated community networks. From referendum campaigns to feasibility to implementation, the Summit will help your efforts locally to take control of your community's technological future. 

There is no fee to attend the Summit and you can register online

Some of the topics to be explored include:

  • Organizing a Citizen Campaign
  • Steps Toward Municipal Broadband
  • Basics of Fiber Networks
  • Financing
  • Partnerships

You can view the full agenda here.

Six local Iowa communities, Belmond, Charles City, New Hampton, Maquoketa, Vinton, and Adair are considering or working toward municipal networks and are coming together for the event. Learn more about efforts in the communities and check out the resources they’ve collected to share at the Summit website.

IAMU 2018 Broadband Conference

The 8th Annual Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities 2018 Broadband Conference falls on the heels of the Summit and will also be located at the Des Moines Holiday Inn. The event starts with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 21st and includes several tracks that primarily address leadership issues for telecommunications utilities. Christopher will be speaking at the conference, which he always describes as one of his favorite annual events.

At this year’s conference, we’ll have a track of concurrent sessions focused on leadership issues for telecom utilities. In addition to utility managers, this would be a great opportunity for Board members and other utility leaders to learn more about the rapidly evolving world of telecommunications.

You can view the attendee brochure and register online at the IAMU website.

Tags: eventdes moinesiowaiowa association of municipal utilitieschristopher mitchellconference

Vermont Takes Net Neutrality Action

February 22, 2018

Maple syrup, the Green Mountains, and network neutrality. On February 15th, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed Executive Order No. 2-18, the Internet Neutrality in State Procurement, following closely the actions of four other Governors over the past few weeks. You can read the E.O. here.

States Take A Stand 

Like similar actions in Montana, New York, Hawaii, and New Jersey, Vermont’s executive order applies to contracts between ISPs and state agencies. The order directs the state Agency of Administration to change its procedures so that any ISP it contracts with doesn't throttle, engage in paid prioritization, or block content. The Agency of Administration has until April 1st to make the changes to Vermont’s procedures. 

If a state agency cannot obtain services from an ISP that agrees to comport with network neutrality policy, the state agency can apply for a waiver. The E.O. is silent as to what would allow a waiver; presumably the Agency of Administration would need to establish criteria.

Action In The State Chambers

In early February, the State Senate passed S.289 with only 5 nays and 23 yeas. The executive order Scott recently signed reflected the intention behind the language of S.289 regarding state contracts. When Sen. Virginia Lyons introduced the bill, she described it as a necessary tool to ensure transparency in government. “We don’t want to see information held back or slowed down or deviated in any way when it relates to our state or local government,” Lyons said.

After passage, however, the secretary of the Agency of Administration, the secretary of the Agency of Digital Services; and the Department of Public Service’s director of telecom and connectivity drafted a memo they submitted to the Senate’s Committee on Finance. The memo expressed concern that S.289, or any state network neutrality legislation,  could open the door for lawsuits from ISPs, even if the FCC chose not to challenge it. Lyons was willing for forge ahead:

“Having an open, neutral internet is worth a great deal,” she said. Much of what is being said about the bills before the Legislature, “is hypothetical and it’s fearful … and we should not act based on fear. We should act positively to protect what we need.”

A bill in the State House, H.680, takes a broader approach and requires ISPs that do business in the state to obtain network neutrality certification from the state’s Public Utility Commission. The bipartisan bill has a long list of sponsors, revealing that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents disapprove of the FCC decision to end network neutrality protections. H.680 was introduced in late January but has not had a hearing yet.

Takin’ It To The Courts

Vermont has not stood still since Chairman Ajit Pai and the other Republican Commissioners of the FCC voted to repeal network neutrality regulations. The state’s Attorney General TJ Donovan joined 21 others in a lawsuit filed in January to block the December 14th decision.

“Vermonters deserve and expect fair treatment when it comes to Internet access,” Donovan said in a statement. “The FCC’s unjustified action threatens the lifeblood of businesses and consumers to transact commerce freely and fairly.”

Democrats in Washington D.C. have signed on to a resolution that would use the federal Congressional Review Act to reverse the decision. With Republican Susan Collins of Maine committed to also supporting it, the Senate needs only one more vote to pass it. On February 27th several network neutrality advocacy groups will head up Operation:#OneMoreVote. A long list of popular websites will encourage visitors to contact their federal elected officials and ask them to support the measure.

State Authority Vs. Federal Power

Vermonters who wonder if their elected officials support consumer network neutrality protections, can look at the list of sponsors of state bill H.680 and learn more about it online. If they don’t see their elected officials on the list of sponsors, voters should consider contacting them to find out where they stand on the issue. Rep. Tom Stevens, the lead sponsor of H.680 in Vermont believes that the FCC decision will hurt rural communities even more than other areas:

“If we close off any more access to information, then we’re dooming our rural economy. We already pay for access to the internet, but if we have to pay extra for access to information on the internet, then it really puts us at a disadvantage to more densely populated areas that have easier access.”

 

Image of Vermont fall foliage by chensiyuan (chensiyuan) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Vermont Executive Order 02-18 Internet Neutrality in State Procurement Vermont Senate Bill S.289 Vermont House Bill H.680Tags: Vermontexecutive ordernetwork neutralitystate policyelected officialsfccpaid prioritizationcongressstate laws

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 294

February 21, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 294 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Robert Bridgham shares lessons learned from the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority. Listen to this episode here.

 

Robert Bridgham: You know there's a lot of things on the Eastern Shore that are very relaxed and that's one of the beautiful things about being here is being able to come here and just enjoy what it is. But we try to make sure that we make everything a priority so people understand that they're important to us.

Lisa Gonzalez: The Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority is connecting premises in Virginia. One section at a time. They began around 2008 with funding help from NASA. When the government facility on Virginia's Wallops Island needed better connectivity through fiber. Since then the Authority has started taking advantage of the infrastructure to connect the local smaller communities with an open access Fiber-to-the-Home network. In this interview Christopher talks with Robert Bridgham from the Authority who describes the community and the Authority's efforts in their ongoing projects. The publicly owned infrastructure creates the opportunities for more competition, a range of services, and improved local connectivity. Now here's Christopher with Robert Bridgham from the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today I'm speaking with Robert Bridgham, the executive director of Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority. Welcome to the show, Robert.

Robert Bridgham: Thank you very much.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me just dive in with a quick question and what's the Eastern Shore? I mean I actually visited as a child I have very fond memories but aside from a lot of sand I don't recall a whole lot.

Robert Bridgham: Well the Eastern Shore of Virginia is basically a little peninsula that sticks out towards the Atlantic Ocean, and it basically is a very southern edge of the Maryland's Eastern Shore and it goes right to the Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel feeding into Virginia Beach. It's a community that's got a lot of history in agriculture and aquaculture. Lot of watermen here, we have a lot of farming here. We deal with a lot of poultry here and it's kind of a really great more rural environment where you look if you're looking to get out in the great outdoors, hunting, fishing.

Christopher Mitchell: And what we'll be talking about today is this Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority which is doing some interesting wireless and fiber projects will we'll get to that in a second. But but first I'm just curious why in Authority which is the that's the entity that owns these things and is sort of responsible for these investments. But why an Authority rather than a county or a local government?

Robert Bridgham: In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the counties themselves are not allowed to sell telecommunications services as a service to commercial entities or residences of the area. So Virginia law created an act called the Wireless Services Authority act and it allowed for the formation of what they call wireless Authority such as ourselves very similar to a Bridge Authority or Tunnel Authority basically gives us a limited scope of things that we can and can't do so we can sell telecommunications services, we can charge fees for those services, we can actually provide voice over IP and voice services. The one thing we can't do is provide cable television services, at least typical channelised cable television services. The idea behind it was that it gave the Commonwealth the opportunity to have other organizations that are we are political subdivision of the state. So we're kind of like a county as far as the hierarchy of political subdivisions but we are a standalone entity. Our port happens to be formed from the two counties. We've got Northampton County which is on the southern end of the Eastern Shore and Accomack County whois on the northern edge of the Eastern Shore had a joint resolution to form us. And so two of our board members are the two county administrators and then three of our board members are three community members at large agreed to by the two counties to ensure governance and steering of the organization

Christopher Mitchell: And you're going on 10 years now of of improving internet access via the Authority.

Robert Bridgham: Absolutely. In April we hit the 10 year mark we're very excited about that.

Christopher Mitchell: That's wonderful. And so it makes sense. Maybe dive into what happened and shortly after creating the Authority and you know from what I've read it sounds like you got going with a little bit of a wireless service.

Robert Bridgham: Well we didn't actually do any wireless. So the name is somewhat misleading. It is called the Wireless Services Authorities Act but it doesn't necessarily imply any particular -- that you necessarily do or don't have to be wireless. So the ESVBA, as we might call ourselves because it's a lot shorter than Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority, got together and worked with the local communities. We were given some of this money from the very beginning from the two counties. There were some money that was provided by NASA because we've got some federal regulations such as NASA that's in part within the territory and additional funding sources to build an initial fiber optic backbone that basically went from the northern edge of the eastern shore near Pocomoke, Maryland, across the Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel which is about a 23 mile or 22 mile bridge into Virginia Beach. And that was the original core of it was to (one) to connect NASA into Virginia Beach to give NASA alternative connectivity and better connectivity.

Robert Bridgham: So the second reason is that the Broadband Authority when we created our original business plan was, in addition to the NASA piece, was also to be able to create a infrastructure on the Eastern Shore that had previously not existed. The only provider that was here on the shore as a ubiquitous coverage of the shore was Verizon as a local phone company, an ILEC and they have some DSL service on some parts of the shore. But as traditional with a lot of DSL deployments, copper is what's important and there's a lot of bad copper on the shore and so far the phone company hasn't really been interested in upgrading or maintaining the fi-- the copper plant. So the people to sure have continue to suffer and there's quite a few places where there is absolutely zero coverage. So when we built out the backbone we also had agreed that we would also start to connect businesses, commercial entities, government organizations, hospitals, and healthcare environments as well as other Internet providers and telecommunications writers to basically be the underlying trunking, or piping if you would, between all these different organizations on the shore so they had more reliable connectivity, higher bandwidth available, and hopefully driving the cost down over time. And we've accomplished all of that. The last thing that was sort of on our list of original things we want to do is we want to make sure that everybody on the shore had broadband coverage to their house. Our original plans were to work with different Internet service providers and basically facilitate their ability to reach the end users, and us again becoming the trunk or the piping between them and their end users or tower sites, so they can reach them in the wireless cases. That was a year and a half ago. Our board, under quite a few pieces of feedback from the local leaders in the community-- the residents are the people of the Eastern shore-- has been constantly pressured. They said, "Hey why can't you just do it directly to the end user. You've got cable up and down the road you get cables, you know, by my house. I can -- I can throw a tennis ball and hit your cable. Why can't I use it?" And so the board last September made a decision to start doing Fiber-to-the-Home in a test town called Harborton, Virginia, and we started to build it and sell it and get customers. And it was working well we had a fairly good signing rate. We had services that were very well people were incredibly pleased with it.

Christopher Mitchell: And so when you say that that test was that actually the fall of 2016

Robert Bridgham: That was the fall of 2016. That's correct.

Christopher Mitchell: And so now you're doing more work in 2017 and you're about to fill us in on that.

Robert Bridgham: Correct. Sorry about that I forget that we're already past that. I can't believe it myself. Time flies when you're having fun. So in the spring of 2017, the board approved opening up two additional areas for Fiber-to-the-Home and starting to deploy additional areas. And then in the fall/early winter this year, at the end of 2017, I apologize. The board had agreed to basically open up areas of the Eastern Shore in an organized fashion and an ordered list as the staff can handle it to enable Fiber-to-the-Home to everywhere where we have cable currently. So we have cable in about approximately 300 miles of roads on the Eastern Shore. So we're in the process -- in the midst of that. We've got seven areas open at this point -- I'm sorry -- nine areas open and continue to open up new areas hopefully about a pair every month until we've got all of our existing areas opened up. And then looking at what the strategy is beyond that to continue to reach further and further into the next -- into the more rural areas to make sure that everyone has access to broadband if they desire it.

Christopher Mitchell: And when you when you talk about those 300 miles about what percentage of the territory is that? Like half of the relevant people that could be covered or less or more?

Robert Bridgham: It's about 20 to 25 percent of the residences of the eastern shore are on our route on the existing routes so we have. Okay. So we can enable about a quarter of the people in the Eastern Shore to have access for broadband today.

Christopher Mitchell: And when you just go back in time briefly to when you originally started because this is something that we run into frequently often with county networks and more backbone kind of networks. And that's, you have this backbone fiber and originally you're, you know, you're connecting NASA you're connecting several other key sites. If I'm a business in between there. Do you, as ESVBA, do you run a lateral to that business or is that the responsibility of the Internet service provider that would be offering service to that person or entity?

Robert Bridgham: We can sell to customers in multiple ways both directly to the end user and also we can sell to the ISP that may be buying a service to an end user. Either way we provide the lateral or the distribution cable and an entrance cable into a customer's premise and deliver a demarcation point within the customer's property and then hand off to that customer. So we build everything and provide electronics at the end of the fiber everything is lit

Christopher Mitchell: and one of the things I saw was that you along with others in Virginia. It seems like Virginia has been a real pioneer of this use of community development block grants as part of your funding to expand some of your network.

Robert Bridgham: Yes so originally, as you mention, there were several funding sources this CDB grants were part of some of the communities that we were able to get money for to help build out those communities such as Chincoteague and such.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I just think it's worth pointing out because West Virginia has just devoted some money for that. And I think a lot of people aren't aware of the potential power of the -- of those particular grants. It's more of a a more recent tool. It feels like although I think you did it before anyone else did yeah.

Robert Bridgham: It was a good move

Christopher Mitchell: Your network has been enabling both wireless and wired services right?

Robert Bridgham: That's correct. We sell to both wireless Internet companies. We sell to traditional telecom companies that are buying lease circuits from us to get to cell sites or to large commercial entities and then we sell to traditional commercial entities such as insurance agencies, doctor's offices, you know, schools, things of that nature.

Christopher Mitchell: Are there any residents or businesses that are actually getting, you know, writing like a monthly check to you or do you entirely just facilitate a third party ISP connecting customers?

Robert Bridgham: All of our services are on a monthly rate basis. We provide whether it be to an ISP or to an end business. We provide the circuit on a monthly rate and they subscribe to a particular quantity of bandwidth over a particular term that they select. So we -- we sell it to again to the end user if they're looking for Internet we'll provide them the IP space and the routing and all that access to the Internet if they choose to buy multipoint and so they can either have three or four offices together or seven to eight offices together we'll provide that layer to connectivity so that way they've just plug in and they can see all their sites or to the ISP will provide them back haul into our internet access if they ask for it so they can again reach the end users themselves and or put up towers and then distribute further.

Christopher Mitchell: So you're wholesaling and retailing effectively?

Robert Bridgham: We are

Christopher Mitchell: except for cable services which you're not allowed to retail, and which I'm sure actually if I were you, I might wake up every morning thanking the state of Virginia for not allowing me to get that

Robert Bridgham: We are definitely not complaining about you.

Christopher Mitchell: I'll just say that it's a two edged sword. I feel really bad for the networks like Bristol, Virginia, where if they had the ability to do cable services I think the Bristol Virginia the Authority would have been able to do a lot in southwest Virginia. So I couldn't make too much fun but it is worth noting that is such a headache that if you can supply your community with good connectivity without getting the cable so much the better for you.

Robert Bridgham: Yes although I will say that there's still a large demand even though services and the demand is moving towards over the top products such as Hulu and Netflix and Sling and things of those, you know, products of those nature. There's still an awful lot of demand for traditional cable services. And you know even here on the shore there's quite a lot of gaps where there is no cable service other than satellite services. And I think there's a lot of rural Virginia that has those types of conditions and environments where if somebody wanted to start offering a cable service although I don't know if I'd necessarily go into that business this day and age there's still certainly a lot of captive audience that I'd be very interested in.

Christopher Mitchell: We certainly hear it very much depends on the demographics too. I think a number of people that are less savvy technologically really prefer to be able to you know get the Nationals games if that's what they follow or Baltimore over their TV rather than having to fiddle with some third party devices. So are there any lessons learned over the years that you've been working there. I mean have you made any sort of changes to how you do things that you'd be able to share with others so they don't do it wrong the first way or in a suboptimal way.

Robert Bridgham: Well I'll say one lesson right off the bat is that our original business plan was -- was instrumental in steering. The original organization has continued to be that. So ten years later we still are able to use our original business plan as a reference point of reference, to say, this was our original plan. We're still following that plan and you can always make adjustments to plans as the real world forces you to that were unforeseen. However, having that original plan that was solid enough looking to be able to continue to be material a decade later is obviously instrumental in the success of an organization. The other thing that we found that was was important to us was: we ran this organization very similar to a private industry so we kept the organization very lean. We continue to only hire as an as needed basis. We found people that were highly skilled in multiple areas so we were able to sort of have a Swiss Army knife to solve different problems so if I'm policing cable and telephone pole I can have one of my technicians placed on a telephone pole and he can also splice and or he can also, or she can also, put on equipment and electronics and do some troubleshooting. So we were able to do with less people be able to do an awful lot within the organization before we had to start adding headcount. And I think that continued to greatly aid in our success because as a small organization we don't have a lot of business so it's not like I have you know enough jobs to keep five guys doing construction and five gals doing you know underground and five guys doing this and most small organizations you don't have that demand so hiring people with that, with multiple skill sets at a reasonable rate is a much more successful way of running a small organization. And we try to keep it lean and small right.

Christopher Mitchell: It's a common problem I think among those who hire too many people early on figuring that future sales will justify that because you can really harm your business by having too many people floating around before you can pay all their salaries. Absolutely. One of the things that I'm curious about is as you're expanding the network now. Are there new sources of funding? I mean are you getting contributions from the county or are you entirely self-sustaining are other new grants coming in? How does that all work?

Robert Bridgham: So currently and for well over a half a decade the ESVBA has been self-sustaining so we are cash-flow positive. We're running in the black although we are a we're a nontaxable obviously government entity. We have operated basically out of the existing revenue streams that we've established and that was something else that probably is a good lesson learned too is we a lot of municipal broadband organizations that are out there and I'm familiar with quite a few of them up in the northeast especially said, "Well you know we'll build this and we've got a lot of grant money we'll make this very very cheap and they literally made the prices to the point where they didn't think about the day after. And so you have to operate bucket trucks and you have to have testers and you have to have staff that's available 24/7. When a snow storm hits or a hurricane hits or whatever your environment is there you know we had a lot of feedback that our prices were not where people wanted it to be. But there's a reason that our organization continues to operate in a very strong position and is able to continue to expand without having to ask for additional money and that that to us is critical is that we were able to repay for example the is that original granted they gave us a grant and we paid it back anyways. We've been able to continue to operate and acquire hardware and systems as necessary to continue to operate in an efficient manner. And then also be able to every time we have a customer sign I have to go to the bank or go to a line of credit. I'm able to just continue to sell for myself. So from a financial perspective we're very stable. We are looking at what the the cost for a total deployment across issue should be. And so you know cash is king always in any organization private or public it doesn't matter. And the challenge is always trying to make sure that there's there's money available. And today there isn't really a lot of ill will for municipal broadband entities that I'm aware of. We've looked at the CAF 2 funding we've looked at the way we've looked at some of the grants and some of the loans that are available. But you know a lot of the original monies that had existed like the Top funding and such. Those funds aren't as available so it is definitely a challenge to provide ubiquitous coverage without you know good funding sources for municipal broadband entities and so trying to be very smart about how you handle your cash how you manage your organization and the asset that you build is critical to continue to keep it sustainable.

Christopher Mitchell: Now when we started one of the things you mentioned was connecting the NASA facility. And clearly now being able to ensure that that really high prestige jobs like that stay in the community is important. Other other successes the credit than that work with I mean is there is there something where you say you know what. I know that we're doing a good job because this has happened.

Robert Bridgham: There are quite a few organizations in any community that need to have mission critical services: hospitals, for example, even when one folks we do provide these insurance won one lot of their backhaul to different radio sites to be able to speak to the emergency services folks so we have you know we have the simplest of services a laundromat that has one Meg of Internet service or we have two folks that are doing mission critical things such as rocket launches and everything in between. We pride ourselves on the fact that our network is very reliable. We pride ourselves on the fact that our responsiveness of our staff is always top notch and we think that it's more than just the fact that you know our prices are good or bad or otherwise. It's about the way we handle ourselves and compete and present to the community in a way that is professional responsive and provides them a service that is not matched anywhere else. And most people are used to we'll get to we get to it. You know there's a lot of things on these ensure that are very lax and that's one of the things about being here being to come here and just enjoy what it is but we try to make sure that we make everything a priority so people understand that they're important to us.

Christopher Mitchell: So is there anything else that we should touch on before we wrap the show up.

Robert Bridgham: We're proud of the success story that we have here and we feel like this is something very reproducible in other areas in other communities. You know the key that we always have had is keeping our costs as low as possible taking in-house things that we can but also accepting the fact that there are times that having good contractors to work with us so that we continue to be able to expand at a good rate. And then again trying to maintain our finances in a fashion that allows us to operating on a go forward basis and not not put ourselves in a position of having to stop because of capital issues so I think those are all lessons and things that are. I feel like we've done well over the past 10 years and we hope to continue to do well over the next decade or two or hopefully as long as we survive and as long as we thrive.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well I wish you the best of luck with that. And I really appreciate you taking time to come on the show and share what you've learned with our with our listeners.

Robert Bridgham: Well thank you very much.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Robert Bridgham from the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority. Check out MuniNetworks for more stories. They are tagged as ESVBA. We have transcripts from 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 handlers @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts --Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules. podcasts you can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons, and we also want to thank you for listening to episode 294 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Local Authority Question On Firestone Spring Ballot

February 21, 2018

Spring will be here before we know it. So will local spring action at the voting booth, which for the past several years has meant that communities in Colorado will ask voters to reclaim local telecommunications authority. This year, the folks in Firestone will address the issue on April 3rd.

The Pursuit Of Better Broadband Goes On

Back in 2015, the town located about 30 miles north of Denver commissioned a feasibility study to examine the status of connectivity in the community and provide recommendations moving forward. Being located so close to a large urban center, Firestone has experienced growth which promises to continue. Between the years 2000 and 2010, population jumped from around 2,000 to more than 10,000. Growth is a good thing, but community leaders want to have connectivity to match, so businesses and economic development progresses in a desired direction.

According to the Times Call, consultants who developed the 2015 feasibility study focused on smart city applications for a publicly owned network. The firm also suggested the city pursue a public-private partnership, but before they can pursue that option or provide services themselves, voters need to opt out of SB 152.

At a Board of Trustees meeting in January, Members voted unanimously to put the issue on the spring ballot. 

Cities Reclaim Authority

Like more than one hundred communities before them, Firestone is asking voters to decide whether or not to reclaim local authority after the state legislature took it away in 2005. Lobbyists from the big telephone and cable corporations championed SB 152 in order to limit competition by preventing municipal and local governments from providing advanced services, including Internet access, to the general public. An escape clause was added at the eleventh hour which allows local communities to opt out through local referendums.

Since 2008, an increasing number of Colorado communities have held referendums and while some of them have developed and executed plans for municipal networks, such as Longmont. Others, like Fort Collins and Loveland, are taking steps toward publicly owned networks. Still others have no plans in place, but want the option if they need it in the future. There are many other local communities that simply don’t want state legislators making local decisions for them, regardless of the matter.

Comcast and CenturyLink provide Internet access to most of Firestone now and those in favor of passing the measure to opt out hope the ISPs take notice:

A supporter of passing the ballot measure, [Dietra] Porter acknowledged it could be years before the town acts to implement a high-speed internet option, but hopes restoring the ability to do so produces a positive result with private providers.

"We're not ready to jump right into municipal broadband, but ... by opting out of (the bill), if it encourages current providers to enhance their service or give better customer service, then that's a win-win for everyone," Porter said.

Firestone has provided a simple Factual Summary page on its city website to help voters understand more about SB 152, the pros and cons of passing the measure, and language of the measure.

 

Tags: firestone cocoloradosb 152ballotreferendumelectionlocal

Virginia's Eastern Shore Broadband Authority Steadily Expands Fiber Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 294

February 20, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 294 - Robert Bridgham, Executive Director of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority

When the Eastern Shore of Virginia needed better Internet access, in part to ensure NASA could achieve its mission, Accomack and Northampton counties created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority. Its Executive Director, Robert Bridgham joins us for episode 294 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We talk about why they used an Authority and how it was initially funded with grants that were later repayed because the network was so successful. They also used some community development block grants though the network has since expanded with its own revenues. 

The network both leases lines to independent ISPs and provides services directly. And it is expanding its Fiber-to-the-Home network to more neighborhoods each year in an incremental fashion. Read more about Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority here.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

Tags: eastern shore virginiavirginiaesvbaincrementalauthorityruralcountyfinancinggrantWirelessFTTHopen accessstaffinglessons learnedaudiobroadband bitspodcast

Ely, Minnesota, Considering Pilots To Answer Big Demand For Better Connectivity

February 20, 2018

Last fall, the northern Minnesota community of Ely took up a feasibility study to determine the possibilities of better connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. They also wanted to explore local interest in investment. After conducting a survey and reviewing the situation, local officials are contemplating moving ahead with two pilot projects.

A Big Demand

Citizens’ group, Ely Area Broadband Coalition (Ely ABC) and the Ely Economic Development Authority (EEDA) collaborated to manage the feasibility study process. In 2016, the Blandin Foundation, the Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), and St. Louis County awarded the city $25,000 which they’ve dedicated toward their efforts to improve local connectivity.

In order to gauge the community’s current feeling about the quality and cost of the services they purchase from area cable and DSL providers, the Ely ABC and the EEDA encouraged area residents and businesses to compete a survey last fall. They wanted evidence to share with potential funding sources that the community was not being served. Community leaders also expected the results to help them decide which direction to take moving forward.

At a recent EEDA meeting, members discussed the survey results and the potential pilot projects.

“We want to see how people are satisfied with what they have and what they feel the needs are,” said Harold Langowski, the city’s clerk-treasurer. “Right now we are assuming everybody wants faster broadband. and that they’re not satisfied with what we have. But we’re only hearing that from people on the committee.”

As anticipated, residents and businesses who took the survey revealed that 94 precent of local residents and 98 percent of business owners want improved connectivity in Ely. Jack Maytum, senior broadband analyst for Design Nine, relayed that approximately 400 residents and 60 local business owners completed the survey. The community chose Design Nine to complete the feasibility study.

From the residents who took the survey, only nine percent have connections that meet the FCC definition of broadband — 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. 

Forty-four percent of the people answering the survey purchase DSL Internet access and 27 percent subscribe to cable service. 

Forty-eight percent of those who completed the survey said that they have the type of Internet access they have because they have “no other option.” If the Ely community had better competition, for companies and types of services, they might not need to engage in a feasibility study or consider a publicly owned option, but like many rural communities, large national providers are investing elsewhere.

Twenty-three percent of respondents consider themselves self-employed or describe their employment as full-time or part-time from home. In places like Ely, where upload speeds are not robust, entrepreneurs with home bases have a difficult time if their businesses require connectivity. For many businesses today, the ability to send information to colleagues online is a necessity and a fast, reliable connection is critical to everyday business.

Approximately half of respondents indicated that they would pay up to $80 per month for better Internet access than what they now purchase. Current monthly rates range from $75 - $150 for triple play for about 40 percent of respondents; 36 percent of respondents pay more than $150 per month. Stand alone Internet access, as reported by about 35 percent of respondents cost $41 - $60 per month.

Business owners reported high dissatisfaction with existing options for connectivity — 92 percent don’t like what they have now and 98 percent say they need something better.

Downtown Fiber

Ely has been considering a plan to deploy fiber to its public school facilities and then connect to fiber in the downtown area. They also have considered the idea of extending fiber out to Morse and Winton townships. While fiber to serve schools could potentially be paid for with federal E-rate funds, finding a way to pay for Internet infrastructure remains a challenge here as in other rural communities.

Ely is considering an approach growing in popularity by engaging in a pilot project for a limited area. By concentrating early efforts on a limited geographical area and number of premises, a publicly owned network can work out potential issues before offering the service to a wider subscription base. Testing the waters this way can prove the concept or, alternatively, determine that the service isn’t right for the entire community. 

One of the pilot projects community leaders are now considering is a fiber loop around the downtown area. Community leaders want to help existing businesses and attract new growth. At this early stage, Design Nine and the city are working on cost estimates, but Ely leaders have expressed that better broadband is a priority.

Out-of-Town Wireless

The pilot project for residential service may take on a public-private flavor. One of the early suggestions is that the city invest in fixed wireless equipment and towers and fiber at two local lakes that are outside of city limits. They would own the infrastructure and lease it to a private sector Internet Service Provider (ISP) to offer fixed wireless services to the homes around the area.

There are about 3,500 people who live in the community that’s known as one of the small towns that border the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. With outfitters, hotels, and lodges, people from the Twin Cities a few hours away often visit to spend vacation time. The town is home to the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center, both adding to the tourist draw. Ely’s art scene and Vermillion Community College bring students, artists, and art-lovers to the city, all which need access to high-quality connectivity. 

A First Phase

Even with all this seasonal activity, Ely’s year-round population has slowly and steadily declined as logging and mining, which once flourished in the region, has decreased significantly. Community leaders are looking for a way to bring more opportunity and reverse the trend. The community has been working with the Blandin Foundation to find ways to use technology to market the community and its businesses. Check out more about their efforts here.

Langowski told members at the EEDA meeting that next steps may be developing an RFP for an Internet Service Provider to work as a partner, then seek funding for the fiber deployment.

“At this point in time these area ideas and concepts,” said Langowski. “It could be the first phase of a multi-phase project.”

Image of Sheridan Street in Ely by Jon 'ShakataGaNai' Davis [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: ely mnsurveypilot projectfixed wirelessFTTHeconomic developmente-rateruralblandin foundationfeasibilitydslcablegrassroots

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 19

February 19, 2018

Alabama

This is how politicians should deal with bad cable companies by Charles Mills, BGR

Mediacom has a franchise agreement to offer cable and Internet service within the city, thanks to its 2016 takeover of the local cable company, Andalusia TV Cable. But Johnson says that since Mediacom took over, service has been tanking.

“For the entire time that I have been mayor, I have not received as many complaints about anything as I have received about the cable and broadband service from Mediacom,” Johnson told the city council last week, according to the local paper. “Whatever it is that they’re doing here, they need to make some changes…they operate here because we let them. As a city government we can’t tell them or make them do anything. But we can locate someone who is an expert on broadband and Internet who can tell us what we can do.”

One small Alabama town is tired of MediaCom's crap by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Mayor puts Mediacom on notice: Get better, or we'll compete with you by Lacy Stinson, Andalusia Star News

 

Colorado

Editorial: Broadband study was good decision by Loveland Reporter-Herald Editorial Board

 

Iowa

Council authorizes $15K in attorney fees for work on possible municipal utilities by Sarah Strandberg, Decorah Newspapers

 

Kentucky

Eastern Kentucky's struggle with water symbolizes America's crumbling infrastructure by Lyndsey Gilpin, Huffington Post

Smarter electric grids and more widespread broadband networks can help solve these types of problems, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which works with electric cooperatives to expand internet access and introduce programs that make it easier for outages to be monitored and repaired, or introduce energy efficiency programs.

That could make a huge difference in places like Perry County, which has seen the state utility, Kentucky Power, try to raise rates by 9 percent. The state’s public service commission is working to decrease the rate by 4 percent; some customers say they are paying anywhere from $600 to $1,000 per month for electricity. “Now that we have the water back, I’m working with a group on electricity,” Pam Brashear said.

Expanded internet access could also create more opportunities for work in rural areas. Jackson County, Kentucky, for instance, has a fiber-optic network that has “enabled job creation because people can work from home,” he said.

 

Massachusetts

With the end of net neutrality, Braintree's municipal Internet service gives customers more control by Erin Tiernan, Patriot Ledger

BELD – the Braintree Electric Light Department - gives residents in that town another broadband choice, along with gas, cable and electric service. It also gives consumers a voice in whether the company maintains the principles of net neutrality going forward.

“If Netflix worked poorly, BELD customers would call the board, the mayor, the council, and policy would change very quickly,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minnesota think-tank that advocates for local control. He said customers of municipally-owned internet service providers like BELD are at an advantage amid the mounting uncertainty of how providers will deliver content in a world without net neutrality regulations.

Peabody seeks to create municipal fiber network by Mary Markos, Salem News

Report concludes city would benefit from municipal broadband by G. Michael Dobbs, The Chicopee Reminder

 

Minnesota

Blandin funding helps in rural expansion for Internet service by Melissa Roach, Timberjay

Pilot projects floated to improve Internet service by Tom Coombe, The Ely Echo

 

Missouri

Fidelity Communications caught astroturfing muni-broadband by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Area businesses have mixed feelings on effects of net neutrality repeal by Philip Joens, Jefferson City News Tribune

Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for St. Paul, Minnesota-based think tank the Institute for Local Self Reliance, said businesses and consumers likely will see prices rise because of the new power given to the oligopolies that run the telecom industry.

"Prices will be going up in general," Mitchell said. "Exactly how they go up is hard to predict."

 

New Jersey

Stuck in the slow lane on the Internet by New Jersey Herald Editorial Board

 

Virginia

CVEC announces new broadband access project by Heather Michon, Fluvanna Review

 

Washington

Washington House passes bill to protect net-neutrality rules by Rachel La Corte, Associated Press

High speed broadband headed for rural Washington by Brian Neale, KXLY

SB 5935 follows federal standards in setting a target for high-speed service of at least 25 megabits per second for download speeds, and upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second. The Office on Broadband Access will coordinate with local governments, public and private entities and utilities to develop broadband deployment strategies. It will develop a model ordinance for local governments for permitting of new facilities, and will study the possibility of tax credits to encourage deployment in underserved areas.

The office also will develop a grant program for local governments and make recommendations for grant projects. Other provisions of the bill require cities to develop a permitting process for new telecommunications facilities and to generally prohibit conditional land-use permits except in cases of large facilities or conflicts with community design standards. Rural port districts and the Kitsap Public Utility District would be allowed to offer broadband service.

 

West Virginia

FCC broadband availability data blasted as bogus, 'shameful' by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

General

As battle brews in Congress, FCC says killing net neutrality is making the Internet better by Mike Ludwig, Truth-Out

Proponents of net neutrality rules, which prevent internet providers from playing favorites with legal web content, say the idea that deregulatory moves at the FCC and in Congress are helping consumers is simply false. They say voters should punish the GOP in the midterms for siding with big telecommunications companies instead of their customers.

This crafty tactic may let states get around the FCC on net neutrality by Brian Fung, Washington Post

The initiatives have put states on a collision course with the FCC. But now a new tactic gaining momentum among governors threatens to complicate the debate further. Their novel approach, analysts say, is largely untested in court — and it could drive the fight over the Internet's future into hazy legal territory.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) this week became one of the latest to adopt the strategy, signing an executive order that effectively forces Internet service providers (ISPs) that do business with the state to abide by strong net neutrality rules.

Regulating from broadband maps by POTS and PANS blog

Trump's infrastructure plan has no dedicated money for broadband by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Why broadband competition at faster speeds is virtually nonexistant by Karl Bode, Motherboard Vice

And the faster the broadband speeds get, the more obvious the lack of competition becomes.

According to the FCC’s data, 44 percent of census blocks have no access to speeds of 100 Mbps or greater, and 41 percent of census blocks can only get those speeds from just one provider. In other words, 85 percent of U.S. census blocks either can’t get 100 Mbps speeds from any ISP, or only have the option of getting 100 Mbps from just one provider.

Net neutrality: States' rights vs. the FCC by Mari Silbey, Light Reading

Schools & Libraries: We're keys to closting rural divide by John Eggerton, MultiChannel News

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 293

February 16, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 293 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Katie Cristol and Jack Belcher join the show from Arlington, Virginia, to explain the community's approach to bridging the digital divide. Listen to this episode here.

Katie Cristol: It just starts with the idea that everyone regardless of whether your work is in technology, paving, or public schools is committed to the notion of helping lift up our neighbors with the assets that they need.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 293 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. It was 2014 when we last spoke with Arlington, Virginia's Jack Belcher about the community's fiber optic network. This week he's back and he's joined by Katie Cristol, County Board Chair. The network has been up and running for several years now providing better connectivity for government facilities and community anchor institutions leasing out dark fiber. And now they've developed a new program to help shrink the digital divide. In this interview Jack and Katie give us details about the Arlington Digital inclusion Initiative including why where and how local government departments are working together. Jack also fills us in on what's next for Connect Arlington and share some lessons learned. Now here's Jack Belcher and Katie Cristol from Arlington Virginia.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis. And I'm speaking with Katie Cristol, the Chair of the Arlington County Board in Virginia. Welcome to the show. Thanks so much for having me. And we also have repeat guest Jack Belcher, Arlington County Chief Information Officer. Welcome back, Jack.

Jack Belcher: Thank you for inviting us.

Christopher Mitchell: Well this is a particularly good show we've done a couple of shows recently about digital divide issues, how we can use smart investments to try to make sure everyone gets benefits of the Internet and we're going to be talking about that at the beginning of this show. But first I think, Katie, I'd like to ask you to just tell us a little bit about what the Connect Arlington is please.

Katie Cristol: Connect Arlington is a fiber optic high speed and dedicated network that we built here in Arlington. It links both our county facilities, like community centers and public safety institutions, as well as the buildings for our Arlington public schools. And the goal of Connect Arlington is to ensure that our governmental and school services and facilities will benefit both today and then increasingly in the long run because we know the demand for digital services and connectivity is only continuing to grow.

Christopher Mitchell: And Jack, I'm curious if you have anything to add on to that.

Jack Belcher: It's really a trademark of Arlington. We have this vision that we don't do the easy. And what this wouldn't have been successful if it wasn't for the elected leadership we have. Basically active a board of directors and said you know does this make sense. And this has been an effort it's been a six year effort to complete and this month in fact we'll be completing the the build out of Connect Arlington and over 93 schools across the county and county buildings, the 250 traffic signals that we manage by this, there's a public safety radio network is being carried over that. It's been a real success and again it's a tribute to just the kind of world to make it happen.

Christopher Mitchell: I really appreciate you both coming on the show and also that having focused on local government policies for ten years I have to say that that kind of progress in Arlington's made is remarkable and does show really good leadership.

Katie Cristol: Well thank you so much. I really appreciate you're saying so and you know I know a lot of credit does go to my predecessors on the Arlington County Board including one that just recently retired off the board. And what has been so exciting is to see the fruition of not only that vision for a kind of digital self-reliance right to get to your point but also to start to see some of these applications especially on issues that have to do with equity which I know is what brings us to the conversation today.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes and we'll dive right into that. I would be remiss if I didn't say for people who are unfamiliar with the D.C. area that Arlington has a compressed populace county right. It's a part of the metro region of the D.C. area and I think that brings us to Arlington Mill. Katie, why don't you tell us what's happening and how you're using Connect Arlington in this specific way to try and make sure everyone can access the Internet.

Katie Cristol: Absolutely so. Arlington Mill is both a community center and it's a public private partnership that includes housing which is -- was developed and is now operated by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. There is 102 committed affordable units they're renting at 40, 50, and 60 percent of our area's median income. And a lot of kids, a lot of kids in our public schools. So Arlington Mill is a terrific location for us to help pilot this idea. This proof of concept about bridging -- bridging the digital divide because it is sharing space effectively with the community center which already has the necessary infrastructure needed for the dark fiber connection. So a lot of things have really come together to make Arlington Mill and the families that live there a great place to start in our efforts to bridge the digital divide.

Christopher Mitchell: Jack, let me let me ask you to fill in a little bit of some technical details and that's because this is part of a larger investment you already have the fiber there but what are -- What's happening technically to be able to bring access to these communities?

Jack Belcher: We were fortunate because we had a community center there for us and we extended communications, government communications, wireless and cell phone. We recognize right off the bat that we didn't have the wireless connectivity we needed here primarily for our first responders. If there was a 911 call we had to go into that facility they didn't have coverage. And we found it wasn't only they didn't have coverage of the public safety radio network that people who had wireless plans with, say, Verizon and AT&T couldn't get connectivity. So what we did -- we addressed it from the perspective of the public safety side and we put in a distributed antenna system in there. And so what that allowed us to do is to provide direct coverage for the 911 calls that would come in. So when somebody gets a call and they go to a building they can't get in. They can't get communications. Time is really important. So by putting this in it'll lay the foundation. So what we did since we had that ability to put in the distributed antenna system, we put in what was called a neutral host capability. And so what we did is we had slots in a service that powered the rest of the building and so we could do is put Verizon or AT&T and such. So the foundation was laid and so when this initiative came up with the idea of -- this idea of how do we extend connectivity to those who may not have that access. We had the foundation on the ground and ready to go and we just laid on top of that with our partners that we brought in to make it happen. So it was quite a success. That's why this is a really remarkable project.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me go back to Katie, and ask you if I'm a family that's moving into this area how -- how does it change if I was moving into a different area that did not have these services that you are making available?

Katie Cristol: Our families who live in Arlington residences and other community affordable units around the county do tend to be modest to lower income. Again the units themselves rent at 40 or 50 or 60 percent of area median income. And many of those families actually also receive housing grants. So they are folks who are on the lower end of the economic spectrum. And we know that data on internet is expensive. We have some data actually about Arlington Mill residences now that suggest you know the houses that are able to pay for data and Internet their plans typically cost 45 to 70 dollars a month. So for a family moving into the area especially a low income family moving into the area it can be really hard to be connected. It might mean a tradeoff between that and other essential services. So this really is one of the areas of equity or lack there of it for the 21st century. And so that's why it's so important to be able to offer this option to families.

Christopher Mitchell: So families that are moving in here then they will have access to a wireless service or service in their home. How exactly does technology work?

Jack Belcher: It comes down to wireless what we've done is we've worked with the people who run that facility. It's called LAPAL or APAH?

Katie Cristol: Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you. That's the acronym.

Jack Belcher: I'm sorry I caused that blip in this discussion but no what we did is we extended to partnerships the ability to have to watch that entire facility with wireless as it was talking about it earlier. And now they have they have gigabit access is synchronous in other words whatever you've got coming down is what you have going back up. And normally when you deal with Comcast, Verizon, and there's a degradation in speeds and so it's not synchronous and so but the wireless we really are building true broadband access at a gigabit speed to the -- to all the residents in that facility. The difference is significant when you look at it from a perspective of education. I know the schools of Arlington are moving to a one-to-one learning model where it's more than just providing someone with a tool, a tablet is providing with the learning materials to be able to be able to understand. The cost of living is integral in some part of the county many parts of the county. People have access to high speed Internet access. Just one facility. The schools would offer what they call MiFi Wi-Fi. And it's really a little Wi-Fi device. And they offered it free offer them ability to get access to materials. The problem was that the speed of which that operates is a mere fraction of the speed you get from a commercial Internet access, Katie, is referring to. And so they really. These kids are at a disadvantage in the number of kids in this complex who are relying on it but providing this now it sort of a level playing field and they have no equitable access to anyone else in any other part of the county and I think that's really the critical thing from a case with a K-12 aspect also looks like from a K-to-grave aspect of this having the ability to have that access is so important from health and human services, education standpoint to be able to get medical care find out about where to get a job, so many other things that you have to do in your life. To have that ability in that facility,iIt's just extraordinary. And again as Katie was saying, it just levels the playing field.

Christopher Mitchell: I have never heard that before. Did I hear correctly that you said K-to-gray?

Jack Belcher: K-to-grave.

Christopher Mitchell: That's brilliant. That is really -- that's terrific. I never heard that before and I love that it came from from you Jack. You just have a wonderful way of speaking. I remember that from the last time that we spoke. Katie, let's let's turn to something that as a fellow policy geek I know that you're very interested in, that's how this gets funded. How did you end up pulling this together?

Katie Cristol: Well I think the funding here is actually a really intriguing part of the story and says something about the way we think about connectivity and access in the 21st century as a critical piece of infrastructure in the same way that you know roads and transit for example might be. So Columbia Pike, which is actually my neighborhood and is where Arlington is located, is one of actually the most diverse corridors in America. At one point we were called "the world in a zip code" by the Brookings Institute. And as we have as a county set a plan for the future of Columbia Pike. It's been really important to all of us that we preserve our diversity and we know that it's really important to protect some of our affordability in order to do that. So some years ago the board approved what's called tax increment financing for Columbia Pike and that of course is an instrument we see throughout Arlington and of course throughout the country basically as property tax revenues grow with redevelopment and property appreciation some increment of the additional property tax revenue is set aside and dedicated for a specific purpose and in Columbia Pike is going to be dedicated or it is dedicated to this specific purpose of infrastructure for affordable housing initiative? So when a developer, a market rate developer, comes in there's an expectation that they'll make some contributions to the sidewalks, underground utilities, etc. there where we typically think of as infrastructure and the funding allows us to help along the development of committed affordable housing by alleviating the pressures on the developer, the affordable housing developer, to raise that capital to fund those infrastructure improvements. This is the first time we're using that tax increment financing or TIF money to pay for the infrastructure of internet connectivity of high speed Internet and so that funding is providing a grant. About $95,000 for this initiative. And that's where the money comes from and we think it's kind of a nice signal about what infrastructure means at our current day and age.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes we've seen tax increment financing in some other places as well. We've discussed it on this show previously with Eugene, Oregon, and we've also written about it in Valparaiso, Indiana, as well as several others so I really appreciate the explanations. One of the clearer explanations we've had for it. One other thing that I really want to bug you about Katie was the collaboration because when we were looking into what was happening here, you know, I notice Department of Technology Services, Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. Those are the organizations that have all been involved with Arlington Mills as well as the Partnership for Affordable Housing as urban in the challenges of having so many different groups working together? Now I would just say that we've seen a lot of projects falter because the heads of different departments didn't feel like they had to work together. They didn't feel like there'd be a penalty if they just didn't work well together.

Katie Cristol: Interesting question right that we know is true across policy areas that the challenges of the silos, for example. I think one of the reasons this project was set up for success or actually that this project even germinated or took root initially is that it's true I think across the organization of Arlington County government that there really is a shared commitment to the notions of inclusion, to the notion that, you know, our county should be a place where everyone gets a leg up where everyone is helped along and certainly we're all working to interrupt cycles of intergenerational disadvantage. I don't know that every department of technology services feels that the way Jack and his team do. And I think that's a pretty remarkable thing. So I know when -- when they brought this idea to the county board we were all incredibly enthusiastic about it. And it was -- what was really exciting is that the idea started with this, again, commitment to equity but it came out of the people who had the technical expertise to make it so, you know, it wasn't just a nonprofit advocacy group in the community or just our Human Services Department saying hey we know our families need it. It was our technical people who knew not only that our families needed it but had some idea about how to realize it. And I think that's been so essential. I'm sure Jack could talk a little bit too about the partnership of course there are multiple parties involved here it's a cooperative effort between the county, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and then the service providers that will be selected by them. So that is a lot of layers of of government there some of that is a reflection of the sort of climate that we're in. You know we firmly are not a community network provider and so there was a need to bring in a provider as well as a partner in APAH. So you know there are always cuts along the way and challenges along the way. We're fortunate to have a really high capacity partner in the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing that is quite savvy about capital financing development etc. So we're fortunate to draw them. But again I really think in terms of breaking down the silos, it just starts with the idea that everyone regardless of whether your work is in technology paving or public schools is committed to the notion of helping lift up our neighbors with the assets that they need.

Christopher Mitchell: It's an interesting answer that you give that is very honest and I want to see how you react to me putting it in a little bit of a more brutal way. And that's if a community comes to me and says look what we really need to get to this end. And they have departments that aren't used to working together and they have leadership of departments that are more interested in building kingdoms than working together. You can't just sort of find a great mayor or chair of a board that's going to force them to work. It sounds like it's more like you have to get your house in order before you tackle these kinds of projects accurately, you think.

Katie Cristol: I couldn't agree more with that characterization. And you know my background in a lot has been made in Arlington is is an education policy. And so that is so resonant right that it's the kind of great man theory of public policy that is one really talented superintendent or mayor that can make a difference. It just of course you need folks who care the Shared Value of whether it's collaboration or equity or anything else with their technical expertise. One person can never have the technical expertise to identify opportunities and to bring them to fruition. And so if there isn't that shared set of values or mission you are going to have an uphill battle. Absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: And Jack I'm curious you've been running the department for quite a period of time. Does that resonate with you as well?

Jack Belcher: It's so true what Katie said. The time I've been here, there's never been a time where I haven't gone up to a colleague in another department or to a board member and local officials and said I need your help and they haven't given it and sat down and try to figure out how to make it happen. When you think about what happened at Arlington Mill, you know, we are what we call a Dillon Rule state there are certain things we can do and not do -- Virginia is. One of the things we can't do is we can't offer services on this. Some jurisdictions and some other parts of the country could just come and say OK we are going to provide wireless Internet access to this area to go do it. We're not allowed to do that. So what we can do is we can provide the transit really, tracks to be able to make it happen. But we have to rely on others to actually engage and make it so that we not only reached out to our friends in the schools we reached out to Department of Health and Human Services that we will go to housing people we reached out to the commercial sector. When we said we need help doing this we can't go in and provide services. We have two companies come forward and say, "we'll do it and we'll do it for the common good the public good. And they licensed that fiber to be able to provide that connectivity. We went to university Virginia Tech who is a resident here and we said here's the challenge. We got -- we need to be able to have this access this high speed pipe to the Internet to be able to provide for this. They step forward no questions, they just said that when do we show up and we get them in a room. Talk to you when the idea was get it done and you know it's still a work in progress. We've got to demonstrate this is a pilot effort. It's -- we feel if we can demonstrate value here it can be extended to other places like that like the one at Arlington Mill for affordable housing. And so we're starting that process but it's been a success because of the sort of a commitment to make it happen. I think that's the that's from the talented so unique.

Christopher Mitchell: As we're heading toward wrapping up I want to just quickly catch people up because in episode 97 when you were last on the show, Jack, you gave us a lot of details about the approach that you were using -- getting four conduits in the ground, talking about how you'd worked with Dominion Energy. It's a high level of detail from that discussion. And I think people will be curious, you know, in part because of this Dillon Rules limitation. Let's say that you're more challenged in terms of getting economic development results from the network. And so I'm curious if you have any lessons learned that you can share with us.

Jack Belcher: Certainly. Again it's been a success. As I said the week will we'll have completed the build out of the network for all our Public Safety, County buildings, school buildings, and such all our traffic signals. So the success is there the cost avoidance is significant. If we had relied on an institutional network that we got through a cable television franchise with Comcast and Comcast no longer wanted to provide that they give us an estimate the cost to be able to provide that connectivity going forward. That was in 2013 and the cost is around $8 million a year. The county because we were building this network avoided those cost. That is significant. And think about five years now the cost had been avoided. Is it a success? yes. What we did at the same time we did it and you're right we had four conduits on the ground. We laid ten miles of fiber to our live and corridor from Rosalind to Courthouse to Boston to Columbia Pike and then down in Crystal City and across the paddock across Fort Myer to the Pentagon. And we wanted to make that a a source of economic development. Could they use that? Could it inspire innovation? and we've had challenges and the challenges have been just the idea that we are a government and we operate successfully for many years and we would deal with a brand new technology that has all kinds of nuances related to it. And so looking at a fiber optic line as say we look at a gas line going to a house just doesn't fit. And so we have to rethink how we deal with those types of challenges. And so what we're doing right now is taking a step back. We've got ten miles on the ground of 864 strands of dark fiber significant investment going through our urban corridor. How do we inspire more innovation. One of things we're thinking about is what's the role of government in government. Make this available as a platform for innovation and not just a platform that we have restrictions around. But there's a thought about permission of access to innovation but that I mean we tend to put a lot of restrictions and guidelines and what people can do with things. And when you think about how the Internet was created it was a research network that then morphed into a a commercial network that allowed you to buy goods online and do other things. It was a development and I think we were at that stage now with this network we've laid this fiber optic network is where we go with it? And so tonight in fact we're beginning a series of discussions with a management committee that's been formed -- with the committee brought together people from diverse interests to look at what we've done would Connect Arlington for economic development purposes that 10 mile stretch what could be possible. And we made an effort not to not to weight the committee to one conclusion and so we have we have a former commissioner from the FCC. He's going to be sitting on it who came out of the Obama administration. And so you know he's he's sort of on that one side of the spectrum. Same time we're bringing somebody in from George Mason University who's actually on the other side of the institution that he believes is very conservative and then he's got people in between who both users, builders, and thought leaders and the ideas to put before them. Here's what we're trying to do. The model we set up isn't -- hasn't really hit that sweet spot yet but how do we get that to get to that sweet spot. But it's more than you know communicating the value of something like this you could talk about speed and speed means a huge amount of things but it's more than that. It's the benefit they're going to get. What does it mean to the business owner who wants to move into a section of Arlington? And what what will this capability give them that they couldn't get somewhere else and in some other community and they goes to every spectrum imaginable from health care to video to research, big data analysis, and such. So that's the challenge we're going on right now and that committee we've put together has a very short timeframe are we talking about six weeks, the number of meetings where they're going to listen to what's possible, see what we've done, and then come back and make a recommendation to the manager and hopefully to the board that says you know we looked at it. We've taken a step back and we think there needs to be the modifications to make this work. So you know I'm very confident we're going to find something, that something is going to come out of this I really that we put in the ground. I have so much value in the future. We just have to find how best to make that happen. And so that's the challenge we have right now.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's great. I'm curious if you have any final thoughts Katie in terms of this Connect Arlington on the benefits for the community more generally as we wrap up.

Katie Cristol: You don't get that we appreciate the opportunity to be part of our conversation and sharing lessons with other localities is of course a rapidly evolving field not just in terms of the -- the technology that we're working with but also understanding the legal and regulatory landscape so we as Jack mentioned We're always cognizant of the legal landscape in which we operate in as a locality and a Dillon Rules state by either there every locality can sometimes feel like it has idiosyncratic conditions and so this chance to exchange ideas and learn from others. It's really exciting and you know we are we don't know that we've got it all figured out yet but we're really happy to share our work along the way and just grateful to you for helping us chat about it today.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you so much for both of you coming on the show and sharing lessons and inspiring others.

Jack Belcher: Thank you.

Katie Cristol: Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Katie Cristol and Jack Belcher discussing Connect Arlington in Virginia and their new digital inclusion initiative. Check out MuniNetworks.org for more stories on the network. We have transcripts from 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 handlers @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts --Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules. podcasts you can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons, and we also want to thank you for listening to episode 293 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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