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Fort Collins, Colorado, Ballot Language Lives Through Legal Challenge

October 2, 2017

The Fort Collins’ ballot measure that could amend the City Charter allowing high-speed Internet to become a municipal utility moves forward after a short legal scuffle. The question will be decided at the November 7th special election.

Failed Legal Petition

After the language of the ballot question was released following approval by City Hall, local activist Eric Sutherland filed a petition with Larimer County. Sutherland — well known for his numerous petitions wagered against the city, county and school district— claimed that the language “failed to consider the public confusion that might be caused by misleading language”. Sutherland also insisted the proposed City Charter Amendment isn’t legal under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment to the State Constitution. TABOR requires local governments to get voter approval to raise tax rates or spend revenue collected under existing tax rates. 

Attorneys representing the city of Fort Collins rejected Sutherland’s claims and maintained that the amendment isn’t covered by TABOR. A utility does not require voter approval to issue debt because it is legally defined as an enterprise, a government-owned business. Moreover, Fort Collins Chief Financial Officer Mike Beckstead testified that the bonds would be backed by utility ratepayers, not tax revenue. City Council explained in a statement that they included the $150 million-dollar figure in the ballot language in an effort to maintain transparency and show the level of commitment a broadband utility could require from the municipality. By including the dollar amount in the ballot language, the Charter would also establish a limit on any debt.

District Court Judge Thomas French issued his ruling on Sept. 4th, dismissing Sutherland's arguments regarding TABOR and explained that “there are no legal grounds to cause the submission clause to be rewritten” and finally that “the intention behind the charter amendment is not to create debt but to authorize the council to approve a new utility.” The proposed amendment will proceed as planned, narrowly making the county’s Sept. 8th deadline for certifying the November ballot. 

Ballot Question 2B, to be decided at the November 7th special election, asks:

City-Initiated Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1

Shall Article XII of the City of Fort Collins Charter be amended to allow, but not require, City Council to authorize, by ordinance and without a vote of the electors, the City's electric utility or a separate telecommunications utility to provide telecommunication facilities and services, including the transmission of voice, data, graphics and video using broadband Internet facilities, to customers within and outside Fort Collins, whether directly or in whole or part through one or more third-party providers, and in exercising this authority, to: (1) issue securities and other debt, but in a total amount not to exceed $150,000,000; (2) set the customer charges for these facilities and services subject to the limitations in the Charter required for setting the customer charges of other City utilities; (3) go into executive session to consider matters pertaining to issues of competition in providing these facilities and services; (4) establish and delegate to a Council-appointed board or commission some or all of the Council's governing authority and powers granted in this Charter amendment, but not the power to issue securities and other debt; and (5) delegate to the City Manager some or all of Council's authority to set customer charges for telecommunication facilities and services?

Options for the Community 

Almost two years ago, Fort Collins and 46 other cities and counties voted to repeal SB 152, a 2005 law that barred local authorities from offering Internet service themselves or with a private sector partner. Fort Collins is a thriving tech town, home to approximately 160,000 residents and the University of Colorado, but like so many towns, they’ve been relegated to a couple mediocre options for cable and DSL service. 

With this proposed amendment to the City Charter, Fort Collins is considering different connectivity models. A public-private partnership isn’t off the table but they’ve been gleaning insights from their neighbor Longmont, who’s begun offering gigabit connectivity through their NextLight community-owned network

Over the past few years, support from the community for reclaiming local telecommunications authority has grown in Fort Collins and all over the state. Voters in approximately 100 towns and counties have chosen to opt out of SB 152; more communities will raise the issue this fall. Some communities have taken steps to improve local connectivity but many appear to be satisfied to have preserved the option. Loveland issued an RFP for a gigabit network earlier this month and Estes Park is in the engineering phase of their project.

Fort Collins had a tentative public-private partnership in its sight a few years back, but the project never moved past early discussions. This vote will give the city the option to implement its own municipal telecommunications utility. The local debate over the high-speed Internet initiative is ongoing. 

Further Deliberation 

Last Thursday Colorado State University hosted a panel discussion where both sides of the debate voiced their opinions regarding the nuances of the proposed plans. Following a presentation by Tim Tillson from the Fort Collins Citizen Broadband Committee, Vice President of IT at CSU, Patrick Burns, gave a poignant firsthand perspective as to why the innovation is needed: 

“I think there’s a real need for this, for us and our residents and our homes. And there’s a real need for our businesses. I have businesses coming and knocking on my door, and they do this every year, and they say we’ve got these giant data sets and we can’t get enough Internet capacity bought from anybody to upload these giant data sets. ‘You're connected to Internet, too, aren’t you CSU? Let us just put them on your servers and then we can upload them.’ But we can’t do that because we’re not allowed to compete with the private sector.”

Tags: fort collinscoloradosb 152electionballotcourtutility feefunding

Saturday Funnies: "Don't Hit Save" Considers Broadband Speeds

September 30, 2017

 

We can use words to explain the debate around broadband speeds in the hallowed halls of the FCC, or we can let Jeff Lofvers do it with this awesome webcomic. Lofvers, a software developer, artist, and the creative force behind the Don’t Hit Save webcomic recently released this gem.

We know you'll appreciate it, so please take a moment to check out Don’t Hit Save and consider supporting his work.

 

 

Tags: funnycomicspeedfcc

California Lawmakers Pass 6/1 Mbps Smackdown For Rural Constituents

September 29, 2017

California Legislators have turned on their constituents living in rural areas who want to participate in the 21st century online economy. What began as a move in the right direction - allocating substantial resources to funding high-speed Internet infrastructure - has become another opportunity to protect big incumbents. It’s twice as nice for Frontier and AT&T, because they will be paid big bucks to meet a low Internet access bar.

Discretionary Fund

Democrat Eduardo Garcia, the main author on Assembly Bill 1665, represents the Coachella Valley, a rural area in the southern area of the state near Palm Springs. Democrat Jim Wood coauthored with eight others. Wood represents coastal areas in the northern part of the state, which was passed during the eleventh hour of the 2017 legislative session. Wood’s district and region has obtained several grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that have helped to improve local connectivity. 

The CASF is much like CAF; both programs are funded through a surcharge on revenue collected by telecommunications carriers from subscribers. Since 2007, when California authorized the CASF, the legislature has amended the rules and requirements several times. Early on, CASF awards went primarily to smaller, local companies because large corporations such as AT&T and Frontier did not pursue the grants. Now that those behemoths have their eyes on CASF grants, they’ve found a way to push out the companies who need the funds and have shown that they want to provide better services to rural Californians.

AB 1665 allocates $300 million to Internet infrastructure investment and an additional $30 million to adoption and related local programs. Policy experts have criticized the legislation on several fronts. Consultant Steve Blum told CVIndependent:

The incumbents (large corporate ISPs) including AT&T, Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association jumped in and said, ‘We want the bill to be X, Y and Z.’ … Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia took it and started adding language that reflected the desires of these cable and telephone company incumbents.

“The bill went through three revisions, and each time, more perks were added for the incumbents. So as it’s written now, AB 1665 is going to put $300 million into a CASF infrastructure grant account and make it virtually impossible for independent projects to be funded. Essentially, then, it becomes a fund for AT&T and Frontier to use at their discretion.”

Sean McLaughlin from Access Humboldt said that AT&T and Frontier “‘perverted’ a simple funding bill ‘into a thoughtless gift to private interests’”.

De Facto Right Of First Refusal

If Governor Jerry Brown does not veto AB 1665, smaller ISPs will find themselves in a holding pattern, which will result in stalled investment in high-quality Internet access in rural California. Census blocks where AT&T and Frontier have accepted CAF II funding for deployment are not eligible for CASF grants under a provision in AB 1665. There is an exception: if AT&T or Frontier voluntarily informs the state before July 1, 2020, that they have completed deployment in those census blocks. 

Connie Stewart from Redwood Coast Connect and executive director of the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University describes the situation:

Stewart said those companies have no incentive to do so. AT&T, she said, has 300,000 customers eligible for upgrades, but the company only needs to improve broadband for about half of them (151,000) to meet its obligations under the CAF II grant. And it doesn’t have to tell the state which half it plans to help. “So unless they voluntarily tell us they’re not going in” somewhere, she said, “no one can compete with them” — at least not until 2020 or later.

Slowing It Down

With another slap in the face, California lawmakers decided that rural premises don’t need the same speeds available to residents and businesses in urban areas. The FCC raised the definition of broadband to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload in 2015. When it came time to dispense CAF II funding, however, they allowed companies to deploy 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload capacity infrastructure. The FCC compromised in response to lobbying from AT&T, Frontier, and other national companies who would only accept funding if they could deploy slow DSL. 

AB 1665 repeats that mistake with an even darker twist. In census blocks that are now considered "unserved," the minimum broadband speed will be 6 Mbps/1 Mbps. Such slow speeds don’t consider future needs and defeat the point of the legislation. Stewart told Lost Coast Outpost:

“With 10/1 [speeds] you’re not doing economic development. You’re not an architect; you’re not running a website business or a doctor’s office; your kids are not taking the competency test; your hotel is not offering open wireless to guests … .” 

Economic development requires robust upload speeds. In addition to better job opportunities, rural areas need better upload speeds for telehealth when clinics are far away, distance learning when schools are too for daily travel, and K-12 education for homework assignments now completed online. Rural areas plagued by poor connectivity have struggled to maintain populations as residents and businesses have relocated for better Internet access. Precious CASF dollars would be better spent on connections that rural residents, businesses, and municipalities want and need to compete.

On To The Governor

AB 1665 passed with bipartisan support in both chambers with only eight nays in the Assembly and two nays in the Senate. It's possible lawmakers didn't understand the long-term consequences for rural constituents. Often policy makers are under extreme pressure from the typical army of corporate lobbyists, face tight deadlines, and pass legislation that has not been appropriately vetted. Now it’s up to Governor Brown. Experts hope he stops the state from adopting this poor policy that will send it in the wrong direction for many years to come.

Along with Stewart’s organization, other groups have expressed their opposition to AB 1665, some reaching out to the Governor asking him for a veto. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium wrote to Governor Brown:

The $300 million that AB 1665 puts into the California Advanced Services Fund would be effectively reserved for AT&T and Frontier Communications, to subsidize minimal upgrades that don’t meet California’s current broadband standard, that they would otherwise be obligated to finance themselves. 

The North Bay/North Coast Broadband Consortium, originally funded by the California Public Utilities Commission, put in their letter:

Unfortunately, when the incumbents saw that they could not stop this bill, they were able to insert damaging amendments that skewed the original intent of the bill. As a result, if this bill is signed by you, our state broadband program will become a give-away to the large incumbent carriers. It will become virtually impossible for the independent providers to get funded through the state. And under this bill, 17 counties in northern California alone will be ineligible for CASF funding altogether. The loss of competition that will result from this bill will be extremely damaging to California’s future. [Emphasis their’s]

Letter from the Central Coast Broadband Consortium to Governor Brown re AB 1665 Letter from the North Bay/North Coast Broadband Consortium to Governor Brown re AB 1665Tags: californialegislationca ab 1665state lawsconnect america fundgrantsincumbentfrontierrurallobbyingaccess humboldtstate policyfundingcalifornia public utilities commission

Fiber Launch Event In Ammon Oct. 5th

September 28, 2017

The City of Ammon, Idaho, in partnership with Next Century Cities will host an event titled “The Launch of the Ammon Fiber Utility” to bring together representatives from Ammon and the region, policy and broadband experts, and key stakeholders to show off Ammon’s open access fiber network. 

The City’s open access fiber network, named 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), is delivering gigabit connectivity to a community of 14,500 people.

The Launch of the Ammon Fiber Utility

The event will offer attendees the opportunity to hear more about the Ammon Model, learn how a conservative, rural town secured a high take rate, its software defined networking technologies (SDN), as well as a tour of its cutting edge facilities.

The full day event will take place Thursday, October 5, 2017, at the Ammon Operations Center and will include presenters from local government, nonprofit, and the private sector. In addition to Christopher, you can expect to see:

  • Glenn Ricart, Founder and CTO of US Ignite (Keynote)
  • Dana Kirkham, Mayor of Ammon
  • Bruce Patterson, Ammon CTO
  • Tom Wheeler, former FCC Chairman (video address)
  • Michael Curri, Founder and President, Strategic Network Group, Inc
  • Shawn Irvine, Economic Development Director, City of Independence, Oregon
  • Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities

A Learning Experience

If you attend the conference, the morning program will start with keynote speakers and a series of panels:

Smart Cities Panel; researchers, developers, legal and policy experts will discuss current and future challenges.

Policy Discussion with Christopher Mitchell; on the role of government to solve the broadband challenges faced by communities utilizing historical experience inform future policy.

Economic Feasibility with Michael Curri; on community broadband feasibility studies.

Infrastructure as a Platform Panel; open access models and the need for innovation and competition illustrated through the Ammon Model.


The afternoon program will consist of dividing attendees into two groups. The first will take physical tour of the Ammon Central Office and a virtual tour of the network nodes. The second will participate in a series of roundtable discussions hosted by numerous experts. The groups will rotate after completion of each iteration. The day will conclude with an evening reception to give attendees the opportunity to network and ask any additional questions of panelists and Ammon representatives.

Check out the preliminary agenda, and register online now while there is still space.

Be sure to check out our conversations with Bruce Patterson and Michael Curri in episodes 86, 173, 207, and 259 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: ammonidahoeventFTTHmunisoftware defined networksopen accesschristopher mitchellnext century citiesnatoagigabitsymmetrydeb socia

Erie, Colorado, Funds Feasibility Study

September 28, 2017

The town of Erie, Colorado Board of Trustees has commissioned a consulting firm to conduct a $65,000 Municipal Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study. The vote allocated funds to explore options for the town’s growing connectivity needs of residents, local businesses, and municipal services. 

Planning For The Future

According to the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Municipal Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study, the consulting firm will conduct a survey to measure local support for the town to invest in a community owned fiber optic network. In 2012, Erie conducted a similar residential survey, which reported that “63% of residents supported or somewhat supported efforts” for telecommunications projects.

Erie is situated in both Weld and Boulder County and is just 20 minutes northwest of Denver. According to the Town of Erie’s 2017 Community Profile, the current population is approximately 25,000 residents with over 7,000 homes but local officials expect both to grow over the next five years. By 2020, community leaders expect the population to increase by 10,000 and the number of homes to increase by more than 50 percent.

Opting Out Comes First

Before Erie can make investments in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, voters must pass a referendum to opt-out of Colorado Senate Bill 152, which prohibits local governments from either supporting directly or indirectly any advancement of telecommunication services to subscribers. Eagle County and the city of Alamosa are both putting forth an SB 152 opt-out question to a vote this fall.

During a July 12, 2017 meeting, the Erie Board of Trustees determined they would need to conduct another Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study before putting forth a referendum to opt out of SB 152 on the ballot as early as April of 2018.

Other Colorado communities are either in the midst of similar studies, or have released RFPs to find firms to conduct them. Larimer County recently received funds from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Broadband Program to fund a similar study.

If the residents of Erie vote to opt out in the future, they would join nearly 100 local communities that have passed similar SB 152 opt out provisions and reclaimed their local telecommunications authority. In 2011, the city of Longmont passed a opt-out referendum and has now built an award-winning NextLight fiber optic network. The network is currently delivering symmetrical upload and download gigabit connectivity to residents, businesses and municipal facilities.

Tags: erie cocoloradosb 152rfpfeasibilitysurveyrural

Verizon Will Cut Off Rural Subscribers In Thirteen States

September 27, 2017

A recent proposal being considered by the FCC that has raised the loudest outcry has been the status of mobile broadband in rural areas. Now that Verizon is discontinuing rural subscriber accounts, the FCC will be able to see those concerns come to life.

Dear John...

The company has decided to cut service to scores of customers in 13 states because those subscribers have used so many roaming charges, Verizon says it isn’t profitable for the company. Service will end for affected subscribers after October 17th.

Verizon claims customers who use data while roaming via other providers’ networks create roaming costs that are higher than what the customers pay for services. In rural communities, often mobile wireless is the best (albeit poor) or only option for Internet access, so subscribers use their phones to go online.

Subscribers are from rural areas in Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin.

In a letter sent to customers scheduled to be cut off, Verizon offered no option, such as paying more for more data or switching to a higher cost plan. Many of the people affected were enrolled in unlimited data plans:

“During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network. While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17th, 2017, we will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area.”

Affecting Customers And Local Carriers

Apparently, Verizon’s LTE in Rural America (LRA) program, which creates partnerships with 21 other carriers, is the culprit. The agreements it has with the other carriers through the program allows Verizon subscribers to use those networks when they use roaming data, but Verizon must pay the carriers’ fees. Verizon has confirmed that they will disconnect 8,500 rural customers who already have little options for connectivity.

Philip Dampier at Stop The Cap! writes:

Verizon has leased out LTE spectrum covering 225,000 square miles in 169 rural counties in 15 different states. The company said more than 1,000 LTE cell sites have been built and switched on through the program, covering 2.7 million people.

But Verizon does not have the capacity to throttle or deprioritize traffic on third-party networks, meaning customers enrolled in an unlimited data plan can use as much data as they want on partner networks. There is a strong likelihood Verizon has to compensate those providers at premium rates for network traffic generated by their customers.

That means customers are at the highest risk of being disconnected if they are on an unlimited data plan and use their Verizon devices in areas served by these providers — all participants in the LRA program.

Earlier this summer, the company pulled a similar stunt, claiming that they were only disconnecting a small group of customers who used “vast amounts of data” outside the Verizon service area. According to Ars Technica, however, “one customer, who contacted Ars this week about being disconnected, said her family never used more than 50GB of data across four lines despite having an ‘unlimited’ data plan.”

Wireless carriers working with Verizon intend to pursue Verizon and hold them accountable for any damages they may suffer as a result of the policy change. Some of the local carriers that are working with Verizon to bring connectivity to rural areas are left with investments they made for the LRA program. The State Public Advocate Barry Hobbins told the Bangor Daily News:

“It appears that Verizon induced these companies to build out in the rural areas around the country and then significantly promoted it by saying that they’re covering the rural areas, when it fact now, after putting those ads out, they’re now not covering the rural areas — in fact, they’re cutting it back,”

Wireless Partners serves areas in Maine and New Hampshire and participates in Verizon’s program to provide mobile wireless service. In order to provide better coverage, the Wireless Partners built 13 new towers in Washington County and, according to company spokesman Jason Sulham, Verizon’s decision “caught them completely by surprise and totally blindsided them.” In Washington County, approximately 2,000 customers have received the Dear John letters.

Sulham points out that Verizon’s decision negatively impacts public safety and economic development in the region. He says that Wireless Partners will take steps to push Verizon to reverse course. 

Are You Paying Attention, FCC?

Recently, the FCC requested comments from the public regarding the timely and reasonable deployment of broadband to all Americans. There were several proposals the agency asked the public to consider, but one of the most concerning was the possibility that the FCC may decide to equate mobile broadband with wireline connectivity.

It’s difficult and expensive to use mobile broadband as one’s primary source of connectivity and those who do it often do so as a last resort. Rural residents and businesses already have few choices because national ISPs can’t find the profitability they seek in low-density areas. If mobile broadband is considered good enough for people in rural areas, they will forever be at the mercy of service disconnections due to low profits, like subscribers in these 13 states.

Lowering the bar by redefining rural connectivity will harm those who live and work there. Rural America needs high-quality wireline connections in their homes that are fast, affordable, and reliable. Mobile broadband is a complement. Verizon and similar companies wield too much power over these rural areas. The FCC’s proposal to equate mobile broadband and wireline connectivity will only make the problem worse.

As Hobbins said:

“[I]t’s not cost effective for them, now they’re going to pull the plug — and basically pull the plug on 2,000 customers — then that becomes an issue.”

You still have time to share you thoughts on mobile broadband in rural areas with the FCC. Reply comments are due October 5th.

Tags: verizon wirelessruralfccalaskaidahoindianaiowakentuckymainemichiganmissourimontananorth carolinaoklahomautahwisconsinstop the capdata

Referendum Lights Up Lyndon Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 272

September 26, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 272 - Ben Fineman, Marc Keezer, and Gary Munce of Lyndon Township, Michigan

Michigan's Lyndon Township set a local election turnout record in August when voters supported a measure to build a municipal fiber network by 2:1 margin. The initiative was largely organized and supported by the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, a local effort to improve Internet access in the community. 

To better understand their approach, organizing, and future plans, we have three guests on episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Ben Fineman volunteers as the president of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, Marc Keezer is the Lyndon Township Supervisor, and Gary Munce led the ballot campaign and is also a board member of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative.

We discuss a variety of issues around their approach, including how the increased property tax to pay for the network will work. We also discuss the education campaign, next steps, and their hopes for helping other communities avoid at least some of the hard work they went through. 

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

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

You can 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: lyndon township mimichigantownshipreferendumstartupgrassrootsruralFTTHtaxesfinancingproperty taxmichigan broadband cooperativefeasibilityaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Grassroots Broadband Groups Grow Across the U.S.

September 26, 2017

Community networks are hyper-local movements. As we have researched these networks, we have often uncovered the work of grassroots activists trying to make a difference in their cities. Today, we've gathered together a collection to show how small groups of local people can make a big difference.

Virginia Friends of Municipal Broadband -- This statewide organization of citizens and activists quickly formed in opposition to the proposed Broadband Deployment Act of 2017 in Virginia. They collected statements  on why the proposed law would be sour for community networks and published a press kit to help people talk about the issue.

Yellow Springs Community Fiber -- This group formed in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to have the city consider building a community network. They hosted a public forum and created a survey to gauge residents' interest in such a project. They even published a white paper about their proposal, and the city issued an RFP to explore the option.

Upgrade Seattle -- This campaign for equitable Internet access encourages folks to support a municipal network in Washington state's largest city. The Upgrade Seattle group hosts neighborhood study sessions and encourages residents to learn more and attend city council meetings.

Holland Fiber -- Holland, Michigan, has been incrementally building a fiber network, and much of the impetus came from the Holland Fiber group. Local entrepreneurs, business owners, and residents realized that high-speed connectivity would be an asset to this lakeside tourist town. 

West Canal Community Network -- This  group of dedicated people focused their attention on bringing high-speed Internet access to the small community of West Canal in Washington. They held a series of public forums on the issue. As the final pieces of their plan to bring DIY wireless service came together, a private provider swooped in, finally recognizing the community's persistence and began to offer service. The area now has Internet service, thanks in no small part to the pressure from this community group.

Archived Lafayette ProFiber Blog -- The late community activist John St. Julien ran this website for years, bringing attention to the community support for the Lafayette fiber network. Peruse the archived blog in order to learn how Lafayette came to build a citywide, Fiber-to-the-Home network

Grassroots activists in cities across the nation have built up small groups and nonprofits in order to organize for better, more affordable Internet service. They have used websites, social media, public forums, and neighborhood meetings to get their message out. Take a moment to explore what's happening in your community or check out our grassroots tag to read more stories about local changemakers.

Image of the grass courtesy of mounsey via pixaby.

Tags: grassrootslocalvirginiayellow springs ohohioseattleholland miwashingtonlafayettelouisiana

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 271

September 25, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 271 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Research Associate Hannah Trostle takes over as host in order to quiz Christopher Mitchell on the latest developments in community networks. Listen to this episode here.

 

Christopher Mitchell: I can't believe we're freek'n talking about satellite again!

Lisa Gonzalez:This is Episode 271 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. What do the FCC satellite internet access mobile broadband. Madison, Wisconsin, and utility poles in Louisville, Kentucky, have in common. They're all in the recent community broadband news and they're all in this week's podcast. In this episode, Research Associate Hannah Trostle boots Christopher from the host chair to interview him about some significant recent developments. For more details on these and other topics check out the appropriate tags at MuniNetworks.org. Now, here's Hannah and Christopher.

Hannah Trostle: Welcome to the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is your host this week Hannah Trostle. Joining me is the normal host Christopher Mitchell.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't know how normal I am but thank you for having me on my show.

Hannah Trostle: Now we're going to kick you off, and I'm only going to do the podcast from now on.

Christopher Mitchell: I can't say I don't deserve it.

Hannah Trostle: Well you've been gone quite a bit. Where have you been?

Christopher Mitchell: I've been traveling around. Most recently, I was just out in Seattle for the NATOA conference, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, which is a group that does a lot of great work in this area. But I was just in town very briefly I didn't get this -- I didn't get to enjoy the whole experience. And then I was off to Western Massachusetts where the Berkshire Eagle which really does some of the best local reporting on broadband anywhere in the country. they had an event in western Massachusetts in the Berkshire's in Pittsfield in particular and had an evening event with me and several other people from the area that are making important investments and talking about broadband. So it was pretty great.

Hannah Trostle: What kind of investments?

Christopher Mitchell: Well in this case they're trying to figure out how to bring fiber to everyone and that kind of brings up the point that I wanted to make. Before we move on to some other pressing matters that we'll talk about depending on the host discretion. But we talked a lot about fiber and in a setting like that western Massachusetts is quite rural something that Hana I know you're familiar with and there is an expectation that in these areas that that fiber is nice to be nice to have. It's like a luxury but that you cannot afford to build it. And one of the questions that we got from the audience was whether or not compression of data would be enough that we wouldn't have to need fiber to have high quality connections if just applications could be smarter we wouldn't have to build fiber in rural America and I really went on a tangent a couple of times about how the reason that I support building fiber in rural America is not just for the high bandwidth applications which certainly it can handle better than any other technology but because I desperately hope that rural America is still around and actually is doing much better in three four decades. And if you want to bring Internet access to any place really but rural America especially then and you want to figure out have the lowest cost way to do that over many decades it actually turns out that fiber is that way. And you know I'm not able to do the accounting I'm not able to dig into the technology and the way that many of many others are but I can talk to many people from the public private who are building wireless and wired networks and every one of them tells me that yes over 30 years that fiber is almost always way less expensive than wireless because it's very costly up front but then there's all the operational savings that you get and the lack of upgrades that you need. There's several pieces in the network that you do have to upgrade over the years. But what it comes down to it wireless is very expensive over many many years because you have to replace the whole network many times. And when things go wrong you often have to send a crew out to fix it. So anyway I just went on this tear about why, you know, if you're just worried about being financially responsible and you know that you're going to need a network for many decades, then fiber is the smartest choice not the luxury choice.

Hannah Trostle: Well that's certainly one way to bring broadband to everyone. I think the FCC has a different way of doing that.

Christopher Mitchell: They do. But if you'll let me let me hang out there for a second. Let me just ask you something ;ole just just dropped the focus on telecom right now.

Hannah Trostle: OK. And think about computers in general what is one of the biggest problems that people have with their computers today.

Hannah Trostle: It's just so slow--

Christopher Mitchell: just ignoring the broadband. I've certainly like you know --

Hannah Trostle: Oh I just meant the computer software itself.

Christopher Mitchell: OK so so what are the issues with that is sometimes spyware or or the or trojan horses or anything malware malware in general Russian hackers taking over a computer. All of those things including the speed of the software that you're noting I think could be dealt with in the near future. And this is something that someone else brought up which was it was someone who was saying a select board member from a nearby community was saying Oh well a higher upload speeds would be nice but you know most people don't really do much with that. And I would respond I don't have a chance. Then we were talking about so many different things but I would say well most people don't have the opportunity to. But if you want to deal with security challenges with people slow computers and things like that when you have a high quality low latency network we're going to go back and I fully believe that we'll be doing this.

Christopher Mitchell: We'll be going back to the client mainframe kind of approach like we had back in the 80s where people have very basic computers on their desktop very fast connections so that as they type they won't know that there are signals traveling you know 10 - 20 miles to the local cloud. But that's where the application will be. It'll be more secure where professionals can secure it. And in general our computers will be easier to use. I'm certainly not making a prediction that this will be cheaper because these things often tend to end up being a little bit more costly for anyone who used to buy Photoshop but now buys Adobe like monthly plans is well aware. But I think it will be more secure and generally easier to use because our computers will be less complex we have less things on them.

Christopher Mitchell:What more things in that cloud. But we need low latency high quality symmetrical networks to get there. And so there's another reason that people talk about bandwidth and speeds. But but I really think the future is low latency. And one of the ways that we'll see that is in applications not being local but they'll run faster because they're on much bigger computers in the cloud.

Hannah Trostle: Well that hold true for my myself as well my terrible 8 gigabyte cell phone when we're paying twelve hundred dollars for a cell phone I certainly hope that it will be.

Christopher Mitchell: frankly horrified. Like I think you are about the escalating costs of these little devices.

Hannah Trostle: Yes most certainly which somewhat leads us to our next discussion the FCC this version of getting broadband to everyone it's possibly just changing the definition.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I would say largely I mean I don't think you know if you if you ask Chairman pie he'll tell you that his number one issue. The thing that he cares more about than anything that leaves him unable to sleep at night is how to get broadband out to rural America. It turns out he actually means really worse broadband out to rural America fortunately. Yeah well you're talking about is something that I did not think the FCC would actually do.

Christopher Mitchell: I mean I I think like you I think we both expected that they would contemplate it but we didn't think that they would actually have you know the chutzpah to go out there and say no broadband is really not as good as it's been. Actually it's better if we have a much slower broadband. But they don't have the courage to just say that outright but it looks like we're going to be commenting on that this week. The FCC has an open proceeding to discuss this but it is claiming that for areas rural areas that do not have 25 megabits down and three megabits up it might be OK if you at least you have 10 megabits down and one megabit up of mobile broadband access.

Christopher Mitchell: That's by my cellphone on your cell phone. Let me ask you Hannah you have a much longer history in rural America than I do than probably most of our listeners do. How is that mobile coverage out there in terms of relying on that as your internet source.

Hannah Trostle: Well, it definitely varies by phone as my friend's phone kept picking up LTE and mine was no service or sometimes 3G. We also had quite a bit of fun trying to tell them my phone so that I could answer Chris's emails while I was on vacation.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's just be clear about this. I did not ask you to do that. I greatly appreciate it. I encourage you not to do that but I cannot deny your dedication to getting the job done.

Hannah Trostle: It was mostly hilarious.

Christopher Mitchell: So. So what are some of the challenges for using your your phone as your dedicated broadband source?

Hannah Trostle: If I hadn't had my computer there. Typing on it is not very fun. I have written papers on it before. I do not recommend it. They're very very short like 200 word pieces and there are a lot of typos because it's a cell phone but you can't really see.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure but if you turn it into a hotspot does that make it all the problems go away.

Hannah Trostle: No, it makes different problems. I somehow in about half an hour ended up using about 200 Megabytes doing nothing but typing on my computer and answering Facebook.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah it's that's one of the things that I think people don't realize is how much when you're on a fixed connection not really paying attention. People don't notice how much goes by. I mean my wife and I we don't even watch and since we had Jackson we don't even have that many many hours streaming video but we're still using 400 Gigabytes per month. And I think a lot of that is just like heck or even just scrolling through Instagram on my phone. I mean you're looking loading image after image if people are on Facebook scrolling down the feed you're pulling in so much more content than you realize and that's all that's all going somewhere. And if you're on a data cap you're in a lot of trouble.

Hannah Trostle: Yeah and if you're paying by the Gigabyte like I am, it is not super fun.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about this in terms of the coverage because if we look at where you grew up in in either Northern or central Minnesota depending on whose definition.

Hannah Trostle: North central

Christopher Mitchell: Minnesota what does the mobile coverage like. I mean you know is this the kind of thing where everyone in this census blocks is likely to have a similar level of service.

Hannah Trostle: No, it also varies. If for a while if you had a tin roof you could not get any cell service in your house. That was a rather fun when visiting friends the cell service is mostly Verizon. There was a drama in my town where apparently T-Mobile and AT&T had a fight over a cell tower. And then neither T-Mobile nor AT&T customers had service for two months.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, it seems like you know it's one of those things where it's like hey it's pretty cool if you have cell service in that situation but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that you should be relying on if you are say the regulator of the most advanced economy in the world.

Christopher Mitchell: It is not a reliable way to get internet service and you know this is something that we talked about with Jon Chambers just recently on this show is these are this is carrier of last resort that we're often talking about and it's not a game. You know I don't feel like like it's not like pi should be thinking this is like oh I have this great achievement by redefining broadband and therefore claiming that I brought service to rural America. I don't think people are going to be super excited just because the FCC tells them that suddenly they have broadband no people won't be.

Hannah Trostle: I mean I was just outside the Bay Area a few weeks ago and I lost cell service right before I was supposed to have dinner with my sister. And we ran around on top of basically a small hillside looking for cell service before we got in the car and started driving where I only found cell service right before a tunnel.

Christopher Mitchell: It's amazing what the cell companies have done what the engineers have done and everything else. But the idea that we should just blithely just go about saying oh well. Because many people have access to phones that seem to work most of the time let's just find that as good enough and move on or even worse frankly. You know for the FCC to think about spending a lot of money on exploring and expanding that technology rather than technologies that would serve as a carrier of last resort where everyone could have access where your service would not depend on the weather or the activities of those around you. I mean up near where my wife's parents live a little bit north and west of your family I believe they have this thing called Moondance.

Hannah Trostle: Oh yes Moondance jam.

Christopher Mitchell: Moondance jam, and I really wonder how the cell service changes for some of those local folks when you get that one weekend or you know then you also have the Moondance with the country music so you've got a few weekends or weeks during the year where you just saturate those cells. And again those technologies aren't made for that. I don't know if they roll in an extra antenna or two for the Moondance. I don't believe they do. So it's really disconcerting that the regular would do this and I am shocked that we don't see more outrage from Republicans who are representing these areas. I mean this is a Republican FCC that seems intent on basically saying only Democratic strongholds the major cities should have high quality broadband and the areas of the country that vote most Republican most reliably should just be left behind with either satellite or mobile broadband or whatever but we don't really care about them. It's -- it's shocking that Republicans in the Senate with the the Federal Communications Commission get away with even thinking about that little love getting to the point where we're we're submitting comments on it we haven't really picked on satellite yet. No. No I don't think we have. To some extent I have to wonder if anyone listening to this show needs us to. I mean you and I have been working on this a lot lately because all of a sudden I think you know we had a similar realization which was oh my god we have to talk about how satellite is not good enough again. I thought we left this behind?

Hannah Trostle: But haven't you heard about that really new satellite that provides 25 by three over all of Iowa.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes and this was one of the things that had you found that it was just amazing is that according to the FCC maps everyone in Iowa has broadband access now. So what's the problem with that happening?

Hannah Trostle: The main problem with that is there are a lot of places in Iowa that do not have decent internet service. And if you say that everyone has access it becomes a lot harder to prove that there are areas of need. It makes it a lot harder to actually build infrastructure to the right areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes I just I so second and the way you phrased it is exactly right because what inevitably happens is that people who actually live in Iowa are like wow this is really frustrating we can't get good service and then maybe a newspaper reporter looks into it and they say the FCC has ever won Iowa has awesome service but these people say that they don't and then it comes almost like this argument whereas we should all agree there are many people in Iowa that do not have high quality service and simply saying that satellite is good enough is ludicrous. It's just I mean it's so incredibly frustrating and part of it is something that you know very well as the person who is almost all of our mapping work I mean really all of it. This idea of using census blocks ignores the fact that in many of those subsets blocks possibly all of them there are people who do not have a view of the satellite it so you're leaving hundreds of thousands of people behind.

Christopher Mitchell: I would guess but because their neighbors could get satellite service they're included as well. So it's unprofessional. It's a real problem for living in the kind of country we want to live in where everyone has access to these technologies. I just I can't believe we're talking about satellite again.

Hannah Trostle: I can't believe that if Iowa does have amazing internet service like this FCC map says that I would be driving through it and every rest stop would advertise that they have wireless Internet service at every single one. They're very excited about that in Iowa apparently.

Christopher Mitchell: And I mean I'll just I'll just stick up for Iowa for a second. Definitely some of the best rest stops in the entire country.

Hannah Trostle: I am from Minnesota.

Christopher Mitchell: So you won't say anything nice about Iowa?

Hannah Trostle: Iowa is a nice place. So let's start with our final topic today. We're going to change gears a little bit. I want to know your opinion on some more local issues Chris. So Madison, Wisconsin, recently issued an RFP? Have you had a chance to look at it?

Christopher Mitchell: Just very briefly but I've actually spent more time talking about it because I mean the general idea of it is that the city is looking to do an approach similar to Huntsville where the city would build a network out through the neighborhoods but not do the drops it sounds like. So just to refresh people. Huntsville has a municipal electric utility. They built a fiber network out just like Chattanooga had but they didn't connect anyone to it. And that's that's a cost that could range from you know$500 to twelve hundred forty hundred dollars depending on the premise and the cost of connecting to it. The ISP is that least the network from the city. They do that final connection and that means that is it's easier for them in this case largely Googles the the major ISP that is using it because they don't have to build this network to the city but they also like it because then they kind of own that customer so he can think of it as it's like an open access highway system with private on and off ramps. And some people are really angry at that. You know some people who really believe in open access and lowering the barrier for multiple ISP to compete are frustrated because they think Huntsville still has too much of a barrier to competition. And then others would look at that and say well that's what Hartsville utility wanted to do and they still get a lot of other benefits out of it. They have this big network that they could use and they could always do drops later if they wanted to. There might be more costs of that having including them in the original project. But that's what they wanted to do.

Christopher Mitchell: Westminster took the other approach will be at Westminster actually owns the drops as well. And so there the city is less reliant on the other ISP and has a little bit more control in this case the City of Westminster which is in Maryland is working with towing company that's active in three markets soon to be five markets around the country. And I think I prefer that model from a sense of I'd like to see the city owning all the way to the customer to make sure that the customer isn't stuck with limited choices.

Hannah Trostle: What happens if the customer wants to switch in the Huntsville model?

Christopher Mitchell: There's a couple of different things that could happen. One is that the first ISP like Google is generally can be the first ISP could sell the drop to the new company. They could work that out behind the scenes. The new company could run a second drop at their costs and and that could be part of their business model and in that first probably just be sitting there. You know that's I think this is part of the inefficiency or the frustration that some people have where they want to see lower switching costs for those customers. Now I think a city like Huntsville looks at it and says look we put together a deal that would allow us to work with Google and can have an ISP we brought another ISP to the market. It's led to more investment from our incumbents. It's doing everything that we want it to do and we're pretty happy with it.

Christopher Mitchell: So I would take that away from them and see where it comes in the Madison is different people are taking different lessons away from these examples and some people so people that I respect say one thing and people I respect totally disagree with them. So you know from my point of view I do think if I lived there I would like to see the city building the drops and having that extra layer of control costs. It costs more upfront although I think it may end up being more cost effective over the life of a network but being at the do for local self-reliance the thing that I respect more than anything else is the right for people to make their own decisions. And you and I both read a lot about the history of the co-ops and I do think we see that there is a lot of compromise and it still led to Electric Cooperatives bringing electricity to the entire country.

Christopher Mitchell: And perhaps there would have been better ways of doing it but they got the job done and there were some compromises along the way. And we live in a country of 330 million people. I don't always get what I want. So I'm I'm more willing for cities to take what I think might be a suboptimal approach in part because I'm not it's not always right but also in part because I just respect the right for them to do things that I might not do myself.

Hannah Trostle: And speaking of cities doing things that are right for them. Did you hear about Louisville, Kentucky, its one touch make ready, the decision made there?

Christopher Mitchell: Yes yes I did and it gets exciting that Louisville has the right to do the one touch make ready which will lower the costs for a new network to get all the polls. One touch make ready is just briefly -- it's the -- it really simplifies the process of putting a new wire on a pole because previously basically everyone that was on the pole would have a chance to delay and sort of sandbag which is to say stretch out the time period so it might take six months eight months or a year for a new entity to get all the polls they want. Now it'll be a much faster process with much more certainty for the timing because of this policy that will allow a single crew to go from pole to pole switching it rather than everyone who's on the pole sending their own crew.

Christopher Mitchell: It's also a big victory for the ability of cities to make common sense policies and and not to have to wait for the state to do it although I'll say that there was some state representatives of Massachusetts and when I talked about what Dortch make ready and how important this would be in some of the people the audience that have experience trying to solve these problems in rural Massachusetts were like nodding along and you know there was they were interested. So I think there's a lot more interest in this one to make ready and I'm I'm excited because frankly it doesn't really do a lot to further our municipal ownership agenda or the co-op agenda but it is a a common sense approach to trying to knock down the power of the incumbents to stymie new competition.

Hannah Trostle: Yes. And it allows the city to make its own decisions about what goes on right.

Christopher Mitchell: Exactly anytime we see we have the principle that is upheld there. It's it's wonderful because our poll attachments work. The FCC has a set of rules. The states are allowed to opt out of them and establish their own rules. And that's the way the framework works it's not really clear that cities have any authority this or that although cities do have the authority to maintain their own rights of way. The question has been how far does that stretch. And we have a precedent here that cities have pretty broad authority to manage the rights of way in the interests of the community. But I think that's a big victory.

Hannah Trostle: Yeah it's very exciting. OK. I think it's about time to wrap this up Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: No I don't want to go.

Hannah Trostle: So if you have any stories about satellite and mobile internet access please send them along to podcast@muninetworks.org.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes we would love to collect any stories you have about why those just aren't good enough and we need to do better why we need to expect more for connecting all of rural America.

Hannah Trostle: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Thanks, Hannah, for sliding into the host chair and and not punching me as I talk too much.

Hannah Trostle: Yes. You'll never get this chair back.

Christopher Mitchell: Thanks, Hannah.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and our research associate, Hannah Trostle, talking about rural internet access via mobile broadband and satellite the recently released Madison, Wisconsin, RFP and the court decision that allows Louisville Kentucky to enforce their one touch make ready ordinance. We have transcripts for this and other community broadband bits podcast available. MuniNetwork.org slash broadband bits. Email us that Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter his handle is at community nets. Follow me on the network's dot org stories on Twitter where the handle is at MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other

ILSR podcasts: Building Local power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts ditcher or else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thanks again to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative commons and thanks for listening to Episode 271 the community broadband bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptFTTHfibercompetitionfccpolicyregulationbroadbandone touch make readypolesmake-readyruraluniversal servicesatellitemobilemadisonhuntsvillemassachusettswired westnatoalouisville

Community Broadband Media Roundup- September 25

September 25, 2017

California

Santa Clarita Begins Broadband Internet Feasibility Study by SCV News

Riverside County Lays Out Case For Countywide Affordable Broadband Project by News Desk, Banning Patch

Riverside County Chief Data Officer Tom Mullen announced the release of three new resource pages explaining the value of affordable, gigabit, high-speed, broadband internet service for businesses, residents and those who lack reliable internet access in the tenth most populous county in the U.S.

Rural Broadband Bill on Governor's Desk by Special to the Enterprise, Davis Enterprise

Bill to devote $330 million to rural broadband heads to governor’s desk by Lake County News

 

Colorado

The Wait for Broadband Service Could Get Even Longer by Niki Turner, Herald Times

Is Broadband Access Around the Corner? By Regan Tuttle, Telluride News

 

Ohio

Johnson speaks about Broadband Expansion by Janell Hunter, The Times Leader

 

Texas

Dallas Fed: A Robust Fiber-Optic Network is Possible for RGV by Steve Taylor, Rio Grande Guardian

“I was talking to them about basic infrastructure, and they were talking to me about not having broadband coverage, of their kids not being able to do their homework at home, of having to get a tia to take the kids back to school at night so they could be outside using the Wi-Fi,” Barton said.

 

Virginia

Editorial: Broadband is Key to Henry County’s Future by Bulletin Editorial Board, Martinsville Bulletin

 

General

Verizon Abandoning 8500 Rural Customers is Proof the Wireless is not Broadband by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

Over the past few weeks, Verizon has been breaking up with thousands of customers in rural America. It's a move that's left many people without any options for cell phone and internet use, and one that highlights the fact that wireless is not a substitute for wired broadband—despite what the Federal Communications Commission wants you to believe.

Verizon is booting 8500 Rural Customers Over Data Use, Including Come ‘Unlimited’ Plans by Tom McKay, Gizmodo

ISP Cuts off Rural Customers in 13 States by Mark Jones, Komando.com

A Key Barrier for Amazon Suitors: Broadband Availability by Jon Talton, The Seattle Times

Time to get all of Rural America up to Speed with Broadband by Zippy Duvall, Farm Bureau News

We depend on safe and reliable infrastructure to get our products to market. But in today’s fast-paced global economy, high-speed internet has become just as critical a pathway to customers near and far. That’s why Farm Bureau is urging the administration to address rural America’s broadband needs as it develops its infrastructure improvement plan.

Rural broadband seen as a necessity to rural economic growth by Carol Spaeth-Bauer, The Wisconsin State Farmer

4 Recommendations for Closing Broadband Equity Gap by Joshua Bolkan, The Journal

Electric Cooperatives stepping in to fill the Rural Broadband Gap by Co Bank, Cision

Broadband telecommunications and internet access have become essential infrastructure for any community's future prosperity. However, today, people living in rural communities are four times more likely to lack access to broadband than those in urban communities.

While many remain without access to broadband today, rural electric cooperatives, some of which were formed nearly 80 years ago to bring electricity to rural America, are increasingly making the move into broadband to fill the supply gap.

Your Internet isn’t getting any Faster but the Government Might Soon Call it High Speed Anyway by Brian Fung, The Washington Post

Tags: media roundup

Shape the Rules for Rural Broadband Subsidies Fact Sheet - Reply Comments: October 18th, 2017

September 25, 2017

Another addition to our Community Networks Initiative resources! This fact sheet details the most important aspects of the Connect America Fund (CAF) Auction. What is it? What should it do? Who does it affect? And how can you make a difference?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages the CAF program, which provides billions of dollars in subsidies to Internet service providers for areas where the cost of building networks is prohibitive. Some large providers decided not to accept some of the subsidies during Phase I - about $198 million annually for 10 years. Now, the FCC plans to host an auction so that providers can submit competing proposals on how best to serve these often rural, high-cost areas. (Check out the map of preliminary areas on the FCC website.)

Before the FCC can hold an auction though, the commission needs advice on how best to conduct it and what criteria they should consider. Jon Chambers, former head of the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, outlined his concerns about the current proposed rules in his article, The Risk of Fraudulent Bidding in the FCC Connect America Fund Auction. Listen to his analysis on Episode 268 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

The first round of public comments has passed, but reply comments are due October 18th, 2017. Read the fact sheet and then submit your own comments at FCC.Gov/ecfs/filings for "Proceedings" Docket 17-182 and Docket 10-90.

CAF_II_Auction_Fact_Sheet.pdfTags: subsidiesruralfccconnect america fundcompetitionfundingfederal funding

Oxnard Releases RFP For Fiber Master Plan, Responses Due Oct. 31

September 22, 2017

Oxnard, California, has already decided that they want fiber. Now community leaders just need a consultant to help them create a Fiber Master Plan. They city recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP); responses are due October 31st.

Broad Goals

Community leaders address their decision to develop a Fiber Master Plan in the RFP. They want infrastructure that is future-proof, can offer gigabit connectivity, and can expand beyond initial purposes. They’ve done their homework and see that future applications demand higher capacity infrastructure. Oxnard intends to stay competitive.

The city has existing fiber as a result of a previous deployment to update transportation with California’s Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) in 2013. Three years later, they added more traffic signals, three municipal buildings, CCTV cameras, and a field gigabit hub.

The Fiber Master Plan will build off existing assets to improve economic development and pursue other “social benefits.” Oxnard wants to install public Wi-Fi, adopt Smart City applications, and explore ways to bridge the digital divide. They know that they can reduce telecommunications costs by eliminating leased lines with their own fiber network.

The Fiber Master Plan Project Goal:

The City’s goal in developing a Fiber Master Plan is to document a detailed, actionable plan to build a carrier-class, highly-available redundant fiber network that provides Oxnard anchor institutions, businesses and eventually key residential areas with high-speed Internet access, data and Smart City services, thereby improving the quality of life of our constituents, boosting economic development and enhancing the infrastructure of our City.

Open Minds In Oxnard

Community leaders aren’t limiting themselves to any particular model and want to hear what consultants suggest for their community. They have created a list of what they consider most appropriate models for their vision:

Public-Owned: Publicly (City) owned “middle mile” infrastructure with potential partnership opportunities for “last mile” connections 


Open Access: Proceed with the intent to lease or otherwise make available, fiber infrastructure (conduit, dark or lit fiber, vertical and other assets) to other municipal entities, telecommunications carriers, other service providers or businesses

Demand-Driven: Deploying the network and associated services where areas of demand (both social an economic) will be strongest 

Incremental Build: Deploy the network in stages based on strategic target areas to serve municipal facilities, economic development zones, or other areas of special interest.


The Community Of Oxnard

Situated along the coast, the city is 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Approximately 204,000 people live in the city, known as the home of many famous musicians and sports figures. As a result, it’s considered one of the wealthiest areas in the U.S.

Defense, international trade, agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism create the backbone of Oxnard’s economy. The Port of Hueneme is a busy deep-harbor commercial port that serves the west coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There is also and Air Force Base in Oxnard. Some of the city’s largest employers include St. John’s Regional Medical Center, Oxnard High Union, and Waterway Plastics. The city is the largest strawberry producer in California.

More than 53,000 K-12 students attend school on 54 public school campuses in Oxnard. In addition to Oxnard College, there are several other campuses, including California State University Channel Islands and UC Santa Barbara.

Important Dates:

October 2, 2017: Pre-proposal conference call for questions regarding RFP 

October 9, 2017: Written questions or requests for clarification is due 

October 16, 2017: Posting of City responses to requests for clarification and questions

October 31, 2017: Submission of the Proposal is due to the City of Oxnard Purchasing Division by 4:00 p.m.

Read the entire RFP here.

City of Oxnard RFP Fiber Master PlanTags: oxnardcaliforniarfpmaster plantraffic lights

Three To Get Ready; Burlington Shares Bid Details

September 21, 2017

And then there were three. After months of review and vetting, the field of bidders to purchase Burlington, Vermont’s, treasured municipal network is now a manageable number. On September 20th, city officials announced which entities were still in the running and released details of their proposals.

Ting

Toronto company Ting, which is owned by Tucows, submitted a bid to purchase the network. The company is already providing services in Charlottesville, Virginia; Holly Springs, North Carolina; and in Westminster, Maryland, where the public-private partnership has received several awards. The company is also planning construction in Sandpoint, Idaho, and Centennial, Colorado, where they will also be partnering with the municipalities to use publicly owned fiber.

They describe the key points of their offer as $27.5 million in cash and they will pay the city an additional $500,000 if BT earns $4.25 million earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) during the 2018 fiscal year. Ting is offering the city a minority interest in the network that they can later divest if they choose.

Ting will also relocate BT’s equipment, currently housed in the city’s Memorial Auditorium. The move is estimated to cost $800,000. As part of the deal, the company will also donate $250,000 toward the city’s Burlington Ignite and other programs to encourage entrepreneurship and closing the digital divide.

In their offer, Ting guarantees expansion within the city and beyond the city limits. Like the other bidders, Ting plans to keep the current operational team in place. They also guarantee customer rates for 30 months.

Review the details of the Ting/Tucows offer here.

Schurz

Schurz Communications is a family owned company headquartered in Indiana, operating for more than 144 years. The company began with the South Bend Tribune in 1872 and family members still hold editor and publisher positions. The establishment also holds assets in radio and television and began acquiring cable networks in the 1950s. They own networks in Hagerstown, Maryland; Maricopa, Arizona; and Sergeant Bluff, Iowa.

Schulz has offered $30.8 million in cash to Burlington and, while they have not established an additional figure, they will consider adding more to the price if BT surpasses EBITDA goals. The company is also offering the community a chance to retain a percentage of the operation of up to 33 percent, if the city contributes investment.

The Schurz offer also stresses the importance of local involvement as the bidders plan to leave current teams in place. They guarantee broadband rates for five years. The company plans to expand the network in keeping with BT’s current schedule, which established 2019 as a deadline. Schurz states that they are committed to spending between $6.2 million and $8.84 million on capital projects for BT’s 2019 - 2021 capital plan.

The offer doesn’t commit a specific dollar amount, but Schurz expresses support for the BT Ignite program and vows to continue the low-income program in place. They also promise to seek out other opportunities to bring connectivity to the Burlington community.

Read the details of the Schurz offer here.

Keep BT Local

When the settlement with Citibank included a provision forcing the city to sell BT, Burlington residents mobilized. After searching for ways to keep their network, they determined that forming a broadband cooperative was their best option. In Burlington, they have experience with the process, having established a similar entity to take over the City Market.

The Keep BT Local offer requires the city to retain 12.5 percent ownership in the network, while subscribers/members own shares in the remaining 87.5 percent. Because the city uses the network, it will also be a member and all subscribers will automatically receive membership interest. 

The price Keep BT Local plans to pay is $12 million in total with $10.5 million in cash loaned to the cooperative from Maine Fiber Company, $1 million the co-op has obtained through commitments from members, and the $1.5 million non-cash equity that is the value of the city’s 12.5 percent ownership.

Keep BT Local’s offer includes infusing $500,000 of the cash into the network as working capital. They intend to fulfill the planned buildout as scheduled. There are 120 premises that the other two offers will not commit to serving due to the projected expense of reaching them, but Keep BT Local’s offer includes language that suggests they will explore options to serve 100 percent of the community.

As expected, they will keep operating and management crews in place. Keep BT Local has established a relationship with Maine Fiber Company as a resource to help them with management or operational issues associated with running the network.

Read details of the Keep BT Local offer here.

Anti-Monopoly Provisions

Ting and Schurz have committed to restrict any future sale of the network to purchasers that would not result in a monopoly in the market. Keep BT Local doesn't anticipate any sale and has stressed the value of the cooperative model beyond how much cash the asset is worth:

It is understood by members of the Burlington community that there is a long-term value to BT that City Council and its advisors must understand goes beyond simply the financial returns from the acquisition. As such, KBTL’s bid is formulated on the idea that the value of BT should not be based on what private enterprise can pay, but what the community will receive in return. 

Burlington Telecom was built on the belief that an advanced fiber to home/business network will have long term returns for the community, which must be protected carefully by Burlington’s city leaders, even if the city cannot retain full ownership. KBTL believes that community equity – that is, the meaningful claim of residents of Burlington to maintain their right to have a return on their original investment in Burlington Telecom and representation in the governance of this public utility after it is sold – must be the primary consideration in determining how this asset should be managed. KBTL, as a subscriber/member owned cooperative, can genuinely reflect the wishes of Burlingtonians and subscribers of BT now and in the future. 

The Process From Here

The public had expected four finalists, but one dropped out at the last minute, raising concerns once again about the transparency of the process. Mayor Weinberger, who has stated that he doesn’t support the Keep BT Local bid, was accused of encouraging the fourth bidder to withdraw without input from the City Council. The tension between the council and the Mayor complicate an already difficult and drawn out process.

Members in the community have expressed their support for a cooperative model in the local media and by committing financially so the cooperative can make its offer. BT has done well in recent months, surpassing goals and taking steps to implement a low-cost Internet access program for the community.

Now, it’s up to locals to review the proposals and let city officials know which they consider best for Burlington. The city is accepting feedback via email at btfeedback@burlingtonvt.gov.

The bids go to an accountant and a telecommunications firm that will provide analysis to the City Council who hope to eliminate one of the bidders by October 2nd. The city will then choose a buyer on October 16th and present the potential deal to the Public Utility Commission, which must issue a certificate of public good before the sale can be finalized.

Keep BT Local Bid Schurz Communications Bid Ting/Tucows BidTags: BurlingtonBurlington TelecomVermontpublic v privatemuniFTTHcooperativetransparency

Deploying In A Reasonable And Timely Fashion? Comment To The FCC

September 20, 2017

September 21st is the last day individuals and organizations have to submit initial comments on the FCC’s “Inquiry Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion,” Docket 17-199. As of this writing, more than 1,400 filers have submitted comments but the gravity of the policies the FCC is reviewing should have more input from all over the country. So far, people and organizations that have commented are not happy with the ideas of dumbing down the definition of "broadband" and letting mobile and satellite Internet access satisfy connectivity needs in rural America. What do you think? Let the FCC know.

Time and Speeds

The FCC released the Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on August 7th, asking for comments from the public on a broad range of issues. Many experts and organizations quickly zeroed in on a few topics that many thought would never become matters that would ever need to be argued again. Due to the magnitude of the issues to be decided, 13 organizations that work on telecommunications and digital divide policy requested that the agency extend the comment period, originally set for September 7th. Thirty days was just not enough time to address the numerous issues in the NOI.

The agency proposed reversing a policy established by the Obama administration’s FCC which raised the definition of “broadband” to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. The 2015 change better reflected our forward direction in technology. Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership has questioned that move and is considering reversing course to a 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload definition, which reflects speeds more in line with DSL connections. The 10/1 benchmark is already considered obsolete by policy experts who see DSL connections already overly stressed by multi-device households.

Many commenters express disdain with the idea of accepting slower speeds as “broadband,” especially those who live and work in rural areas. Mark Tatum from West Kill, New York, wrote about his company’s options:

To lower the standards that define broadband would immediately and directly affect our ability to function effectively and efficiently as a business that depends on the Internet. As a graphics intensive business that is involved with the day to day transfer of large amounts of data (I.e. graphics files etc.) that average 25 Mbps and more, the only viable way to conduct our type of B2B commerce is via high speed connectivity. Especially in the rural area where we are located. The alternative would be to go backwards to the pre WWW analog business model. To compete with a lower standard and definition of broadband would be an impossibility and would force marketing/design firms like ours to close shop. This cannot be defined as a step forward in a world that is ever more dependent on the WWW. Please consider the consequences for those outside of the well served metropolitan areas of our country before making any wholesale changes to the definition of what constitutes Broadband.

Others describe the idea of lowering speeds “absurd,” “disastrous for rural, poor, and underserved communities,” and asks the FCC, “Please don't make 'broadband' a sham term by lowering the definition.”

The State of Colorado’s Broadband Office opposes lowering the benchmark and suggests that the FCC clearly require 25 Mbps/3 Mbps as a minimum speed. They base their statement on the fact that subscribers often reach the threshold “only occasionally or during non-peak times.” Colorado’s SBO suggests the FCC tighten the requirements for what measurements qualify as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps connections, suggesting only connections that maintain that capacity 80 percent of the time or during peak traffic hours be considered broadband. 

Is 25 Mbps/3 Mbps too slow? The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) thinks it is and suggests the FCC raise the definition of “fixed broadband” to 100 Mbps/50 Mbps for all Americans. We applaud their suggestion that upload speeds be raised to at least half the speed of download to emphasize that subscribers are economic participants, not only consumers. 

Mobile and Satellite?

Two of the most concerning proposals in the NOI are the possibility that mobile and satellite Internet access will be deemed acceptable forms of Internet access. In addition to the obvious problem of interference caused by weather and structures, filers complain of data caps that drive up the cost of poor Internet access.

Like other filers, NEMA considers mobile broadband a complement, not a substitute, and suggests separate benchmarks for each form of connectivity. They call attention to the fact that fixed and mobile connections serve different purposes:

For example, many connected home technologies use fixed residential connections to control home comfort, monitor smoke and carbon monoxide levels, and even higher bandwidth uses like streaming video. Other products, especially smart grid products, rely on mobile network access to relay information to utilities about the status of the electric grid and can help restore power quickly after an outage. Hospitals require high-bandwidth fixed connections to process medical images with large file sizes. The FCC should not allow access to either fixed or mobile broadband be a substitute for access to both fixed and mobile broadband.” [emphasis theirs]

A letter from a dozen United States Senators, including Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Udall described the lawmakers’ concern with the potential of stepping backward in rural America with this approach:

The FCC’s current policy provides that Americans need access to both mobile and fixed broadband services, with speeds of at least 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. While we recognize and welcome the possibility that technology may one day evolve to a point where mobile broadband options could be deemed equivalent to fixed broadband services, that is not the case today. At this time, such a striking change in policy would significantly and disproportionately disadvantage Americans in rural, tribal, and low income communities across the nation, whose livelihoods depend on a reliable and affordable broadband connection.

In reading this notice of inquiry, it appears that the FCC, by declaring mobile service of 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds sufficient, could conclude that Americans' broadband needs are being met—when in fact they are not. By redefining what it means to have access, the FCC could abandon further efforts to connect Americans, as under this definition, its statutory requirement would be fulfilled.

The lawmakers go on to point out that, in addition to broadening the digital divide, such a policy would prove disastrous for business owners who set up shop in regions beyond urban centers.

Officials in the community of Leverett, Massachusetts, felt compelled to share their experiences with poor connectivity prior to and after investing in their publicly owned infrastructure. In Leverett, upload capacity was a critical component of high-quality connectivity:

In our experience, the emphasis on "originate and receive" has special importance for businesses—home-based and telecommuting—that work with large data, graphics, and video transmissions. Mobile access—especially as subject to throttling of download speed, limited upload speed, and data caps—cannot provide sufficient Internet access to sustain information entrepreneurs.

Locals depended on slow DSL and satellite Internet access before they decided the community needed something better. In their comments, officials write how their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, LeverettNet, has improved the local economy; new businesses have cropped up, including home-based businesses, and existing establishments have grown. Their real estate market has turned around and locals are saving money with better services.

Consider the Schuettes, who live outside of the city and work from home; they shared their experiences with the FCC:

We live in rural Minnesota, in the county of Douglas, just outside a city with a population of over 13,000. We are located just a few miles from town. The only option we have for Internet is cell phone or satellite dish. If there is a cloud in the sky, our reception is either completely gone or slowed dramatically. I have a home-based business (two of them) that requires reliable Internet. There are times I cannot conduct business because weather conditions won't allow, or data caps are reached. I have contacted local companies that offer broadband, and none of them have any inclination to come our direction.

The Schuttes raise another issue - if we allow mobile and satellite to be considered "good enough" when it isn't, entities that wish to pursue funding for infrastructure to improve local connectivity will lose opportunities. As our readers know, many grants and loans are only available for unserved and underserved areas. Because the FCC's form 477 data uses the census block method of reporting, mapping typically overstates which areas have broadband connectivity; the problem will increase under the proposed benchmarks. With less financial incentives to invest in areas like the Schuttes's, residents and businesses face reduced prospects of better Internet access. The FCC also asks for comments on data collection as part of this NOI.

Listen to Christopher and Hannah talk about the issue of satellite and mobile connectivity in a recent Community Broadband Bits podcast. They get into why changing this policy will take us backwards and what is at risk.

The Easy Way Out Is Not The Answer

Certainly, the FCC sees the challenge of deploying advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans as formidable. Nevertheless, changing the parameters to lower the goal will further harm communities of color, lower-income, rural, or those who must otherwise contend with substandard connectivity. Individuals and organizations that have taken a few moments to comment on the NOI so far have overwhelmingly expressed their disfavor with the ideas of lowering the bar for connectivity in America through policy changes. 

The policy changes in the NOI contradict the current administration’s mantra, as pointed out by Brandon Slywka, who took time from his vacation in Mexico to file a comment:

I am currently posting this from a resort while on vacation in Mexico and the internet is faster, more reliable and is broadband (fiber connection) than my internet connection in Upstate NY which is satellite because cable modem, FTTH is NOT an option. This is just completely unacceptable. [I live] just 2.5 hours from NYC and my only option for internet is satellite which means the ping/latency is over 600ms on a good day and 1000ms+ plus on a bad day. I cannot work remotely with this and many people do not come to the area and purchase real estate for a second home/vacation home because of this. The town is literally dying because they cannot provide it's residents and prospective residents with reliable and fast internet which is absolutely required to succeeded in today's technology enabled world. I believe in putting "America first" and this also means with technology….[M]obile broadband and satellite is just NOT a realistic and viable solution.

It Just Takes A Minute

What are your thoughts on these proposed changes? If you live in a rural area, or if you are forced to rely on satellite or mobile Internet access regardless of where you live, we encourage you to submit comments. Share your experiences and your thoughts as you consider the future of connectivity in the U.S. Are we deploying advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion? The FCC wants to hear from you.

Read the full NOI here and submit your comments here. Reply comments will be due on October 5th.

Photo of No Service courtesy of David Becher, via Pixaby.

Tags: fccsection 706ruralsatellitemobileWirelessfixed wirelessbroadbandpublic comment

Fiber For All and More - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 271

September 19, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 271 - Hannah Trostle interviews Christopher Mitchell about recent events and news in broadband

After a friendly coup in the offices of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Hannah has taken the podcast host chair from Christopher for episode 271 of the Community Broadband Bits. Hannah grills Christopher on where he has recently traveled, interesting lessons, and recent news around community broadband. (Christopher mentions a great event in Pittsfield - video available here.)

The conversation starts with a discussion of why recent travels strengthened our belief that full fiber-optic networks are the best approach for the vast majority of America in the long term. Christopher and Hannah discuss the future of low-latency networks and what is more cost-effective over decades rather than just over the first few years.

They go on to discuss their fears of the FCC legitimizing satellite and mobile wireless connectivity as good enough for carrier of last resort in rural regions. The show wraps up with a discussion about One Touch Make Ready in Louisville and Madison's RFP for a fiber network partner. 

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

This show is 26 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: FTTHfibercompetitionfccpolicyregulationbroadbandaudiopodcastbroadband bitsone touch make readypolesmake-readyruraluniversal servicesatellitemobilemadisonhuntsvillemassachusettswired westnatoalouisville

Ohio Broadband Co-op Releases Feasibility Study RFP

September 19, 2017

In southwest Ohio, a new broadband cooperative is taking shape and taking steps to bring better connectivity to residents, schools, and businesses in their region. The Greene County Broadband Cooperative recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to conduct a broadband feasibility study. Responses are due October 27.

A Regional Effort

The organization wants to bring gigabit (1,000 Megabit per second) connections to the communities of Cedarville Township, Clifton Village, and surrounding areas. They are especially concerned about bringing fast, affordable, reliable Internet access to the Cedarcliff School District and students in the area. The cooperative also notes that they hope to expand access to other townships in the eastern areas of the county in the future.

Spectrum Cable, AT&T, and satellite providers offer Internet access to premises within the 39 square miles to be studied. There is a small amount of commercial fiber, but not enough to support the needs of the region. The RFP describes the situation as:

Service speeds provided in the villages and in limited rural areas are 12-50 mega-bits per-second. Much of the service area has either a single DSL provider or satellite Internet service, both of which fail to meet the FCC’s standard of broadband speed. Combined with the data usage caps of wireless and satellite Internet providers, most rural residents have an Internet access that is functionally useless. 

Cedarville and Clifton

The residential population of the area too be studied is approximately 9,700 which does not include an additional 3,700 students who attend Cedarville University. Because the University has its own fiber optic infrastructure, students attending the college don’t have the same connectivity problems as local residents. Of the students attending the local public schools, 64 percent use DSL at home that hampers they ability to complete online homework assignments.

The broadband cooperative recognizes that the area’s economic development prospects depend on better local connectivity. According to the RFP, businesses have left the area or chosen not to expand in Cedarville due to poor Internet access options.

Residents and businesses in Sibley and Renville Counties in rural south central Minnesota faced similar issues so they also formed a cooperative. Local farmers were some of the businesses hit especially hard by poor connectivity. The cooperative began with a fiber deplyment in the town centers and used fixed wireless to complement the reach of the network. The have since started to expand the fiber buildout. The cooperative serves subscribers in ten cities, 14 townships, and two counties. Read more about the cooperative in our 2016 report “RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative.”

What Will The Study Entail?

The RFP calls for a consultant who will handle:

  • Mapping and Needs Assessment (Customer market research)
  • Business and Financial Modeling
  • Governance and Ownership Strategy
  • Funding and Financial Analysis
  • Public/Private Partnership Development
  • Infrastructure Recommendations
  • Business Development Possibilities

Important Dates:

October 13: Questions from prospective applicants are due no later than 4:00 p.m. 

October 27: Proposals due no later than 4:00 p.m.

Read the full RFP here

Greene County Broadband Cooperative Feasibility Study RFPTags: ohiogreene county broadband co-opcooperativerfpruralrs fiber coopfeasibility

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 18

September 18, 2017

 

Georgia

Cagle joins Ferguson in Pushing Broadband by Winston Skinner, The Newnan Times-Herald

The lieutenant governor, who is a candidate for governor, recently announced his plan for speeding the deployment of high-speed broadband to underserved areas in rural Georgia.

“Strong infrastructure represents a bedrock component of any strategy to create access to good paying jobs,” Cagle said.

  

Kentucky

Tenn.-based Cable Provider to Bring Service to Warren County by Don Sergent, Bowling Green Daily News

 

Maine

EPA and USDA to Help Two Maine Communities with Economic Development Goals, United States Environmental Protection Agency

 

North Carolina

Internet still Problematic by Josh Bowles, Montgomery Herald

 

Ohio

Limited high-speed internet access in rural Ohio counties causes a digital divide by Bennett Leckrone, The Post

Johnson said it’s difficult to get large companies to provide internet to rural counties with fewer people when there are other markets available. Thus, the responsibility of installing equipment and providing better internet access often falls to small companies.

“This is the only community that (smaller companies) serve, and the only way to make more money from that community is to give them more opportunity to consume,” Johnson said, explaining why smaller companies have more incentive to provide internet access in rural areas. “They can invest more easily, and they don't have as many options. Consequently you have (smaller companies) putting fiber into the home in many rural areas.”

 

Oregon

Letters to the editor: Spectrum now has another reluctant customer, Press Herald

Following the transition to Spectrum, I was particularly dismayed to find new and unexplained additional charges on my bill. But trying to bargain with a monopoly is a fool’s errand. I have no choice but to use them as my internet service provider. Now they are selling the information they glean from the use of their monopoly system without my (or your) permission.

  

Virginia

King George Again Exploring Broadband Needs by Cathy Dyson, The Free Lance-Star

King George has received a $30,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to work on solving its broadband shortages. It’s also partnering with the Center for Innovative Technology, a nonprofit corporation in Herndon that will help King George assess its needs and come up with a plan to provide for them.

The Community Development Block Grant and the broadband initiatives the CIT has in place pair up perfectly, said Caroline Stolle, CIT’s broadband program administrator.

“We were waiting for the right locality to come along,” she told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “Why not demonstrate how Virginia can spend its broadband money?”

Editorial: Which Candidate is Best on Rural Broadband? The Roanoke Times

 

General

Senators Blast The FCC For Weakening The Definition Of Broadband To Try And Hide The Industry's Lack Of Real Competition by Karl Bode, Techdirt

Major City Tech Leaders Fight for Net Neutrality, Other Issues in Washington, D.C. by Zack Quaintance, Government Technology

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 270

September 18, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 270 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Professor Barbara Cherry goes into detail on the history of common carriage and telecommunications law. Listen to this episode here.

Barbara Cherry: It's been a mess. And part of the problem is restoring a more accurate understanding of our history.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 270 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez this week Christopher talks with attorney and legal scholar Barb Cherry about common carriage. We often talk about common carriage as it relates to telecommunications. And this week Christopher and Barb get into the policy. But most of us aren't aware of the legal history behind common carriage. Barb describes how its origins relate to the way it's applied today and how we need to consider the past as we move toward the future. Now here's Christopher and Barb Cherry.

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. Today I'm speaking with Barb Cherry a lawyer and a Ph.D. in communications who worked for the FCC for five years has 15 years in industry but is now a professor at the media school at Indiana University. Welcome to the show.

Barbara Cherry: Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Barb, one of the things I've warned you about. I'll tell the audience that you have an incredible amount of knowledge and you're very passionate. And so if this seems like it's getting a little bit too you know, friendly I might poke you a little bit to get some of that passion up on the surface.

Barbara Cherry: No problem.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about common carriage which is something that I've never heard anyone explain as well as you have and and maybe you can just start with giving us a sense of the historical origins of common carriage in general.

Barbara Cherry: Yes common carriage is a special legal status that evolved over centuries literally to reflect that certain kinds of businesses engage in certain kinds of services that are considered essential. Common carriage comes from a body of law that we call tort law. I think it's helped explain to people that when our Constitution was formed in the late 18th century that wasn't the beginning of all the law was incorporated by Constitution or are these all these bodies of common law that we inherited from England and these guys in court include what we called Contract law property law and tort law and tort law is that the general body of law that has to do with if somebody engages in conduct or behavior that causes you damage the fact that the law will recognize that you have the right to some compensation for the damage done to you. Tort Law covers for example and it's different from contract in that let's say you trespass on somebody's property you cause damage under top tort law that's why you can sue someone to recover damages. What if somebody burns down your house. What if you're walking down the street and you tripped somebody. Well tort law is also the origins of some special obligations in commerce. And one of them is called common carriage and the basic idea is that if somebody holds themselves out to serve you by essentially moving things for you taking something that you already own or have and moving it from one place to another some form of transport That's called common carriage. And the fact that you pay them to do that. Common carriage in the beginning were physical things that we moved in the early form of communication that was coming just now what we call the postal system. They carry and transport information for you. And in a physical form well in the 19th century when we had new industrial revolution technologies new forms of common cures recreate created that were of the electronic form but they moved information on behalf of people like telegraph and telephone so common carriers just simply are in the business of transporting things for people from one place to the other without altering what it is that you're moving for them. Christopher Mitchell And when you when you say that you mentioned that this goes back to before the the Constitution so this is I mean people were moving things for a very long time. I often think about fairies presumably a thousand years ago.

Barbara Cherry: Yes. And this was a firm body of law already by the middle ages of England and it's part of what we inherited from them. So when the Constitution was formed we already had bodies of law that our courts recognized as a place where you could receive compensation for being injured. Now what it means under tort law is the fact that it's a inherent duty that you have in how you conduct your business. And so it's more fundamental and it's not even more fundamental than contract law. So the fact that a common cure has these obligations is not because you have a contract with them but it just comes with it's part of their duties of providing this kind of service. So what are the duties of a common carrier a common carrier has the duty to serve upon reasonable request which means they can't arbitrarily refuse to serve people. They have to provide service with without unreasonable discrimination. What that means is they have to treat similarly situated customers. Similarly there has to be generally some difference in the cost to the company or carrier of moving something for someone or to charge a different rate. They must provide services just in reasonable rates. They can't just charge whatever they want and they must provide their service with reasonable care. In other words, don't be negligent. The reason these duties are there is that was considered an inherent form of fairness in commercial transactions. So this is our fundamental notions of fairness and commerce that themselves have origins in Aristotle's body of ethics. So it's very deep seated very fundamental sense of fairness in commercial transactions. This legal status as I said had its origins or was well-formulated in England by the Middle Ages and continue to apply even as with the rise of capitalism and so with the rise of capitalism as more and more businesses were done by contract there were still certain entities or types of businesses that retained the tort obligation that it was considered so fundamentally important to what they did. Common carriers one of them.

Christopher Mitchell: And so one of the things that I've learned from you is that the coming carriage regime this body of practices is a little different from industry to industry and so I'm curious if there's anything unique about how we apply this to Telecom that works.

Barbara Cherry: Common carriers, there can be different types of common carriage as you mention older forms included ferries people moving things like a horse back in the 19th and 20th century as we develop new forms of common care. They included like railroads airplanes buses and then electronic forms with telegraph and telephone are examples. And with each technology there's been some challenges about how the business is conducted now over time. As I mentioned this was initially under the common law. And what's important about that is to enforce it requires you to go to court. So a person who was harmed by a common care of violating one of the duties duties explained the only way you could enforce is you had to go to court. What happened during the 19th century with the rise of new forms of common carriage the amount of investment that was required to provide these forms of common carriage in a particularly some of them they had to provide the equivalent of their own infrastructure to provide common carriage over railroads had to build their own railroad tracks for example they just couldn't use existing roads and telephone and telegraph had to create new infrastructures in terms of wires and poles and things like that. The corporate form was the best way to amass the kind of capital needed to build these networks. And so we started having the rise of corporations in terms of number as well as their size their amount of capitalization and economic power and the relevance of all of that is it turned out over time expecting people to be able to enforce their common law rights against these companies in court became more and more impractical. By the end of the night towards the end the 19th century both the states and Congress deemed the common law remedies are no longer adequate. It was just too hard to enforce them. These big corporations had so much advantage in litigating in the courts. That's what led to the rise of enforcing common carriage through commissions on the commissions were the ones that in other words government now stepped in to help enforce these obligations of the curious because it's no longer reasonable to expect the judicial system through complaints through cases filed by individual plaintiffs to be able to push back on the power of these big corporations.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I think back to the the incredible work that Ida Tarbell did in uncovering the Rockefeller deals with the railroads and it seems to me that that when there's all these secret deals the courts don't know about them. And so how could one expect the courts to the tune to stop kickbacks that no one even knows about are happening.

Barbara Cherry: Well it turned out in the 19th century with the rise of corporations. There were two different strategies. The states and Congress used to deal with them. One strategy was to develop industry specific regulation. These commissions that had specific jurisdiction only in certain industries. That's one strategy. Another strategy was to develop another other bodies of law that apply to businesses generally like antitrust law. The first antitrust statute by Congress was the Sherman Act in 1890 and that was passed three years after Congress passed its first law the interstate commerce act to regulate railroads. So it was a two two step or two part strategy passed laws to deal with very specific industries because of how important they are. To the economy and the kind of expertise that would be needed to keep pace with these corporations in their and their behavior and the other was just to prevent certain kinds of behavior under and I trust to prevent certain types of conspiracies in restraint of trade or to deal with certain forms of monopolization. So it was a two part strategy. What was interesting however is that even those companies under industry specific regulation were also subject to antitrust. So both types of laws apply to them. But these industries that had specific regulation also had such unique and in-depth problems. That's why it took an agency to have constant oversight because Congress couldn't possibly keep up with it. So to understand or regulation is to understand how over time we've developed a two pronged strategy. Some industries require very special attention YBM industries specific regulation and then in addition we have more general business laws like and I trust and eventually consumer protection statutes which are still more general in nature and those those helped pick up the slack with the rest of the economy. When you asked me earlier about the different industries specific it turned out the real breakthrough at the federal level was the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 that created the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate railroads. Well not that long afterwards in 1910 that law was amended by the man Elkins act and applied now to telegraph and telephone. So the first federal regulator of Telephone and Telegraph was the Interstate Commerce Commission that precedes even the FCC the FCC the Federal Communications Commission wasn't a crate until 1934. The reason for it was to have a commission now that dealt with all the communications because we had rise of further technologies like radio. So what they did was they copied the law that already existed pretty much in interstate commerce for railroads that had been applied telephone telegraph and just recreate it and the FCC and now mood regulation of telegraph and telephone to the FCC. In the meantime the 1920s there were some radio acts to deal with the rise of radio and then that was all put in one place right. The reason I mention as people think regulation of telephone telegraph started on the federal level 34 act and that's wrong. It goes back further.

Christopher Mitchell: Well in one of the things that we found and I want to just say we're going to turn this back to net neutrality in a second. But but one of the things I found interesting is working at the state level I've often found the big telephone companies in my case CenturyLink here in Minnesota will say oh we should just go back and clean out the old statutes because we should get rid of all this telegraphs stuff and in the end that 100 years ago telephone regulation. And because it's just unneeded it's just cluttering up the books. But then you find out that if you do that the authority of the Department of Commerce of the Public Utilities Commission it starts to disappear because everything was built on those original regulations. And so I think it's important to understand all that stuff that was done back then has been modified and is still kind of where this is necessary to have authority today.

Barbara Cherry: Yes, the fundamental legal principles that are embedded in common carriage law have been codified into statutes and then modify the method of regulation. Basically the principles have always stayed the same is just the means of enforcing them. That's had to adjust over time. So instead of having the primary form of an enforcement be in the courts we've provided it the first round of enforcement and with these agencies to deal with the reality of the rise of corporate power and how much market power they have with regard to individual customers. So. So the means of a force meant from time to time have been modified to improve it. But the danger is to think that you don't need the core principles of common care. That's where eliminating the body of law entirely is very dangerous because the same reasons why those principles are there still exist today common carriage function is still a critical function in our economy and the notions of fairness in commercial transactions underlie it's still irrelevant and the rise of corporate power or the the reality of the market power these corporations still exists. So we still need the body of law given that this body of law it's principles that go back centuries. Other bodies of law that are newer that evolved afterwards were all based on knowing that this other body of law come it already existed. So a lot of the issues that we've treated for centuries under common carriage are not picked up by other bodies of law. In other words they're adjunct to they're complimentary too. And if all of a sudden you eliminated the common character that based regulation all the existing already have will not fill in the gap.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think that's a sticky point. But I want to move on to what I think is is a hot button issue. And let me just describe how I think something that gets your blood boiling would be the way the media has shortened a discussion of Chairman Wheeler of the FCC decision to put telecommunications under Title 2 in order to enforce common carriage. A lot of times the media just shorten that to saying the FCC has decided internet is a public utility what's confusing and wrong about that statement.

Barbara Cherry: Yeah you're right. That really does get my blood boiling because it's just legally, factually false. First of all public utility is a separate body of law. It's a separate body of law that developed in the 19th century by the states. And what's at the heart of being a public utility is that the government gives you a franchise which is of like a contract and says you have the right to serve this area but then we're going to attach these obligations and examples of public utilities include getting franchises to water companies gas companies electric companies. Well it turns out in order to build infrastructures telephone and telegraph companies were also public utilities under became public utilities under state law because of the need to build these infrastructures. So what it means is in reality common carrier certain common carriers like telephone and telegraph were both common carriers and public utilities. But the reason for them being one or the other was for different legal reasons. Now why am I wasn't really get my blood boiling. The two were confused. Well it's not only that the origins of this other body of law is public utility which is separate from common carriage but it's because historically many public utilities have been monopolies. They don't have to be to be a public utility you don't have to be a monopoly because your franchise doesn't have to be exclusive. But if you happen to have a franchise that's exclusive means you're the only one that can do it in that area where you where you've been authorized to serve because many public utilities have been historically monopolies. People automatically assume then oh you're a big public utility only because you're a monopoly and then if people start confusing common carriage with monopoly then they start carrying the same confusion further. Oh you're a common carrier only because you're a monopoly and that's historically factually false. It makes you a common carrier it's got nothing to do with monopoly or not. It's the kind of service that you provide. Are you transporting moving things on behalf of a customer for up for compensation. And so the press is doing us a disservice. But so are some proponents of Chaldee because they say the same thing. So I find people all over the place using the wrong terminology. The press some supporters Chailly many supporters are opponents and try to keep confusing commentaries with public utility and it distorts our understanding of the importance of common carriage law.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I think one of the things I find really interesting and we can jump back in the history for this I think is there is an idea that common carriage would not be necessary if you have competition because you could just choose the better carrier.So maybe you can clear up why common carriage is still important even when you may have competition and choice.

Barbara Cherry: And this goes back to understanding why you had common carriers as a legal status back in the middle ages because the same thing happened. Competition doesn't solve certain problems and it's the reasons for that for that is this what a common carrier does is they move something that belongs to the customer and supposed to drop it off at the other end. It could be a tangible physical thing like railroads. We think it could be people themselves it could be car go with electronic it's important and certain information the content of which originates with the parties at the end. And what happens is it doesn't matter if there's competition because once you pick the carrier that carrier whichever one you pick now takes possession of what it is they're moving for you. And that's the beginning of a unique form of vulnerability. You have no idea once you give up possession to that carrier what they're going to do with it. How do you know for example particularly in cures interconnect with each other. If your message is lost or garbled you don't know well which company is responsible for that. Early on would have been common carriers and sometimes they would hold court cases or say it's collude with thieves. In other words they get somebody carrying your computer. And let's say a carrier wink wink tell somebody why don't you quote unquote steal it from me. Then I'll tell the customer Oh I'm sorry it was stolen I couldn't deliver it. And then you agree with the robber to the robber to go and sell it and then you split the proceeds. That carries the proceeds. There's so many ways in which a carrier could collude or misbehave, if you will, in their common carriage duty and how they perform their service that's not solved by competition. Once you give up possession it doesn't do any good to say what could have gone to somebody else they already given it up. And so it's a repeat game problem. And that's why under the law that's where the duties attach with the function. What makes you common carrier is the functionality of the service. What is it you're doing. And also another problem we have the rise of corporations. Another reason why competition doesn't help you is because the rise of these big corporations with these big mass market, retail mass market, offerings is that these companies will give you what are called contract of adhesion.

Barbara Cherry: It's a standardized contract you must adhere to the terms of your customer hence adhesion you must adhere to the terms if you want to get service. You can't really negotiate anything different in your contract. You either take it or leave it. What's happened today is that these companies give you these take it or leave it provisions in their contracts which include mandatory arbitration clauses and class action waivers. It means that it gets serviced you have to agree to these contracts that tell you you have no right to go to court even if you wanted to. You must go through arbitration. You may not organize with other people who have been similarly harmed to bring a class action lawsuit. And what's happening over time is all these companies are all putting the same provisions in your contracts. So even if the market you know appears top competitive in terms of going the one provider usually you can't find a provider that won't have those same terms so you're stuck.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, so there's no remedy if they misbehave which is why we have this body of law to protect us beforehand.

Barbara Cherry:Yes, this is why you need commissions because the court litigation. First of all the odds were stacked against you already because they can withstand litigation claims that -- The column report, There's an old report of the Senate in 1886 that studied this whole problem of railroads and found that it was impossible even back then for the individual shippers will stand up against these big corporations. And then in more modern times with these mandatory arbitration clauses and class action waivers you can even go to court if you want. And when you add all those up together your only remedies are going to be if you could have a commission with jurisdiction who then has the power the power to stand up against these big corporations on behalf of the public.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and this is this is something that the Gigi Sohn is very concerned about and working on because there's a fear that that many including some in the FCC perhaps maybe like going to offload their jurisdiction increasingly to the Federal Trade Commission in which it would be harder there's less specialized knowledge for the commission to protect people that are working in independent communications services.

Barbara Cherry: Yeah it's really interesting you mentioned that because here's something else to understand. The Federal Trade Commission was created early 20th century and when it was created it was created to help enforce certain aspects of antitrust law to help protect customers. Well in that act that created the FTC. The FTC specifically does not have jurisdiction over common carriers because at the time it was already known you already had another commission that has the authority to look at that specific industry and how to deal with it. That exclusion of FTC jurisdiction over common care still exists today. Unless Congress changed the law if you got rid of common Kurd's status for these companies today there'd be no agency to fill in the breach even if you tried to get the FTC the jurisdiction one they don't have the history of knowledge how to do it. And number two, the FTC does not have the same powers as the FCC FCC has rulemaking authority within its statute that Congress given they have authority create rules when they discover more problems in the industry. The FTC does not have rulemaking authority not like the FCC. So the Free Trade Commission doesn't have the same kind of powers to deal with a lot of these industry specific problems.

Christopher Mitchell: Right now I think you know one of the problems that we continually face is an ignorance of these sorts of issues and so we're condemned to hear misinformation confusion from people over these problems that have been with us for more than 1000 years.

Barbara Cherry: I don't think as just a lawyer I would have understood all this. It turns out when I went back as a little a little older student when I went back to get my Ph.D. in communication studies at Northwestern University -- I'm being trained now as a social scientist. The subject of my dissertation had to do with the liability of these carriers under certain circumstances. And I had to go back and study a lot of the origins of these by the law. That's when I learned the true origins and I found that a lot of what scholars call the secondary literature, a lot of things that have been written by other people, about telecommunications' history. I found a lot of them were actually wrong. They were wrong. And so part of my research in a book I've already published on the subject was trying to help people understand that a lot of what we've been taught is wrong. So we either forgotten it or some of what we've been taught is actually wrong. And part of the reason is that some of the people who wrote books about telecom history were not lawyers and they mis understood and mis read the cases was inaccurate. So it's been kind of a mess

Christopher Mitchell: But that's that's how it feels frankly.

Barbara Cherry: Yes it's been a mess. And part of the problem is restoring a more accurate understanding of our history. I've appeared on behalf of the Public Interest Advocacy Center up in Canada. Proceedings before their commission the CRTC which plays a similar role to our FCC. The reason I mention that here is Canada inherited the same common law body of law that we did from England. And what I found in working up in Canada is that there has been some similar misunderstanding about some of these bodies of law. But one advantage Canada has had over the United States is that they didn't have the same public relations campaign of regulated monopoly. And this has to do with the fact that the bell patents were invalidated much earlier and competition started earlier. But here's the importance of that this legacy keep Association monopoly with the telephone system that quite U.S. centric idea that we had this been reinforced by an early 20th century corporate campaign of AT&T to convince the states and the federal government to go to a monopoly framework rather than rely on competition. It's the opposite because what happened up in Canada is that a lot of the with the rise of competition sooner up there is that some of these provinces like her state actually took over the telephone systems and the meek became publicly owned systems. AT&T didn't want it in the United States. So instead they developed this PR campaign of regulated monopoly and they were agreeing to regulation in exchange for being protected from competition. Why is this matter will that old PR campaign with PR specialists say is probably the greatest corporate campaign ever done. Now AT&T is trying to turn that PR PR campaign on its head to say that people see we we're only regulate because we are a monopoly. Right. So now that we're not monopolies we don't need regulation anymore and it's a total misrepresentation of history.

Christopher Mitchell: But Americans because of the legacy of this PR campaign they could be more easily lead right well I really appreciate you taking the time to come on here and help us to spread the good word of the history and to give people a better sense of why this is so important.

Barbara Cherry: Yes it's so foundational to these these systems these infrastructures are so critical to our economy and also with communication systems that are so critical to our political governance how we run elections how we become informed citizens. That's why we need extra care to make sure that we understand what's going on and not shoot ourselves in the foot so to speak by getting rid of a body of law they're actually very foundational and are very necessary.

Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you for your hard work on this. Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with attorney and professor Barb Cherry talking about common carriage and telecommunications. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available MuniNetworks.org/BroadbandBits. E-mail us at Podcast@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. 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. We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons. And we want to thank you for listening to episode 270 and the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptcommon carriagecommon carrierhistoryeconomicsregulationantitrustmonopolynetwork neutralitycapturecompetitionfccftcutility

Border To Border Blandin Conference Oct. 25 - 26

September 18, 2017

The Blandin Foundation will be holding its Border to Border Broadband Conference this October at Madden’s on Gull Lake. This year, the title of the event is “Bridging the Gaps - Expanding the Impact.”

Up North In The Fall

The folks at Blandin looked around the state to find rural communities where local decisions are having a positive effect by improving connectivity. The event will be October 25th - 26th and will include presenters from local government, cooperatives, and the private sector:

  • Rural Alvarado, BEAMCO & Wikstrom Telephone
  • Westbrook & Woodstock Telephone Company
  • Rock County Broadband Alliance
  • Renville County – RSFiber & HBC
  • Palmer Wireless – Big Lake Industrial Park
  • Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative & CTC
  • Fayal & Harris Townships - Mediacom

If you attend the conference, you’ll start the event by choosing between the Broadband 101 or Digital Inclusion preconference sessions. Later, there will be presentations on public-private partnerships, real life benefits to better rural connectivity, and methods for grassroots outreach.

Attendees can also experience the popular Broadband Learning Stations, described as:

…[F]eature stories of partnerships and perseverance that define the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program participants. All sessions highlight what it takes for community success -- the partnerships, the strong community spirit and perseverance, the long-haul financial commitment, and the positive economic and social impact these investments have and will have on local businesses, households, and community institutions. Come for the community camaraderie and advice; leave better informed and inspired as you seek to reach your own community broadband goals.

Eyes On Minnesota

In recent months, legislators from the states of Ohio and Virginia have looked to Minnesota’s approach to expanding connectivity in rural areas. Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program, which allows the state legislature to allocate funding to rural projects, has been hailed as a good start to bringing high-quality connectivity to residents, businesses, and other entities that live beyond urban centers.

Check out the preliminary agenda, and register online now while there is still space.

Tags: blandin foundationminnesotaruraleventconferencecooperativepartnership

Rural Connectivity Campaign Issue In Virginia

September 15, 2017

For years we’ve encouraged voters to make improving connectivity a campaign issue in local, state, and federal elections by pursuing answers from candidates. In this year's Virginia Gubernatorial race, it has now become a topic that both candidates are addressing as a key issue. The Roanoke Times Editors, no strangers to the state's struggles with rural Internet access, recently published an editorial to inform voters that broadband is finally getting some long overdue attention.

Surprised And Pleased

The Times has spent significant resources on broadband reporting in recent years, so it’s no surprise that the editors are savvy to the fact that broadband as a campaign issue is a novel development.

The most important news here is that both candidates say they see a state role in extending broadband to rural Virginia. The times really are a-changing: This is the first governor’s race where broadband has been a big enough issue for candidates to issue policy papers on the subject.

During the last legislative session, the Times covered Delegate Kathy Byron’s bad broadband bill closely. Over the past few years, they’ve pointed out the many disadvantages local communities face when folks suffer from poor connectivity. They've also shined a light on why the state’s economy will deteriorate if Virginia does nothing to improve Internet access in rural areas.

Comparisons

In this editorial, the Times briefly lays out a few differences that the candidates have expressed in their proposals. Both candidates want to expand the state’s fledging Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, modeled on Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program, which has also recently inspired Ohio legislators.

Virginia's election is November 7th, which gives voters time to review both plans, contact the candidates with questions, and decide which candidate's approach they favor. You can review Northam's plan on his campaign website and Gillespie's plan here.

Northam's ideas for broadband expansion are part of his plan for rural Virginia, while Gillespie has published a policy paper focused only on improving connectivity. Both laud the possibilities of public-private partnerships and while Gillespie writes that he wants to "lessen regulatory burdens" he doesn't mention repealing the state barriers that discourage public investment. Northam writes that he'd like to expand projects like the one between the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Company and Microsoft.

Editors at the Times are glad to see that both candidates are seriously talking about how to improve rural Virginia’s Internet access problems, no matter how they do it:

Do those differences [between candidates] matter on rural broadband? Maybe to somebody, but they also seem statistically insignificant. Whether it’s Gillespie’s plan or Northam’s, whether it’s a walk or a hit, we’ll be happy to cheer rural Virginia getting on base with broadband.

Ed Gillespie's Plan to Expand Access to High-Speed InternetTags: virginiaelectiongovernoreditorialruraleconomic developmentstate policystate lawsminnesota