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Another Perspective on Policy From American Action Forum - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 281

November 29, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 281 - Will Rinehart, Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at American Action Forum

Christopher went to Atlanta for the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in early November, and while he was there, he touched base with this week’s guest Will Rinehart. Will is the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum, a DC nonprofit organization that’s been around since 2009.

Will and Christopher don’t always see eye to eye on issues that affect telecommunications and broadband policy, but both agree that it’s important to have spirited debate to share perspectives. Only by examining issues from different sides can we craft policy that creates lasting benefits.

In this interview, Will describes his organization and his work there. Chris and Will look at compelling issues such as ISP competition, government regulations, and how the FCC’s 2015 upgraded definition of broadband has reverberated in the market. The two get into franchising and ubiquitous broadband, local authority, and connectivity in rural America. It’s a spirited discussion chock-full of issues.

You can tweet to Will, he’s @WillRinehart on Twitter.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

 

Tags: regulationstate policyfederal governmentstate lawsfranchisegooglecompetitioneconomicsruralconnect america funddslFTTHfixed wirelessdebatebroadbandfcccongresslow-incomeaudiobroadband bitspodcastnetwork neutrality

Network Neutrality On MuniNetworks.org

November 28, 2017

The FCC is set to vote on whether or not to repeal network Neutrality under the deceptive guise of “Restoring Internet Freedom” on December 14th. Like others who study broadband and telecommunications policy, we’re distressed by the possibilities for the Internet and its users, should the Commission decide to repeal these protections. Because we use the Internet for so much in our daily lives, reversing network neutrality will give big ISPs like Comcast and Verizon undue power over what information we receive, our online business, and the result may negatively impact innovation. 

We’ve gathered together some of our earlier posts on network neutrality to help explain why the policy is so important. In this collection, we’ve included some of our own writings as well as media that we consider paramount to understanding why we need to preserve network neutrality.

The Basics At 80 MPH (Video):

An old but a goody. In this video, Professor Tim Wu explains network neutrality, including paid prioritization. The video is from 2016.

The Big ISP Perspective (Video):

Many of us consider a free an open Internet a necessity to foster innovation and investment, but the words from the lips of the big ISPs are changing, depending on whom they’re talking to. This video reveals what they tell the government about network neutrality versus what they tell investors.

The Small ISP Perspective (Audio):

Like other small ISPs and municipal networks that offer services to the public, Sonic takes the opposite view of Comcast, Verizon, and other big corporate incumbents - they believe network neutrality is important and should be preserved. Dane Jasper, Sonic’s CEO and Co-Founder explains why innovation needs network neutrality in episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Artists Appreciate The Freedom of Network Neutrality (Video):

Cinematic icon Francis Ford Coppola reached out to the FCC to express the need for artistic innovation, which will disappear without a free and open platform in his open letter to the FCC.

Rural Impact (Audio):

The FCC claims that it’s looking for ways to improve connectivity in rural America, but people who live there and who study broadband policy in rural communities describe how repealing network neutrality will put these communities at an even bigger disadvantage.

Economists Look At Government Agency (Audio):

Marshall Steinbaum, Senior Economist and Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, argues that the FTC, which may be tasked with complaints against ISPs once network neutrality is dismantled, does not have the adequate systems in place to contend with complaints from upstream content providers who feel they are being discriminated against by ISPs. Check out episode 258 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast

Our Comments To The FCC:

Lastly, we've included our comments to the FCC on Docket 17-108, Restoring Internet Freedom. The Commission asked the public to comment on network neutrality and there are have been almost 23 million comments filed, the majority of them in support of network neutrality. In our comments, we discuss how the Internet is about moving data and how, as a nonprofit, the ability to access information from across the world is critical to our mission. We are dependent on affordable access and rescinding network neutrality protections threatens our ability to obtain and share information with others without paying an extra fee. We also note that our research doesn't support the old argument that paid prioritization will fuel innovation. Read the details in our comments to the FCC on network neutrality.

For more MuniNetworks.org stories that involve similar coverage, check out our network neutrality tag

Comments from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance In re The Matter of Restoring Internet FreedomTags: network neutralitypaid prioritizationvideoaudiofccpublic commentinstitute for local self-reliancecomcastverizonruralinnovation

The Fiber Future is Cooperative: Policy Brief On Rural Cooperative Fiber Deployment

November 28, 2017

Rural communities across the United States are already building the Internet infrastructure of the future. Using a 20th century model, rural America is finding a way to tap into high-speed Internet service: electric and telephone cooperatives are bringing next-generation, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks to their service territories. This policy brief provides an overview of the work that cooperatives have already done, including a map of the cooperatives' fiber service territories. We also offer recommendations on ways to help cooperatives continue their important strides.

Download the policy brief, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era here.

Key Facts & Figures

Farmers first created utility cooperatives because large private companies did not recognize the importance of connecting rural America to electricity or telephone service. Now, these cooperatives are building fiber infrastructure.

Almost all of the 260 telephone cooperatives and 60 electric cooperatives are involved in fiber network projects. As of June 2016, 87 cooperatives offer residential gigabit service (1,000 Mbps) to their members.

Rural cooperatives rely on more than 100 years of experience. The cooperative approach does not stop with rolling out rural infrastructure, but ensures that their services remain viable and affordable. 

The majority of Montana and North Dakota already have FTTH Internet access, thanks to rural cooperatives. Even one of the poorest counties in the country (Jackson County, Kentucky) has FTTH through a telephone cooperative.

AT&T receives about $427 million each year in rural subsidies to bring Internet service to rural America, but AT&T does not invest in rural fiber networks

Moving Forward

Our policy recommendations offer an outline of how to build off of this work and further support rural cooperatives:

1. Design funding programs with cooperatives in mind. Recognize what requirements make sense for large organizations and what is unnecessary for cooperatives.

2. Activate membership based in existing cooperatives. Successful cooperative projects are community-led projects. About 70 percent of electric cooperatives have less than 10 percent average turnout for their board member elections.

3. Encourage cooperatives by removing barriers and encouraging partnerships.

4. Highlight potential rural uses. Rural areas are home to more than farmers. There may be aspiring programmers and entrepreneurs, and many people who want higher education as well.

Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era here.

Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet EraTags: cooperativerural electric coopruralpolicy briefFTTHexpansiongigabit

Community Broadband Media Roundup- November 27

November 27, 2017

 

Kentucky

Lexington, Home to the Kentucky Wired Middle-Mile Project, Seeks Municipal Fiber by Drew Clark, Broadband Breakfast

The power of municipal broadband isn’t going away. While competition benefits everyone, it’s undeniable that as the custodians of their rights of way, local government will play a role in the telecommunications infrastructure developments of the future.

 

Michigan

Ignored By Big Telecom, Detroit's Marginalized Communities Are Building Their Own Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

In a city that is rebuilding after a decade of economic turmoil, the internet can no longer be a luxury for the wealthy. Detroit’s renaissance won’t happen without each of the city’s diverse communities having access to the basic tools of modern work, education, healthcare, and communication. All of Detroit (or, certainly, more than 60 percent) needs access to the internet and the current structure established by Big Telecom hasn’t made this an easy goal.

“Communication is a fundamental human right,” Nucera said. “This is digital justice.”

Poor Detroit neighborhoods, abandoned by telcos and the FCC, are rolling out homebrew, community mesh broadband by Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

 

Minnesota

AT&T's Fake 5G is Coming to Minneapolis by Karl Bode, DSL Report

Area broadband projects held up as example at statewide conference by Brainerd Dispatch

 

New Hampshire

One small step for broadband: A new attempt to let communities bond to extend service represents progress, Editorial, Sentinel Source

 

General

To Save Net Neutrality, We Must Build Our Own Internet by Jason Koebler, Motherboard

In short, we must end our reliance on big telecom monopolies and build decentralized, affordable, locally owned internet infrastructure. The great news is this is currently possible in most parts of the United States.

FCC will also order states to scrap plans for their own net neutrality laws by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Few Options Remain To Stop Trump’s FCC From Scrapping Net Neutrality by Sean Captain, Fast Company

“I don’t think states have the authority to require network neutrality, so once the Trump administration guts the open internet, it will be up to individual ISPs,” writes Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in an email to Fast Company. He heads the organization’s Community Broadband Networks project, which encourages municipal-run networks as an alternative to major private ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon.

The FCC is having a terrible month, and consumers will pay the price by Gigi Sohn, The Verge

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

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

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

Tags: media roundup

Residential Fiber Expands on Virginia's Eastern Shore

November 27, 2017

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) board of directors has decided to expand Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to 14 more areas in the region.

Speedy Expansion On The Shore

In the next six months, residents of Accomack and Northampton counties should have access to high-speed Internet. The ESVBA regional open access middle mile network already provides FTTH to three areas, but decided to expand, concluding the current budget would support additional deployment.

Areas specifically identified for expansion include Sanford, Accomac, Greenbackville, Atlantic, Wattsville/Horntown, Hallwood/Nelsonia, Oak Hall/New Church and Quinby. In a meeting planned for Dec 13th, the board will discuss which areas to prioritize, with the idea of moving into two new areas each month.

A Continuing Success

ESVBA was created in 2008 through the efforts of Accomack and Northampton counties. NASA helped fund the build-out of the regional network’s backbone. They have a flight facility on Wallops Island that employs over a thousand Virginians. Government agencies, local schools, and healthcare institutions on the shore needed reliable connectivity for daily operations. Apart from NASA, the Navy and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration connect to the network, along with schools and medical facilities, making it an indispensable community resource.

Several different telecommunications companies on the Eastern shore utilize the open access network in a variety of ways, including the ISPs Windstream Communications and the local Eastern Shore Communications LLC.

Residential FTTH service is currently underway in Harborton, the Bobtown/Pungoteague/Painter area, and Church Neck where customer sign-on is gradually increasing.

Next Steps

The Eastern Shore region is currently assessing whether surveys should be conducted before deciding which areas to begin deploying FTTH service. The board is also discussing marketing tactics for advertising the new service. In regards to their advertising efforts, Executive Director of the ESVBA board, Robert Bridgham said, "We could certainly ramp up the take rates if we went further with that."

Bridgham also noted the success with users at the eleven free-access WiFi hotspots on the Shore.

So we certainly have people using these hotspots for many reasons... I think these continue to be good for the Shore.

Wireless coverage has greatly expanded on the shore, with towns like Bloxom benefitting from new towers providing Wi-Fi and better mobile service. Local rural communities with little or no choice for mobile and fixed wireless providers are obtaining better rates and improved services now because the presence of the towers offers competitive providers the opportunity to serve the region.

Tags: virginaregionalFTTHfundingesvbaopen accessmiddle mileexpansionruralnonprofit

Ely, Minnesota Coalition to Complete Feasibility Study

November 24, 2017

Ely Area Broadband Coalition (Ely ABC) and the Ely Economic Development Authority (EEDA) are set to complete a broadband feasibility study and release report results by late-November.

The ABCs Of The Ely Feasibility Study

The Ely Area Broadband Coalition (Ely ABC) is a collection of city, township, school district officials, and private citizens working in partnership with the EEDA to improve broadband in Ely and the surrounding area. In mid-2017, Ely ABC and EEDA submitted the Request for Proposals (RFP) to conduct a broadband feasibility study.

The group is keeping an open mind and will consider a variety of models. In addition to publicly owned infrastructure, they're hoping to hear ideas that will include partnership possibilities or recommendations on encouraging the private sector to improve local services.

The City of Ely is in St. Louis County and located in the northeastern corner of Minnesota. The rural community has a population of approximately 3,500 year-round residents and covers 2.74 square miles. The community, known on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is known as the location of the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center.

In November 2016, Ely was one of six communities to receive a $25,000 Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program grant from the Blandin Foundation in partnership with Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and Saint Louis County. Ely ABC and EEDA utilized the BBC grant to fund the broadband feasibility study. 

Through the BBC program, the six communities will receive broadband planning, along with technical support and assistance to advance local technology initiatives over the next two years. The BBC program has assisted 18 other rural communities across Minnesota with broadband planning.

Blandin Foundation president and CEO, Dr. Kathy Anette,

“Our experience tells us that, especially in broadband work, leadership matters. To have commitment both at the local level and from IRRRB and St. Louis County says something about the Iron Range. We look forward to standing with leaders in these six communities as they design and claim ambitious, connected and healthy futures.”

Next Step For Fiber To Ely And Beyond

According to Ely ABC RFP, the planned project area will cover public school district 696, approximately 252 miles, connecting a fiber optic loop in downtown Ely and extend connections out to surrounding townships of Morse and Winton. In addition to the feasibility study, two surveys were conducted; one focused on residents and another focused on business owners. The results are still under review, but for the project to move forward, local officials need to show significant community buy in for the project:

Ely Mayor Chuck Novak,

“[W]e can make a convincing argument that we need to be providing true broadband speeds throughout the school district. If we show we have strong backing from the entire community within the school district, we have a better argument to say ‘here’s what we have and these people are not being served’ as they are in the metro and more urbanized communities.”

The next step is funding. According to the RFP, multiple funding options are being considered from general obligation bonds to federal fundings with specific emphasis on leveraging Connect America Fund Phase II grants. Blandin Foundation officials are encouraging Ely ABC to partner with other regional economic development organizations such as the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce, the Entrepreneur Fund and the non-profit Incredible Ely for funding support for the project.

For more information on efforts in rural Minnesota, read our 2014 report All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

Ely Broadband Feasibility Study RFPTags: ely mnminnesotafeasibilitycollaborationruralblandin foundationgrantssurvey

An Open Letter to Burlington

November 22, 2017

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have been watching the latest developments with Burlington Telecom from afar but with extreme curiosity. We have watched a wonderful local movement grow to Keep Burlington Telecom Local and that fits entirely with our values. 

Because of the challenges from BT's prior mismanagement and court settlement, Burlington's options are limited. The benefits of local ownership are tremendous - from being directly accountable for services to keeping more money in the community. But also the ability to correct problems as they arise. No management is perfect, but local ownership provides the most opportunity to ensure that the network will continue to serve the community, rather than a situation in which the community serves the network. We see the latter far too often in communities stuck with cable monopolies. 

We salute those that have made Keep Burlington Telecom Local a viable option and we continue to hope that BT indeed remain local. But we are concerned that BT may not remain locally controlled. 

In the event that the City Council decides to pick a non-local bidder, we want to offer some observations. We are an organization that shares localism as a strong value and has more than a decade of experience working on broadband policy to best benefit communities. 

We have a long history with Ting (though no financial relationship) but less experience with Schurz Communications. Not only have we extensively documented Ting's partnership with Westminster, Maryland, to build a citywide fiber network, but many of us have been customers of Ting's parent Tucows in various ways. 

In our experience, absentee ownership of broadband networks is concerning, in part, because of a tendency for such a company to cut back on customer service and network investments. Such actions can be financially lucrative in the short term but inconvenient when the owner of the company shops, worships, and/or mingles with those who bear the brunt of such disinvestment. Network owners from afar don't have to worry as much about upsetting their customers from declining standards.

Tucows has long been a force for good in protecting and expanding an open Internet, both in sponsoring important events and via its CEO, who has served in organizations that can be thankless and irritating but nonetheless make the Internet what it is today. In its partnership with Westminster, Ting put more on the line to make the partnership work than we have seen in any other partnership. 

Tucows and Ting have a tremendous reputation for customer service, something we have verified in years of doing business with them both professionally and personally. We don't have that same personal experience with Antietam Broadband, one of the properties of Schurz. But we recently looked into Shurz Communications’ reputation after it bought a local firm in Minnesota that we also hold in very high esteem - Hiawatha Broadband. What we found greatly dismayed us.  

Antietam Broadband has quite poor reviews on various sites, including Yelp, Facebook, Google, and BroadbandReports.com. Orbitel, owned by Schurz Communications, also has poor reviews. We asked around about Schurz among broadband industry contacts and found that the company possesses an inferior reputation compared to Ting. We believe in the ability of long-time veterans in the industry to gauge the quality and integrity of their colleagues. Antietam also imposes data caps on subscribers and we consider that choice an indication of the role an ISP intends to fill in a community. Data caps are a good proxy for whether an ISP cares about what makes the Internet special or if it is merely extracting wealth from a community.  

In short, if Burlington Telecom can't be locally owned, community leaders can still choose an owner that provides  the best chances of continuing the excellence of service Burlington residents and businesses have come to expect. Ting is a different kind of company in ways that will make a difference in coming years, particularly as we need smaller ISPs to take a strong stand against the cable and telephone monopolies. 

Christopher Mitchell

Director, Community Broadband Networks

Institute for Local Self-Reliance

 

Tags: BurlingtonBurlington TelecomVermontpublic v privatetinginstitute for local self-reliance

A Thanksgiving Feast Of Muni Fiber Models

November 22, 2017

Like some of the foods on a traditional Thanksgiving Day table, different publicly owned network models uniquely suit the needs of their communities. We all have our favorite dish from a holiday dinner, which made us reflect on some of the characteristics of five of the most well known models and their benefits. We found fun comparisons to share with readers who understand the way publicly owned fiber optic networks nourish the communities they serve.

The Turkey = Full Retail Service

The most common for citywide networks, just as turkey is often the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving Day dinner. The retail model offers services directly to the public the same way a private cable company do, only usually with better customer service and better quality. Telephone, Internet access, and video are the services many offer to subscribers. Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics is the most famous example. Others include Lafayette, Louisiana, where take rates have recently topped 45 percent. Another example is Sandy, Oregon, where subscribers can get symmetrical gigabit connectivity for around $60 per month.

Stuffing = Dark Fiber and Conduit

It does its most important job out of sight. In a turkey, it adds flavor to the bird. In a network, it provides a low cost, cow risk option that can attract competition for the community. In states where municipalities are not allowed to use their own infrastructure to serve the public, dark fiber and conduit can serve as the foundation for partnerships the fill in gaps left by incumbents. Lincoln, Nebraska’s extensive conduit network eventually led to a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) venture with a private sector ISP. Rockport, Maine, has deployed dark fiber and has the first municipal network in the state; they work with a local ISP to serve businesses and other local institutions.

Cranberry Sauce = Open Access

Sweet and tangy, open access complements the other savory flavors on the Thanksgiving Day table. The city builds and operates the fiber network, while making it available to multiple independent ISPs that compete for subscribers. In the open access model, the city rarely participates in retail services, but with multiple ISPs providing services over publicly owned infrastructure, the community enjoys the benefit of competition. Subscribers in Ammon, Idaho, have an especially easy time switching between ISPs on their network. Twenty-four ISPs offer services via the fiber infrastructure in Grant County, Washington, on the Grant County Public Utility District network

Green Bean Casserole = Partnerships

This dish seems to only appear at Thanksgiving and at one or two other annual events. Partnerships are also rare and only a few pop upon our Community Networks Map because we expect both a municipality and a private sector partner to share in both risk and reward. Like green bean casserole, their popularity is a bit mysterious, but as long as they’re balanced we’re willing to consider adding partnerships to our plate. Westminster, Maryland, where the city is working with Ting Internet, is an example of a partnership in which both parties contribute and receive.

Pumpkin Pie = I-Nets

Whether your family serves turkey, ham, or hot dogs, you’re probably thinking about dessert on Thanksgiving Day; chances are good the first dessert you consider is pumpkin pie. Many publicly owned fiber networks begin as Institutional Networks (I-Nets), or fiber networks deployed to serve city facilities and anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, water and public works departments, and public safety departments. Typically, a city will use their I-Net as a foundation to expand services to businesses near the original network and then expand it incrementally. They may lease excess capacity to ISPs or offer dark fiber directly to large businesses and institutions. Santa Monica, California, began its CityNet as an I-Net. By cutting down on expensive leased lines, they were able to invest the savings into an incremental expansion and later serve businesses. They also improved public safety with video cameras and now provide free Wi-Fi in areas of the city. Scott County, Minnesota, has used their network to dramatically slash the cost of connectivity for schools and attracted local jobs.

Learn More And Share

Long after your leftovers are gone, these models will still be providing public savings, better local connectivity, and encouraging economic developent on the local level. To spread the word and help educate others about some of these muni fiber models, check out and share our Muni Fiber Model Fact Sheet

Whether you're thinking about improving local connectivity this long weekend, or just hoping to enjoy time with good food and those who matter to you, we want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tags: muniopen accessI-Netpartnershipretaildark fiberconduit

NC Hearts Gigabit - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 280

November 21, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 280 - Christa Wagner Vinson, Alan Fitzpatrick, and Deborah Watts Explain NC Hearts Gigabit

NC Hearts Gigabit is a grassroots group recently launched in North Carolina that aims to dramatically improve Internet access and utilization across the state. We caught up with Economic Development Consultant Christa Wagner Vinson, CEO of Open Broadband Alan Fitzpatrick, and Partner of Broadband Catalysts Deborah Watts to discuss what they are doing. 

We discuss their goals and vision for a more connected North Carolina as well as their organizing methods. Given my experiences dining in that state, I'm not surprised that they have often organized around meals - good stuff!

NC Hearts Gigabit offers an important model for people who feel left out of the modern political system. It is an opportunity to get out from behind the desk, engage others, and build a coalition to seize control of the future for a community or even larger region. And have a tasty lunch.

Learn more on their website or follow them on Twitter.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

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

Tags: north carolinanonprofitaudiopodcastbroadband bitscharlotteruralorganizinggrassrootsgigabitdigital divideeconomic development

The Burlington Chronicles: Catching Up In Vermont

November 21, 2017

The people of Burlington have proven beyond a doubt that they believe in publicly owned Internet networks. They’ve fought harder than any other community we’ve seen to maintain a voice in the future of their much loved publicly owned fiber optic network, Burlington Telecom (BT). Now after months of ruminating, debating, and examining their options, the future of BT is still uncertain.

The Back Story

We’ve covered BT extensively and dived into both the numerous benefits the community has enjoyed as well as the problems caused by former Mayor Bob Kiss and his administration. Bad choices and a lack of transparency snowballed, leaving the city to contend with sizable debt. Through all the difficulties, residential and business subscribers have consistently praised their hometown publicly owned network and expressed an appreciation for accountability, good service, and BT’s local ownership.

In order to fend off a lawsuit from Citibank, the city of Burlington had to agree to find a buyer for the network. To maximize the funds the city will receive from the transaction, a sale needs to be finalized by early January.

On November 6th, the City Council was scheduled to vote on which entity would be allowed to purchase the network, but that would have been a dull ending to a story filled with drama and, as the fates would have it, that isn’t what happened. At all.

The Kiss Of Debt

The Kiss administration’s choice to hide cost overruns from the public and the City Council led to a $33 million obligation to CitiBank. In 2014, the two reached a settlement after CitiBank decided to sue in 2011 and the parties had haggled in court for three years. As part of the settlement, the community committed to selling BT. In order to obtain the largest share possible of the proceeds from the sale - 50 percent - Burlington must reach an agreement with a buyer by January 2nd, 2018. The longer it takes to find a buyer, the less of the net proceeds the city will retain.

As an added incentive to get a deal done by January 2nd, Blue Water, LLC, will take over the ability for the city to choose if the matter drags on longer. When CitiBank and Burlington reached an agreement in 2014, Blue Water provided bridge financing to the city. In exchange for $6 million, the city transferred temporary ownership to Blue Water and has leased the network from Blue Water ever since.

Since 2014, BT has continued to operate and make strides. Subscribers now have access to gigabit connectivity, the local transit center has free BT Wi-Fi, and a local apartment building became the first in the state with gigabit Internet access. Throughout, BT has served the community with quality connectivity and civic-minded activities.

Establishing The Criteria

In 2016 the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board (BTAB), which had been established to determine a working criteria for the next owner of BT, released their report. After gathering input from the community, the board determined that residents and businesses were most interested in maintaining local ownership for the network. They dreaded the possibility of a large corporate entity like Comcast getting its hands on the network that they depend on and had served them so well, regardless of past problems.

Burlingtonians have positive experience with public ownership (their City Market is a long successful cooperative). The possibility of the Keep BT Local (KBTL) cooperative purchasing the network has appealed to many citizens.  KBTL was formed by Burlington residents in 2012 for the purpose of purchasing and operating BT. Ever since they announced that they would submit a bid earlier this year, supporters have consistently attended council meetings and voiced their opinions in favor of the cooperative.

Dueling Politicians

Drama unfolded in Burlington even before the City Council made its way through choosing finalist bidders. Early in the fall, one of the original bidders dropped out and, according to local reports, the bidder had “valuable local relationships and extensive telecom experience.” At the time, none of the bidders had been disclosed to the public, including bidder No. 4, ZRF Partners. Controversy erupted because several City Council members accused Mayor Miro Weinberger of influencing ZRF to drop out without consulting the council.

One council member compared Weinberger to former mayor Bob Kiss. It was the past administration’s unilateral decision to secretly use $17 million dollars in city funds during difficult economic times that led to the current situation. Weinberger denied having influenced ZRF’s decision to withdraw, but bad feelings remained when the mayor revealed that he had discussed a possible conflict of interest with ZRF but would not offer more details. 

ZRF had appealed to several City Council members who considered the company’s bid attractive for the community. Faisal Nisar operates ZRF and had proposed “investing heavily” in the local BTV Ignite program and partnering with Burlington High’s technical center.

According to Council Kurt Wright:

"They had an aggressive plan in regard to economic development and small business development in the community," Wright said, noting that the company had also planned to expand beyond city limits. "Many of us were very interested in them as our No. 1 or No. 2 choice."

In 2009, the city hired Dorman & Fawcett to help the network overcome its financial problems. The firm is still working for the city aiding in the bidding process; each of the bidders expressed to the city that they intended to keep Dorman & Fawcett on if they won the bid. When it was time for the city to seek bids, consultant Terry Dorman reached out to several people he knew, including Nisar, to let them know about the opportunity. Dorman and Nisar have known each other for more than a decade and worked together at one time for a technology firm.

Attorneys working for the city felt that the ties between Dorman and Nisar raised questions and they alerted the mayor in a September 1st memo. He shared the opinion with only two council members and Dorman; the City Council scheduled a meeting so the entire body could get details in mid-September. Just three hours before the meeting, Wienberger emailed the council to tell them that Nisar had withdrawn his bid.

The incident held up the process further and added more bitterness to an already difficult situation. Half of the City Council accused Weinberger of interfering with the process to advance his choice bid and the other half was eager to get on with it. 

"I'm blaming the mayor, the attorney's office, the president of the City Council," [Councilor Dieng] said. "The whole process about this deal was not well done."

The loss of the fourth bidder was "somewhat unfortunate," [Councilor] Shannon said. "I don't think they're nefarious actions."

The City Council and Weinberger appealed to ZRF to return, but Nisar wasn’t interested in being pulled back into the process. Burlington had reduced its options to three.

And Then There Were Three

City leadership had anticipated choosing from the original eight bids during the early days of summer, but the process dragged on. In addition to political turmoil, the City Council was caught between the desire to keep the public engaged, the public’s demand to be informed, and what the Mayor perceived as a need to retain confidentiality about the bids. 

“Each bidder is working hard to convince the city they can meet those criteria, and they don’t fully know how they stack up against and what the others are offering,” Weinberger said. “That dynamic creates a strong negotiating position for the city.”

KBTL acknowledged that they had publicly released information about their bid on the network as a way to shore up support by residents and keep potential future subscribers informed. By late September, the Mayor and the City Council decided to release the details of all three remaining bids.

Ting, owned by Toronto company Tucows, offered $27.5 million; Indiana based Schurz Communications id $30.8 million; KBTL offered $12 million which included $12 million which included partial city ownership. Each bid included details of other contributions to Burlington and plans to expand the network. We covered the bids in detail and provided copies of the offers back in September.

The next step required the city to eliminate one of the semi-finalist three and as the process pushed into October, Mayor Weinberger came out publicly against the KBTL option. About a week before the City Council vote to narrow the field, he held a press conference to express his concerns and described the KBTL proposal as “not viable,” saying that either of the other two proposals would be a better choice. 

At an October 16th City Council meeting with strong public comment on both sides, the City Council eliminated Schurz Communications from the bidding process. They planned to choose a final bid at the next meeting two weeks later.

Taking Sides, Fending Off Lawsuits, Kicking The Can Down The Road

After two weeks of community anticipation, the October 30th meeting still didn’t resolve the issue that had been dogging Burlington for years. A large crowd attended the council meeting at City Hall, but members began with a closed meeting to discuss interference by CitiBank.

Two days earlier, the company had sent an email to the council threatening to sue if they approved the bid to KBTL. Blue Water had also contacted the city and expressed concerns about the possibility that the KBTL bid might win out. Blue Water didn’t think KBTL could pass Vermont’s regulatory process, which will be a requirement for a winning bidder. At the meeting, the council discussed whether Blue Water would exercise its right to “disapprove” if KBTL wins the bid. The company has that right under the terms of the agreement put in place when Blue Water provided funding in 2014. Blue Water’s recourse if it disapproves is vague, according to the City Council. Rather than test the limits, the council seeks a bid to satisfy Blue Water.

The meeting also reviewed issues with the KBTL financing plan. Maine Fiber and KBTL had decided to collaborate and Maine Fiber, which had extensive experience in managing and operating fiber infrastructure, would provide advice and consultation to KBTL if KBTL comes out as the new owner. In order to pay $12 million to the city for the network, Maine Fiber also planned to loan the cooperative $10.5 million at a 12 percent interest rate. KBTL had tried to boost its chances by attempting to negotiate an eight percent interest rate, but the effort failed by the time of the intended vote.

In another twist, Councilor Karen Paul revealed that she would recuse herself from the final vote because she had a professional conflict of interest. She wouldn’t reveal what the issue was; several of her colleagues expressed derision at the fact that she had participated in preliminary votes. The City Attorney, who knew the source of Paul’s concerns, told the council that she did not believe the conflict could have influenced Paul’s prior votes.

The threat from CitiBank echoed throughout the ranks of the council. Even after assurances from the city’s legal staff that they would not be held personally liable, at least one Councilor opposed taking a vote. He had planned to support KBTL. After deliberation and several votes, the council voted to postpone the final decision until Monday, November 6th.

The Final Vote (Or Not?)

Three days after the meeting, Councilor Paul announced that she had quit her job with an accounting firm, which removed the conflict of interest, in order to free up her position and vote on the final bid. The community expected her to cast a vote for Ting, which she had done in earlier voting.

On the evening of the 6th, the meeting began with each member of the City Council offering the reasons for their votes. Councilors backing KBTL focused on retaining local control, stressing that if Ting was the final choice, the community would probably never regain ownership of the network. Supporters of the Ting proposal described KBTL’s bid as risky. 

After two separate votes ended in 6-6 ties, the council recessed around 10 p.m. Seven Days described what happened next:

At that time, representatives of both bidders, Mayor Miro Weinberger and a few councilors gathered behind glass doors in the offices outside City Hall Auditorium. The city attorney looked on to ensure there wasn't a quorum of councilors, thus triggering public meeting laws. After a few minutes, [Council President Jane] Knodell strode out, muttering: "There's some kind of bullshit going on in there."

When the meeting resumed, representatives from Ting and KBTL announced that the group had decided to spend the next several days working together to come up with a new, joint venture. Councilor Dave Hartnett didn’t take to the proposal, voicing his opinion that KBTL had “sold out” in agreeing to sacrifice public ownership in order to remain a contender.

The council voted 11-1 to give the two organizations until Friday, November 10th to come up with an agreement. They also decided that if Ting and KBTL could not reach a mutually agreeable solution, Burlington would invite Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners back and the bidding process would start anew with four potential bidders.

One Step At A Time

KBTL and Ting could not craft an agreeable solution that would allow both to own and/or operate Burlington Telecom. An official statement from Mayor Weinberger stated that Ting had offered 20 percent ownership to the cooperative in addition to a percentage of ownership that the company had offered to the city in its original bid. KBTL wouldn’t approve the proposal because it would not allow the cooperative to retain a community membership organization model.

Board member David Lansky stated:

“Ting and Keep BT Local have very different business models, so it should come as no surprise that a mere five-day effort to find a way to fuse them didn’t succeed. However, that we were able to identify several potential paths toward a solution in our limited discussion over the past five days should be celebrated as a success, albeit a limited one.” 

With no agreement between the parties, the City Council met on November 13th to establish a way forward. They’d already decided to open the bidding again to the four semi-finalists, but felt the need to pass a resolution that clarified the process as the city moves forward.

The resolution creates a subcommittee that will determine the final voting process. It also prohibits anyone on the council from communicating with any bidders; Terry Dorman from Dorman & Fawcett will serve as a liaison between the council and bidders during negotiations. According to VTDigger, Knodell had communicated with ZRF Partners separately within the past few weeks, which made other council members uncomfortable.

Even though one of the Councilors suggested a similar communications ban for the Mayor’s office, the measure did not pass. Those voting against it considered the measure impractical and inappropriate. “The mayor’s office does not work for the council, it works for the people of Burlington,” said Wienberger during discussion.

The resolution establishes November 27th as the date the City Council will choose a buyer for Burlington Telecom.

A Fresh Look: New Bids Roll In

As Councilors consider the future of their network under the pressure of a tight timeline, they're reviewing new bids.

A revised bid from KBTL increases their offer to $18 million and increases the cooperatives investment in the local tech economy. They also describe their agreement with Maine Fiber as more favorable, should the cooperative default on the loan. You can view specifics of their new offer here

Ting’s second bid increased by $2 million to $32.5 million and in an unexpected move, ZRF Partners and Schurz Communications joined forces to submit a joint venture bid

The ZRF/Schurz bid includes $25 million and a sizable local investment of $1.75 million in seed capital over seven years for local tech start-ups. If their proposal is accepted, they will also invest $350,000 in training for tech jobs to contribute to the technology industry in and around Burlington. Schurz would have a minority ownership and ZRF Partners would manage the network with the current BT staff remaining on board.

It's been a difficult road for the people of Burlington and their elected officials. Now its time to make a difficult choice and move forward.

Tags: BurlingtonBurlington TelecomVermontpublic v privateprivatizationtingpartnership

Community Broadband Media Roundup- November 20

November 20, 2017

Colorado

Comcast, CenturyLink smacked down in Colo.: Voters approve city-owned broadband network by Bob Fernandez, The Philly Inquirer

Disdain for Comcast, CenturyLink drove Fort Collins broadband support by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

The vote-no campaign, which spent a record $451,000, didn’t succeed for the same reason the push for municipal broadband in Fort Collins began five years ago: disdain for current internet service providers.

Companies such as Comcast and CenturyLink have terrible reputations for delivering the internet speeds and reliability customers pay for each month. And there is little love for their service when it comes to dealing with customer complaints and problems.

Despite 'Misinformation' Campaign by Telecom Industry, Municipal Broadband Wins in Colorado by Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams

Led by Comcast, "cable providers campaigned heavily against the Fort Collins move," the Denver Post reports, "spending more than $256,000 in television and radio ads." The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), however, says that by the time of the election, "that figure had jumped to more than $450,000." In an effort to promote the ballot measure, local residents formed the Fort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee, which raised less than $10,000, but was ultimately victorious.

 

Michigan

Local communities deserve to make their own choices by Christopher Mitchell, The Times Herald

Whether on broadband internet, wages, jobs, or the environment, local communities deserve to make their own choices, free from state interference. Ultimately, this is about determining what is more important: the rights of local voters, or the rights of corporate interests.

We clearly see where this representative’s allegiances lie.

New Mexico

Luján Introduces Legislation To Improve Deployment Of High Speed Internet In New Mexico And Rural Areas, Los Alamos Daily Post

 

New York

Stefanik reintroduces broadband legislation By Pete Demola, The Sun Community News

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) is reintroducing a pair of bills designed to boost broadband for farmers and rural residents.

The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act, known as B-CROP, would award grant funding to rural high-need broadband projects in combination with current loan funding available through USDA’s Rural Utilities Service.

State-funded broadband efforts make progress by Pete Demola, The Sun Community News

 

West Virginia

Fayette County leaders are hopeful for broadband in near future by Matt Combs,  Register-Herald

 

General

FCC proposal would hurt broadband in rural and low-income communities, activists warn by Jason Shueh, StateScoop

This Week in Comcast: Why the impending fight over AT&T merger matters by Michelle Caffrey, Philadelphia Business Journal

Back to the municipal broadband fight discussed last week — the cable industry’s opposition to local governments deploying their own publicly owned high-speed internet was dealt a blow in Fort Collins, Colo. Last week, 57 percent of Fort Collins residents voted to allow the town to opt out of a state law prohibiting municipal broadband systems, Ars Technica reports. If municipal broadband comes to fruition there, then Comcast could lose between $5.4 million and $22.8 million, The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative estimated. In Seattle, however, the mayoral candidate who opposed municipal broadband won with 61 percent of the vote.

Tags: media roundup

Wilson, North Carolina's Fiber Network Headlines Economic Development Plan

November 20, 2017

Wilson has made their community-owned Greenlight fiber network central to their economic development plan, a move that may forge a new approach for other communities with similar assets.

Revitalization Efforts

In 2008, when Wilson’s Greenlight community network first launched, the Federal Communications Commission ranked North Carolina last in the nation in percentage of households subscribing to at least a "basic broadband" service. Today Wilson offers free Wi-Fi downtown, schools and libraries are outfitted with high-quality connectivity, and a majority of households subscribe to the broadband service.

Home to over 50,000 residents, Wilson has had a diverse history of industries popping up and dissipating over the years. After deploying their Greenlight Community Broadband, they’ve leveraged new businesses and an entrepreneurial spirit that shows no sign of relenting.

Wilson is initially focusing development downtown. The local daily paper The Wilson Daily Times decided to refurbish an old building and move downtown. The city raised money to renovate an old theater into a cultural center, and an electrical components manufacturing company, Peak Demand, has invested $2.6 million to renovate an old tobacco processing plant.

A Shift From the Old

Wilson involves all community stakeholders to make this revitalization a success. They have worked closely with Barton College, a liberal arts university, and the local nursing school. The community is consciously trying to buy locally and many people meet to discuss how best to promote this.

Wilson’s economic development model has evolved alongside their broadband network and they credit much of their success to Greenlight's benefits. In years past, many towns looked to bolster their economy by attracting companies that offered a windfall of manufacturing jobs— an industrial-era dream. But Wilson is no longer fretting over the decline of large-scale manufacturing companies that once haunted rural America. Instead, they’ve embraced the evolution towards technology companies and entrepreneurial business.

Their community-centric economic development plan concentrates on improving their current assets, including financially restrained residents who are often on the fringe, unable to reap the benefits of innovation. Last year, in partnership with the department of Housing and Urban Development, Wilson began offering a discounted high-speed connection to public housing residents for $10 per month.

Simply put, if the town flourishes and the living standard improves, businesses will consider moving there and residents will be better equipped to succeed, according to city officials at the Gig East conference.

Community Networks Bolster Economic Development

The second annual Gig East Conference took place in Wilson, NC this year. The focus of the conference was technology and innovation. Susan Crawford, Professor at Harvard Law School, explained that Wilson has become an exemplary model for other cities in this regard.

San Francisco has been listening to Wilson… and is considering building a dark fiber network using revenue bonds and some form of public-private partnerships.

Crawford has spent her career traveling the world, investigating how communities incorporate new technologies into their economic development plans. She made the point that forward-thinking officials who embrace fiber show the most promise.

As stimulating as private investment can be, Crawford cautioned attendees to remain in control of the vital fiber infrastructure as Wilson has done.

Their interests may not necessarily align with the long-term interests of the city… So it is stewardship. The city has to think of itself as the steward of its public assets.

Working With Limitations

For the present, North Carolina communities that want to reproduce Wilson’s approach will have a harder time. As Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting wrote:

The big shame is that the North Carolina legislature passed a law to prohibit other communities in the state from following the Wilson model. Cities are no longer allowed to become retail ISPs in North Carolina. If they build fiber it has to be operated by somebody else – and we know that is a far harder model to make work. 

Nevertheless, Wilson can act as a proving ground for more counties and municipalities with publicly owned fiber networks. Perhaps their success will lead to more local choice in states where barriers now hold back local communities.

One only has to look at what’s happening in Wilson to understand that fiber is an important component these days for economic vitality. But fiber alone is not a guarantee for economic success. It takes a community-wide effort like the one in Wilson to take advantage of what fiber offers. Wilson still has a way to go, but you can feel the excitement in the community – and that is what makes any city a place where people want to live.

For an in-depth history on Wilson's Greenlight, download our 2012 report Carolina's Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet.

Tags: wilsonnorth carolinagreenlighteconomic developmentFTTHccg

Western North Carolina Residents: Take this Online Broadband Survey!

November 17, 2017

If you live in western North Carolina and struggle with the lack of quality Internet access, the Southwestern Commission — a council of local governments for the region’s seven westernmost counties — in cooperation with the MountainWest Partneship are urging residents to take this survey. Counties in the council include Haywood, Swain, Jackson, Macon, Graham, Cherokee, and Clay.

The goal is to quantify the demand for Internet regionally, focusing on individual counties as opposed to census blocks, in order to better determine accessibility issues. It’s an important process to show Internet providers that there is demand, debunking ISPs claim that rural demand for high-speed Internet doesn't justify the investment. Better data can also establish a foundation for future funding opportunities.

Sarah Thompson, the executive director of the council explained,

It’s really in my opinion one of the most important parts of the process. You’re basically showing [internet service providers] that there is demand, it’s showing even when there is service it’s subpar. In order to move forward with projects, we have to have that data to back up the need. To show that there are opportunities.

FCC’s Inaccurate Data Collection

Through the FCC’s form 477 data collection efforts, the Commission attempted to carry out these crucial first steps in showing aggregate demand and problematic broadband service. The data was compiled into the easily accessible National Broadband Map.

Data is collected from ISPs and it provides information to the FCC based on which census blocks ISPs serve. The problem is that this data exaggerates where coverage is available in rural areas where census blocks can be very large. Areas that may appear on the FCCs maps to be served or to be served with better connectivity are often in reality not served or served with Internet access much slower than FCC mapping indicates. Because state and federal entities typically award grants and loans to communities with the greatest need first, incorrect mapping eliminates rural communities from funding opportunities when they need it the most.

Not only that, but the FCC neglects to collect other important data on speeds and pricing. For years, broadband policy experts have pressed the FCC to require ISPs to provide the information to better assess rural costs.

A Collaborative Regional Effort

Beyond organizing the survey, the seven counties' respective broadband committees are focusing on whatever they must do to make it cheaper and easier for ISPs to serve their communities.

Thompson also explained that individual communities are learning more about funding models, ordinances and policies, and infrastructure.

The training is intended to add capacity to the region. Each county has a team of people educated on how to make this happen.

Representative Kevin Corbin, who works closely with the commission and sits on the Information Subcommittee of the House, has been exploring funding sources for local governments and their prospective broadband projects.

Corbin has ideas about public-private partnerships and utilizing existing infrastructure to extend last-mile connections, but “[i]n the meantime, the most important thing mountain residents can do, if they want better internet access, is take the survey,” says Corbin.

The survey will be open until the end of the calendar year and can be accessed here: http://mountainwest.baat-campaign.com/campaigns/master

Tags: surveynorth carolinaruralregionalfccmappingfundinghaywood county nc

Bring The Story Of Wilson And Pinetops To Your Community

November 16, 2017

The future of high-quality Internet access in Pinetops, North Carolina, is precarious. Nearby Wilson’s municipal fiber network, Greenlight, provides gigabit connectivity for now, but a series of federal level decisions could change the situation at any moment. Now the story of these two communities and their fight for local telecommunications authority has come to life in the film Do Not Pass Go. Local communities can schedule a screening of the documentary. Watch the trailer below.

A Story Worth Telling

Cullen Hoback’s film tells the story that made national news and that we’ve shared as events unfolded.

Wilson, North Carolina’s municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network has benefitted residents, businesses, and institutions in Wilson since 2008. Neighboring rural towns, including Pinetops, had asked Wilson to expand in order to obtain better Internet access but state law precluded Wilson from serving beyond county borders.

When Chattanooga decided to challenge Tennessee’s law that had a similar effect, Wilson joined the motion to the FCC in 2015. The Commission struck down both laws and Wilson took the opportunity to expand service to Pinetops, the small mountain town of about 1,400 people. Pinetops businesses and residents immediately felt the improvement with FTTH. They experienced economic development opportunities and municipal facilities functioned more efficiently.

In the summer of 2016, however, an appellate court reversed the FCC decision and Pinetops was scheduled to be cut off from the FTTH service it had come to depend on. Wilson provided free connectivity for a time to avoid breaking the law, but eventually, the state legislature passed a bill that will allow Greenlight to serve the tiny town—for now. If any private provider decides to enter the market in the community, Greenlight must leave. In other words, state lawmakers in North Carolina are legislating away competition in Pinetops.

Schedule A Screening In Your Community

Hoback’s documentary talks to the people who wonder each day what their Internet access future looks like. The story dives into the issue of local control, publicly owned networks, and community. You can schedule a screening by contacting Deb Socia from Next Century Cities. 

Check out the trailer here:

Do Not Pass Go from Hyrax Films on Vimeo.

Tags: wilsonpinetopsnorth carolinaFTTHfccvideogreenlightnext century citiesrural

Give To The Max Day! Support ILSR And Local Communities!

November 16, 2017

The Community Broadband Networks Team at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance invites you to lend a hand as we help build local economies in Minnesota and across the map. Today we’re participating in Minnesota's Give to the Max Day and we hope you’ll take a minute to contribute. Your donation allows us to assist local folks looking for ways to improve connectivity, but it goes even further.

Broadband And More

You're familiar with our broadband work, but the Institute for Local Self-Reliance also works with communities through our other initiatives. Our staff of policy and research experts investigate issues such as independent business, banking, energy, waste to wealth, composting, and the public good. We’ve been serving communities for more than 40 years.

ILSR champions local self-reliance, a strategy that underscores the need for humanly-scaled institutions and economies and the widest possible distribution of ownership. We work with citizens, activists, policymakers, and entrepreneurs to design policies that meet our needs. We want to make sure that the benefits of our political economy benefits all local citizens.

We need your help! Donate here and thanks for supporting our work.

 

Tags: institute for local self-reliancelocalstateevent

Lessons From the Nation's Oldest Open Access Fiber Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 279

November 15, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 279 - Russ Brethrower of the Grant County Public Utility District Open Access Fiber Network

Grant County's Public Utility District was, along with some nearby PUDs, among the very first deployers of Fiber-to-the-Home networks shortly after the turn of the millennium. And per Washington's law, they built an open access network that today has more than twenty service providers.

Grant County PUD Project Specialist Russ Brethrower joins us for Community Broadband Bits podcast 279, a live interview from the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta

We discuss the history of the network and other observations from Russ, who has more direct experience in these networks than the vast majority of us that regularly speculate on them. We also talk about the experiences of open access over 16 years and how they financed the network. 

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

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

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

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

Image of Deep Lake in Grant County © Steven Pavlov / http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Senapa, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: grant countygrant utility districtpublic utility districtruralhistoryelectricityutilitywashingtonfinancingelectrificationaudiobroadband bitspodcastopen accesscompetitionexpansion

OnLight Aurora: Ever Expanding Fiber Optic Network

November 14, 2017

On October 24, the Aurora, Illinois, City Council Finance Committee approved a $40,000 grant to OnLight Aurora to extend the city’s fiber optic network to River Street Plaza area commercial properties.

The City of Light And Dark Fiber

OnLight Aurora is the nonprofit ISP that leases publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure to serve the city’s municipal government, community anchor institutions (CAIs), two data centers (Bytegrid and CyrusOne) and local businesses.

Prior to OnLight Aurora’s network, the city’s previous network was a patchwork of varying speeds and capabilities. The network was old, unreliable for government employees, and expensive. In 2005-2006, city leaders estimated that Aurora was paying nearly $500,000 a year for leased line expenses to telecommunications providers. Now, the city of Aurora saves approximately $485,000 each year by utilizing their municipal fiber optic infrastructure.

The community spent approximately $7 million to construct the network between 2008 and 2011. Aurora initially financed the project with general obligation bonds and estimated payback at 10 years. In 2011, Aurora received a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation. The approximately $12 million FHWA grant financed the upgrades to 60 traffic signals, the installation of extra fiber strands, and the elimination of all remaining initial debt for the network.

In 2012, the city’s broadband task force formed OnLight Aurora to manage the network. Shortly after, the nonprofit received a $1 million Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge award from The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to spur job creation and expand the network further. They used the additional funds to help fund the costs of connecting customers and to reach more institutions such as healthcare facilities and business parks.

Extending The Network

The current network consists of over 60 miles of underground fiber including three self-healing rings. The OnLight Aurora’s network extends it's reach by connecting to the Kane County fiber optic network that was initially utilized to connect CAIs and now offers dark fiber connections to businesses and leasing to ISPs in select areas.

The new OnLight Aurora network extension will connect 14 tenant commercial spaces on the first floor of two buildings along South River Street to the city's fiber optic network. According to Bill Weit, who works in marketing for the city, only three of the 14 spaces are occupied and community leaders feel high-quality Internet infrastructure will make the spaces more desirable. The current extension does not plan to connect the fiber optic network to condominium residents in the two buildings.

Learn more about OnLight Aurora listen to Lisa’s 2014 conversation with Alderman Rick Mervine in episode 123 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: auroraonlight auroraillinoisexpansionnonprofitbusiness servicespublic savingstraffic lightsdark fiber

Community Broadband Media Roundup- November 13

November 13, 2017

California

Gigabit internet should be a universal utility in San Francisco, says city report by Colin Wood, StateScoop

 

Colorado

Despite Comcast's "misinformation campaign," Colorodans vote en masse to reject ban on municipal internet, Boing Boing

Sorry, Comcast: Voters say “yes” to city-run broadband in Colorado by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Colorado Voters Strike Down Comcast's Awful State Law by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

"I was very encouraged with the passage today, and particularly with the headwinds of incumbents trying to misinform the electorate," Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell said of CenturyLink and Comcast's behavior ahead of the vote. "And also, I was very disappointed in the (Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce) playing an active role in misinformation. I think there is some accountability that has to come out post-election."

Comcast has a lot to lose if municipal broadband takes off by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

"Evidence from other cities suggests that a real choice in broadband services could reduce Comcast's revenues by millions of dollars per month," the group, which advocates for municipal broadband projects, wrote in a [Community Broadband Networks’] policy brief. "Competition in Fort Collins would cost Comcast between $5.4 million and $22.8 million per year. In Seattle, robust competition would cost between $20 million and $84 million per year."

Nearly Half of Colorado Counties Have Formally Rejected a Comcast-Backed Law Restricting City-Run Internet by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

In addition to the 31 counties that have voted to overrule the state restrictions, dozens of municipalities in the state have also passed similar ballot measures. Including cities, towns, and counties, more than 100 communities in Colorado have pushed back against the 12-year-old prohibition, according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

19 more Colorado cities and counties vote in favor of city-owned internet, while Fort Collins approves $150 million to move forward by Tamara Chuang, The Denver Post

Fort Collins anti-broadband campaign spends $451,000 by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Fort Collins voters say yes to broadband by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Voters de-Bruce, OK broadband and pot taxes by Charles Ashby, The Daily Sentinel

 

Maryland

Editorial: Broadband an essential part of doing business, Carroll County Times

 

Missouri

Gower gaining broadband internet services by Ray Scherer, News-Press Now

By mid-2018, Gower, Missouri, will start witnessing the many benefits of a full range of broadband internet services.

The community is currently in the midst of a transformation that will deliver a modernized fiber-optic internet system. A partnership with United Fiber, a subsidiary of United Electric Cooperative, is bringing the project to fruition.

 

New Mexico

Community-led networks democratize web by Mark Buell, Albuquerque Journal

 

Pennsylvania

Stuck on slow, Pennsylvania renews push for rural broadband by Michael Rubinkam, The Seattle Times

 

Washington

Comcast could lose $84M in Seattle from muni broadband, new report says by Daniel Frankel, Fierce Cable

 

West Virginia

USDA invests $16 million in rural broadband infrastructure for James Valley Cooperative Telephone Company, Farm Forum

 

General

Comcast wins one, loses one on muni broadband by Daniel Frankel, Fierce Cable

T-Mobile and Sprint officially end merger talks by Andrew Liptak, The Verge

An amateur sleuth dug up at least one dead critic of net neutrality on the FCC website by Michael J. Coran, Quartz

Activists target Comcast over municipal broadband in Seattle, Colorado by Bob Fernandez, The Inquirer

If it passes, Fort Collins officials believe, they could advance the municipal broadband network that its supporters say would cost $150 million and halve prices for 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) service to $70 a month from $150, a local official said.

“Comcast has pretty much cornered the high-end of the [broadband] market and CenturyLink has the low end because they are relying on DSL technology,” Glen Akins, a leader in the Fort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee, said Monday.

How Verizon and Comcast are working to ensure states don’t pass their own net neutrality bills By Brian Fung, The Washington Post

Comcast and Verizon have both asked telecom regulators to make clear that the FCC's new policy on net neutrality — which could be put to a vote as early as next month — will preempt state and local regulations that might read differently. The request marks the industry's latest step to weaken federal rules that regulate broadband companies like legacy telephone companies.

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 278

November 13, 2017

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 278. Christopher Mitchell interviews Dublin, Ohio's City Manager Dana McDaniel to lear more about DubLink and intelligent communities. Listen to this episode here.

Dana McDaniel: Intelligent communities are born out of crisis typically or opportunity our crisis was really born more out of the opportunity side. But it was still a crisis.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 278 of the community broadband pit's podcast from the Institute for local self-reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzales. Christopher recently spoke at an event in Dublin, Ohio, hosted by the Global Institute for the Study of the intelligent community. While he was there he spoke with Dublin City Manager Dana McDaniel about the event and, of course, the community's municipal fiber network that has spurred economic development and provided so many other benefits. During their conversation they discussed the institute's work and their discoveries. Now here's Christopher and Dana McDaniel.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bid's podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for local self-reliance and I'm on site in Dublin Ohio talking with Dana McDaniel city manager of Dublin Ohio and host of The Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community. Welcome to the show.

Dana McDaniel: Well thanks Chris thanks for having me and thanks for being with us.

Christopher Mitchell: It's nice to do the interview after my presentation after I have seen a bit since I have a better sense of what's going on here and it's pretty impressive. Well thanks. Where are we Where's Dublin for people who have never been here and what's it like.

Dana McDaniel: OK well Dublin Ohio is a suburb of Columbus and I think most people probably know Columbus is central to the state of Ohio. And of course--

Christopher Mitchell: Both figuratively and physically

Dana McDaniel: As you go and yeah in a lot of ways that's very true. Yes so we're a suburb of Columbus on the northwest side. We have a population of about 47,000 people are daytime population is closer to 70,000. We have a lot of businesses we have nearly 4,000 businesses in our community and several which are corporate headquarter types so. So we import more jobs than we export which is a good thing.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. It seems like a lot of growing industries here we're here at Ohio University which is not the Ohio State University for people who might be confused but at Ohio University where there's a lot of thinking about the future it looks like.

Dana McDaniel: Right, well we're fortunate to have this Ohio University, a satellite campus. The main campus is in Athens, Ohio, and we're sitting on the Ohio University campus. But yes we are pretty close as well to the the Ohio State University, and it's as you know it's a very large universe you have a great partnership with them as well. So Ohio University is establishing a satellite campus here and has plans for growth.

Christopher Mitchell: So well we're going to talk about DubLink in a second which is the wonderful underground conduit system that you've developed over many years.

Christopher Mitchell: But I wanted to first get a better sense of what -- what's an intelligent community? And what's the institute doing?

Dana McDaniel: Right, so the intelligent community as part of the Intelligent Community Forum which was founded by three members. It is a New York City think tank is it is a way to look at it but they're globally connected.

Dana McDaniel: They have a movement which I which is very much a global movement. It's -- it's really at its core our principles of what they and the folks who participate with them consider to comprise an intelligent community and there are certain indicators that they use as benchmarks so one is broadband meaning, you know, what is the broadband infrastructure in your community the knowledge workforce that leverages off of that. What innovation do you bring to bear relative to those and participate in the global economy, the global broadband economy, and then the others indicators would include digital equity. And that is to what extent can everyone in your community access and participate in this broadband economy and then sustainability, meaning, how is our world going to absorb the waste that we generate? and strike that balance and then the last is advocacy and that is how do you as a community share your story.

Dana McDaniel: And I think the key there is how do you share it so that you're helping others. But equally you're learning from those people that you're trying to help as well and that's that's a lot of what this institute is about. There were two institutes. Initially one out of Mississippi State Cooperative Extension Service that had a real focus on the rural imperative and how broadband affects rural communities. And then another one that was started in Ohio at a Walsh University in northeast Ohio and then that has relocated to Dublin. And we've been fortunate to pick up on all the good work that Walsh did and in trying to carry that forward. The institute really is -- we are a host. It's not a brick and mortar thing. It's really a dialogue and a collaboration. And how do we bring communities together to talk about this thing of -- this notion of the Intelligent community and the vision of the Institute which was actually created by all of its participating members is toward an intelligent Ohio.

Dana McDaniel: So how can we as a state, and with the regions within the state become more intelligent in this concept of the intelligent community.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we are talking about this morning here at this this gathering that you're having today was how you've traveled all over the state and are working with communities all over the state and so we're a big fan of that at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance as local organizing and trying to like help these different communities that are in proximity to each other organized locally along similar lines. Tell us a little bit about that.

Speaker 8: Yeah I think Chris you know in listening to your presentation and getting to know you this morning a lot better I think our missions are very aligned. You know I think we are about trying to help local communities to better their positioning within the world, you know, globally, by leveraging this thing of broadband. Whether that's that physical infrastructure of broadband or how you leverages your access to it but you get to make sure you have access to it right which is certainly a great mission that you all have. And to your to your question about kind of getting this word out around Ohio we have an institute taken the show on the road, we call it, so it's been the ICF road show the institute road show to the five regions of the state central Ohio and of course north as you can imagine north northwest northeast south east southwest.

Speaker 8: And we we went around and talked about the intelligent community movement and what that meant. Again it's not about promoting the city of Dublin at all. It's about the movement. And I think we we really we had good attendance at all those and a lot of cities, even providers -- the industry providers, attended wanting to know what that was about. And I had great dialogue and all those different regions and then we have circled back to the North West region and the southeast region. And I think there's great momentum and if you think about Ohio and the southeast region it is more rural.

Dana McDaniel: Northwest can be a little bit more rural although although there are certainly some some great cities in both those regions but that rural concept seems to play there.

Speaker 8: And how do we help help with that. So that's been a big focus Northeast Ohio is much more dense population wise and they're doing a lot of innovative things Same with Southwest Ohio's more dense. And of course central Ohio is actually the more populated region within the state. So I think our twist has become more rural with this and trying to help other cities and communities as best we can. Not that we have the answers. Again this is about us learning as much -- the things that we brought back to Dublin in just hearing and talking as it has been phenomenal for us.

Speaker 9: Yeah I definitely hear you on that. I mean are you just giving this presentation today that I give I learned a lot in the Q&A and also just as I was thinking about things the audience might find interesting about ability to talk and listen I think is something more people should think actively about. But let me ask you one of the things I feel like an intelligent community exists in juxtaposition to might be a smart community. And often I think we think about smart communities as the largest cities and you're talking about intelligent smaller communities. So tell me a little bit more about what's intelligent and also how that may apply to smaller cities as opposed to just the largest ones that are managing traffic congestion and things like that.

Dana McDaniel: You know you have this big movement now in smart cities and that's a huge thing here in Ohio and especially in central Ohio with some of the grant money that's come down from from U.S. Department Transportation on Smart Cities initiatives. But but not to confuse the two. The the intelligent community really differentiates between the two. In fact, the intelligent community forum and movement really started with smart cities back in the 90s. I believe it was with that vernacular and use. But the idea is smart cities initiatives help cities to work more efficiently whereas intelligent communities help communities to be better communities overall -- is more comprehensive. So I love the question about the small cities because I use this like when I talk about the intelligent community I have a slide and it shows Mitchell, South Dakota, and I can't remember their population.

Dana McDaniel: It's like less than 20,000 home of the Corn Palace. I see and every time I bring this up and I have a picture of the Corn Palace I ask people how many people been in the Corn Palace. Every time I've done this presentation someone in the room was raised their hand which I think is just fascinating and then -- And then I have a picture of Taipei City, Taiwan, which has a population of six million. Both these cities were labeled as top seven communities in the world at the same time. Right. So so what are their stories. Well you know you can imagine what type you know what Taipei's is right. I mean it's huge city it's it's big stuff going on. And when you think about Taiwan and what their wonderful cities do I mean they're all over the place with what they can do and the capacity you think of Mitchell South Dakota. You know we we feel that intelligent communities are born out of crisis typically or opportunity. So what was their crisis and I don't want to do them an injustice. But generally what the crux of it is I took it was they had the Corn Palace but that represented who they were they were an agricultural community based in the corn industry.

Dana McDaniel: Obviously agricultural industry is high tech but they like many of us were losing their youth to other cities. So they wanted to take a look at how do they reposition themselves in this global market in this global world and economy and really focused on the knowledge worker and how do they bring knowledge workers and retain them and or attract them in Mitchell, South Dakota, and it is a great story about how they achieve that and some of it was through broadband and connectivity and the ability to participate in a broadband economy. They have a beautiful story and as it were and not only a story but results and it landed them as one of the top seven communities in the world as judged and determined by the Intelligent Community Forum. But one thing I would like people to understand is that every year they have this, we tease and call it a beauty contest. But it's -- but it is an idea of measuring yourself against these benchmarks these indicators in the story against that and what difference it's made.

Dana McDaniel: Well there are about 400 cities a year from across the world that apply for this recognition and from Mitchell, South Dakota, to be recognized like that is significant. So back to your question that's what applies to small communities or it does apply to small communities as much as it does the very large communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Well it is wonderful to see an organization take seriously the large and the small because we were just watching your presentation this morning about the mid-size and smaller cities in Ohio and how people might think when you hear Rust Belt you might think Cleveland, Cincinnati. I often think of a place in Pennsylvania. But there's a number of other areas that aren't doing as well when actually Cleveland and Cincinnati are doing better than people might assume. It's the mid-size and smaller cities. I think they're almost always passed over and ignored.

Dana McDaniel: Right. And you know that that whole Rust Belt image that we've all been trying to shake. Certainly we went through the rusting of it all that we were really tried to reposition ourselves as the trust built. And it's a very different economy than it was back in the day I loved the -- I wish folks could have seen this and maybe you'll be able to show the slide somehow someday. But they showed Allentown Pennsylvania

Christopher Mitchell: Where I was born.

Dana McDaniel: Is that right? Why. You know what came to mind was Billy Joel is downtown Allentown which I love. And in that story that he told in that song but yet Allen Townes population has just been re-surging compared to all those other former Rust Belt cities although many of those are doing well too. But I just thought that was really cool when you think about that when all that long ago I was in the 80s right when that song came out. And in telling that story and here they are my family is one of the ones that left in the early 90s.

Christopher Mitchell: Is that right. And a Minnesota boy I love it there. Let me let me turn back to Dublin and let's talk about the doublings. Just a brief description of what it is.

Dana McDaniel: Yes so when you think about crisis our crisis was really born out of the opportunity side. But it was still a crisis nonetheless. So I've been around the city now for 29 years so I always bring that up. But I'm an old guy now but I've been here that long but back in the mid-90s if you think about the Telecommunications Act of 96 at that time we were one of the fastest growing cities in Ohio if not in the country at that time and we had just done$70 million of improvements in some roadway. And we had these office buildings coming out of the ground.

Dana McDaniel: And then we had to tell the deregulation of the telecommunications industry and all we could envision was our new roads being cut up over and over. So at the time it was crisis to protect our investment in the right of way because we were afraid they were going to build out their customers one customer at a time which meant how many cuts in the street and so it was a right of way management initiative initially.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who aren't aware the cut is a problem with just aesthetics?

Dana McDaniel: Well it's part of that we had put in this new road system and I could take you to that one road and we've grown so much since then but that one significant branch road is called Boulevard that we did in front of our legacy office parks which you know were in the process of reinventing those two now. But if you think about that at that time we built this new road beautiful roads system beautifully landscaped and yeah we could just picture this thing being cut up and then when you're cutting up your roads you're degrading the integrity of the road and your investment in your public infrastructure has its lifecycle is less every time you cut that pavement. So and at the time boring technology wasn't what it is today we envision road cuts and trenches and all that so. So what we want to do is protect us. We're going to do a right of way management policy which was later adopted really on a regional basis and then we franchised out a conduit system which actually an intern of mine at the time named it DubLink and it was a conduit system.

Speaker 10: And then what happened later a couple of years after that we had the telecom bust and we had companies you know we had not we but the industry had warehouses full of full of fiber sitting unused because of the bust. So the company who put in the conduits system. So the official company and now and then doublings LLC and then they have another subsidiary called Columbus FiberNet where they built we had this conduit system known as DubLink was about 25 miles long and then they put in another hundred miles of that around the whole region where they came to us and said look for dimes on the dollar we can sell you fiber optics.

Dana McDaniel: So would you like to buy fiber optics Well in exchange for letting them build the conduit system. We've got one pipe. So then we said okay for $3.2 million, we've got 125 miles of fiber optics in that one pipe that we owned. And from that we started learning the value of how to interconnect buildings as an economic development tool. We learned to interconnect our own buildings for institutional use and the cost avoidance that we experienced by running our own fiber optic system for our own facilities. And then later we learned the value of subleasing dark fiber. So I'll give you though the so-what did that story sort at the end of the day I can actually attach over 15,000 jobs, attracted retained or expanded in the city of Dublin directly tied to that fiber system. Our lease revenues over the course of those lease agreements will bring us and nearly $3 million. And then our cost avoidance per year is approaching about $200,000 a year times almost 20 years. We've been doing that add all that up. The income tax we get off of those jobs relative the economic development portion of that. We've got about at this point about five and a half approaching $6 million in the system. Our return on investment is over $40 million.

Christopher Mitchell: That doesn't even begin to account from sure efficiencies you've seen as a local government

Dana McDaniel: You can't even quantify that really at this point but there's a lot of them. So that's a great story of crisis borne out and just learning and really the Institute and the ICF movement involvement in that. The ICF indicators really became a context by which then we did economic development and how we did it and how we needed to connect in and function as a city in this global economy.

Dana McDaniel: But then the institute piece of this is we've spent the last 20 years learning this stuff. What a shame for not sharing our lessons -- not that we have all the answers because we're learning. The other thing I'll add to that in the context of us having that system that system is only in our commercial area so it's not in our residential area and we're not running a fiber optic system to all of our residents. Now we are providing 100 gigabit backbone now access to businesses who want to access it. We have we have established this as a research backbone. We're connected into the Ohio Supercomputer Center and in the Ohio Supercomputer [Center] we have a National Science Foundation GENI Rack. So we have companies accessing it for research as well as to the other reasons I told you but we're also fortunate and I don't want to miss this point that we have multiple providers in town. So I have as many as three providers competing in our residential areas and we have many more than that competing in a high density commercial area. So we're fortunate to have that.

Christopher Mitchell: Even though the conduit doesn't go throughout all of the residential areas it has lowered the cost of investment for competing firms so they've invested more themselves because the conduit has gotten them closer to the neighborhoods I'm guessing.

Dana McDaniel: I think there's some truth to that. In the case of some of those especially those who are serving the commercial area because they could come in and lease conduit and not have to engineer it not have to build it themselves. They could lease it. You know some would argue we haven't changed the price on that leasing since it was built in the late 90s, and some would argue well that's that's that's expensive and some are incumbents who just don't want to be in it. But there are a number of those who want to be in it and have deployed in the other conduits and not to mention those who are leasing off of us and all of that by the way is tied into a local -- to local data centers and then in regional data centers as well. So we have a presence in all these data centers so that really helps us we can help facilitate connecting individual companies no matter how big or small you are into a data center where you can cross connect and pick and choose your provider.

Christopher Mitchell: So just to make sure I have a clear picture there is a firm called DubLink and they have a bunch of conduit within that conduit. You have one can do it with a lot of fiber and you can leave that out but you're also making other services available as well.

Dana McDaniel: Correct so we can lease that I split that fiber bundle into into thirds. So a third of it is institutional use which we use for ourselves and will allow other governmental entities to access it as an example word. We're deploying a 100 gigabit fiber optic right now and connecting up all of Dublin City schools. So there'll be a hundred gigabit backbone our Washington Township who overlays us and provides fire service they're connected to it. We're opening up this new US 33 corridor autonomous and connected vehicle court or in cooperation with the city of Marysville and Union County to our north and west with players like Honda and the Ohio State University the Transportation Research Center the U.S. DOT Ohio Department Transportation. We're building a new backbone up there but it's connecting back into our backbone and our data center so that's gives you an idea of the institutional use we sublease.

Dana McDaniel: Like I said in any other thing we do. The other third of that. So that one third is institutional use one third is is is just dark fiber leasing and the other third is what I call economic development and we actually hand off fiber strands to companies. So as an example we have a regional hospital system that has multiple facilities throughout central Ohio. Their entire system operates on our backbone and then we have some of our other corporate entities in Dublin who may have multiple facilities in Dublin or multiple facilities in the region and they operate on our backbone. And by doing that they can experience the cost avoidance model. So there's one other sort of twist to that. And while we've allocated fiber to these larger companies you know became apparent to us that the small company the small medium sized business who keeps their server in the broom closet like I did as a city can actually get their server down the street into an M Plus 2 environment.

Dana McDaniel: They can go down if they want to see the lights blinking on the server I call it and not to make fun of I.T. folks but I tease him about that. They can go down the street and see it it doesn't have to be in the broom closet and it's in this great environment. So we have gotten into extending in the commercial district fiber optics from our backbone into buildings into multi-tenant buildings and then positioned ourselves as a sort of a middleman if you will that that can backhaul the data or the Internet service back to the data center where the small business can come into a data center they can put their server in that data center.

Dana McDaniel: So we give them commercial real estate space if you will for their server in that local data center. And when that's in there they can cross connect and pick from them. I think the numbers up to 13 different providers. So imagine the power of being able to leverage 13 different providers you know you can switch providers routinely If you want. And then we have the ability to crank that up on a hundred gigabit capacity pipe that we have we actually have 100 gig ability there. And so we can push that out to the small and medium sized businesses so it works well for us because we have a lot of R&D companies in town who really want to access that. So we're we're we're in the process of leveraging all of that now that's a long story Chris but that's how all these pieces and parts are working together.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I mean that's that's the bit about history is the longer you go the more you have to. It's hard -- one last question that I'm curious about is expansion. How you prioritize where to expand if you had any challenges with city council not wanting to reinvest or questioning how to reinvest.

Dana McDaniel: Tell you our city council is only one way to describe it. And this goes back now for multiple city councils back into the '90s. All I can say about our council says they get it they just get it now was proof of concept and I have to give them credit they took they took a leap of faith back in the day when we had the opportunity. But I think we saw the opportunity we were able to explain how to leverage it for our own use and then the opportunity to leverage it for other uses came along and you know we strike a tough balance between what what is our role as a city and what is the role of the industry and try to play together well with them. Sometimes that goes well sometimes not so well. But we we work at it.

Dana McDaniel: Now I've talked a lot about the system being available in our commercial area. We have expanded into the residential areas because we're hooking up our schools it's not been our intent to go out and serve the residential area. But what I will tell you I find interesting as we survey our our community every other year, every third year and have been doing that now for a lot of years and we put a battery of questions in there about their broadband service and what we've seen over time and these snapshots of the survey is that their satisfaction rate with their upload download speeds is decreasing. And while it's still relatively good you can see that falling off. Well in this last year, our Chief Information Officer Doug McCollough started engaging some some residents who came to us telling us they were not satisfied with their with their service in the residential areas so we have been having a dialogue with them about why is that.

Dana McDaniel: What does that mean. How can we facilitate the dialogue with the industry to try to make that concern known. So we're having we're in a process of that dialogue. So it's going to be interesting to see where that goes and where that takes us. I think it's important you know we have to address that. You know we talk about the change of the worker. You know the worker is going to change and we need to be supportive of that and we have a lot of people in our city as I'm sure many other cities do that work out of their home. They need that high level service. We've got to make sure it's there.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I'll say the hotel I stayed in last night I'm guessing is near doubling. The AC hotel and the Internet speed was one of the best I've seen it was not as good as the hotel in the city of Chattanooga owns and pumps up an incredible way. But it was I think the second or third best hotel I've stayed up for Internet access. So you're doing something right.

Dana McDaniel: Well by the way you mentioned Chattanooga quite a few times this morning and you know Chattanooga is an ICF community and they were a top seven community when we were. And I would you know Chattanooga really the former mayor there really embraced the ICF movement and I think it I think it had somewhat to do, or helpful with, and helped to inform a lot of what they're doing with their broadband but yeah that they're an incredible case of how to leverage that. And they've done a great job.

Christopher Mitchell: Alright. Well thank you so much for your time today. Thanks for inviting me to get a sense of what it's like here. It's been a great time.

Dana McDaniel: Well it's been great having you. And we learned a lot from you today and hope you'll come back and join us again. Oh I'm pretty sure I will. That

Lisa Gonzalez: was Christopher talking with Dana McDaniel about DubLink in Dublin, Ohio, and the Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community. Be sure to check out MuniNetworks for more on Dublin and DubLink. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. E-mail us at podcasts@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other

ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 278 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 277

November 13, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 277 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Luis Reyes from Kit Carson Electric Cooperative joins the show to explain how electric cooperatives are solving the digital divide in rural America. Listen to this episode here.

Luis Reyes: People trust co-ops. They trust Electric co-ops. They've been - been around since the mid 30s. I think there was a lot of faith that we could pull this off and make it as reliable as we made the electric system.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 277 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Rural New Mexico has some of the most scenic landscape in the U.S. It also presents some of the most difficult challenges in getting its widely dispersed population connected with high quality connectivity. The Kit Carson Electric Cooperative it's changing the situation in the north central area of the state. For several years now they've been connecting people in the region with fiber to the home improving connectivity for residents, businesses, and local entities. This week we hear more about the project from Luis Reyes CEO of Kit Carson who gives us a history of the project and how high quality Internet access is benefiting the region. Now, here's Christopher and Luis.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today I'm speaking with Luis Reyes the CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. Welcome to the show, Luis.

Luis Reyes: Thanks Chris. I'm happy to talk to you.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I'm excited to talk to you as well. We've we've been covering a lot of the electric cooperatives getting into fiber networks. You've been doing this longer than many. We've interviewed a few others but I think this is incredibly important for rural America. Maybe start by telling us a little bit about Kit Carson. Where are you located and what's the geography around your area?

Luis Reyes: So Chris, Kit Carson is located in north central New Mexico. So Taos being the center of our system. We sit right in the middle of a mountain range of Sangre de Cristo Mountains which is a spur of the Rocky Mountains.

Christopher Mitchell: It's so beautiful. I've been up, and I've been up in that area a little bit up in Colorado where the great Sander's National Park is. It's -- those are wonderful mountains.

Luis Reyes: You know it is and you've caught us at the beginning of fall and our first snow. So you know Taos sits at about 7000 feet and we rise up to 13000 we have the highest peaks in New Mexico here. And so we have very mountainous territory we do go out into some plains, but it's really a high desert. Carson also has about 30000 members and operates about 2900 miles of both electric and fiber lines today.

Christopher Mitchell: And how has the Internet access before you started for most of your ratepayer members.

Luis Reyes: You know prior to Kit Carson getting into into broadband very very spotty. You know you had certain areas that had access that is really DSL access faster speeds you could probably get into house unless you were a business was probably 3 Mbps if that were in the rural areas. There are people who didn't have access to to any Internet or broadband services unless there was a wireless or satellite solution. So it was one thing that was really keeping the community behind in a lot of aspects until our membership decided that Kit Carson should fully get into a broadband company and offer very fast speeds well.

Christopher Mitchell: And when you decided to do that you were blessed with one of the rare fiber to the home both combination grants and loans from the stimulus projects to expand broadband. Tell us a little bit about how you decided to go into that and and what happened there.

Luis Reyes: So since about 2000 Kit Carson has been a fixed wireless broadband company so we did offer some fixed wireless products to certain areas in probably the mid 2000s we started to install fiber on our electric lines in concert with with building electric facilities that got us probably 100 miles of fiber. When the stimulus came aboard we actually tried, Chris, tmhree different times to build a fiber network that would first enable better services or more services for our electric infrastructure and really broadband was kind of going to be a byproduct at the end we lost to around and then at the end or third round we actually won the $64 million award. $44 [million] was a grant. $19 [million] was a loan to build out a fiber to the home network which we did. So we've built out about 2500 miles of backbone or transmission.

Luis Reyes: And we have about 7000 drops of fiber to the home and we continue to build it. A lot of this is just based on the membership wanting us to get into high speed services and offer opportunities that they were getting with the current providers in the area.

Christopher Mitchell: When I talked to electric utilities that are getting in to some of the fiber networks, one of the things I sometimes get a sense of is that this is so much more important than just broadband or that broadband is so much more important than people realize for an electric utility because as I understand it you're in a rural service territory. You seem to clean D-Minn. on the electric side and increasing mandates to do new investment in generation for renewable or other kinds of requirements that could really put you in a difficult position. So I'm curious to what extent the building the broadband network was in some ways an existential question for the utility as a whole.

Luis Reyes: If you look forward, I do think that electric and communication networks are already kind of being intertwined and I think moving forward with some of the issues that you brought up we have declining energy sales. We have people that are putting our members putting generation resources behind the meter whether its solar panels on the roof, their own wind turbines, with us putting our own solar fleet we are going to have to create what was conventionally a one way highway electricity you know we get it and we deliver to home to really a two way communication to be able to accommodate those members who want to sell energy to us and be able to manage it. We also and we have to manage real time because electricity for all intents and purposes is kind of on the spot usage. There is going to be storage in the future. But we were not thinking that way.

Luis Reyes: Everything with electricity is real time and two-way. I also think that electric co-ops or utilities are going to morph into more service based organizations in which we can have better control water heaters, thermostats, water pumps, stuff that we do now that we probably will have to do real time went forward. The fiber network is going to enable us to communicate with any device with the member and make decisions on which is the best way to handle the electricity that day with the idea of us putting solar arrays you know we have a plant become 100 percent solar by 2022. We're going to have to manage probably 35 different arrays real time to determine what's the best use of those arrays on that given day. And then as we integrate battery storage and just general operations of the electric utility, knowing where the outages are, you know, getting there sooner is going to require two way communications.

Luis Reyes: So it's it's actually as much a putting fiber is as much a function of optimizing our electric grid and giving our members options for power supply. It's as important as getting bandwidth and getting broadband to the home.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we've seen in a lot of these co-op territories is declining population. And I'm curious,bBuilding the broadband network are you seeing a change in terms of people where you're seeing either population growth or stabilization.

Luis Reyes: We do see it stabilizing because now we have some true broadband speeds. I mean our system is capable of symmetrical speeds. Give you examples, Chris, our basic package is 40 up 40 down and 100 hundred for businesses. So it's and it's scalable. So there's not an issue with speed. So what we see is a lot of home businesses now starting to to rise. Graphic designers that can live here in kind of a beautiful rural setting but they send their work to the coasts. We see a lot of day traders because of the bandwidth being able to work from home. So we see a stabilization. People aren't leaving. There's actually been about a half percent growth in the last couple of years of population. We've seen more home businesses start to operate that are -- that need a broadband connection and we are getting more inquiries on small startups that are broadband based I would like to set up a small four to eight person business here because of the quality of life but send their work out of state.

Luis Reyes: So we have started to see some of the benefits of having a robust broadband connection that passes every home and business we serve.

Christopher Mitchell: You mentioned that your membership was enthusiastic about taking this on and obviously you had experience with the wireless and doing some of the fiber yourself before you decided to go to every home. I'm curious how has the reception been now that people actually have the option to taking service will kind of take rate or are you seeing.

Luis Reyes: So we have about a 70 percent take rate are our biggest issue now is we are able to hook up people fast enough. We have about 7000 drops probably 60 500 connected. We probably have another 65 to 7000 on a waiting list. It really has been one of those things where we thought we were going to be successful by saying we are going to hit 45 percent penetration for these great services. We've missed that mark almost by by half. And so that's been our biggest obstacle is hooking up people fast enough. And what really has helped is first people trust co-ops they trust electric co-ops have been been around since the mid 30s and so we reliable we got that same type of reception when we went Telecom. I think there was a lot of a lot of faith that we could pull this off to make it as reliable as we made the electric systems in terms of word of mouth Chris.

Luis Reyes: Never gets it how sudden it can be as simple as I get Netflix and its not streaming. The neighbor calls us and says I want one my neighbor has. And so it really has been an explosive business.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah that's something that I've seen as well it's almost viral in terms of how it spreads and we of course saw that with electricity as well when the co-ops were being created. People had trouble visualizing it until they saw it and then they recognized how important it was. Now one of the things you said about the challenge of hooking people up really resonates. And let me paint a little picture based on interviews I've done with other folks both municipal networks and private companies. The challenge of hooking people up is often one of managing the installers and one of the things I've seen is that it's hard to attract high quality people that are going to be representing your business your co-operative and they're going to people's homes and they're signing them up and there's just a lot of management challenges around that and getting the right people and keeping them on getting rid of the people that are not as good at it. Do you have any lessons learned or things that you've adjusted in the course of trying to manage that.

Luis Reyes: I think one of the lessons learned and I guess maybe it comes from the perspective of electric is not really a competitive market. And we train our linemen and since we're the only show in town there's longevity with our linemen where we we're in a competitive market on the telecom side the broadband side. I mean we still have competitors like the incumbent carriers and other Wi-Fi companies. And so once we train someone you have to make sure we compensate them and take them so they don't jump to the other company. That's one of the lessons learned is making sure that we get people that just aren't capable but actually have some loyalty and then we we as a company make sure we have the incentives for them to stay. The other thing that we learned is once we get into a home, the customer the member expects us to basically fix almost everything that is connectable.

Luis Reyes: So you you know you said yeah you said some time to say OK I'm going to get your router going. I mean we get your broadband going and I'm out the door. And you know an hour later they wanted a couple of TVs and they want the iPad to be hooked up. We're learning how to address those type of issues. And that goes to time management because all that happens and Chris is an hour an hour late to the next appointment and then you compound that by we probably have 10 to 12 crews out every single day. You just end up having a backlog by trying to do too much customer service. So really it's trying to find that balance of what we should be doing for the customer and then what someone else should be or how do we educate customers that that's kind of not what we want to do

Luis Reyes: and here's another firm that can do that for you. So I think those are the major things that we have learned. I think the other thing that I've learned more maybe from a personal basis running both an electric and broadband is always taught that electric was king right if you lost electricity kind of the world stops. That's not true. If you lose electricity I think there is a perception from our members that we'll fix that. You know it may take time but the corporate power crews out will fix it. If you lose your broadband it's kind of the end of the world. It's you can't do without your router working you can't do without getting to the Internet. So it's made us change our mindset of how do we properly serve our members to make sure that their expectations of having basically the 5-9 over broadband can be accomplished.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I can imagine that. I'm trying to think psychologically. I've I've run into this a little bit with some of the utilities up in Washington state where after a major fire they were talking to people and saying you know it's going to last a week or two to get your electricity back up and people were saying Yeah yeah yeah whatever when are you going to get my fiber back up. I suspect those people running on generators or some of their own solar because of course without electricity you do not have the ability to use a lot of devices. But I suspect that you know when the fiber goes out and your electricity is still on you're like oh I could use a TV but it's not working, so your life continues more normally. Perhaps you just have a different psychological reaction to it.

Luis Reyes: Exactly and I think what would happen is we're so used now to have cut the cord and being connected. One of the big one of the big drivers for ski areas now resorts is kind of activity. So we surf for ski areas. We meet with them you'd think that when they're big the biggest drivers are as reliable electricity.. Well they have backup generators and that kind of stuff. At the end when they do surveys the biggest issue guests want is to be connected and I don't know if you've ever watched people in resorts are coming off the ski areas doing the selfies as they're coming down a hill. But that's become kind of the norm kind of activity and then fast connectivity because people were kind of in that Snapchat, Facebook era that you know the minute you snap a picture or a selfie you need a post-it and you need a connection.

Luis Reyes: So. So your friends in the rest of the world really are seeing how much fun you have. And I think that's the kind of mindset now as the fiber provider we have to get into is people are expecting just not fast speeds but fast reactions to the devices that are connected to the Internet so that the world can kind of enjoy what they're -- they're living at that moment where you can have backup electricity but you can have backup Internet. Exactly. You get it right we'll persevere if the electricity goes out for a couple hours. But you know and you can notice that when someone can get a signal on a cell phone, and that's important because we have fiber going to cell towers to get these 4G services so you do need fiber. People really don't know what to do without being connected to the phone. They'll move around looking for a signal. So it is actually pretty interesting to just watch people and how fast Internet has changed basically their behavior.

Christopher Mitchell: Also one of the hopes that I think we have in terms of expanding high quality rural access isn't just co-ops like yours that have done it yourself. But the ability to expand and and help other co-ops. Looks like you're starting to work with Continental Divide Electric Cooperatives to help them expand. I'm sure that improves your business case was kind of a win win. What's going on there.

Luis Reyes: Rural areas generally aren't very unique from each other in the sense that they generally lack the same type of services. So as we get into it the community of Grants, New Mexico, where Continental Divide is located probably about 200 miles from Taos. Their members desire the same type of speeds that we're getting and they like the co-operative model where they had to say. So we worked out a deal with Continental divide where we're using our head and our design and replicating it with the help of good engineers in Continental Divide. So we collect all the traffic we help and with design, material construction, to enable our community to get high speed. So you have co-ops helping co-ops enabling rural customers to get high speed. Our first customer, Continental's first customer in that area, was the local bank that needed basically redundant feeds. So the bank had a primary speed and wanted a secondary high-speed.

Luis Reyes: We've been successful in making Continental's the primary speed and the incumbent the secondary kind of realizing the same issues we have is through word of mouth. Now they have waiting list the people who want to be connected and Chris for the same reasons. It's just not entertainment. It's for economic development. It's to support any broadband based businesses as simple as getting a credit card you know credit card machine they're working with the local schools. So it actually has been probably one of the more gratifying projects we've done because what we set out to do initially is create a model that could be replicated at other co-ops and other rural communities. And that started to happen with a co-op that's about 200 miles from us.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let me ask you is a closing question have you had in the incredible reactions from many of your members in terms of how excited they are how this has changed their lives. You'd like to share with us.

Luis Reyes: Yeah I mean we've had people that really had moved to town for the quality lives and we're professionals. So I mentioned early graphic designers that actually lived at the base of the wilderness and were about to leave and go back to Los Angeles where it was heavily populated a lot of smog. And you were basically a number we made them our first customer and they've been able now to get that quality you actually want it get the work in the morning to do their graphic design. They hike in the afternoon and they become big advocates. Another kind of feel good story is we have a branch of SMU University here in the mountains that did a lot of archaeology and their enrollment was decreasing because they didn't have the bandwidth to be able to talk to the Dallas campus. Once we introduced our product to them they were able to use iPads so that students could build and show their professors or teachers in Dallas some of the pottery and artifacts they found.

Luis Reyes: Since then it's increased both the offerings that some you can make plus the enrollment. So really has had a profound impact on those people who need it either for business or education so far. And we think that's just going to continue to grow because at the end a lot of people live in rural areas for the quality of life. And I think it's a co-op's mission to be able to enhance that through the products we serve.

Christopher Mitchell: So I actually I just came up with one additional question that I want to ask you because you have experience with fixed wireless in the Midwest and in the Appalachians. One of the challenges with fixed wireless is there's a lot of trees in the way. I don't know if that's one of the issues you have but one of the ongoing problems we have is I think too many people don't understand that we can do high quality fiber networks in rural America. People want to settle often for a wireless solution. Do you have any advice for people that are trying to weigh fiber versus wireless for last mile in rural areas.

Luis Reyes: Well you know I think at the end if you have your preference hard line hardware fiber is going to be the most flexible today and going in future because it's so scalable. We have fixed wireless and you do have issues with trees. You have addressed the issues with distance and then you have the issue with access points once you kind of Saturnian access points all the speeds start to diminish. When you have a fiber network you know we can offer good services to every single one of our 30000 customers and really not push our head around that much. And so if you're looking out to the future and thinking that we certainly are going to be in the Internet of Things at the residential level then finding a fiber solution is going to be the best investment long term especially for cost of utilities.

Luis Reyes: You can you can run the fiber within the electric line along the same rights of way. So there's not an additional cost to kind of optimizing your investment by using the same structures. That's what we see and that's what we advisors. Is going to be here for a lot longer than radios. You know all that's happened with radios is it's kind of a laptop in a year. The next best model comes up and then you're wondering should I change them up because people want better speeds with a fiber network all you do is kind of just turn up the dial and you get the fast speeds.

Christopher Mitchell: Those are some great examples of what people should be thinking about. Is there anything else you want to tell us about your network your approach.

Luis Reyes: You know I think the most important thing with our approach is we did get buy in from our community I think in general people want better services better connectivity. I think most people understand the world is changing and you have to have that kind of robust network. But in getting buy in from the community both the residential elected officials and the private sector it really helped promote these products as a truly local product. And so you had a lot of member buy in and very very little pushback. What we're trying to do and so I really do think that's one of the common threads that ties in. You know we serve Chris but 29 different communities including two two Indian tribes. Fiber has kind of made the comment thread that has tied really three together. And so I think that's the one thing I would advise is to make sure you get buy in from the community you serve.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's a wonderful way to end the show. It's a it's a very good reminder that people need to take to heart. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your wisdom with us.

Luis Reyes: Chris appreciate it. You have a great day.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Luis Reyes CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. They were discussing the rural cooperatives project to bring high quality connectivity to their service area. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcasts@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. You can follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by Also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arnie for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons. I want to thank you for listening to episode 277 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptFTTHruralelectricelectricitycooperativekit carson electric cooputilitynew mexicoWirelessfixed wirelesslessons learnedcustomer servicestimulusgranttake ratepartnershipcontinental divide electric cooperative