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RS Fiber On NPR's "The Call-In"

April 15, 2017

RS Fiber Cooperative, serving communities in central Minnesota, has received attention and awards for a collaborative approach to improve local connectivity. The project is bringing better Internet access to farms, businesses, and residents in rural Minnesota that had little chance of ever getting better service from the national providers.

In a recent edition of National Public Radio’s The Call-In: Rural Life, Winthrop economic development director Mark Erickson, who was one of the champions of the project, talks with series host Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about what better connectivity means for rural areas.

Remember to check out our extensive coverage of the RS Fiber Cooperative, including our 2016 report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.

Erickson’s interview begins at around 4:20. Transcripts for the show are available here.

Tags: rs fiber coopaudioradioruralinterviewminnesota

TN Broadband Bill Hits Local And National Media

April 14, 2017

When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.

Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:

"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."

Motherboard

Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:

To be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.

The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):

"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.

TechDirt Gets Personal

Karl Bode from TechDirt, in his usual pull-no-punches style, described the Tennessee legislature as “pay-to-play.” Bode reminds readers that Tennessee’s own Department of Economic and Community Development determined in 2016 that the state of connectivity in rural areas is just plain dire. Why?

If you want to understand what's wrong with the American broadband industry, you need look no further than Tennessee. The state is consistently ranked as one of the least connected, least competitive broadband markets in the country, thanks in large part to Comcast and AT&T's stranglehold over politicians like Marsha Blackburn. Lawmakers like Blackburn have let Comcast and AT&T lobbyists quite literally write protectionist state laws for the better part of a decade with an unwavering, singular focus: protecting incumbent revenues from competition and market evolution.

TechSpot

TechSpot looked beyond Tennessee at the big picture:

While this may seem to be a localized problem for Chattanooga, it can be applied across the country. Think about how many Internet providers that you have in your area. Do you think your lack of options is by accident?

Internet providers have long held customers between a rock and a hard place. Most of the time they overcharge for unreliable service with bloated bundles and poor customer service. They can get away with this not only because they have limited competition, but because lawmakers have their backs with restrictive regulatory demands.

InfoWorld

InfoWorld included coverage of the recent Pew Research survey that revealed overwhelming support for local telecommunications authority. They show the irony behind the fact that so many support Internet access from municipal networks, but Tennessee elected officials would rather stop munis at the gate and fork over millions of taxpayer funds for inferior service.

 

 

Local Coverage, WBBJ

Jackson, Tennessee, is home to the Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), which offers gigabit connectivity via its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal network. The local news WBBJ ran a story about the bill and featured ILSR’s criticism of the approach. Our preemption fact sheet makes a small cameo.  

 

Tags: christopher mitchellinstitute for local self-reliancetennesseelegislationkarl bodemediasubsidieslobbyingmunichattanoogaEPBat&t

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 248

April 14, 2017

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 248. Brian Kelly of MAW Communications and Patrick Hopkins of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, join the show to discuss how the city and MAW are collaborating in a public-private partnership. Listen to this episode here.

Brian Kelly: Each of the communities that invests in Community Broadband Solutions is going to be slightly different. It's going to be about negotiating those very specific local conditions that will make the project successful.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 248 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In March, we shared the news about Lancaster, Pennsylvania's, public private partnership with MAW Communications on MuniNetworks.org. This week, Christopher interviews Patrick Hopkins, Business Administrator for the city, and Brian Kelly, Operations Director at MAW Communications. In the interview, you'll hear about the long and detailed planning for the Fiber to the Home project. You'll also hear about how both the city and this local provider found some ways to overcome specific challenges relating to the project. They each explain what drew them to this approach and some of the added benefits of Fiber to the Home in Lancaster. Check out the project website at LanCity Connect and learn about MAW Communications at MAWcom.com. Now here's Patrick Hopkins and Brian Kelly talking with Christopher about the LanCity city Connect project.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with Patrick Hopkins, the Business Administrator for the City of Lancaster. Welcome to the show.

Patrick Hopkins: Thank you for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Brian Kelly, the Operations Director at MAW Communications, a small private company that serves the region. Welcome to the show.

Brian Kelly: Thanks so much for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: So, Patrick, I thought I'd ask you first to just give us a short version of what's happening in Lancaster with this arrangement.

Patrick Hopkins: Sure. Well, we're excited to finally, I'll say -- and I'm sure we'll get into some of the history on this -- but working with MAW Communications on a community fiber broadband system call LanCity Connect. We're actually beginning the roll out of residential connections, Fiber to the Home connections beginning, I believe, at the beginning of May. Those are being scheduled right now. We've been undergoing a beta testing program since about early November, I believe it is, with about 60 customers. We've gotten MAW, LanCity connect has gotten great feedback from those customers, and we're excited to get this thing rolling.

Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. And Brian, do you have anything to add in terms of a short overview of what we're going to be talking about here?

Brian Kelly: No, I think Patrick summed it up. It's a really exciting time with the launch of LanCity Connect and the possibilities and the buzz that's happening locally around this has been really encouraging. These folks are really interested in being part of a local broadband solution.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to paint a little picture for our listeners that haven't been out there as I told you, Patrick, I played my first soccer tournament in Lancaster growing up in the Lehigh Valley. So, for people that haven't been there, what's Lancaster like?

Patrick Hopkins: The city of Lancaster -- we've got a population of about 60,000, very compact. We're officially about 7.4 square miles, so 60,000 people in that small area, but actually most, probably 95% of the residents are within about a four square mile area. Nice, compact, very urban city just in terms of, again, about 90% of our homes are row homes or just barely disconnected homes. We'll probably talk about it later but it's a real advantage when we're talking about rolling out fiber backbone across the city, but we're about 75 miles west of Philadelphia. Lancaster County itself has a population of about 530,000. So, the city is about 10% of the total population of the county. We're surrounded by, I guess, a metro area of about, probably, 150, 175 thousand. But the city itself is 60,000 people

Christopher Mitchell: And aside from MAW, you have, I presume, cable and DSL service?

Patrick Hopkins: Yes, we do.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay, I always like to establish that because sometimes people assume communities that are engaging in either their own investment or partnerships, have nothing. But you already have something. You're looking for something better, I would guess.

Patrick Hopkins: Yes, that is Correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's turn to Brian and learn a little bit about -- What's MAW's background?

Brian Kelly: So, MAW Communications is in it's 19th year of business. We're a registered Pennsylvania public utility here in the state of Pennsylvania, and for most of the beginning of our existence, we focused on larger institutional clients, governmental healthcare, education, larger enterprises with multiple locations that needed to be connected. So, this emerging partnership with the city is an expansion of that core broadband service, and looking into the expansion to residential services.

Christopher Mitchell: So is serving a lot of homes and even smaller businesses something that's kind of new to you then?

Brian Kelly: Yes, for MAW communications that's part of what the whole partnership with the city of Lancaster has been is actually scaling up that component of the partnership.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, let's talk a little bit about how that partnership began. Patrick, can you give us a little bit of background?

Patrick Hopkins: We've been talking with MAW communications for probably about ten years. I think probably our first conversation with Frank Wiczkowski as the president of MAW Communications dates back to sometime in 2006 or early 2007. So, we've had sort of on and off again conversations about various fiber possibilities, anything from providing public Wi-Fi in public spaces in public parks, and then sort of over a period of years as the city got some things in order both financially and operationally, more recently those conversations turned to doing a fiber broadband throughout the city, and really what we're doing is leveraging some investment that we knew to make anyway in an automatic meter reading system. We also provide water services to the city of Lancaster and the surrounding suburban area. So, we had some other investment that we were looking to do in terms of interconnection of traffic signals and this automatic meter reading system. That conversation continued to grow into what's now the creation of LanCity Connect, sort of a bit of an offshoot of some of this other fiber infrastructure that we talked about.

Christopher Mitchell: And Brian, I would love to hear if there's any other details about the working together with the city, how it came to be, that you would like to contribute.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, the partnership has been going well, and as Patrick mentioned it's really been evolving over time. One of the things that is really nice about this is that there's multiple needs that are being met through this, and that is one of the things MAW really likes to pride itself on is stop looking at "Oh, so we're looking at the automated meter infrastructure, we're looking at the traffic signals, we're looking at potentially Wi-Fi hotspots." All of this integration and then looking at, "Oh, well once we're already investing there, there's really only marginal additional cost in connecting residents, how can we get the most bang for our buck, if you will, in this infrastructure investment." So, we've been really pleased with being able to work with the city in helping to develop this.

Christopher Mitchell: Brian, I'm curious if you just can say a few words about what it's like to be working with the city, perhaps pros and cons. I'm sure that no one's going to pretend anything is all easy. But the reason I ask is, a lot of telecommunications carriers, the larger ones especially, some of the smaller ones, are reluctant or prefer not to work with cities, and I'm just curious if you can tell us why you thought it might be a good idea to and how that's working out.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, there's definitely pros and cons to that type of relationship, and I think one of MAW's reasons for entering into an arrangement like this is more of our ethic, which is we're not interested in being what we consider a jack, just another carrier. We are interested in what is the innovation in this industry and what is the added value to the communities in which we operate. So we're based in Pennsylvania, we're going to be specifically in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and our focus is on trying to make sure that we have as much added value as possible. And, so, working with the city to solve it's multiple dilemmas is an engineer's dream. We like to consider ourselves problem solvers. The problem that we're solving is often figuring out how to get data moving from one point to another, but a much bigger way, especially in the information age. We're excited about this process of how that is really moving society forward. In terms of working with cities, I think one of the really great ways that I've seen that the city of Lancaster -- They're actually together as a unit moving something forward. So, I've worked in a couple of other cities outside of my relationship with MAW, and oftentimes with the municipalities, you can see a lot of discord internally and kind of competing policy objectives. So, one thing that's been nice about partnership with the city of Lancaster is they've been very clear about some of their basic ethics and policy principles in how we're rolling out LanCity and what they wanted to achieve, and that's been really refreshing on our end. I think some of the difficulties is, because it's a larger bureaucracy and those tend to be slower to change, then sometimes we want to move faster than the bureaucracy is ready to move, or as we dig a little bit deeper that means that the exact output is going to change over time. So, that's one of the kind of pluses and minuses is this evolving project.

Christopher Mitchell: That strikes a cord with what I've seen both from providers in cities, and Patrick I'm curious if you can perhaps comment on two aspects of that. The first is having a comprehensive vision in the sense of where you want to go, and the second would be, once you've had it, communicating it and sticking to it. Can you tell us anything about how the city's accomplished this?

Patrick Hopkins: Neither of them have come about easily, that's for sure. I think part of the thing that we benefit from is that Mayor Gray is our current Mayor has been in office since 2006 and really, we did start these conversations with MAW not too long after he took office. I came in at the same time, our public works director had actually been with the city of Lancaster earlier, the Mayor's Chief of Staff came in when Mayor Gray come into office, and over that time as I described the relationship we built with MAW over time, we also saw some of the things that Brian saw in terms of some of the new opportunities that we had, new challenges that we had, to try to tie together -- we've got multiple city of Lancaster locations in the city, we've got traffic signals all over the place, we have about 110 miles of city streets. We have a lot of signalized intersections. We have a county government who's main operation is about three blocks away from us, and we actually have a Shared Services agreement with them for file serving and our ERP system is actually located there. So we have some interconnection with the county government that's also part of this. So, over that 10 to 12 year period, it's been an evolving project, and sort of breaking down some of the silos that existed when the mayor came into office in 2006, that's frankly part of why this has taken so long. And then, the community outreach part has been much more recent, the external part of this project has been much more recent. But we've been able to keep our city council apprised all the way through the project, try to provide as much transparency in the project itself to city council and to the extent possible, also, to the public. We've built up the momentum for what has ultimately become LanCity Connect, but even the term LanCity Connect, I think, is what, Brian, about nine months old, something like that? So, nine --

Brian Kelly: Yep, that's right about nine --

Patrick Hopkins: -- months out of a ten year project.

Christopher Mitchell: Since we're just touching on some of the benefits that are coming from this, I'm wondering if you can share some of the cost savings that you've already seen and are expecting from this, and also, I just wonder how much of this would come from not just the presence of fiber that you have access to, but also from the engineering benefits that you're getting from working with MAW?

Patrick Hopkins: Obviously we have our own Internet services right now that we would have a savings that I think we're talking in total among a couple of different buildings about $35 or $40 thousand dollars a year. That's an easy one to put a number to. The more complicated stuff to put a number to is things like the interconnection of our traffic signal system. We have some interconnect with our traffic signal system now, but not nearly the benefit that we'll have out of the fiber interconnection. So, there's not necessarily a direct cost savings that I can say, "We're going to reduce cost by X," but we know that we'll be able to operate more efficiently provide better service to folks who were driving through the city, and there's a lot of them. On the AMR system, the Automatic Meter Reading system, -- Right now read our water meters for residential properties once every three months. With this AMR system, and the speed and reliability that we'll have out of the fiber interconnection, we'll be able to read meters literally by 10 or 15 times a day if we need to which means we can provide better service to customers because we can detect leaks at their property that they might not know about. So, some of this is a dollar savings, but also a lot of it is really just an improvement of services that we're going to be able to provide. So, to the extent that that, not necessarily, saves the city government a lot of money, but it can save residents an awful lot of money and heartache. The other piece of this is that we have, unlike a lot of municipalities, we have a camera system that's operated by a non profit organization that operates in the city. They have about 165 security cameras throughout the city. Part of this project has been helping to upgrade the fiber infrastructure that they have so that ultimately we can flip those cameras over to operating off of the fiber back that's been installed by MAW, and that's before we even get into the LanCity's Connect services. So, we expect with the Internet service savings, some of the staff savings that we'll have from the AMR system and others that we're going to see annual savings of probably $150 to $200 thousand dollars a year, and again, that doesn't count some of these other operational savings and efficiencies that we're going to gain.

Christopher Mitchell: Brian, do you have anything to add to that?

Brian Kelly: I think the other part of your question, though, was around the engineering component, and I think from MAW's perspective, I think that's been the most fascinating part of this is we're systems integrators in a way, and so all of these different things that Patrick just talked about could all be analyzed separately and there could be some solutions for reducing costs or improving operations, but then once we started integrating them all into one comprehensive system and looking at distributing information through a passive optical network, then it opened up new possibilities around that. So, I think that was one of the exciting things about working on this project with the city was getting to lump all of these together, and could we actually create a scaled solution.

Christopher Mitchell: So I think with some of the little bit of time we have left, I would like to just get a sense of the Fiber to the Home plan. How is it working? Let's just start with Patrick and just give us a thumbnail sketch of the moving parts, please.

Patrick Hopkins: In about, I believe, the beginning of November or so began the LanCity Connect beta program which was a connection of about 55 or 60 residential properties throughout the city. Part of it was just a proof of concept to make sure that the network speeds, the traffic, and everything was operating the way that MAW designed it -- And they ran into some hiccups along the way and some corrections that needed to be made with each of the residents who have been connected through the beta program, they've done surveys throughout. So, I think somewhere in the neighborhood of probably ten to a dozen surveys along the way for folks to test their wired speeds, their wireless speeds, and a number of other things throughout, including the customer service level of the folks who came out to make the Fiber to the Home connection to the exterior of the property, folks who came inside the property to get the fiber inside, connect the modem, and get the router and everything set up. So, through that process everybody has learned some things, and part of that was not just figuring out the networking piece and making sure that the speeds that everybody expected to be there were there, But also how best to do the installations. We've got, as I described earlier, a very compact city. We've got a lot of row homes. It makes the bang for the buck in terms of a mile of fiber goes a long way in the city of Lancaster to connect to a lot of properties, but it's also not the easiest thing in the world to work around row home properties and figuring out which is the best way to get into the property with the fiber. So, there are a lot of lessons learned throughout the last four months, I guess, and now we're at the point where MAW is scheduling LanCity Connect, is scheduling the first phase of the residential connections in two areas of the city. We've got to phase this project along. The timing of the phases is really based on the capability that will be there with LanCity Connect installation crews to roll this out throughout the city. We would love to have lit up everybody at the same time, but as you're running fiber connections to several thousand properties, that just wasn't the case. So, we have some folks who have been chomping at the bit for, I'd say, a couple of years, really since we first announced this project. They're all ready to go, and they're in phase one. Other folks are going to have to wait a little while, but I think as this starts to roll out and we get some word of mouth on the street for people who have been connected with LanCity Connect that the momentum of this will keep on growing.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I have no doubt, because when I look at the pricing sheet, you're looking at $35 a month for 50 megabits, $50 a month for 150 megabits -- It's pretty remarkable pricing. Brian, I guess as we're talking about money, one of the things I'm curious about is, the cost of building a network like this, you're getting a loan from the city that you'll be paying back over a period of time with revenue from the network, but I presume you also have to bring in some of your own money as part of that.

Brian Kelly: Oh, most definitely. We already have several hundred thousand dollars invested in the scaling up here, and you bring up an interesting point which is that the economics of residential Fiber to the Home installations is -- it's not super promising, there's not a whole lot of people diving in because of the profit margins that can be made in that particular industry. One of the ways that this was made cost effective was because of the investment that the city was already making in a substantial amount of the fiber and then we were able to work off of that core backbone. So, that was a critical element in the success of this rollout. I think one of the other things, as Patrick mentioned, we're launching at a pretty aggressive rate, and so we're hoping to sign up about 3000 customers over the next 18 months, which is -- we consider ambitious but definitely achievable. So, we had a lot of folks who wanted to sign up, like Patrick said. We asked folks, "Well, what day would you like?". They said, "Well, the first day of installation at 8 a.m. I really want to be the first in the city to be connected." There was over 50 requests for that same day. We're like, "Well, that's not possible, but we are going, going to be lighting them up.

Patrick Hopkins: That's a problem of physics that even MAW can't overcome.

Brian Kelly: Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: So, I just wanted to know -- We have an article on the website that we entitled Public Private Partnership Pursued in Pennsylvania. So if anyone wants to put a bunch of P's into Google or go to the --

Brian Kelly: I liked the alliteration. That was nice.

Christopher Mitchell: But we have more of the details the financing spelled out there. But I wanted to end with a question just in terms of how both of you are seeing it. From the perspective of my organization, we're always concerned in public private partnerships where we might see a situation in which the public gets invested, and then the partner ends up changing hands, being purchased by a larger company or somehow not maintaining that original great service that was promised, and I'm just curious if maybe, Brian, you can start and give me a sense of why another community that might be looking at this model should trust MAW and then we'll turn to Patrick, I think, to just get a perspective of how you're thinking about this risk.

Brian Kelly: Sure, so for other communities outside of Pennsylvania, they can make a decision to trust MAW or not, but we won't really be partnering with them, so we'll be staying in Pennsylvania. So, anyone who's in Pennsylvania and wants to contact MAW, that's a different story. Part of it is our company ethics. Right? So, the city was very clear on some of its initial policy priorities, making sure that as we continue to grow, we were going to be doing local contracting with firms in Lancaster, and then also as we've scaled up creating full-time, living wage jobs for residents in the city of Lancaster. So that's all part of their ethics and something that we consider as a local company something that's important to us as well. So, any economy is based on the interaction of all those local actors, and so, that was a really important piece, and then Patrick and the city of Lancaster in doing their due diligence was making sure that whoa, asking those exact questions that you asked. How do we know that we can trust MAW? Even though these guys seem like nice guys, lets make sure in these agreements that nothing can happen. And so there's a lot of language in the loan agreements and then also in the public private partnership that gives the city that leverage of making sure that MAW can actually turn around and walk away from the city and say, "Oh, that was a nice buy," we're looking at it as kind of this long term partnership that's being developed. But I think that, especially for anyone listening to this podcast, especially folks on the municipal side of things, those are really important questions to ask is, where is this company going? Are they just starting up? Is this a one or two year company? In which case you really want to do some serious vetting about capacity and their ability to stick around. In our case, we've been around for 18 years, we were able to consistently show and deliver to the city our various milestones, which is where they developed that kind of confidence over time, and as Patrick said, this is a process in the making. So, it wasn't that one day they said, "Oh, let's do this. Oh, MAW, that's a nice shiny organization, let's partner." Over the course of the last few years we were consistently developing that relationship and seeing how this would develop.

Patrick Hopkins: No, I think Brian covered that really well. We operate under the adage of trust but verify. So, as Brian said, we've had, over that period of years, built up a relationship, understood the capabilities that MAW had on the technical side and the engineering side of all this. Frankly, it sort of comes down to getting language in agreements that, for instance, the first agreement that we had with MAW, simply has a clause that says that if any of the infrastructure that we build in this partnership, if MAW were to be sold, the services that we built with that infrastructure -- This agreement carries forward to the buyer of MAW. So, we had to build in protections there because anything can happen at any point and time. So, we had to make sure that our attorneys reviewed -- We have attorneys, not just our city solicitor, but folks who were involved on the telecommunications law review all of the agreements to make sure that we had protections in there for the city because for the city itself and our tax payers, we're making a significant investment in this infrastructure. So, we want to make sure that we're not going to be sitting here five years down the road or eight years down the road and having made all that infrastructure investment and then be stuck with a system that is operated by somebody that we don't have a good relationship with. And then we get to the loan documentation side -- We're providing the operating capital loan to MAW to sort of ramp up the LanCity Connect operation made sense to us because the collateral that we have on that loan is the fiber infrastructure itself. So, we sort of have things locked down so that at any point in this whole operation -- Let's say for whatever reason something happens that the operation is not successful, there's a loan that we've made to MAW but the city of Lancaster has the fiber infrastructure as collateral. So, we've got a good trusting relationship that we've built over a period of years, but we think we also have the good legal documentation to back that relationship up.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, is there anything that either one of you would like to add as we just conclude the show?

Patrick Hopkins: Come back and check us out six months or twelve months down the road and see how we're doing. We hope that we've got a thousand or more residential connections made and that more of our residents see the benefit of this infrastructure investment.

Christopher Mitchell: And Brian?

Brian Kelly: One suggestion, especially for other communities that might me thinking about this, is that each of the communities that are invests in Community Broadband Solutions is going to be slightly different. So, I would just encourage folks to stay open to possibilities and not think that you can just grab a model from elsewhere and put it wholesale in your own community. It’s going to be about negotiating those very specific local conditions that will make the project successful.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, I would wholly endorse those comments. Well, thank you very much, both of you, for taking all the time today to speak with us.

Brian Kelly: Sure, thank you very much, I appreciate the opportunity.

Patrick Hopkins: Yeah, sure. Thanks for having us.

Christopher Mitchell: And I look forward to talking to you in maybe a years time, maybe on MAW Fiber itself. So, thank you very much.

Patrick Hopkins: Thank you.

Brian Kelly: Thanks you, sir. Bye-bye.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Patrick Hopkins, Business Administrator for the city of Lancaster, and Brian Kelly, Operations Director at MAW Communications.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested, about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all the comments and we really appreciate you all of the comments, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.

Lisa Gonzalez: We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. Send us your ideas for the show. Shoot us note at podcast@MuniNetworks.org Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow muninetwork.org stories on twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks Subscribe to this podcast and all the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. We want to thank Break the Bands for the song Escape Life licensed through Creative Commons, and we want to thank you for listening to episode 248 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptpennsylvanialancasterFTTHpartnership

Grand Island, NY, Looking At Publicly Owned Fiber

April 13, 2017

When a community is plagued with poor connectivity, it impacts residents, businesses, schools, and government. Several entities within a community sometimes band together to explore solutions. In Grand Island, New York, the Town Board and the School District are pooling resources in search of possibilities.

Chronically Slow

The town entered into a contract for Internet access with Time Warner Cable, which was purchased by Charter Communications; the company now serves the town under the name “Spectrum.” According to Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray, he’s measured speeds in Town Hall, which dip as slow as 5 to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps). The cable provider claims that its speeds are 50 Mbps. "I can't find anyone who has had 50 Mbps, the fastest I've seen is 25," said McMurray. "Every week I receive screenshots from people complaining."

Grand Island (population approximately 21,000) is in the Niagara River and considered part of Erie County. The county is at the western border of the state with Canada; Buffalo is the nearest American urban center.

A Middle Mile Partnership?

The town and the school district have commissioned a feasibility study to examine the idea of investing in a publicly owned fiber-optic line through the middle of the island. The city hopes the investment will encourage more providers to move into the area and build out last mile infrastructure to serve the community.

School district representatives mentioned that they are satisfied with the service the schools now receive from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, but are in interested in the benefits of owning the infrastructure:

"By building their own infrastructure (the school district) will have at least as good as service as they do now, but they will own the lines," said McMurray of the potential for a partnership. "And by leveraging the power of the schools the municipal infrastructure will benefit as well. By involving the school this puts this into the realm of possibility."

Schools are able to use federal E-rate funding to build fiber-optic infrastructure. Partnerships like this - between school districts and local government - have facilitated municipal network projects in other communities. Schools in Chanute and Ottawa in Kansas used E-rate funding to deploy school fiber networks, which were eventually integrated into community networks. By eliminating the cost of leasing lines for connectivity, local schools can direct more funds toward educational programs.

The public schools in Missoula, Montana, expect to save approximately $150,000 per year with a similar investment that will allow them to eliminate leased lines.

Troubled Relationship

Grand Island and the national provider appear to have a rocky history. The Buffalo News reported:

In addition, the town's Cable Communications Advisory Board recently conducted an audit of Time Warner under the old contract and discovered that the company had shorted the town. That audit resulted in a $67,000 payment to the town in January. A second audit a few weeks ago is expected to bring in further dollars, added McMurray.

Slower than promised connectivity in Town Hall and financial mishaps add up to no love lost between the provider and Grand Island. Charter and its newly acquired Time Warner Cable are facing allegations all over the state of New York of similar behavior. In February, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed a lawsuit alleging that Charter and Spectrum (as Time Warner Cable) knowingly defrauded and mislead customers by selling them Internet access speeds that the companies knew is could not provide. In addition to monetary damages based on the returns from the fraudulent behavior, the state wants the companies to pay penalties. 

Tags: grand island nynew yorkschool districtmiddle milechartertime warner cablefeasibilityconsideratione-rate

Velocity Expanding To More Businesses In Hudson, Ohio

April 13, 2017

It’s been a while since we shared news on Hudson, Ohio, where the publicly owned fiber network, Velocity, is serving business customers with high-quality connectivity. The network is steadily gaining local business customers as it continues to expand.

Early Problems Overcome

The Hudson Hub Times recently reported that officials from the utility reported to the City Council in late March. There were some issues early on during deployment with obtaining materials in a timely manner and in setting up service with customers due to obtaining enough IP addresses. Officials have worked out problems and plans are back on track.

According to Will Ersing, chief broadband officer, 35 miles have been deployed underground; the utility is taking an incremental approach and still has an additional 30 miles to deploy. The largest commercial customers are already connected and the network is prepared to quickly connect new large scale customers, should they decide to switch to Velocity.

"We're getting all our businesses connected or available," Ersing said. "The city has 104 businesses on line with another six installs on schedule, and we're talking to 50 businesses interested in the service but not committed."

Going For Multi Tenant Commercial Buildings

The utility also will be marketing to building owners whose properties house multiple businesses:

"They can promote their building that it has an advantage with this technology," [Hudson’s chief economic development officer Jim] Stifler said. "We're paying more attention to the (Internet provider) competition. It's time to make Velocity the obvious choice."

While Velocity is offering customers symmetrical gigabit (1,000 Megabist per second) connectivity, other providers offering service to businesses in the area top out at 60 Mbps download and upload.

"Because we are service providers, we can control the network and provide a level of service and tailor it to our businesses," Elsing said.

More businesses in town, who didn't want Velocity initially, are changing their minds because of what the city can provide, [City Manager Jane] Howington said.

The city of 23,000 started with an I-Net that took shape over a decade. In 2014, they decided it was time to use the fiber to spur economic development to offer better connectivity to businesses. Last summer, Hudson issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study but community leaders ultimately decided proceeding with the study would be premature. The City Council wanted to wait until Hudson had more experience with the project before taking the next step to residential connectivity.

Christopher spoke with Howington back in 2015, when the network was still in its early stages, for Community Broadband Bits episode 181.

 

Tags: hudson ohohioincrementalmunieconomic development

Comcast Apparently Forgot About Gig In Chattanooga. From The Oops! File

April 12, 2017

If you’re going to talk about gigabit Internet access, Chattanooga is going to be part of the conversation. Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB) is the go-to example for citywide, symmetrical, high-quality, gigabit connectivity, and it has been since 2010.

But some one forgot to tell Comcast.

On March 20th, the ISP posted a new Xfinity video to “introduce” Chattanooga to gigabit speeds. Many, many snarky comments followed, from critique about the poor Internet access to complaints about slipshod customer service. The Times Free Press picked out some of the more memorable responses:

* Jason Schmurr: "Nope, Comcast is definitely not introducing gig-speed Internet to Chattanooga. In fact, the only thing they have introduced was a lawsuit attempting to ban gig-speed Internet from Chattanooga."

* Matthew Borden: "If I had the choice.... I'd still choose EPB. Unfortunately I am stuck with Comcast because they are the only provider in my area with broadband Internet access."

* Alixanderia Echbright: "I'd rather birth a cactus than deal with Comcast ever again. Gig speeds have been here for years, buck up."

* Scott Vandergriff: "The difference is EPB has no traffic throttling, no data cap and no "introductory" pricing. $69/month for straight unimpeded, symmetric gigabit fiber and it's been that way for years."

* Vince Cantrell: "Not sure why anybody would pay for Comcast over EPB. EPB has direct fiber to every house in Chattanooga, and has had gigabit for 7+ years already."

* Brent Tapio: "LOL, 'Introducing'? You guys have heard the term 'Gig City' used before right?"

* Patrick Alan Jaworski: "You guys realize that was already a thing ....right?"

* Steve Allen: "I'm glad I'm not the Comcast person that has to respond to all these comments."

Comcast told the Times Free Press that the strong negative response to the marketing campaign came from a "misunderstanding" in what the national provider meant to convey. Guess they should have said what they meant and meant what they said.

You judge:

Tags: chattanoogacomcastgigabitsymmetryFTTHmuniEPBmarketing

Locating Fiber: Local Leaders Can Help State Decision Makers

April 12, 2017

Better conduit policy and One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) are two approaches seeing the state legislative limelight recently. With local examples to offer guidance, a few state lawmakers are attempting to implement similar rules.

State Governments Follow Local Leads

Local communities know their needs best and are best poised to make local decisions. Some have used new conduit policies like in Mount Vernon, Washington. The community's ordinances require developers to install additional conduit during construction and then deed the conduit to the city. The additional expense is minimal and the additional asset makes the property Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) capable, driving up its value. Developers don't consider the ordinance a burden.

Other communities have passed ordinances for OTMR. When Louisville, Kentucky, adopted OTMR to speed up deployment for new entrants, AT&T sued to stop the city, claiming that the FCC had jurisdiction over such decisions. In October 2016, however, the agency let the parties know that Louisville had opted out of federal pole attachment rules at an earlier date. Nashville, Tennessee, passed OTMR also and has also had to deal with incumbent lawsuits.

The overall goal is to make new networks less time-consuming and resource intensive to deploy. It also keeps communities free of constant construction noise and reduces traffic disruption, thereby improving the quality of life during the deployment. When an approach works on the local level, state lawmakers often want to reproduce it on a broader scale.

At a time when the state is strapped for funding, a West Virginia bill (3093) featuring smart conduit, micro trenching, and OTMR policy quickly sailed out of the state legislature and onto the governor’s desk.

Maine is also considering a bill (LD 409) to clarify pole attachment rules and fees; clarity for existing rules is always helpful to municipalities. In Connecticut, state law allows local communities access to a "municipal gain space" on utility poles, regardless of ownership, if the poles are in the public right-of-way (ROW). The law has been on the books for a long time and pole owners have disputed municipalities' contention that they can use the space to deploy a municipal Internet network. In order to get clarification, the state's Office of Consumer Counsel and the Connecticut State Broadband Initiative had to file a petition with Connecticut's Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA). The result is still pending, but PURA's decision will impact the state's CTGig project, which is a collaborative initiative involving Connecticut municipalities.

Fiber in the Air

After more than 100 years of putting wires on poles, you might think we would have already worked out all the knots in the system, but no. 

If there is no immediately available space on the utility pole for a new cable, then a tedious process called “Make-Ready” kicks in. Each company that already has a wire on the pole has to send out a crew to move its cable in order to make room for the new competitor. This can drag on for months at a time, as multiple trucks must repeatedly visit the same pole. Make-ready for poles can be a logistical nightmare for even experts. Ken Demlow from Newcom Technologies spoke to that in Community Broadband Bits Episode 247.

OTMR simplifies this process. Entities with wires on the pole agree in advance to pre-approved crews who are allowed to handle all of their cables. One experienced crew from the list of pre-approved crews goes out to the pole and moves all of the wires at the same time. They then notify each company with a wire on the pole what was moved or changed. Next Century Cities has a fact sheet on some of the benefits of OTMR.

Even though make-ready work is complex, stringing cable overhead on poles may be less expensive than the alternative.

Fiber in the Ground

Networks on poles can be an eyesore and are more susceptible to the elements. Some communities have focused on underground installation with conduit that houses the cable under city streets and ROWs.

Mount Vernon, Washington, and Lincoln, Nebraska, both developed policies for installing conduit that increased Internet access for their communities. Mount Vernon's open access network allows several ISPs to offer services to the community. The network has allowed the community to save public dollars and attract employers from Seattle.

Lincoln, Nebraska, has taken smart conduit use to the extreme. In a state where legal barriers prevent the city from offering telecommunications services to the general public, community leaders in Lincoln have created a friendly ecosystem for ISPs by deploying an extensive conduit network in the city. They began in 2012 and over time have continued to add both conduit and fiber. As a result, a private provider will use the assets to deploy a FTTH network, and a mobile provider is using the network for improved and expanded service in the city with small cell technology.

Adding conduit underground, however, requires digging up city streets in areas that are already developed. These types of projects can cause traffic disruptions and annoying construction noise for the neighborhood. Micro trenching minimizes these problems.

Micro trenching is a technique to add infrastructure underground while minimizing disruption to street traffic. A utility company can use a small boring machine to create shallow, narrow trenches for new cable. The blog, PotsAndPans, laid out the details and pitfalls of this particular approach in a recent post.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, used this approach for some of their downtown project. Lancaster, one of the oldest towns in the country, is very densely populated but not geographically large. It's also full of historically important locations so the city and its private sector partner are taking special care in certain areas. Learn more about the project from the interview with Lancaster Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins and MAW Communications Operations Director Brian Kelly during episode 248 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Whether Overhead or Underground

Communities should be given broad local authority, but state law inevitably plays a role on local telecommunications. As more state governments consider improving statewide Internet access, local governments need to speak out to guide state lawmakers about effective or harmful policies. Each community has different circumstances, but sharing lessons learned will help state governments make informed decisions.

Image of the Minnesota House Chamber by Mark Dayton (Flickr: State of the State) CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: pole attachmentspolesmt vernonlincoln neone touch make readywest virginiamaineconnecticutnashvillelouisvillewv hb 3093micro trenchingright-of-way

Press Release: Tennessee Sends Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017 to Gov. Haslam's Desk

April 12, 2017
Tennessee Legislature Passes Broadband Accessibility Act, Delivers Hollow "Victory" While Governor Haslam's Signature Legislation Sounds Great, AT&T Will Be Laughing all the Way to the Bank

 

Contact:

Christopher Mitchell

christopher@ilsr.org

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Late yesterday, the Tennessee Legislature officially sent Governor Bill Haslam's signature legislation, the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, to his desk. Unfortunately, this bill is more about making taxpayer dollars accessible to AT&T than ensuring rural regions get modern Internet access.

"What we have on one side is a taxpayer-funded subsidy program, and on the other we have a subscriber-based model," says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "The tragic thing is, AT&T is a taxpayer subsidized monopoly in rural Tennessee that only has to provide a service far slower than the definition of broadband. Locally-rooted networks like Chattanooga's EPB not only offer nation-leading services but have tremendous community support."

With this bill's passage, the Tennessee General Assembly will likely not pass any other broadband legislation during this session. The Broadband Accessibility Act won't improve Tennessee's rating as 29th in Internet connectivity, but it will do a great job of lining AT&T's pockets. As we've tracked throughout the session, there are a number of bills worth supporting that would actually increase connectivity and allow municipalities to take part in their own broadband future.

Mitchell is deeply frustrated with this situation: "Chattanooga is the only city on this planet that has universal access to 10 Gigabit symmetrical Internet access. It is a stunning achievement and Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's neighbors rather than letting the Gig City expand its fiber to neighbors at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1000x slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."

Maybe next year.

About Christopher Mitchell:

Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell leads the acclaimed MuniNetworks.org as part of ILSR's effort to ensure broadband networks are directly accountable to the communities that depend upon them. He is a leading national expert on community networks, advising high-ranking broadband decision-makers and speaking on radio and television programs across the United States.

FOR MORE INFORMATION and to schedule an interview with Christopher, call Nick Stumo-Langer at 612-844-1330 or email stumolanger@ilsr.org.

Tags: press centerpress releaselegislationtennesseedslchristopher mitchell

LanCity Connect Partnership Brings Gig to Southeast Pennsylvania - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 248

April 11, 2017

Located in southeast Pennsylvania, Lancaster will soon have some of the fastest Internet access in the entire state due to its partnership with a local telecommunications firm, MAW Communications. We reported on many details about this approach here, but Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 248 offers an in-depth look.

Lancaster Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins and MAW Communications Operations Director Brian Kelly joined me to talk about the history of their partnership and the next big step: a citywide gigabit fiber-optic network. 

We also talk about the risks to the public sector from trusting a private company with essential infrastructure and the potential challenges for a private sector company to work with a local government. Both sides are going into this arrangement with their eyes wide open and offer tips for what others should consider before they try to replicate the model. 

If you missed it, last year we released a major paper about considerations in public-private partnerships. We did not discuss LanCity Connect, but many of themes apply.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via 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 Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: podcastbroadband bitspennsylvaniamaw communicationspartnershiplancasterFTTHfinancingloangigabitserviceswaterutility

Pew Survey Reveals Overwhelming Support For Local Authority

April 11, 2017

A new Pew Research Center survey reveals that 70 percent of adults, regardless of political leanings, believe local governments should be able to invest in municipal Internet networks.

Local Authority Has No Party

The survey, conducted March 13 - 27 supports the finding that local authority for telecommunications decisions is a bipartisan notion. On closer examination of the survey results, we see that 67 percent of Republicans and Republican leaning respondents and 74 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaning respondents support local authority to invest in municipal networks.

In Colorado, two more local communities voted this month to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. The law prevents local communities from investing in Internet infrastructure to offer telecommunications services or work with a partner to improve local connectivity. Colorado Springs and Central City became cities 97 and 98 to join the growing list of communities opting out, which includes places that have taken action to deploy and others who merely want the option. 

Colorado Springs, known as one of the state’s more conservative communities, passed the measure with 61 percent of the vote, not far from the results of the Pew Research survey.

Of Growing Importance

The survey also asked U.S. adults about how important high-quality Internet access is at home. Forty-nine percent said home broadband is essential and 41 percent described it as important but not essential. That leaves just one out of ten survey respondents who describe home broadband as either not too important or not important at all.

Respondents also answered questions about assistance to low-income households to help them pay for Internet access. Unlike support for municipal networks, political affiliation, income level, and current access to the Internet appeared to play a part in respondent replies.

The survey included 4,151 respondents. You can learn more about the respondents, the questions, and the methodology here.

Tags: pew research centersurveymunirepublicansdemocrats

Montana Telephone Co-Op 3 Rivers Communications Upgrades To Fiber

April 11, 2017

Out in Big Sky Country, some rural communities look forward to high-speed Internet service from their local telephone co-op. 3 Rivers Communications in Montana has spent the last few years steadily building out their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to rural residents.

This spring, 3 Rivers Communications is set to start on two new areas: an $8 million project near Choteau (pop: 1,700) and a $1.5 million project near Fairfield (pop: 700). 

Focus on Rural Residents

The local newspaper Choteau Acantha reported on 3 River Communications’ latest plans. About 500 folks will be able to get high-quality phone, video, and Internet service at home when the co-op finishes both projects in late 2017 or early 2018. 

The current plans focus on rural residents on the outskirts of both towns. Folks in Fairfield already have access to fiber service, but people within the city of Choteau have DSL. Businesses in Choteau can request fiber connections, but the co-op is not currently planning to offer fiber connectivity to residents inside town limits.

These fiber projects are all part of a larger program to upgrade in the cooperative's service area of 17,000 square miles. The co-op is taking out the old copper telephone lines and replacing them with brand new fiber-optic cables. It’s a large undertaking and will serve approximately 20,000 members.

Federal Funding for Rural Areas

To upgrade to fiber in its large service area, 3 Rivers Communications obtained funding from several federal programs, including the Rural Utilities Services (RUS) and the Universal Service Fund. The co-op received a $70 million loan in 2011 and another $30 million loan in 2016 to improve the network. 

Currently, the lowest tier bundle of phone and 10 Mbps Internet service is $85 per month, but co-op members get back excess revenue in capital credits each year. 3 Rivers General Manager Dave Gibson described the balance of costs and prices to the Choteau Acantha:

“Our customers have the same wants, needs and financial pressures. Clearly, cost is a factor, whether they subscribe but we are a cooperative, we charge as little as we can. Nobody benefits if we go out of business, we have to strike a very good balance.” 

Tags: montanaruralcooperativeFTTHupgraderus

Community Broadband Media Roundup - April 10

April 10, 2017

Alabama

OPS broadband may soon move beyond the Gig City of Opelika by Elizabeth Lauten, Alabama Today

Branding itself  “Alabama’s first Gig City,” Opelika invested about $43 million in the network offering customers “triple play”  — telephone, television and Internet. But despite the 425 miles of fiber running throughout the city the service begins and ends in Opelika.

At least one Alabama Senator hopes to change that.

 

Colorado

2 more Colorado cities vote for municipal broadband Internet by Mark Harden, Denver Business Journal

In all, 66 Colorado cities and towns have now passed measures authorizing a community-based broadband service, either directly provided by local government or by a third-party vendor, according to the Colorado Municipal League. State law bars communities from running their own high-speed internet service unless local voters specifically authorize it.

Former Intel exec ready to help bring broadband to rural Colorado by Zack Quaintance, Government Technology

 

Minnesota

ISP privacy rules could be resurrected by states, starting in Minnesota by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

The Senate and House versions of the budget must be reconciled into a compromise version before final passage, the Pioneer Press noted. Republicans have a one-vote majority in the Minnesota Senate, but one Republican sided with Democrats in order to get the amendment into the Senate's final bill.

“We should be outraged at the invasion that’s being allowed on our most intimate means of communication,” said Republican Sen. Warren Limmer, according to the Pioneer Press. “This is an amendment that so urgently needs to be addressed.”

 

Missouri

Broadband access in rural Missouri is focus of McCaskill effort by Buffalo Reflex

 

New York

Grand Island, N.Y., explores municipal broadband system by Nancy A. Fisher, Government Technology

Franklin Co. seeks broadband-service solutions by Denise A. Raymo, Press Republican

 

Pennsylvania

LanCity Connect: Lancaster's municipal broadband is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania by Tim Stuhldreher, Lancaster Online

“This is a good deal” for Lancaster, said Christopher Mitchell, the director of the nonprofit Community Broadband Networks Initiative, based in Washington, D.C. “It’s far better than the status quo.”

 

Virginia

Bland receives nearly $200,000 to expand broadband service by Blake Stowers, Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Southwest Virginia towns team with federal partners for broadband expansion by Olivia Bailey, News 5 - WCYB

 

West Virginia

Survey: West Virginians unhappy with Internet service by Eric Eyre, West Virginia Gazette Mail

Broadband bill stays alive at statehouse by West Virginia Metro News Staff

Competition key for quality broadband in WV by Ronald Pearson, West Virginia Gazette Mail

Several bills have been introduced in this year’s Legislature for the purpose of improving broadband service, and one, House Bill 3093, offers real hope. HB 3093 just passed the House, receiving 97 “Yes” votes out of the possible 100. It was the subject of a public hearing that enumerated the many ways this bill will encourage competition by authorizing fiber optic cable on existing utility poles, mini-trenching for fiber on public highways, and authorizing cities and citizen co-ops to seek federal and other sources to increase broadband access and service. Another feature of the bill is the requirement that broadband providers must deliver the service they advertise!

There are two opponents to HB 3093, Frontier Communications and some, but not all, of the cable companies — the providers that most of us must have been relying on to provide internet access.

 

General

What does the new ISP data-sharing rollback actually change? by Russell Brandom and Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge

FCC Chairman Pai pushes for access over competition in rural broadband by Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

FCC limits order on Charter extending broadband service by David Shepardson, Reuters

Gigi Sohn, a former top Wheeler aide, said the decision shows the Republican FCC is more focused on putting "incumbents first" than on competition. She cited its putting broadband privacy rules on hold and withholding federal approval of new companies to offer government subsidized telecommunication services.

Six broadband policy ideas to spur investment by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

Next Century Cities releases policy agenda for strategies to expand broadband access by Deb Socia, Government Technology

Image of the Highlander bull courtesy of FrankWinkler via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Stafford County, VA, Releases RFEI; Responses Due April 25th

April 10, 2017

Stafford County, Virginia, has issued a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) as they search for potential partners interested in working with them to improve local connectivity. Responses are due April 25.

In addition to searching for ideas to bring high-quality Internet access to unserved and underserved households in the county, the community wants to connect 26 of its own facilities to an existing publicly owned I-Net. The I-Net currently serves county and school buildings but the unconnected facilities are served by separate cable connections.

The county's RFEI states that they are interested specifically in bringing speeds to the county that meet or exceed the FCC definition of broadband, which is 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Stafford County

The county has grown considerably in recent years and local leaders want to support economic development with fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in both rural and urban areas of Stafford County’s 277 square miles. Located in the northeast part of the state between the Washington DC area and Richmond, many residents work in the beltway. Unemployment is only four percent in the county where the population is approximately 135,000. During the past ten years, more jobs have popped up in Stafford County, a trend community leaders hope to continue.

Several federal employers have facilities in Stafford County, including the FBI, the Marine Corps Base Quantico, and the DEA. Some of the other employers are Geico Insurance, Intuit, and Northrup Grumman. The high tech industry is growing in the area, especially the number of new entrepreneurial businesses.

Stafford County is open to ideas and encourages respondents to consider all types of technologies including Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), fixed wireless, satellite, or a combination of different types of technologies.

Important dates:

Deadline for Questions: April 13, 2017

Responses Due by 3:00 p.m.: April 25, 2017

Review of responses completed by County: May 19, 2017

Read the RFEI at the city's website.

Tags: stafford county varfeivirginiaI-Netschooleconomic development

How Can We Improve the Monopolized Broadband Market?

April 8, 2017

A recent edition of State Scoop published Christopher's thoughts on the state of competition in the broadband market in the United States. In the piece, Christopher argues how incumbent Internet Service Providers translate their economic power into political power, as seen in the recent vote to strike down consumer privacy protections. He also more widely distributes our recent infographic, "The Market Has Spoken. The Market Is Broken." We've reproduced the op-ed here:

Paths for repairing a broken broadband market

Infographic & commentary: Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says the new anti-privacy legislation passing through Congress offers further evidence that America's broadband market is broken, but not beyond repair.

To be charitable, one of the reasons that Republicans in Congress moved so quickly to eviscerate privacy protections for internet access subscribers was an overriding belief that the market provides better protection than regulators. To be less charitable, it is possible all the lobbyist contributions to their campaigns had an impact.

But the market is not providing a check to AT&T or Comcast power. They are effectively monopolies — and as we just saw — can translate their market power into political power to wipe out regulations they find annoying.

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where we work to support local economies, this broken market is a major problem. Cable monopolies are bad for local businesses, which become less competitive from paying too much for unreliable Internet access. Communities cannot thrive without high quality Internet access today. 

So we created the infographic below, which offers evidence for our claim that the market is broken. The Federal Communications Commission has documented that most households don’t have a choice in broadband providers, let alone a meaningful choice (where you actually like one of the companies you have to choose between).

Despite widespread dissatisfaction, the revenues of the biggest companies keep growing, offering another data point that most people really don’t have a choice in providers.

We even discuss why creating competition in the face of all this subscriber dissatisfaction is very difficult.

But most importantly, we offer some hope for a world with choice and how to get there. Hundreds of local communities have made smart investments and created smart policies to create a meaningful local choice. Whether urban or rural, there are options and we highlight a few of them.

We are living in an age of monopoly and the federal government is currently on the side of the monopolists. We can make a difference locally with some smart investment, but only if more people get involved – whether to join a committee, create a movement, or simply writing to elected officials to demand they take action.

Get a larger version of the infographic here.

Get a larger version of the infographic here.

Kudos to intern Kate Svitavsky who created the infographic. View the original piece in State Scoop, here.

Tags: press centerinfographicchristopher mitchellmonopolycompetition

Opting Out of Colorado Limits: Central City and Colorado Springs

April 7, 2017

This spring, two more communities in Colorado reclaimed the authority to build municipal networks. Colorado Springs and Central City voted to opt out of SB 152, a state law that removed local telecommunications authority in 2005.

Voters overwhelmingly chose to restore local authority to make decisions for themselves. Now the cities can discuss if a community network is right for them.

Quick Count

The Denver Business Journal covered the outcome of these April votes - noting the strong showing in rural Central City. The referendum to “opt out” of SB 152 easily passed in the small community; of the 182 ballots, 162 folks voted yes for local control [pdf]. That means 89 percent of the voters were in favor of the measure. 

In the much larger, urban community of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Independent described a much tigher vote: 61 percent to 39 percent in favor of local authority. That’s about 50,000 yes votes to 32,000 no votes. Voters also decided another related ballot initiative concerning the sale of city infrastructure. Assets related to city utilities, such as water, electricity or telecom, now cannot be sold without the approval of a supermajority of 60 percent of votes cast in a referendum. 

Nearly 100 Communities Say YES

These two communities join the nearly 100 communities that have already restored local authority. Last November, 26 other communities also voted to opt out of the law. More communities may join this growing movement this fall. 

 

Tags: coloradosb 152ruralreferendumelectioncolorado springscentral city colocalstate laws

AL Committee Kills Bill For Better Connectivity

April 6, 2017

When Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley from Auburn spoke with OANow in late March, he described his bill, SB 228, as a “go-to-war bill.” The bill would have allowed Opelika Power Services (OPS) to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to his community. On Wednesday, April 5th, his colleagues in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee decided to end the conflict in favor of AT&T and its army of lobbyists.

The final vote, according to the committee legislative assistant, was 7 - 6 against the bill. She described the vote as bipartisan, although the roll call isn’t posted yet, so we have not been able to confirm.

According to Whatley:

“AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”

Whatley has introduced several bills this session and in previous legislative sessions to allow OPS to expand beyond the state imposed barriers to offer services in Lee County. Alabama law doesn’t allow OPS, or any other municipal provider, to offer advanced telecommunications services outside city limits. SB 228 would allow Opelika and others (described as a “Class 6 municipalities”) to offer services throughout the counties in which they reside. A companion bill in the House, HB 375, is sitting in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, who introduced HB 375 agrees with Whatley:

“If it doesn't make sense for a large corporation to go there, that's OK that's their choice,” he said. “But they don't have the right to tell, in my opinion with my bill, the city of Opelika they can't serve them either.”

AT&T’s lobbyists aren’t the only big money opponents facing off with Whatley. The Taxpayer’s Protection Alliance (TPA), one of the many organizations backed by billionaire Koch brothers, has popped up in Alabama to help the national telecom. Per its usual modus operandi, TPA has published several opinion pieces in the local news to spread misinformation.

A Mayor's Work Is Never Done

Mayor Gary Fuller of Opelika has stayed on task. We profiled one of his op-eds in early March, in which he corrected the many errors and lies spread by an article about another sloppy TPA report.

In a more recent piece in OANow, Mayor Fuller tells the story of how Opelika came to own and operate the public’s gigabit FTTH network. In a thoughtful and logical article, he explains how the community became a reluctant provider due to lack of investment and poor service from the monopoly cable provider. He describes a community that took control of their own destiny rather than taking it on the chin from one of the companies that write checks for the TPA.

And, once again, Mayor Fuller addresses the misinformation spread by the TPA about how the network was funded, how much it cost, and how it has impacted the community. He counters unproven statements with facts and supplies the numbers to back them up.

Mayor Fuller describes how Opelika’s investment has injected the community with job growth, better response from area private providers, and the kind of connectivity the town needs to stay competitive. The city’s bond rating has risen. the economy is expanding, and finances are looking good. Clearly, the investment in fiber infrastructure investment was a good decision.

When it comes to recognizing what Sen. Whatley, Rep. Levvorn, and their constituents are up against at the State Capitol, says Mayor Fuller:

For nearly two decades, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications have spent millions of dollars to lobby state legislatures, influence elections and buy research to stop the spread of public Internet services that often offer faster speeds and cheaper rates. These companies have succeeded in getting laws passed in 20 states that ban or restrict municipalities from offering Internet to residents. 

Now that such laws are in place, elected officials need to step up and fix a system that prevents municipal networks from expanding to neighbors who want and need service from communities willing to help them, like Opelika. Destroying bills in committee to protect incumbents is not a good way to start.

The Committee Process And Lack Of Access To Democracy

In Alabama, as in most states, the state legislature reviews proposals via the committee process. Bills like SB 228 can be killed in committee or pass through to be taken up by the full body, then the House, and eventually the Governor. Committee hearings are a key component to the democratic process.

In the Alabama State Senate, there are two rooms where committee meetings occur that enable audio live streaming. If a committee chair feels the bills they will discuss should be livestreamed, the committee will meet in either room 727 or 807. If Alabamans want to witness their Senators engage in the process of democracy at the committee level and are not able to watch the livestream or are interested in viewing some other bill discussion, they need to make the journey to Montgomery and attend a committee hearing in person.

We contacted the folks at Legislative Audio and Video Service who told us that there is “no technology in the legislature to archive any audio or video files. Nor is there any transcription service.” Consequently, we were not able to review the hearing to determine what was said or by whom at the time we published this story.

As we attempt to follow the development of bills in different states, we see the wide spectrum of access to democracy at the state level. In some places hearings are routinely livestreamed and archived, either video or audio, which should be the normal practice in every state. Constituents should be able to know what their elected officials say at committee meetings and how they vote on specific measures. Not all Representatives or Senators make speeches during chamber debate and if a decision is made on a voice vote, a citizen may never know if their elected official is representing their interests or the interests of lobbyists like AT&T, Comcast, or the billionaire Koch Brothers. 

There are decisions made in Montgomery that affect people across the state and many don’t have the opportunity to go to the Capitol to be physically present for committee meetings. People in Alabama have responsibilities and committee schedules are unpredictable. Even if they make the long trek to the Capitol, they may find that a bill they want to see discussed in a hearing has been rescheduled to another day - a wasted trip.

Alabamans should, at the very least, have the opportunity to read a transcript after the fact to know what went on in committee about issues they care about. In 2017, however, recording and archiving committee meetings so voters know what they're getting from elected officials is a small ask in a democratic society.

Tags: alabamaopelikaFTTHlegislational sb 228al hb 375lobbyingexpansionstate laws

Clarksville, Arkansas: It Started With SCADA

April 6, 2017

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems allow utility systems to gather and analyze real time data. The computer system reduces outages, keeps the utilities running efficiently, and allows staff to know where problems arise. Municipal utilities that use SCADA systems are increasingly taking the next step - using the fiber-optic infrastructure that supports SCADA to bring better connectivity to town. Clarksville took that route and is now considering ways to become one of the best connected communities in Arkansas.

"I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore"

As the seat of Johnson County, Clarksville is located in the northwest area of the state along I-40 and is home to just under 10,000 people living at the foothills of the Ozarks near the Arkansas River. The area is known for its scenery and its tasty peaches and every summer, the county holds a popular Peach Festival. The nearest urban areas are Little Rock, about 90 minutes to the east, and Fort Smith about an hour west. 

Large employers in the community include University of the Ozarks, Tyson Foods, Haines, and Baldor, a motor and control manufacturing processor. There’s also a Walmart Distribution Center in Clarksville.

When he began as General Manager of Clarksville Light and Water (CLW) in 2013, John Lester realized that one of the challenges the municipal electric utility faced was that it did not have a SCADA system for managing the electric, water, or wastewater system communications. Even though the Clarksville utility system was well cared for and managed, a SCADA system could push it to the next level in efficiency and services.

Lester had been instrumental in optimizing the use of the fiber-optic network in Chanute, Kansas, which had been developed for the municipal utilities. He understood the critical nature of fiber connectivity to utility efficiency, public savings, and economic development. Over time, the Chanute network had attracted new jobs, opened up educational opportunities for K-12 and college students, and created substantial savings. 

In Clarksville, the utilities commission makes the decisions relating to utility infrastructure investments. The commission members in Clarksville have all served for a number of years, understand the business aspects of managing the utilities, and “get it,” says Lester. CLW needed a SCADA system to improve utility efficiencies and, once they decided to invest in the system, they felt it only made sense to investigate the possibility of fiber for additional purposes.

CLW commissioned a consultant for a feasibility study, who determined that an investment in fiber for the utilities was affordable for CLW. They followed up with another study to determine hard numbers; the second study obtained the same results.

A Quick Turnaround

In the fall of 2015, the utility commission authorized approximately $1 million to build the fiber network. CLW was able to use capital on hand; they have not needed to bond or borrow for the network project. CLW installed 288-strand fiber to ensure ample capacity now and in the future.

At that time, Ritter Communications, was deploying their own infrastructure in the Clarksville area to expand its regional telecommunications network. CLW hired the same construction company Ritter was using when it offered a favorable bid to build the Clarksville project. In December of 2015, they commenced the project to deploy 16+ miles of aerial fiber on the CLW poles and finished construction at the end of March. The design uses a three-ring configuration to ensure redundancy. 

Next, the Clarksville utility commission authorized approximately $400,000 worth of SCADA electronics; the system was operational by the end of June 2016. In July, the water, wastewater, and electric utilities began using the fiber for business operations.

Next, Clarksville began exploring how to best use the network to bring better connectivity to the entire community. 

Local Schools, Hospital, Signing Up 

City leaders have decided to dedicate a percentage of the extra capacity for specific needs in the community, including local community anchor institutions (CAIs). Clarksville will carve out 12 strands each for educational facilities, healthcare institutions, public safety needs, and government facilities. The utility will use 48 strands for its own needs, which will leave more than 200 strands available for future use.

The plan to connect Clarksville schools is already set: the Clarksville Public Schools will begin taking services on July 1st. The district will have two dedicated strands and will connect eight of its facilities directly to the ring; the wide area network (WAN) between the facilities and along the ring will allow 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) capacity between facilities. The school district will also have access to the CLW network operations center so they can install back up servers.

In order to allow students without home Internet access the opportunity to connect beyond school hours, the utilities commission and the school district are considering installing fixed wireless hotspots at locations along the fiber ring. Students would be able to complete homework via the school network. The Clarksville Public Schools is the first district in Arkansas to issue laptops and tablets to each student and needs high-quality Internet access to support their tech initiative.

CLW will charge the public school district $43,000 per year for more reliable connectivity that it currently receives from Suddenlink, which charges the district $72,000 per year. Clarksville schools will use E-rate, a federal program to reimburse schools for connectivity costs, to pay for the services.

The Johnson County Regional Medical Center was already connected to the network with dark fiber, even though it isn’t one of CLW’s customers. CLW leased the dark fiber to Ritter so the company could provide Internet access and other data services to the hospital. CLW provided the service to Ritter for $1 per year in exchange for very low bandwidth rates. Lester says the mutually agreeable arrangement will continue.

CLW is building infrastructure to other city offices and the network serves ten utility facilities. There are also a few locations where the fiber network supports fixed wireless CLW locations where connecting with fiber isn’t cost effective or practical.

Johnson County Government is interested in using the network to facilitate video arraignments so individuals don’t have to be physically moved from the detention center to the County Courthouse several miles away. Sandy, Oregon, uses its FTTH network for the same purpose to eliminate the risk and expense of moving individuals for short arraignments with the court.

Prepping For The Future

Local businesses are also interested in taking advantage of the new publicly owned infrastructure. Lester is already taking inquiries about how and when they can connect to the city’s network. A statewide bank with three branches in Clarksville wants to use the CLW fiber and contract with Ritter for Internet access.

Lester finds that some of the larger businesses, often those with national headquarters that negotiate Internet service agreements, are committed to incumbents for multi-year contracts. If they don’t want to scrap those contracts, CLW can provide connectivity by offering better and more affordable connectivity on the CLW fiber.

In Arkansas, municipalities may only offer telecommunications services to the general public only if the community operates an electric utility. There are 14 communities in the state that own and operate electric utilities, but only two - Paragould and Conway - that offer telecommunications services to the community. Local municipalities are not allowed to offer telephone services.

PPP Interest

In February, CLW issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to get a feel for the range of interest from providers that may want to take advantage of the city’s new infrastructure. CLW cast out a wide net to hear new ideas. From the RFQ:

CLW seeks creative solutions for connectivity and advancing broadband adoption throughout the community including anchor institutions, business and commercial entities, and eventually residential customers with the ultimate objective being economic growth and local sustainability. Service providers are asked to respond with their qualifications, level of interest, technical capabilities, potential service/product offerings, and information regarding their overall interest in joining CLW in a public-private partnership. This partnership could be either in a retail or wholesale fashion and designed to be delivered over ultra-high speed communications over a fiber optic network CLW owns.

They received six responses and are in the process of limiting the field to two or three potential partners. Responses ranged from companies that want to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to the local community to a wireless provider and even a company that hopes to offer voice services via the fiber network. As CLW interviews and digs deeper into the possibilities, they are well poised to work out a deal with any potential partners because they have control over the infrastructure they own.

While CLW examines the RFQ responses, students at the Clarksville Public Schools have already participated in a campaign to name their network. Students chose from several possible names for the network and decided on clarksvilleconnected.net as the name of the new publicly owned fiber network.

Photo of the Old Train station at Clarksville by Ron Reiring CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: clarksville arArkansasscadautilityelectricruralanchor institutionswaterschool districtpublic savingspublic safetyhospitalpartnershiprfqFTTHvoice

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 247

April 5, 2017

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 247. Ken Demlow of Newcom Technologies chats with Christopher Mitchell about what happened in Nashville and why poles are important for fiber. Listen to this episode here.

Ken Demlow: There's all that kind of communication that not only can improve what happens in electric and what happens in water, but also just such better communication with your customer, and it's all good stuff.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 247 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Ken Demlow, Sales Director of Newcom Technologies joins Christopher this week to talk about several topics. In addition to discussing engineering and design and how it relates to telecommunications networks, Ken shares how Newcom is taking advantage of new technology to offer communities the best results. Christopher and Ken also get into the details of smart-grid and some benefits and uses that you might not necessarily think of right away. The guys spend some time on what happened in Nashville when Ken worked on the Google Fiber project. He shares his inside perspective. You can learn more about Newcom at nucomtech.com. Now, here's Christopher with Ken Demlow from Newcom Technologies talking about engineering and design, smart-grids, and pole drama in Nashville.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with Ken Demlow, the sales director of Newcom Technologies. Welcome to the show.

Ken Demlow: Thank you. Good to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: Ken you're one of my favorite people at these trade shows. We're here at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and as you know, I contrived an excuse to have you on because I think you're a fun person to talk to.

Ken Demlow: Thank you. That's better than I deserve, but thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: I think we're going to start with just a brief explanation of what Newcom Technologies does.

Ken Demlow: We are telecommunication engineers, and that's how we started 20-some years ago. What's kind of cool about Newcom is that design is design, but we design very well, but then what you do with that design and how you make it usable is where we've done a lot of excelling. We did all of our design work in CAD and then converted it into GIS. Well, that's something that can be used in different phases for projects, and so our customers had said, "Wait a minute. We want that." So, we do that. We do mapping, those kind of ancillary services, field survey work, all that kind of stuff that goes along with having really good engineering.

Christopher Mitchell: The way municipal networks or small providers might come across you is trying to figure out where they're going to put their outside plan.

Ken Demlow: Exactly. If they're thinking, "Okay. We know we need to do something," where that would go, how that would be, aerial versus underground, what impediments there could be. We work through designing all that, and then where would the cabinets go? How are the splits going to be? All that's recorded. Yeah, we have to do all of that stuff as part of our design.

Christopher Mitchell: In a recent conversation with Eric Lampland, we talked about the importance of getting this in a mapping program. Esri is what you guys use. That's an industry standard. Why is that important?

Ken Demlow: That's a big deal because a lot of engineering work is just we'll design it. We'll put it on a static platform. We'll print you a map, or we'll put it in CAD, which CAD's a good design tool, but then the end user -- It's static. They just have that done, and then they can refer back to it, but they can't really change it. Doing it in Esri, then if they want to add a section, it's very easy just to add onto that section, or if there's something they want to change-

Christopher Mitchell: Layers, the power of layers.

Ken Demlow: Layers, yes. Or if they want to do how they keep their splits and how they're splicing and how they are able to see it and change those kind of things. If it's dynamic, then they can change it and use it and adapt it along the way. If not, they got it once and then that's it. The last part of that, Chris, is that, also, there's these tools out there called fiber management systems, and those fiber management systems allow you to like put in OTDR readings and see where a problem is. The trucks don't have to drive as far. They don't have to go try to find something.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, this is like if there's a problem with the fiber, you shine a laser down. It tells you how far to wander to get to that problem.

Ken Demlow: Yeah, and if you put that into a fiber management system, you know exactly where to go. You know exactly, so the trucks can go there and not have to go hunt for it, and you can trace the fiber all the way through to the end. You can trace it through the splices. You can change your splices. Those are all tools that you only have if you use a mapping system like Esri. CAD, you can't do that. A piece of paper on the wall, you can't do that. It provides much more management functions and a dynamic instead of static platform.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. Now that we know what you do, let's talk about some of the stuff you've been talking about. Today, you were talking about smart-grid here at the IAMU Conference. What's the deal with smart-grid?

Ken Demlow: Smart-grid is this cool, important idea that people have a hard time even defining.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think a lot of people are immediately thinking meter reading, right?

Ken Demlow: Yep. Yep, and that's where everybody starts. The reason people start there is because, if you have smart meters, meters that can send information back to you instead of you having to go do a meter reading, you can quantify how much does the person cost, or you can quantify how many truck rolls does it take to do that? Those are very quantifiable things, and people can say, "This is how much it'll cost. This is so much money we'll save," and that's an easy place to say, "Okay. That's smart-grid." Well, it's a tool in smart-grid, but the reason we got involved in smart-grid, Chris, is because what smart-grid is, is it's communication. It's data. It's sending information back and forth. It's communicating with your customer. It's understanding what's happening in your network. That all is telecommunications. We got involved in it because of the telecommunication side. Now, through the years, we've gotten more involved in helping set it up, helping to find how it's going to be laid out, how the data is going to flow. The biggest thing is that the industry, by necessity because of what was available 20 years ago, they've gone to -- If you're going to have a smart meter, you're going to have an RF system, a radio frequency system, that sends the information back that way, not using fiber. That's something that's been an issue of mine for a decade now, of saying, "If we have fiber, we should be using the fiber."

Christopher Mitchell: I think, in a lot of cases, what happens is you have a short wireless hop to a collection point. They're not using radio frequency all the way back to the central office.

Ken Demlow: Some are.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, wow. Okay.

Ken Demlow: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: But others are -- Tantalus' products, I think, were often doing a local collection and then using local fiber to get out of the neighborhood.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. The most common is to send the radio frequency back to a collector somewhere, and then you'll have a certain number of collectors. If the community is small enough and if there's not too many hills or trees or that sort of thing, then some do send it all the way back to the office. That's a shame because if you have fiber and you can use fiber for all of it, that's a good starting point for, "We're going to have these meters. They're going to send the information back over fiber." That's much more secure. It's much more efficient. It's much faster.

Christopher Mitchell: I think a lot of people might immediately think, "Well, that seems like overkill." If you have a ratepayer who's on your electric system, who's also going to be paying for Internet access, for television, then you can justify dragging a fiber to him. Can you really justify dragging a fiber to a home just to do these automated services?

Ken Demlow: No. That's a good point. Right now, if you were saying, "I'm going to go pay for fiber just to bring the information back from a meter," that really is not justifiable, no. It's when you can say, "Okay. We can bring back the meter data, and then we can also offer the other services." There's going to be a lot more coming, pieces of smart-grid, and what can be done with communication, with the ratepayer, with how you can exchange data back and forth. Those things are all coming, but as far as can you actually say, "That will pay for fiber," not really.

Christopher Mitchell: I think what you're saying, then, is, "Hey. If you've got the fiber there, do it. Use it."

Ken Demlow: Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: "Don't also use RF." As an anti-pollution kind of person, I would also say, "Yeah. Let's keep it off the public airwaves if we can."

Ken Demlow: Yeah. It's if you have the fiber and if you have the fiber to use to do -- and you can do multiple things with it. It's crazy not to do that, too. I know of communities who have put in fiber and have used an RF system on top of that to bring their data back. Why? I don't think we really know. You were talking about the pollution and that sort of thing. If we have something that just -- anything we can clean up, why wouldn't we?

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Ken Demlow: That way, we can.

Christopher Mitchell: I think we're going to slide into the final topic, the one that perhaps people are really most interested in, because nobody really knows a lot of the details of this issue, with what really happened in Nashville and what happened with Google. Before we get there, let's just finish up on smart-grid. What are some of these other things? Let's just talk about a practical example rather than in theory of why having fiber throughout your electric plant is going to not just be nice, but actually save money and really be beneficial to the community.

Ken Demlow: I'll take the easy one first. If you're going to have fiber and you're going to have an RF system, you have to pay for both. You have to pay for the RF system because you have to pay for the collectors. You have to pay for the software to do all that. You have to pay for the module that's going to send the data out. All that stuff is stuff you have to pay for. If you're paying for fiber to go there too, you really are paying for two full systems. In discussion today, in the sessions where we are today, one of the manufacturers of the system that can take fiber all the way to the meter, they said that what they are working for is having equal money. What you would pay for the RF system is equal to what you would pay to connect to the meter in the fiber system. Well if that's even money, if you have the fiber and you pay for the RF system, you're paying double. That's one thing. Another, if you have the fiber, obviously whether it's RF or whether the data's coming back over fiber, the savings you'll have in truck rolls, the savings you'll have in people and all that kind of stuff, those are all areas where you can save money.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's just flesh that out for a second. You're talking about saving truck rolls. You're talking about, right now, electricity goes out on the grid. Your ordinary system, you might be sending a person to drive along and watch the wires and try to physically see where the outage is.

Ken Demlow: That's the way it works.

Christopher Mitchell: Having these meters, it gives you either a good sense or, at the very least, it dramatically narrows the areas where you have to look for it. That's a big savings.

Ken Demlow: It is.

Christopher Mitchell: It's a savings in time. It's a savings in labor. The longer your customers are out, the more angry they are, so you get them on faster. There's savings there. Ideally, then, you have dramatically less overtime costs.

Ken Demlow: Absolutely. Right now, in the present system, when a meter goes down, basically they have to wait for their customer to call them to tell them it's down, most the time. Whereas, in these systems, the meter has what's called a "last gasp," but that's actually an industry term, where it actually sends out a message saying, "I'm dying."

Christopher Mitchell: I wish I could have written that message. You actually want people to get that message and just laugh, right?

Ken Demlow: Yeah, because it could be funny. It really could.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, yeah.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. The thing is, if the meter's telling you we're out, then they can actually call or send a text message to their customer saying, "We know you're out. Here's what we're doing." For example, if you have 100 meters go out, then you can look around, and you can see those. In GIS, you can see where those are out. That will also probably tell you what the problem was, or at least it'll give you a real good idea of what the problem was. Again, that's just money savings, right?

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Ken Demlow: Because then, as opposed to having the person driving around and trying to find it, if you can say, "Oh, well, this transformer went out," or, "This line had to have gone out, so go there." Those are all ways that, with technology, you just save time. Then, also, with meters and with smart meters and with being able to have the data going back and forth, the ability to see -- just take a water meter for example. We're talking about electric, but take a water meter for example. If you have a smart meter and there's spikes in the usage, then they could call or send a text message to the home owner and say, "Hey, look. Something's going wrong."

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. "Either you left the hose running," or, "Congratulations on that new pool you just built."

Ken Demlow: Yeah, or, "You really shouldn't take that long a shower. You really shouldn't."

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Right.

Ken Demlow: But being able to diagnose that right now, the money that can save or the customer and the customer service of that, there's all that communication that not only can improve what happens in electric or what happens in water, but also just such better communication with your customer, and that's all good stuff.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, absolutely. We were having a really great conversation earlier about what is going on in Nashville and one of the challenges that Google faced, in terms of getting on the poles. You have some firsthand experience having dragged your family there, in an RV, over a mountain, in order to be a part of this project.

Ken Demlow: Yes. Yes. We actually lived in Nashville for a while, in an RV. We did survive coming over the mountains, which could have gone either way.

Christopher Mitchell: This is a man that really wanted to be a part of the Google project.

Ken Demlow: Exactly. Google, when they went into Nashville, I think we all hoped for -- and I know they did, but I think everybody hopes that everything's going to be smooth and everybody's going to want the same things and all that.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Just to set the stage, Google has been in several cities by now. They've done different things. They've tried different approaches. Nashville is like seventh, eighth on the order of maybe communities that they're looking at. They've been doing it for several years, and just as a final note, you're going to be sharing with us things that are public knowledge already-

Ken Demlow: Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: -- that people may not have seen, but you're not really breaking any news on this show or sharing anything that one couldn't find elsewhere.

Ken Demlow: I'm consolidating it from a firsthand perspective.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Ken Demlow: Yeah, consolidating the news. I think it all goes back to even when Google first decided they were going to do Google Cities, and 1,100 communities said, "We want it to be us." I think that set the stage for thinking, "Okay. This is all going to be wonderful in every step of the way." I think Google found out it's more complicated than that. There are a lot of factors that can go into what can happen. In Nashville, for example, when Google first went in, the local electric utility is Nashville Electric. The reason why Nashville Electric is so important is because they own most of the poles. They own most of the poles. AT&T owns some poles, and I think Comcast owns some, but the vast majority are owned by Nashville Electric.

Christopher Mitchell: This is actually why Google picked -- I mean, a lot of the cities Google went to were municipal electrics that they owned the poles, because Google didn't want to have to deal with a hostile pole entity, which I think would be a great science fiction enemy, sort of antagonist.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. I agree completely. Going in thinking, "Okay. We have the poles. We know who owns the poles. They really want us here. This is all going to be streamlined. It's all going to be easy, and we're all going to be able to just go hook onto the poles and all that." By the way, Nashville has a very high rock table, and so it really had to mostly be aerial because buried is really tough there because there's so much rock. Putting fiber on poles is cheaper anyway, but-

Christopher Mitchell: Especially when there's rock in the ground.

Ken Demlow: Especially when there's rock in the ground. When they went into Nashville Electric thinking, "Okay. We're going to be able to streamline the process. We're going to be able to put the -- We're going to be able to attach to the poles." We're talking about over 100,000 poles here. Not that they were going to use all those, but it's still a lot of poles that they're going to have to attach to.

Christopher Mitchell: Which is important for multiple perspectives, because if it was 500 poles or 1,500 poles, there's actually shot-clock rules. There are obligations that others on the pole have to move and do their activities within a certain time period. At this level of poles, it's anything goes. You've got to work it out yourself.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. Working it out yourself and working it out with them is -- Again, everybody, I think, hopes that process is going to be easy, but you've got several things that play there. One is, "What are the attachment rules?" Which means, "What does the local pole owner -- what are their rules for you to be able to attach?" That's a big deal because -- I mean, it's things like how many feet do you have to be below the electric? How many feet do you have to be above the ground? How much is that on a sidewalk, or how much is that over a street? There's all those factors of, "Here's who can attach," and then even, "Can the poles take another attachment?" If the pole can't take another attachment, that means you have to put in a different pole that's either taller or stronger. There's all those things that go into play, and when they got right into it with Nashville Electric, there ended up having to be a lot of replaced poles, and there were a lot of rules that they had to abide by that I think they just didn't expect to have to abide by, or it was more complicated, or it was more difficult. You don't necessarily know that going in, because you can look at poles and say, "Okay. Well, that's a lot of poles. Good, that's cheaper." Well, not if you have to replace every pole at 10, 15, 20 grand a pop.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. If you and I were going to go build in an area, that might have a hostile private company or a co-op or munis. In some ways, pole owners act like pole owners. They're trying to push their costs off on someone else, and the general industry standard is the new guy pays for everything.

Ken Demlow: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Christopher Mitchell: One might expect, going in to an arrangement with a hostile or a neutral pole owner, you're going to have to replace a bunch of poles. When you're going in with a friendly pole owner, you're thinking, "Oh, I'm going to get a break. I'm not going to have to replace that many poles." Maybe that happened. Maybe it didn't. Either way, there were still a lot of poles that had to be replaced.

Ken Demlow: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: You were saying that there's a lot of attachments out there.

Ken Demlow: Oh, yeah. In any given pole, there can be six attachments already, six communication attachments.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. That's just your cable and telephone type folks.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. If you think about it, you have the electric at the top. Then you've got a certain number of feet, and then you've got your communication attachments. If you've got six communication attachments -- and they all have to be so many inches apart, or like a foot apart or whatever. They have to be a certain distance apart. Well, then you get down to, "Do we have enough distance above the ground? Do we have enough distance -- " Pole attachment agreements and the rules you have to go by for construction -- We call it make-ready engineering -- what you have to go by there, there was a lot that had to be taken into consideration. There was a lot that had to be done and changed, and that ended up being a very friendly owner, but with a lot of rules. That ended up being a pretty substantial process. Working through that process -- and the way that process works is you go survey what's in the pole. Again, the person who wants to attach has to do this.

Christopher Mitchell: It's only 118,000 poles or something like that.

Ken Demlow: Yeah, exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: You go look at every pole.

Ken Demlow: You do. You go look at every pole and you measure all those things --

Christopher Mitchell: Of course.

Ken Demlow: -- already, so what's existing, you measure-

Christopher Mitchell: Why wouldn’t you?

Ken Demlow: Yeah. You measure every one of those things that's existing, and then you say, "Okay. Here's all the things that are existing. Here's where we'd have to attach, and here's the changes that have to be made to be able to attach to meet your rules." You submit that, and then the pole owner says yes or no. They either say, "Yes, we see that and agree," or, "No. We want you to change this." That ended up being -- When that's 100 poles, that's a job. When it's 100,000 poles, that's intimidating. There's a pole in someone's backyard. It's in an easement, but it's in their backyard. It's inside their fence. We have to go arrange with them. Again, when you're talking about 100 poles, that's annoying. When it's 100,000 poles, that's massive coordination.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It actually seems like -- I mean, if Greek tragedies and Greek myths were being written today, one of our heroes would be stuck in purgatory where they were just doing pole analysis all day.

Ken Demlow: I like the science fiction route you were taking. I do. I like that. That was a difficult process. That was the first set of stuff to have to deal with. Then they got into who was going to make the moves of those six communications. One of them's AT&T. Another one's Comcast. You go down this list of who's there, and then the question is, "Who is going to actually do the actual move of their communication line?" Now, the argument from the perspective of the communication company is, "But we don't want somebody else to move our stuff, because what if they mess it up?"

Christopher Mitchell: Right. There's also some game, in terms of just, "We want to move our stuff because we can take longer. We can obstruct. We don't want to make it easy on anyone to come in and compete with us."

Ken Demlow: It's all competition. It is.

Christopher Mitchell: I would say there's legitimate and there's also legitimate but not something you want to play up, because it's not very favorable to your position.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. Not something that you want to have on the newspaper as much.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. When you start talking about who's going to do those moves and who will actually do that -- Again, if you're dealing with 100 poles, that's some difficult coordination. When you're dealing with 100,000 poles, just think of the nightmare of that. If you say, "Okay. We're going to go do these 50 poles over here, and we need all six of you to be there on the same day at the same time," and then it rains, whatever.

Christopher Mitchell: When it rains?

Ken Demlow: Yeah. That became a logistical difficulty, but it even got a little tougher, and where it got tougher was that the Nashville City Council, to try to make that easier, passed city legislation that said that we were going to go to a one-touch system, which means that they would have an authorized company who would do all the moves on a given pole. That is efficient. It's more efficient, because then you've got one path of saying, "Okay. You are going to go do all of them and go down through here."

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things to note is it's not just efficient from a perspective of the companies that are involved. A lot of these poles, you have to move traffic, and you have trucks that are in traffic. If you're doing that six times, that's a lot of traffic jams and problems you're creating. There's other reasons, aside from telecommunications reasons, to want to minimize touching.

Ken Demlow: You've got to remember that these are electric poles, is really what they are. They're actually electric, and they're just hanging coms on them. From the electric department's perspective, what if they take a certain section underground, or what if they know that they have -- say if a pole starts to fall or any of that kind of thing. Well, if you have this path of, "Okay. We're going to go do this section," but the electric department has to go out and change three poles before you get there. There's this whole logistics that's just crazy. The city passed that legislation, one-touch legislation. Well, some of the providers -- AT&T, Comcast -- they said, "No. We're not going to allow that, so we're going to -- " They went to court to say, "No. You can't do that." That also became a concern of Nashville Electric because they had contracts with all of them. If you already had a contract with somebody that says, "Here's the rules for the next 10 years," and the city says, "No. We're going to change the rules," what about those contracts? That's all now in court, and we won't really know what's going to happen until that all floats its way through court. Lastly, Chris, the other question with that is -- It's even a question of who has jurisdiction over that? Is that the Federal Communications Commission has jurisdiction? Is it the state? Is it the -- Those are all questions that have to be solved in court, and who knows how long that'll take?

Christopher Mitchell: I think those were the big show stoppers. There was also added problems. There were some egos involved, both with Google and the people that Google hired, where they all had a sense of, "We do things our way." I think this is something that the telephone and cable companies and everyone who's been in this field have said for a long time. "Google, you don't get it. You're not going to -- Everyone might love you, but there's still rules. You're going to have to follow the freaking rules," and I think that Google and some of its subcontractors or contractors thought that they could get away with not doing some of the rules because they're so powerful, and they found that pole owners also are pretty powerful.

Ken Demlow: Well, contracts are powerful.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Ken Demlow: Signatures on paper is powerful.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's nice to live in a society where that's true, frankly.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. There's a whole confluence of issues. You've got political issues. You've got contracts. You've got pole attachment agreements. There's a whole lot of things that get into this space, and you can't just -- No one can come in and say, "But we don't want to do that."

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Ken Demlow: You have to sort those things out, and that's not always a gentle process.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I think one of the things -- and you know this better than almost anyone, I think. When you hear commissioners at the FCC basically saying, "Well, we'd all have fiber everywhere if it wasn't for cities getting in the way with their dumb rules," generally, cities aren't even implicated. Let's just say that cities have inefficient rules. It's like the third or fourth problem on the list. This is poles, and it doesn't have to do with city rules. None of this had to do with city rules. The only city rule that was involved was one that was trying to make it easier. There's just a process involved, and it's very difficult to build fiber networks. That's one of the reasons why. I'll say, frankly, in my perspective, I think that AT&T, Comcast, these existing providers, have found ways to make it as cumbersome as possible.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. I would just add, to all listeners, if there's anybody who is looking at a fiber project or thinking about a fiber project or has any say in a fiber project-

Christopher Mitchell: Come to Newcom Tech for mapping.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. No. Yes, but I would also say that I've been involved in quite a few projects where dealing with the poles has caused big problems. Another one that had nothing to do with Google was there were some folks who were wanting to do a county-wide project, and they just assumed they were going to go over the poles. That's how they accosted everything, and that's the whole plan they had. When they go there, they found a hostile -- and it wasn't the city. They found a hostile pole owner, and that hostile pole owner said, "You're just not going to use our poles," and they just didn't do the project. That's one of the things that has to be looked at, is do we want to go aerial? If we do, can we use the poles we're thinking? That has to determine part of your costs.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, thank you so much. This has been fun.

Ken Demlow: Yeah. Thank you, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Ken Demlow talking with Christopher about a few topics including telecommunications, engineering, smart-grids, and Google Fiber in Nashville.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high-quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested, about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.

Lisa Gonzalez: We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. You can subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Break the Bans for the song Escape, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 247 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. (singing)

Tags: transcriptnashvillepolespole attachmentsengineeringmake-readyone touch make readysmart-gridutilitywaterelectriccompetitiongoogleat&tcomcast

Fiber In The Water In Anacortes, WA

April 5, 2017

Under the pavement of most cities run an old collection of pipes full of rushing water and some cities are adding fiber-optic cable to them for Internet service. The small city of Anacortes, Washington, is the latest community to repurpose some of their water infrastructure to also carry fiber. 

The new fiber cable will help manage the water system and may serve as the backbone for citywide, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access. Anacortes approved about $265,000 for an international contractor to install the fiber in existing water pipes.

Fiber in the Water

Local paper Go Anacortes reported that the community will replace an old radio system with high-speed fiber to better manage the community’s water system. The city’s utility intends to connect water treatment plants and pump stations by running most of the fiber through abandoned water lines, but in some areas the fiber must run through active water pipes.

The utility found an international company that specializes in installing fiber through microducts inside water lines. This technique has been used in multiple countries, and the state health department approved the plan. Although this portion of the project will cost $265,000, the overall fiber project is directly on budget and ahead of schedule, Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer recently reported at a city council meeting. Officials estimate the tost cost of the water system project at $500,000 and expect to be completed by the end of summer.

Citywide Plans

This fiber will serve as the backbone to a network that can provide Internet access in the future. The library will host the hub of the network, enabling the utility to expand throughout the community if they so choose. At the end of 2015, Anacortes began to consider building a citywide network.

Last fall, the city enlisted the assistance of the nonprofit NoaNet to design the new system; NoaNet is the collaboration of multiple public utility districts. NoaNet already manages hundreds of miles of fiber and provides Internet service to many throughout the pacific northwest.

Not Unheard Of

A few other cities have considered a similar approach. Most notably, Sandy, Oregon, dabbled with the water line idea back in 2012 when the city began designing its citywide, fiber network. Joe Knapp, SandyNet General Manager, discussed the concept in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 17. DubLINK in Dublin, Ohio, also uses sewer lines to house some of its fiber.

Local governments often invest in large projects for water or electrical systems - finding new ways to use that infrastructure saves time, money, and energy. Identifying assets that a community already owns is a great early step in developing a comprehensive plan to improve Internet service.

Tags: anacortesnoanetFTTHutilitywashingtonsandy orwatersewer

Using Fiber for Smart Grid and the Pole Problem in Nashville - Community Broadband Bits 247

April 4, 2017

While at the annual Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Broadband Conference, I forced Ken Demlow to be our guest on Community Broadband Bits Podcast 247. Ken is the Sales Director for Newcom Technologies, where he has worked with many different fiber-optic deployments on the ground and is a fun guy to talk to more generally.

Our discussion focuses on two main topics - the benefits of using fiber-optic connections to smart-grid applications rather than relying on wireless and the challenges that Google faced in getting on the poles in Nashville to build its fiber-optic network (which seems to be stalled). 

Ken had a front-row seat to the work in Nashville to get Google Fiber on poles but our conversation focuses on what is publicly known. We aren't breaking any insider secrets, but this is a very good discussion about the tremendous challenges of dealing with attachments on over 100,000 poles when contemplating a citywide metro fiber build. For people who haven't done it, this will explain why encouraging private sector competition at the physical network level is very difficult. And we keep it interesting - from possibly the worst idea for a sci-fi antagonist ever and how make-ready could fit into Greek myths.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via 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 Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: polespole attachmentsnashvilletennesseegoogletechnicalaudiopodcastbroadband bitssmart-gridWirelesswaterelectricityutilitymake-readyengineeringmappingfeasibility